Education is vital for Ugandan Muslims

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Updated 14 December 2012

Education is vital for Ugandan Muslims

The following article is based on an interview that Dr. Sengendo gave to Islam Online.

Islam reached Uganda in 1844, where the first group of Muslim traders came to Uganda through the east African coast — they were mainly from Oman. Because they were traders, they did not spend a lot of time in Dawah in Uganda, but with Islam being a practical religion, these traders used to pray, and used to fast. The Africans who were helping them used to see what these Muslims were doing and would learn Islam. Eventually, Islam started spreading to other parts of the country and now the Muslim community in Uganda constitutes 30 per cent of the population—that’s about 10 million people, because the population of Uganda in about 33-34 million. So, Uganda has more Muslims than Libya, and more than many other Arab countries.
Since historical times, the official number of Muslims has always been lower than in actuality. I can recall the first census was in 1959, the per centage of Muslims was officially stated to be 10 per cent. To this day, they say that the Muslims are about 12 per cent, when clearly the rate of population growth is much higher in Muslims than Christians.
So we believe that the official figures are deliberately lower, but many studies indicate that Muslims make up at least 30 per cent of Uganda. If you go to the neighboring countries, Tanzania is 65 per cent Muslim, but you never hear about it at all — it’s a Muslim majority country, Kenya is about 40 per cent, Ethiopia is supposed to be about 55 per cent Muslim, Malawi is about 40 per cent. So, these are sizable Muslim minorities, and in some cases majorities, but because of the lack of effective education, many of these Muslims have not been able to play an effective role in the socio-economic situation of their countries, and that is where the real strategic thinking must be, how to empower Muslims in Africa to be able to get a good education, knowledge, profession, and of course good Islamic values and morals so that they can better contribute to their country, and to also show a good image of Islam. This is where the challenge is — empowering the Muslims with knowledge and skill to be able to fend for themselves and also contribute to the socio-economic development of their countries.
In 1972, there was an attempt to unite Muslims, so the United Muslim Supreme Council was created. That is the official body representing Muslims. Unfortunately, like in other countries, the Muslims find that in spite of that structure, the Muslims are always divided for one reason or another. We have much work to do amongst ourselves; to be able to unite ourselves, resolving our differences, and working together for the common good.
That being said, with every problem, there are advantages. You just need to look for them. That kind of disunity has enabled Islam to expand. It’s miraculous; Allah works in many different ways. When the Muslims are in one group, and they disagree and separate into two groups, both of these groups remain Muslim. One group will build a mosque, and the other will build a mosque as well; where you would have had one mosque, now you have two. One group will build a school, and another will build a school as well; where you would have had one school, now you have two. So, in the process of this apparent problem, there are many advantages, which in the long run, could be useful for Muslims, Allah knows best. Nonetheless, unity is important.
Africa is an interesting continent. First of all, it is the only continent where the Muslims are a majority; Africa is a Muslim continent. In my country, Uganda alone, we have over 60 tribes. Is there a particular tribe that is more Muslim than another? Not really, especially in eastern Africa. In some tribes there are few Muslims, in others there are many Muslims. If you take West Africa for instance, most of the Hausa are Muslims, while the Igbo would not have many Muslims. In Uganda specifically, most Muslims are from a tribe called Baganda, we also have tribes in the west Nile region who are Muslims.
When it comes to other tribes like the Karamojong, who are cousins of the Maasai, there are not many Muslims, but in the coast, due to the influence of the Middle East, you find many Muslims. So basically, many Muslims live in urban areas as opposed to rural areas, because of trade. But by and large, you would not be able to find a tribe where there are no Muslims—this is the beauty of Islam in Africa.
The Christian missionaries came to Uganda about 33 years after Islam, but because they were well organized as missionaries, they were able to spread Christianity very fast. Wherever they went they would build a church, build a hospital, and a school. In the process, they were able to overtake the Muslims in numbers. When the British colonialists came, they assisted the Christian missionaries. So, as of now, Uganda is a Christian majority country; the Muslims are a sizable minority, but hanks to God, the political system enables the Muslims to practice their religion freely. We have no hindrances, we can build our own schools, build mosques, we can teach our children Islam, women can wear hijab, and we can do many other Islamic activities.
To be continued next week

n Dr. Ahmad Kawesa Sengendo is rector,
the Islamic University, Uganda

Of course, because the majority of people are Christians, Muslims sometimes feel left out in some aspects of social life and political life. For instance, out of a cabinet of 69 ministers, there would only be 6 Muslim ministers. In the field of education, the Muslims were left behind, so much so that at the time of independence, there were only 2 Muslim graduates, but Thanks to God and thanks to the various efforts including that of the Islamic University in Uganda the number of Muslim graduates has increased, and Muslims are able to play a more effective role in the socio-economic development of Uganda.
The Muslims have made tremendous strides in the field of education. The number of schools has increased. We also have a university, which was the first private university in Uganda. We have many Muslims in trade. We have many mosques. In agriculture, the Muslims are also there. In business, we have many Muslims engaged in businesses.
Of course, the level of poverty among the Muslims is still high, which is a major concern that we need to be able to address. This poverty is mainly due to the low level of education, which is what we are trying to address as of now, especially among the Muslim girls. Generally in Africa, women are left behind in education among other aspects, but among the women, the Muslim women are even worse off. So we are trying to make some deliberate attempts to address the issue of education and healthcare among women. Now, a hospital is being built, where some female Muslim doctors have started a clinic where the women can go and be able to get some attention. We are working on many other aspects. The odds are many, but Thanks to God there is progress. Given the fact that the political leadership does not interfere in the affairs of Muslims, that gives us the capacity to be able to move forward in a more coherent and strategic way.
The Islamophobia virus has spread to all parts of the world, and Uganda is not an exception, especial now that we are living in a global village where the media creates the barriers. In Uganda, we have had problems relating to terrorism — in July last year, we had a bomb blast in Kampala, killing people. Of course, the usual excuse is to blame it on Muslims. So, we’ve had our own share of the difficulties associated with 9/11, Islamophobia, and equivocating Islam to terrorism. But, as time goes by, people would understand that there is a difference between Islam and Muslims. Islam is not the same as Muslims.
There are many good Muslims, who do good things to improve the image of Islam, but there are also Muslims who do wrong things that are out of the fold of Islam, and it would be wrong to associate that with Islam; just as we have Christians who do good things and Christians who do bad things. The person responsible for the Oklahoma bombing was not a Muslim, the people who committed atrocities in Sarajevo in Bosnia and Herzegovina were not Muslims, the people who started the First and Second World War were not Muslims, the people who bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki were not Muslims. So, terrorism is not confined to a specific religion, it is the mental state of certain individuals, regardless of their religion, color, or race, and it is wrong for anyone to equate it to a particular faith or way of belief.
We as Muslims have a duty to improve the image of Islam and to project the correct image of Islam. There are many Muslim who do not understand Islam — and to me that is the biggest threat — and therefore, do things in the name of Islam. We also have Christians who do not understand Islam and think that they do. Once we have this cocktail of ignorance, and social and economic pressures, you have a recipe for worldly competition and many social evils.
But we must all try to find a common ground, because theoretically, the dividing line between Islam and Christianity is very thin and very porous. As a Muslim, I cannot be a Muslim unless I believe in Jesus, in his miraculous birth, in the miracles he performed with God’s permission, and his second coming. Where the Muslims differ fundamentally is when the Christians say that Jesus is the son of God. Muslims would then say: no, he is an honorable prophet of God, yes born miraculously, but that is not the biggest miracle; Adam, the first man, he did not have a father or mother. So we have many common aspects with the Christians and in many cases the Jews. It is up to us as human whether we want to concentrate on the things that bind us together or the things divide us. If we were to concentrate on what binds us together, we would be able to make the world a better place for all of us.

How involved are the Ugandan Muslims in media?
Well, media is one of our weaknesses, but now, everyone is now realizing the power of media. There have been some efforts in media however. We have FM radio stations that are operated by Muslims; even though, they are few compared to the Christian stations, but they are able to convey the message of Islam. We are not involved in printed media yet, there are few, but they are not consistent. We also do not have a television station yet.
However, in the Islamic University, we have a department of mass communication, where we train many of our students in mass communication, and are now working on starting our own FM radio station. The government has already approved a license for us, we bought some of the equipment, but we need assistance in buying the remaining equipment and to put up our own towers. We are making strides, but we are still way behind in that area, which is extremely crucial.

The Islamic University of Uganda
The Islamic University in Uganda is an institution established by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), which is based in Jeddah, Saudi
Arabia. It was established to address a historical imbalance. The colonialists in east Africa, just like elsewhere, deliberately left out the Muslims in education. So the Muslim heads of states met in 1974 in Lahore, Pakistan, and asked why the Muslims were so weak? What went wrong in the past? They realized that one of the historical problems was the lack of education in Muslims. So they decided to set up Islamic universities; two in Africa, one in Niger to support the French speaking countries, and one in Uganda to serve the English speaking African countries. Of course they also established one in Pakistan, one in Malaysia, and many other Islamic universities.
However, even though the decision was made in 1974, the university did not start until 1988 — that’s a gestation period of 14 years. When we started in
1988, we had 80 students, and two-degree programs. Since then the university has developed to serving 7,000 students from 21 countries. So far, we have had 13,000 graduates, who are now serving in the public and private sector. In Uganda, one of the governmental ministers was a student of ours, we also have over 20 members of parliament, many in the civil service, the police, the army, and the commander of the Ugandan air force was also a former student of the Islamic university.
Of course, we also have non-Muslim students as well in the Islamic university; about 30 per cent of ours students are Christians. We have 6 faculties: The faculty of Islamic studies and the Arabic language, the faculty of education, arts and social sciences, management studies, science, and the faculty of law. We also have a center for post-graduate studies.
Our graduates have played a very significant role. For instance, earlier, before we started graduating teachers from our university, even in a Muslim secondary school all the teachers were Christians. You would even find in some schools Christians teaching Islam. Now, we have enough Muslim teachers to run all our schools and more. We are now exporting some of our teachers to other countries. As I said previously, our students were able to contribute to society greatly. Thanks to God, the social impact of the university is real. The university also enjoys much legal support from the government.
The challenges are still many. The funding of the university is still not very good, because we get limited funding from the OIC, along with a few donations from Al-Nahyan Foundation of Emirates, and the Zakat House of Kuwait, along with Iqraa and other organizations. But, by and large, we are 90 per cent dependent on student tuition fees, which is a problem, because many of the students come from poor backgrounds, and about 20 per cent of them fail to pay their fees. It is very painful to see a bright young girl or boy who could have become a future professor failing to move forwards due to poverty.

(Rector, the Islamic University, Uganda)

— Courtesy of

The beauty of prayer in Islam

Updated 23 September 2016

The beauty of prayer in Islam

GOING deeper into our spiritual state during prayers (salah) requires that we have a presence of heart and are mindful of the words being said during the prayers.
Our prayer will feel shorter, yet when we look at how much time we actually spent, we will think, “Did I just spend 10 minutes?” or even 15 and 20 minutes.
A person who began applying this said he wished the prayer would never end.
A feeling that Ibn Al-Qayyim describes as “what the competitors compete for… it is nourishment for the soul and the delight of the eyes,” and he also said, “If this feeling leaves the heart, it is as though it is a body with no soul.”

The love of Allah
Some people’s relationship with Allah is limited to following orders and leaving prohibitions, so that one does not enter hell. Of course, we must follow orders and leave prohibitions, but it needs to be done out of more than fear and hope; it should also be done out of love for Allah. Allah says in the Qur’an: “… Allah will bring forth [in place of them] a people He will love and who will love Him.” (Qur’an, 5:54)
We often find that when a lover meets the beloved, hearts are stirred and there is warmth in that meeting. Yet when we meet Allah, there is not even an ounce of this same feeling. Allah says in the Qur’an: “And (yet) among the people are those who take other than Allah as equals (to Him). They love them as they (should) love Allah. But those who believe are stronger in love for Allah.” (Qur’an, 2:165)
And those who believe are stronger in love for Allah. There should be a feeling of longing, and when we raise our hands to start the prayer, warmth and love should fill our hearts because we are now meeting with Allah. A dua of the Prophet (peace be upon him): “O Allah, I ask You for the longing to meet You” (An-Nisa’i, Al-Hakim)
Ibn Al-Qayyim says in his book Tareeq Al-Hijratain that Allah loves His Messengers and His believing servants, and they love Him and nothing is more beloved to them than Him. The love of one’s parents has a certain type of sweetness, as does the love of one’s children, but the love of Allah far supersedes any of that. The Prophet, peace be upon him, said: “Any person who combines these three qualities will experience the sweetness of faith: 1) that God and His messenger are dearer to him than anything else; 2) that his love of others is purely for God’s sake; and 3) that he hates to relapse into disbelief as much as he hates to be thrown in the fire.” (Bukhari)
Thus, the first thing he mentioned was: “… that God and His messenger are more beloved to him than anything else…”
Ibn Al-Qayyim says: “Since ‘there is nothing like unto Him’ (Qur’an, 42:11), there is nothing like experiencing love for Him.”
If you feel this love for Him, it will be a feeling so intense, so sweet, that you would wish the prayer would never ever end.
Do you truly want to feel this love? Then ask yourself: ‘why do you or should you love Allah?’
Know that you love people for one (or all, in varying degrees) of three reasons: For their beauty, because of their exalted character or/and because they have done good to you. And know that Allah combines all of these three to the utmost degree.

All-embracing beauty
We’ve all been touched by beauty. It is almost fitrah (natural disposition) to love what is beautiful. Ali ibn Abi Talib, may Allah be pleased with him, said about the Prophet, peace be upon him, that it was “as if the sun is shining from his face.” Jabir (may God be pleased with him) said: “The Messenger of Allah was more handsome, beautiful, and radiant than the full moon” (Tirmidhi)
Allah made all His Prophets have a certain beauty so that people would have a natural inclination toward them.
And beauty is more than what is in the face, because beauty is in all of creation and somehow has the ability to take our breath away and give us peace simultaneously. The glimmer of the crescent moon on a calm night, the intensity of a waterfall as the water drops for thousands of feet, the sunset by the sea … certain scenes of natural unspoiled beauty stirs something in us. As Allah is the One Who made it beautiful, so what of Allah’s beauty?
Ibn Al-Qayyim said: “And it is enough to realize Allah’s Beauty when we know that every internal and external beauty in this life and the next are created by Him, so what of the beauty of their Creator?”
This fitrah for loving what is beautiful is because Allah is beautiful. One of His Names is Al-Jameel (the Most Beautiful). Ibn Al-Qayyim states that the beauty of Allah is something that a person cannot imagine and only He knows it. There is nothing of it in creation save for glimpses.
Ibn Al-Qayyim says if all of creation were the most beautiful they could be (so let’s imagine, ever single human being looked as beautiful as Yusuf, peace be upon him, and the whole world was like Paradise), and all of them combined from the beginning of time until the Day of Judgment, they would not even be like a ray in comparison to the sun when compared to Allah. Allah’s beauty is so intense that we will not even be able to take it in this life. In the Qur’an, Allah describes Musa’s (peace be upon him) request: “And when Moses arrived at Our appointed time and his Lord spoke to him, he said, ‘My Lord, show me (Yourself) that I may look at You.’ (Allah) said: ‘You will not see Me but look at the mountain; if it should remain in place, then you will see Me.’ But when his Lord appeared to the mountain He rendered it level, and Moses fell unconscious.” (Qur’an, 7:143)
Even the mountain could not bear the beauty of Allah and crumbled, and when Musa, peace be upon him, saw this (he did not even see Allah), he fell unconscious. This is why on the Day of Judgment it is Allah’s light that will shine on everything. We talk about breathtaking beauty, but we have yet to experience Allah’s beauty. While things in this world can be beautiful or majestic or if they combine both they are finite, true majesty and beauty are for Allah: “And there will remain the Face of your Lord, Owner of Majesty and Honor.” (Qur’an, 55:27)
Keeping all of this in mind, the Prophet, peace be upon him, said: “Allah directs His Face toward the face of His servant who is praying, as long as he does not turn away” (Tirmidhi).
Remember this in your prayer, and ask Allah to allow you the joy of seeing Him in Paradise.