Uganda: Muslims Ready to Welcome Pope Francis With Open Hands

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SHAFAQNA – During his upcoming visit to Uganda, Pope Francis is scheduled to meet with among others, a delegation representing members of the Muslim community in the country. The head of communication and information at the Uganda Muslim Supreme Council (UMSC) headquarters at Old Kampala, Hajj Nsereko Mutumba, has assured Catholics that the Muslim community will join the rest of Ugandans in welcoming the pontiff.

“We have no problem whatsoever with the Pope’s visit, since we currently enjoy cordial relations with the Christian community, including Catholics,” Hajj Mutumba said. He observed that in today’s Uganda, both Christians and Muslims need each other in order to survive.

‘We all face the same problems; poverty, illiteracy, HIV/Aids, malaria and other health hazards don’t target a particular religion, but attack us all together, a reason we must work together to get rid of them,” he said.

According to Hajj Mutumba, the UMSC has respect for other religious leaders in Uganda and the world as clearly stipulated in their constitution’s Article 5.

He disclosed that during his first year of being posted to Uganda, Apostolic Nuncio Michael Blume visited Mufti Ramadhan Mubajje at Old Kampala Mosque and delivered a special message of peace from Pope Francis to Ugandan Muslims.

“During the meeting, the Mufti told Archbishop Blume that we were all created to know and co-exist with each other, and never to kill each other.”

Hajj Mutumba added that during the meeting, the Mufti appealed to the international media to differentiate between acts of individual groups of people from religions that they claim to belong to. The Nuncio reportedly made it clear that the goal of Pope Francis was to promote peace and interfaith dialogue.

Sajjabi led muslims to meet pope John Paul 11 in 1993

During Pope John Paul II’s visit to Uganda in 1993, not many people got an opportunity to meet and talk to him. However among the few lucky ones was Al-Haji Tezikuba Sajjabi, a senior presidential advisor for trade, commerce and industry. Tezikuba will never forget the day he was chosen to lead a delegation of Ugandan Muslims that met Pope John Paul II at St Joseph Secondary School, Nsambya.

“We spent some good 40 minutes chatting with the Pope in a room where only a few people were allowed and most of them being cardinals and bishops.” Being the leader of the Muslim delegation, Al-Haji Sajjabi sat closest to the Pope. “He first touched my hands for a while and prayed for me in Latin. He then inquired from me how Muslims and Christians related in this country. I assured him that the relations between the two groups had greatly improved of recent compared to the situation in the past,” he recalls.

He told the pontiff that all Ugandans needed one another irrespective of their different religions. Giving an example, he narrated to the pope about the first primary school he attended in Budiini, Kaliro, which belonged to the Catholic Church. Pope John Paul gave Al-haji Sajjabi a gift in form of a round-shaped disc or medal which he has kept safely up to this day. So many people, notably Catholics, have approached the Al-haji willing to buy the Pope’s gift from him, something he has turned down.

“After the meeting with the Pope, I walked out of the hall only to see hundreds of priests and nuns outside yearning to come closer to where the Pope was but with no chance at all. But who am I Sajjabi, a Muslim to be given an opportunity to touch his hands and speak to him directly? This is one day I will never forget in my life,” he says with almost tears of joy.

Al-Haji Sajjabi is one of the brains behind the formation of the Inter Religious Council of Uganda a few years ago.

He still remembers those difficult moments encountered when he used to approach the religious leaders of the time to try to convince them the importance of forming such an organisation of unity.

Popes relations with Muslims

Pope John Paul II will go down in history as the first pope ever to enter a mosque and the first to make such a meaningful gesture towards Islam. During his second trip to the Middle East in May 2001, Pope John Paul II made a speech at the Olmayyad Mosque in the Centre of Damascus, saying he was mindful of past centuries of conflict in the Middle East between Christians and Muslims and that he hoped religions would now find new ways at the start of the third millennium, “to present their respective creeds as partners and not as adversaries.”

As the Pope entered the mosque, his shoes were removed and he put on white slippers to walk on the carpeted floor, as is a Muslim tradition. The Pope urged Muslims and Christians to forgive each other of the past. He also appealed against religious fundamentalism of any kind. John Paul said young people needed to be taught respect and understanding.

“May the house of Christians and Muslims turn to one another in experience of brotherhood and friendship so God the Almighty may bless us with peace,” he said.

“For all the times that Muslims and Christians have offended one another, we need to seek forgiveness from the Almighty and to offer each other forgiveness,” the Pope said in his address to Muslims leaders, including the Grand Mufti of Syria.

The Pope’s purpose of the visit to the Middle East was to follow in the footsteps of St Paul. During St Paul, the apostle’s lifetime, the mosque was a Roman temple.

The temple became a Christian church and then 1,400 years ago, was taken over by Islamic believers. At the centre of the mosque, is a shrine believed to contain the head of John The Baptist, sacred to both Muslims and Christians.

In May 2009, Pope Benedict XVI visited the Hussein Bin-Talal mosque in the Jordanian capital of Amman, making the number of mosques entered to two after a previous visit to the legendary Blue mosque in Istanbul, Turkey in 2006. In November 2014, Pope Francis further demonstrated his commitment to improving relations between Christians and Muslims when he prayed in Istanbul’s historic Blue mosque and visited the Haggia Sophia-two powerful symbols of the Muslim and Christian faith.

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