Meet Abdul Muwaya, the head of Shia Muslims in Uganda

Leader of Shia Muslims in Uganda pilots projects in Busoga that transform lives. Born a Sunni, Dr Abdul Kadhir Muwaya, now heads the Shi’ite Muslim sect in Uganda. Isaac Mufumba and Abubaker Kirunda talked to him about his faith and his view on life.

Sunday June 29 2014

Abdul Muwaya during the interview in Buyemba in Iganga District.

Abdul Muwaya during the interview in Buyemba in Iganga District. photos BY Denis EDEMA 

If you are accustomed to the security details of rival muftis Sheikh Shaban Mubajje and Sheikh Zubair Kayongo of the Sunni Muslim sect, you will certainly miss the house.
Though palatial, the house, which is surrounded by trees and a manicured lawn, is not enclosed. There are no rifle-wielding men patrolling the grounds either.

A bespectacled average-sized man emerges, but he is not clad in those flowing embroidered robes that we associate with most Muslim clerics. He is instead wearing a simple beige tunic and matching leather sandals.

“You are most welcome,” he says as he rushes past us to attend to about 100 children seated on mats. We get to learn they are orphans under the care of Ahlul Bait Islamic Foundation. Once a week, he shares lunch with them. This is one such day and he has to ensure every child receives a fair share of the white rice and beef.

He returns and sits on one of the simple chairs on the patio. He is Sheikh Dr Abdul Khadir Muwaya, who most of the village folk calls Daktur as they think that it is one of his names. He believes, a tiger does not proclaim his tigritude. He therefore does not lay markers on his territory or office.

“I don’t see myself as the leader. You can maybe call me a convener,” he says.
He may not see himself as such, but Muwaya is the man recognised as the leader of the Shi’ite Islamic Sect in Uganda, which is quite surprising given that he comes from a line of clerics of the Sunni Muslim sect and was in his formative years tutored by his maternal uncle, the former Mufti of Uganda, Sheikh Ibrahim Saad Luwemba.

On his beliefs
One wonders how he switched sides? Muwaya explains that the problem is that most Muslims are not exposed enough to understand that the difference in the interpretation of the Quran and teachings of Prophet Muhammad.

He says, as Sunni Muslims base some of their teachings on narratives of some of Prophet Muhammad’s companions like Abu Bakr and Umar Ibn Al Khattab, his life and spiritual practices (hadith), the Shi’ites do not. This results in the differences in religious practices in the way in which the two sects go about aspects of religious life pilgrimage, prayer and fasting.

“While the Sunnis say the Prophet taught the people and empowered them to do what they want, even choose their own leaders, the Shi’ites disagreed. They said when the Prophet taught, he also guided on salient issues including who would lead them after he was gone,” he explains.

Matters, he says, were aggravated by the fact that legions of Arabic tribes joined Islam in the Prophet’s last days, bringing with them practices which the Shi’ites disapproved of, insisting on rigid adherence to the teachings of the Prophet.
“I have studied and can differentiate the two. I happen to have studied with the Shi’ite and I have grown up to be one of them,” he says.

Given the animosity between followers of the two sects in most parts of Busoga, one would have expected bad blood to flow between him and his Sunni relatives, but that did not happen. By the time Mufti Sheikh Luwemba passed on, they were still very close.

Among the long list of friends of Muwaya who was born in an impoverished family of 14 children in Kavule Village in Mayuge District in the 1950s, are former Iranian presidents, Ali Khamenei, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjan and Mohammad Khatami. He started his education in Namakoko Islamic Primary School in Namutumba District and then, Machakos Islamic High School and Bilal Muslim Mission in Mombasa.

Thereafter, studied Islamic Philosophy at the Hawza of the Iranian City of Qom before joining the prestigious Imam Khomeini International University for his master’s degree and eventually earned his Doctorate in 1985.

Set out to work
After school, he worked for the Iranian Embassy in Kenya and with the Iranian Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance where he helped translate some of the speeches and literary works of the then Iranian president and spiritual leader, Ali Hosseini Khamenei.

That, coupled with tours of Iran, inspired him to initiate plans to cause change in Mayuge, the then county in Iganga District. “I realised that I could put Khamenei’s teachings in practice. Besides, unlike many people who go to the Arab World and spend most of their time in the universities, I moved around and interacted with many people. I learnt many things, which I thought would benefit us,” he says.

Long before the qualifications and employment opportunities materialised, he in 1979 started remitting funds, with which the first school building of Tawheed Primary School was constructed. The structure has since been plastered and preserved alongside his first residential house.

He boasts that Tawheed Primary and Secondary Schools started providing free education and providing their pupils and students with meals and uniforms long before the government introduced universal primary education.

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