Exclusive: Mubaje's leadership crisis sparks fear of new Muslim faction

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Exclusive: Mubaje's leadership crisis sparks fear of new Muslim faction
Sheikh Ssemambo and Mufti Mubaje

In Uganda, the longstanding leadership disputes within the Uganda Muslim Supreme Council (UMSC) have reignited concerns about the potential emergence of another faction.

The UMSC, led by Mufti Shaban Ramadhan Mubaje, traditionally serves as the unifying religious body for the Muslim community in the country.

The Old Kampala mosque filled to capacity by the faithful

However, persistent power struggles and allegations of mismanagement have eroded Mubaje's credibility, undermining the unity he once promised.

Mubaje, who assumed leadership in 2000 with promises of unity and development, has faced ongoing challenges in fostering cohesion among Muslims.

Accusations of dubious land transactions have plagued his tenure, resulting in the loss of prime properties across Uganda.

Continuous conflicts within the Muslim community, primarily stemming from leaders' disputes over issues, particularly the mismanagement of Muslim properties, have resulted in the formation of various factions, including Old Kampala, Kibuli, Nakasero, and the William Street faction.

Sheikh Habiib Musa Ssemakula, a Muslim scholar and lecturer at the Islamic University in Uganda (IUIU), emphasizes that the primary driver of disunity among the Muslim community is political interference.

Ssemakula asserts that Islam thrives when united, and he criticises individuals in political power, with the exception of the former president Idd Amin Dada, for contributing significantly to divisions among Muslims.

The conflict and disunity escalated when court documents listed several Muslim properties, including National Muslim Mosque, and the Muslim headquarters in Old Kampala, for auction.

In the wake of these accusations, potential replacements for Mubaje have surfaced, namely Sheikh Abdallah Ssemambo, the former First Deputy Mufti, and Sheikh Silman Kasule Ndirangwa, a former Kibuli-based Supreme Mufti.

However, allegations suggest that Mubaje sidelined Ndirangwa due to apprehensions about his influence, leading to further divisions within the UMSC.

The UMSC General Assembly, consisting of 264 members, recently suspended Mubaje for six months and appointed Sheikh Ssemambo as the acting Mufti. His appointment is also being contested.

 There are several voices that there might be another Muslim faction from UMSC given the current situation.

However, Ssemakula holds the belief that there might not be another faction from USMC, asserting that the impetus behind Ssemambo's emergence is political influence. He further contends that it is the government that is pushing him to assume the role of the acting Mufti.

 “Their interest in Mubaje is likely to be over, there is another person whom they can use. We don’t expect another faction to come up. The only fear I might be having is the eastern part of Uganda because (Muslims there) have a thinking that Baganda like to dominate leadership in Uganda. We are likely to have another faction coming from Busoga when Mubaje is ousted from leadership,” he said.

UMSC spokesperson Ashraf Zziwa argued that Ssemambo's appointment was illegal, stating that he took an oath on the streets rather than adhering to the proper procedures.

Zziwa announced that they would address the matter in court, highlighting that Ssemambo's appointment was not in accordance with the established protocols.

Zziwa also questioned the authenticity of those claiming to be members of the UMSC general assembly and organising the special session, raising concerns about the source of their funding for such an event.

Sheikh Ramadhan Swaib Mulindwa, the District Kadhi of Luwero Muslim District, expressed that making specific predictions about Ssemambo leading another faction is not feasible.

 He added that Ssemambo, having served as the Deputy Mufti of Uganda, is well-versed in the procedures governing the appointment of a Mufti.

 “He clearly understands how the Mufti is impeached as per the UMSC constitution. These matters are in court, and we believe in the rule of law. We have many factions in Uganda, and they are well known; therefore, any faction created is under the UMSC leadership by the UMSC Constitution,” he said.

A source from the Kibuli faction, requesting anonymity, emphasized that Kibuli now operates as an independent leadership, distinct from a faction, as it has an administration separate from UMSC.

The source highlighted that both the Ssemambo and Mubaje administrations are considered factions because they belong to the larger group called UMSC. However, it is important to note that in 2008, Mubaje faced court allegations of selling Muslim properties, including Masjid Noor in William Street, Kampala.

Despite being acquitted, the court acknowledged evidence supporting the claims of property disposal.

Subsequently, Prince Kassim Nakibinge, the titular head of Muslims in Uganda, led a faction based at Kibuli, breaking ranks with Mubaje and establishing new leadership under the late Sheikh Zubair Sowedi Kayongo.

The recent scandal involving the misappropriation of funds worth Shs19 billion has further complicated Mubaje's efforts to unite Muslims across the country.

 In 2021, Mubaje and Sheikh Abdul Obeid Kamlegeya signed a deal to end the conflicts, a move seen by many as a step toward peace and unity.

Kamulegeya was a key figure in the Kibuli faction before falling out with Nakibinge. Few Ugandan Muslim clerics have influenced affairs in the faith and beyond as much as Kamulegeya has. With the current situation, many Muslims have lost hope in Muslim unity.

However, Sheikh Ssemakula believes that Muslim unity is possible if Muslims gain exposure and understand their adversaries. He emphasises that those well-acquainted with their religion and the secular side are the ones who have gained exposure.

“If we want to foster unity, we need knowledgeable people who understand local and national politics and their agenda for creating unity among Muslims. We must appreciate the diverse interpretations of the Quran and Hadith, recognising that we cannot all have the same interpretations and understanding,” he said.

Ssemakula underscores the need for Muslim leaders to be exemplary. He criticises Mubaje, stating that UMSC, under his leadership, promotes tribalism, contributing to further disunity among Muslims. He emphasises that Islam discourages tribalism, advocating for a promised brotherhood among Muslims.

To end conflicts within the Muslim community, Ssemakula suggests that leaders should swallow their individual pride and prioritise Islam at the forefront.

 He proposes a federal system of governance with four regions, each having its regional mufti — Eastern Uganda, Northern Uganda, Western Uganda, and the Central region.

 The top leadership position should be rotational, ensuring representation from each region in a rational manner. Ssemakula believes this approach can end conflicts among Muslims in Uganda and help combat tribalism, allowing each region to be responsible for its development.

Mulindwa emphasises the need to promote educational programs emphasising Islamic teachings on unity, tolerance, and diversity. He suggests enhancing the capacity and effectiveness of Muslim organizations and institutions in Uganda, promoting transparent governance, accountability, and inclusivity in decision-making processes.

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