Development of a forward-looking Muslim community in Uganda

What you need to know:

  • A Kingdom with great history and tradition, Buganda saw the arrival of foreign religious sects in the 19th Century starting with Islam introduced by the Arabs.

In telling the story of Islam in Uganda, the name of one family – Prince Nuhu Mbogo – stands tall among the many. A Prince of Buganda, Nuhu Mbogo’s brother, Walugembe Mukabya Mutesa I was the 30th Kabaka of Buganda and lived at a time of great religious and political tumult.

A Kingdom with great history and tradition, Buganda saw the arrival of foreign religious sects in the 19th Century starting with Islam introduced by the Arabs.

The author writes that the Kabaka and Buganda Kingdom hierarchy took full advantage of the Muslims’ arrival for political reasons. The Kabaka adopted and practiced Islam for a decade until the arrival of Christianity. When Christianity arrived, the Kabaka sought to use it as he had Islam; to bolster his political status.

However, the Kabaka’s none-commitment to a particular religion sent the wrong signals. First, it allowed all the sects spread like wildfires across the kingdom with each group wrongly claiming his backing and approval.

When the Kabaka passed on in 1884, a Pandora box of revolutions, counterrevolutions, civil war, and murders was ignited as the religious sects tried as hard as they could to create an alliance with the Kingdom and demonstrate their dominance.

After some pyrrhic victories, it became obvious that the Muslims were on the losing end of the conflicts. The author writes that it was in these times that Prince Nuhu Mbogo’s great leadership over Buganda’s Muslim sect saved the day. Rather than continue a costly fight, he steered Islam to safety, away from trouble but into a quieter life.

When Prince Nuhu Mbogo passed on in 1921, he was to be replaced by his son, Prince Badru Kakungulu Wasajja. Given the history of religious wars, the colonial establishment, the author writes, was particular wary of Islam in the absence of Prince Nuhu Mbogo.

To this end, they kept a watchful eye on his young replacement and went as far as converting him to Christianity. In the end, despite some dissenting murmurs from the Butambala Muslims who tried to break ranks with Kibuli, Prince Badru Kakungulu rose to take up his role – thanks in part to the Kabaka, Sir Daudi Chwa – and the colonial establishment capitulated.

Like his father, the author writes that Prince Badru Kakungulu ascended to the apex of Muslim leadership at a time of political uncertainty, divisions, and unrest. Equally important, he became leader at a time when, as the author notes, “Muslims (had) become the lowest and most despised section of Buganda society with the exception of believers in traditional religions”. Following his father’s footsteps, the author writes that Prince Badru Kakungulu conformed to the political culture of the time in Buganda and Uganda. In so doing, he recognised the right of the “Christian oligarchy” to rule over Buganda and the colonial authority it represented. Simply put, he opted to get the best he could for Muslims in Uganda – such as political positions – within the established system.

Working within the establishment, Prince Badru Kakungulu concentrated his effort in ensuring the Muslim sect attained “modern” western secular education “free of its Christian baggage and in a Muslim environment. The author observes that before 1960, the Muslim sect had produced a single university graduate, had only one secondary school in 1964 (the Catholics had 16 and Anglicans 10).

Taking action, the Prince established the Uganda Muslim Education Association (UMEA) and created a system of education that merged the secular western education with Qur’anic education. The new system enabled the sect he led to attain modern education and its Qur’anic nature allayed all fears within the Muslim community that such western education was aimed at converting their children into Christianity. The author describes this as the greatest contribution of Prince Badru Kakungulu to Islam in Uganda in post-colonial Uganda.

Following a fallout between the President Muteesa II in the mid-60s, Prince Kakungulu and his Muslim sect became a target of the paranoid state. It was these circumstances that pushed the Prince and other Muslims into looking at Amin favourably when the Muslim army commander took charge of the army. However, their joy was short-lived and in Amin’s aftermath left the Muslim’s in such a dire position that the Prince had to carefully navigate the political waters to save Muslims from a “holocaust” – to use the authors words. Prince Kakungulu lived up to the early 90s and continued to provide leadership to the nation’s Muslims.

Great book on the story of a giant whose life reads like the story of a religious sect on the one hand, and that of a Kingdom/nation on the other.

Book title
 The Life of Prince Badru Kakungulu Wasajja
Thomps A.B.K Kasozi 
Available at Uganda Society (Uganda Museum) Bookshop.