By Haji Nsereko Mutumba
Have you ever wondered why the headquarters of Uganda Muslim Supreme Council (UMSC) – an umbrella organization for all Muslims in Uganda, is located at Old Kampala Hill?
Do you know the significance of Old Kampala Hill to Muslims and Islam in Uganda?
All the answers are in the following remarks made by President Idi Amin Dada during the inauguration of UMSC, at the Uganda International Conference Centre on Thursday, 1st June, 1972.
At that very significant ceremony, President Amin said, “On the matter of disputes within the Islamic movement in Uganda, and attempts that have been made to try and settle those disputes, my attention has recently been drawn to some historically interesting piece of information which I would like to share with you.”
He went on to explain that, “In the year 1924, during the rule of Governor Archer, the late Sir Daudi Chwa, as the reigning Kabaka of Buganda, convened a meeting of leading Muslims in an attempt to settle a dispute that had brought about divisions among Moslems, arising from the holding of Juma and Zukuli prayers.”
“He did not succeed in settling the disputes. In the year 1927, the protectorate Government tried its hand in the matter settling that dispute. The Government invited Haji Ibrahim, a Kadhi from Zanzibar who held a meeting with Muslim leaders. That meeting was held in exactly the same place where the late Sir Daudi Chwa had met Moslems on the same subject,” President Amin went on.
He said, “Haji Ibrahims ruling was not accepted; and the dispute persisted. It was not until the year 1944 that a decisive ruling was received from Mecca. The late Sheik Muhamad Lubowa, representing one side of the dispute, and the late Sheik Abdalla Sekimwanyi and Sheik Ahmad Nsambu, who is here with us both of whom represented the other side to the disputes, who had gone on a pilgrimage to Mecca, were the bearers of the Mecca ruling . They jointly announced that ruling, which was that, it was not necessary to hold Zukuli prayers as well on the Juma day (Friday). The joint announcement was made amidst a very large gathering of supporters of both factions to the dispute only a few yards from the actual place where Moslems had been met by the late Sir Daudi Chwa, and Haji Ibrahim of Zanzibar.”
From that day, “To commemorate that happy occasion, Asian Muslims in Kampala built an arch, which is still standing today, near that place. That place was the top of Old Kampala Hill, only a few yards from the spot where Captain Lugard first hoisted the British flag. Old Kampala Hill, therefore, is doubly significant in the history of Uganda. Not only is it the place where a foreign flag was flown on Uganda soil, but it is also the place where attempts were first made to settle disputes within the oldest of all recognized religions in this country.”
The above statement by the late President Amin is testimony that the misunderstandings among Muslims in Uganda are not a recent development. They started way back in the 1920s during the colonial rule.
The uniqueness of the first misunderstandings is that they were purely theological. There was a Juma and Zukuli sect that believed that it was incumbent on Muslims to separately observe the Zuhur (lunch time) prayer and the Juma prayer on Fridays. This was contested by the Juma only sect whose interpretation was that; the Zuhur prayer is not incumbent on a Muslim who has observed the Juma prayer on Friday.
The second wave of misunderstandings that hit Muslims in Uganda, were largely inspired by political and material interests.
As usual, Old Kampala Hill was central to all attempts (both successful and unsuccessful) to address these misunderstandings, and as I write this, we are enjoying some good fruits of Muslim unity, thanks to the current UMSC administrations motto of Muslim unity and development.
It is therefore evident that the decision by President Idi Amin Dada to allocate Old Kampala Hill to UMSC was neither accidental, nor political. He based his decision on the Hills historical role in uniting Muslims of Uganda.