Uganda : Here comes Muslim martyrs

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According to a book, A Brief on Shahada-u, Islam was the first religion in Uganda to get official martyrs in 1875, long before Christianity. And they were many more. 


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If Government gets committed to its promise, Ugandans will soon have a special commemoration of Muslim martyrs, the development of the Muslim martyrs site at Namugongo and enough literature on the Muslim martyrdom in Uganda. 

This was pledged by President Yoweri Museveni while hosting the Muslim community for Iftar dinner at State House Entebbe on Tuesday.

“People who were killed in Namugongo were Catholics, Protestants and Muslims. They were killed because they had joined Christianity and Islam. We shall see how to work on that land, identify the names of the Muslims Martyrs and develop the site as we have done for the Catholics and Protestants,” the president said.

He also promised to salvage the Muslim Martyrs land at Namugongo which was donated by President Idi Amin in memory of the Muslim heroes. 

According to Sheikh Ramadan Shaban Mubajje, the land was six acres before it was encroached upon by suspected land grabbers. 

The remaining land is less than an acre. It has a mosque, the Masjid Noor-Shuhada’e, which was built in the memory of the Muslims coverts. 

Mubajje reminded the President of his earlier promise to help recover the land from the encroachers and Museveni promised to do so.

The Uganda Muslim Supreme Council (UMSC) has a plan to expand the mosque at Namugongo to international standards. 

The project is headed by Hajji Badru Kateregga of Kampala University. 

He said his team is currently trying to gather more literature on the Muslim martyrs and popularize the martyrs by disseminating information to Muslims across the country who were ignorant about the subject.

“Today, the subject (that we also have martyrs) is no longer disputable. Although we are not going to do pilgrimages to the site because it conflicts with Islamic teachings, we need to know about these brave men who died in the name of Islam,” Kateregga says.

Namugongo land

President Amin acquired land just opposite the present Anglican Church Martyrs, and laid a foundation for a mosque. 

A small mosque, made of mud and iron sheets, was built at the site to coincide with the Christian martyrs’ celebrations that year. 

Amin had promised to build a bigger mosque later but was ousted in 1979 before he realised his dream. It is said that the stone he laid was later dug up by mercury prospectors and the bronze plaque that contained the inscription was also stolen.

Later, the mosque was knocked down and another, capable of hosting about 200 worshippers, was built a few meters away. 

But it was never officially opened due to various wrangles. And, over the years, it has slowly deteriorated.

In 2015, UMSC launched a sh3b development plan to redevelop the martyrs’ site at Namugongo. 

The project was to reconstruct the Masjid Noor mosque, a primary School, library, guest house and a museum. 

They also declared June 1 as the official day to commemorate those who died for Islam. Unlike the Christian June 3, the day would not be a holiday and not include pilgrimages. But it was supposed to be promoted by Uganda Tourism Board.

Muslim Martyrs

According to a book, A Brief on Shahada-u, Islam was the first religion in Uganda to get official martyrs in 1875, long before Christianity. And they were many more. 

The Muslims were killed by Kabaka Mutesa I, who was the father of Mwanga, who also killed Christian martyrs.

By the time of Kabaka Suna’s death, Islam had started taking root in Buganda, having been introduced by Arabs and Swahili traders from the coast. 

When Kabaka Mutesa I ascended the throne, he studied the Quran and its teachings and allowed his subjects to adopt it. But he did not impose the new religion on his subjects. 

According to writings by Sir Apollo Kaggwa, a regent of Kabaka Daudi Chwa, Mutesa had learnt to read and write Arabic and bestowed upon himself the title of Imam. 

Rev. Batulimayo Musoke Zzimbe, in his book, Buganda Nne Kabaka, said that Mutesa was so committed to Islam that he even ordered a mosque to be built at his palace in Kasubi, then known as Nabulagala. He even started leading the prayers himself.

However, Mutesa did not completely fulfil all the Quran’s requirements for Islam. 

He had refused to be circumcised on the advice of his Katikkiro Mukasa, who told him that Buganda traditions forbade the king to shed his blood. But it could have been due to the fear of pain. 

In those days, circumcision was carried out using sharpened reeds. It was a long and slow painful surgical procedure without anaesthesia to dull the pain. 

Mutesa also continued to eat meat from animals slaughtered by non-Muslims. 

For the Muslim converters, a kabaka who was not circumcised was acceptable as an Imam for strategic reasons. 

But later, when a group of Muslim fundamentalists from Egypt visited the Kabaka’s court at Kasubi, they were unhappy at the kabaka’s un-Islamic conduct and reluctance to be circumcised. 

The visitors reportedly incited the rest of the king’s subjects to rebel against an uncircumcised Kabaka.

Soon, the subjects started challenging him openly about his lifestyle. Many stopped turning up for prayers led by him. 

He decided to investigate and was mad to discover that his subjects were calling him a kaffir (a non-believer). 

So, he held a grand feast to celebrate the opening of a new mosque and slaughtered several cows for the occasion. Many Muslims ate just the food and refused to touch the meat.

Mutesa construed it as an act of treason and ordered all those who had refused to eat the meat to be arrested. Over 70 were rounded up and taken to jail in Bukeesa, near Nakulabye where they were confined for four days without food.

On the fourth day, the Kabaka sent them some food and meat. They ate everything except the meat. 

He had them transferred to another jail in Nansana, hoping they will come to their senses sooner but, still, on the fourth day, they again rejected his meat. 

He relocated them to Bukoto where again they ate everything else apart from his meat. 

He, therefore, ordered his chief executioner to kill them. The exact date and month of their martyrdom are not known but it said, they were marched to Namugongo and killed in 1877. 

More than 70 martyrs were burnt to death that day. The few known Muslims who were killed that day are Mponye Buwonyi, Muddu Awulira, Biira, Bamutalira and Mukwanga. 

Others are Kaganyulo, Bazzekuketa, Kalule, Nsereko and Kisegula. Also Mabende, Mukeka, Namwanira, Mafembe, and Muwanga. Three of them; Yusuf Sebakiwa, Amulane Tuzinde and Musirimu Lwanga died during of the long trek to Namugongo. 

According to Musana, Islam doesn’t allow paying homage to the martyrs through pilgrimages to the shrines in Namugongo as Christians do. The only accepted pilgrimage in the Muslim faith is to Mecca.

The Imam of Kibuli Mosque, Sheikh Abdul-Salama Mutyaba, explains that there is nothing wrong in remembering the martyrs through prayers provided Namugongo is not turned into a centre of pilgrimage like Mecca.

“If it is about praying for the dead. It is not haram (forbidden) because that is seeking God’s pardon for the dead Muslims. 

But if it is about pilgrimage, then it is against Islam because Allah only talks about Mecca where we all congregate and where there is Ka’aba (the Sacred House),” he explained.

 Islam celebration

According to Hajj Suleiman Kawanguzi Musana, coordinator at the Uganda Muslim Supreme Council (UMSC), Muslims will commemorate this year’s Uganda Martyrs with a high powered delegation tour of historical sites of significance to the Muslim martyrs. 

The tour will begin at Mulungu landing site in Munyonyo, where the first Arabs Ahmad bin Ibrahim, and Snay bin Amir landed in Buganda in 1843. 

It will proceed to Nateete, where more than 500 Muslims were killed and buried following the Buganda religious wars.

They will also visit Kasubi tombs where the first mosque – Masjid Qiblatain – was built and continue to Wamala tomb where Kabaka Suuna II, received the first Quran. This Quran is still being kept at Kasubi.

The delegation will then visiting Mende-Kalema where Kabaka Kalema was circumcised. Kalema became the first Buganda king to be circumcised. 

The tour will end at Masjid Noor Shahadau ‘Muslim Martyrs’ Mosque in Namugongo on June 1, where they will hold prayers and later break the fast. 

Islam in Uganda

According to the 2014 National Census, 13.7% of Ugandans are Muslims, making it the third largest religion after Catholics (39.3%) and Anglicans (32.2%) Born Again come fourth at 11.1%. Most belong to the Sunni sect, with a large minority of Ahmadis. 

Central Uganda has 18.4% of Muslims, followed by the Eastern with 17%, Northern 8.5% and Western with 4.5%. Nevertheless, the district with most Muslims is Yumbe in Northern with 76.2% of its population professing Islam.

Islam arrived in Uganda from the north and through inland networks of the East African coastal trade by the mid-nineteenth century. 

The first Muslim Arab trader, Ahmed bin Ibrahim reached kabaka’s court in 1844. 

Some Baganda Muslims trace their family’s conversion to the period in which Kabaka Mutesa I converted to Islam in the 19th century. 

When Idi Amin became president in 1971, the Muslim community exuded vibrancy and went to the forefront of power and benefitted from it. 

Amin tried to unite the different sects and started the Uganda Muslim Supreme Council. 

However, at his fall in 1979, Muslims became the victims of the backlash that followed.

source Here comes Muslim martyrs – Uganda News in Luganda (

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