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Uganda Table of Contents



In 1989 Islam was practiced by an estimated 2.6 million Ugandans, representing roughly 15 percent of the population. Islam had arrived in Uganda from the north and through inland networks of the East African coastal trade by the mid-nineteenth century. Some Baganda Muslims trace their family's conversion to the period in which the kabaka Mutesa I converted to Islam in the nineteenth century.

Islam is a monotheistic religion based on revelations received in seventh-century Arabia by the prophet Muhammad. His life is recounted as the early history of the religion, beginning with his travels from the Arabian town of Mecca about A.D. 610. Muhammad denounced the polytheistic religions of his homeland, preaching a series of divine revelations. He became an outcast, and in A.D. 622, he was forced to flee to the town of Yathrib, which became known as Medina (the city) through its association with Muhammad. The flight (hijra) marked the beginning of the Islamic era and of Islam as a powerful force in history. It also marked the year A.D. 622 as the beginning of the Islamic calendar. Muhammad ultimately defeated his detractors in battle and consolidated his influence as both temporal and spiritual leader of many Arabs before his death in A.D. 632.

After Muhammad's death, his followers compiled his words that they believed were direct from God (Allah) and produced the Quran, the holy scripture of Islam. Muhammad's teachings and his actions as recalled by those who knew him became the hadith (sayings). From these sources, the faithful constructed the Prophet's customary practice, or sunna, which they emulate. The Quran, hadith, and sunna form a comprehensive guide to the spiritual, ethical, and social life of the faithful in most Muslim countries.

The central requirement of Islam is submission to the will of God, and accordingly, a Muslim is a person who has submitted his will to God. The most important demonstration of faith is the shahada (profession of faith) which states "There is no God but God (Allah), and Muhammad is his prophet." Salat (daily prayer), zakat (almsgiving), sawm (fasting), and hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca) are also required of the faithful.

When Idi Amin, a Ugandan Muslim, became president in 1971, his presidency seemed to be a victory for Uganda's Muslim community. Then in 1972, Amin's expulsion of Asians from Uganda reduced the Muslim population significantly. As his administration deteriorated into a brutal and unsuccessful regime, Uganda's Muslims began to distance themselves from those in power. After Amin's overthrow in 1979, Muslims became the victims of the backlash that was directed primarily against the Kakwa and Nubian ethnic groups who had supported Amin. Yusuf Lule, who served a brief term as president from 1979 to 1980, was also a Muslim (and a Muganda). He was not a skillful politician, but he was successful in reducing the public stigma attached to Islam.

In 1989 President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni appealed to Uganda's Muslim community to contribute to national reconstruction, and he warned other Ugandans not to discriminate against Muslims. But at the same time, Museveni admonished Ugandans to avoid "sectarian" allegiances, and this warning was directed at the Islamic community as well as other ethnic and religious groups.

Data as of December 1990