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Petty conflicts make us miss the bigger picture

The fasting of the holy month of Ramadhan is on. I would like to congratulate all Muslims for yet another opportunity to rejuvenate their faith, and to rededicate themselves to their creator, thus reaffirming their awareness of the reason for which they were created.

This year, Ramadan comes at a time when the Muslim Ummah in Uganda, as is the case elsewhere in the world, is trying to re-assert its identity in the face of others trying to define them.

As we speak, however, the Ummah does not speak with one voice on the major issues that matter to their welfare. It presents a tragic image of a ship without a captain, floating in a state of helplessness and desperation.

The Muslim world represents one-fifth of humanity, occupies a global land mass spreading over 57 countries, and possesses 70 per cent of the world’s energy resources and nearly 50 per cent of the world’s natural resources. This should make it a global giant, economically and politically.

However, while some of them are sitting on the world’s largest oil and gas reserves, many Muslim countries are poor, and are only nominally independent, without genuine political and economic freedom.

Their citizens are greatly dispossessed, and have for long been the victims of authoritarian rule. Their rulers are all at the mercy of the USA for their political strength and survival, and are responsible for the current political, economic and military subservience of their countries to the West.

While peace is the essence of Islam, Muslim nations have seen very little of it. In many of these countries, leaders are engaged in proxy wars, and in the majority of cases, their own citizens are the direct victims. The tragedies in Palestine, Kashmir, Iraq and Afghanistan represent the continuing helplessness of the Muslim world in this regard.

For a long time, and especially after 9/11, Islam as a religion has been demonised and accused of complicity or involvement in terrorist activities. The world seems to have forgotten that there are legitimate struggles by Muslims to free themselves from oppression. Instead, Islam is being blamed for everything that goes wrong in any part of the world.

Images of alleged atrocities by Boko Haram, al-Shabab, al-Qaeda in the Maghreb, often carefully constructed by Western media, are used to define Islam to unsuspecting non-Muslims, young children and uncritical Muslim adults. As a result, many Muslims have been psychologically beaten. Palestine is tired and has given up. Kashmir is devastated. Pakistan is in confusion, with a leadership crisis at home, and external pressure abroad. Afghanistan is yet to breathe.

Algeria is in limbo, and Saudi Arabia and Kuwait are in slumber, under Western anaesthesia. Iran stands notified of eminent military action; and Turkey is under 24-hour watch, with its apparent Islamic re-awakening causing concern in many Western capitals. Iraq, Lebanon, Libya and Syria are burning, and Egypt is seated on a time-bomb. These are critical times for the Muslim world.

Things will not change unless the Muslim world wakes up and puts its house in order. It must shake itself back to reality, and take control of its own destiny through unity and a return to Islamic basics. The current debate on the Uganda Muslim Brothers and Sisters and elsewhere over the Kabwegyere, Mpezamihigo, Kanyeihamba and many other reports that will come is a sign of a community under psychological siege.

I note that lots of Muslim energies are being expended on the support, defence and demonising of one group or the other in the leadership divide. And yet our information is that all groups report to the same ‘anti-Muslim’ master.

As we immerse ourselves deeper into intra-community conflict, let us remember that there are other areas where the community is ill at ease. In many Christian-led schools, including those financed by the Ugandan taxpayer, the levels of anti-Muslim intolerance continue to rise.

Muslim children are being denied the right to pray and fast, or even to identify themselves as Muslims, while others are enticed to convert from Islam. At the same time, there is the continuing neglect and mismanagement in our own schools, on which many of you have had the opportunity to comment. We are also aware of the current attempt to disenfranchise our sisters by forcing to take off the veil in order to take photographs for passports, national identity cards, driving permits, and others.

At Makerere University, there have been attempts by some lecturers to prevent Muslim students from accessing the examination rooms while dressed in Hijab. While this move does not have institutional policy support, I have had occasion to overhear chorus support from some quarters within the university membership for the renegade lecturers engaged in this affront.

We should also not forget that our dismal representation in organs of government, including the civil service, the KCCA, and others, is not accidental. So is our absence from many boards and commissions, significantly including the Central Scholarships Committee in the ministry of Education.

Experiences like these should remind us that the war against Islam still rages on many fronts, while we fight petty leadership wars. The holy month of Ramadan is our opportunity to reflect upon these issues. Let’s us renew our commitment to the Uganda Muslim Supreme Council as the umbrella body for all Muslims of Uganda, and dialogue transparently and constrictively about its leadership.

The author is the national chairman of Uganda Muslim Youth Assembly (UMYA) .

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