In his 1908 book, My African Journey, written after his 1907 tour of several African countries, Sir Winston Churchill, perhaps Britain’s most famous prime minister, wrote: “For magnificence, for variety to forms and colour, for profusion of brilliant life; bird, insect, reptile, beast – for vast scale, Uganda is truly ‘the Pearl of Africa’.”
Many of those who have visited Uganda have attested to this fact, the latest being the famous preacher Ismail Musa Menk, Zimbabwe’s Mufti. The renowned motivational speaker was in the country from June 21 to 24, on his Building Bridges tour that has seen him visit several countries preaching peace and peaceful coexistence.
While preaching at the Nelson Mandela National Stadium at Namboole, Menk said he now knows why Uganda is referred to as the Pearl of Africa.
“Before I came to Uganda, I always knew it was called the Pearl of Africa and now I can understand why; not only is the weather so beautiful, but trust me, the food is so organic that it puts to shame the food that is in other parts of the world…May Allah bless you; you are so lucky to live in this beautiful place…I promise you this is the greatest gift of Allah upon you and you should thank Him for that,” Menk said.
When at her coldest, Uganda’s temperature is between 15 and 18 degrees Celsius, and when at its hottest it is between 24 and 33 degrees Celsius. This is in contrast to many countries, even those on the African continent. For example, in Menk’s Zimbabwe temperatures are currently dipping as low as five degrees Celsius as southern Africa experiences its winter; at its hottest, Zimbabwe’s temperature rarely goes beyond 22 degrees – cold, by Ugandan standards.
Even neighbouring Kenya experiences very cold and wet weather with temperatures falling to as low as 10 degrees Celsius; no wonder, Menk and his entourage were enthralled.
Why Menk is popular
Apart from his eloquence and a good command of both English and Arabic languages, Menk’s down-to-earth character has endeared him to many. His preaching about everyday challenges and how to overcome them has also attracted a tremendous following for him by people across religious lines.
It is this down-to-earth character that he said leaders must aspire to attain if they want to leave a mark on people’s lives.
“I heard one speaker after another praising me; I think it’s unfair…I want to warn you about something, to raise a man to a level that is almost infallible is a crime. I promise you, I’m human, I have flaws, I have weaknesses, I make mistakes, I’m not perfect but to hear people one after another pretending – well, they might be saying it with good intention – but for me sitting there, it’s only not comfortable but as a leader I disagree,” Menk said while speaking Saturday at the VIP dinner at Pearl of Africa hotel.
He said the biggest problem with society is to raise leaders to levels higher than they deserve, which has bred arrogance and impunity.
“When you raise someone too high, even their mistakes become something you think is correct and that’s the way we fail. I would be failing in my duty as a leader or person people look up to if I did not tell you that nearly all of you are better than me,” Menk said.
“Disunity is caused by men and women who say things that you know are wrong but because we’ve propelled them to a position of infallibility, we just blindly follow their mistake although we know it’s wrong.”
“I expect you if you really love me, to tap me on my shoulder and say brother, I think you’re wrong. My father told me at a young age, ‘son, those who love you the most are those who quietly correct you; love them back.’ You will never excel no matter who you are if you don’t love those who correct you.”
He added that leaders must also learn to serve those they lead as this will nurture long-lasting relationships built on trust and love.
“I enjoy washing my own clothes, packing them, polishing my own shoes and I always tell those I travel with, please give me your clothes, I will wash and iron them because I know that’s how we will become endeared to one another. If you watch me when I travel, I don’t even allow people to pull my bag; the excuse I normally make is that this is like a walking stick for me; at least I have something to hold onto. I know our sheikhs, our leaders, our scholars…we will carry everything for them, we will make sure that we facilitate them but this has bred a lot of arrogance,” Menk said.
Live and let live
On the theme of his tour, Building Bridges, Menk thanked the people of Uganda for realising that there is benefit in living together as a people no-matter their religious, cultural and social differences. He said the world is full of challenges where Muslims are looked at with an eye of scepticism because of the perpetuation of crime by some people who claim a connection to Islam.
“That’s why we are here to clarify that you know what; the love that we have extends to even those we disagree with. How many of us here were not Muslims before? How many of our parents are not Muslims? How many of our forefathers were not Muslim? If Islam taught you to kill, they would be dead a long time ago and you wouldn’t be here,” Menk said.
He explained that building bridges begins with one’s self-respect by recognising who they are, removing from one’s heart the bad qualities; jealousy, envy and hate.
“You will never be at peace with others if you’re not at peace with yourself. Build bridges within our families; don’t allow people to destroy your relationship with your parents, children, brothers, sisters, your uncles and aunties, your in-laws. Respect people of other faiths, live side-by-side with them,” Menk said.
He also called upon people of other faiths to respect Muslims the same way they want to be respected.
“Don’t abuse our religion, don’t abuse Allah, don’t abuse the Prophet Muhammad [Peace be upon him]. Don’t judge us by the actions of a few. Unity is not uniformity but the ability to tolerate the one you disagree with; to be able to respect the rights of others in the similar way that you would want them to respect yours,” Menk said.
He also appealed to politicians to stop using religious differences as a pretext to kill people. He said they should learn to resolve political differences without resorting to war even when it takes years because blood of human beings is too sacred to be spilled for political ends.
Menk’s action-packed visit started Friday with him leading the Friday prayers at Muammar Gaddafi National Mosque. That evening he also hosted a corporate dinner at Hotel Africana in Kampala attended by over 1,000 people – mostly Kampala’s affluent and corporate Muslim world.
On Saturday, he visited parts of Kampala, climaxing the day with another dinner at Pearl of Africa hotel. On Sunday, he held his major public preaching at Namboole Stadium attended by about 30,000 people, with Internal Affairs minister Gen Haji Abubaker Jeje Odongo representing the president.
About Mufti Menk
Born in Harare, Zimbabwe in 1975, the influential Muslim cleric turns 44 tomorrow (June 27) and is a respected author of books including a collection of his most famous saying, titled Motivational Moments.
He is known for his advocacy work towards ending terrorism and religious extremism. His views on homosexuality, among other things, have, however, had him banned from entering countries such as Singapore and Denmark.