Muslims, Christians unite behind mosque repair in Ugandan village

Headlines from Africa are often dominated by religious violence, be it attacks by the Islamist groups Boko Haram and al-Shabaab or clashes between Christian and Muslim militias in the Central African Republic.

But in a Ugandan village about 30 kilometres south-east of the capital Kampala, Christians and Muslims are proving an exception to interfaith tensions elsewhere. The Namayiba residents are working side-by-side to repair an 80-year-old mosque - a project with Christian funding that has been welcomed by locals.

"People are saying that it is strange for Christians to donate to the mosque, but we say that this is unity between faiths," says imam Yusuf Kasenge, who watches volunteers push wheelbarrows filled with concrete in front of the rectangular mosque on a dusty roadside in the village.

The mosque was in danger of collapsing due to rain damage last year when Geoffrey Nsereko Simple, from an association representing Ugandans living in the United States, visited his former home village.

"I was driving around the village when I saw the mosque in a terrible state," Nsereko told the newspaper New Vision. "This moved me and I promised myself to do something for my community in Uganda after consulting the mosque leaders on what was needed."

Boston-based Nsereko approached Ugandans living in the US, Canada and Japan, raising more than 3,500 dollars, according to figures given by New Vision. More than 100 Christians contributed from the US alone, the paper reported. Imam Kasenge said most of them were Anglicans.

Most of the volunteers repairing the mosque are Christians from Namayiba or from the US, according to residents. Locals also contributed materials such as concrete.

"I'm a Christian, but this work involves all of us," said Alex Mulwanyi, one of the volunteers. "We are concerned, because this mosque is in our midst and its development means developing the area."

The refurbished mosque will have room for 300 worshippers, up from 200, according to Kasenge. It will also have new flooring, painting and a pit latrine.

"We have a good working relationship with Christians," Kasenge said, adding that he only saw few differences between the two faiths. "I am very happy about what these people have done," he said.

Uganda saw violence between Muslims and Christians in the late 19th century, and Muslims complained of harassment and marginalization after the fall of dictator Idi Amin, who was a Muslim, in 1979.

But today, interfaith hostility is nearly non-existent in the east African country, where Christians make up about 85 per cent and Muslims 14 per cent of the population of nearly 40 million.

The religious coexistence achieved Ugandans stands in stark contrast to the situation in some other African countries. The Central African Republic has for years been ravaged by inter-religious violence, while the Nigeria-based terrorist group Boko Haram attacks both Muslims and Christians in its campaign to establish an Islamist state.

The insurgent group's East African equivalent, al-Shabaab, last week launched a large-scale attack on African Union peacekeepers in southern Somalia, claiming to have killed 100 Kenyans and prompting Kenya to bomb the area.

When Nsereko was seeking funds in the US, "everyone expressed concern why me, a non-Muslim, was the one leading the campaign to revamp a mosque. They always asked me, why not do it for a church, you are a Christian," he said.

But even as both Muslims and Christians welcome the project, some locals are skeptical.

"Muslims are not easy people to deal with," said Disan Kalungi, a 20-year-old Christian. "It is strange that they even accept Christians to contribute money for their mosque," he added.

The Namayiba mosque is not the only example of coexistence and support between the two faiths.

When al-Shabaab attacked a bus in north-eastern Kenya in December, Muslim passengers refused to obey orders to separate from Christians in order to protect them from being killed, the newspaper Daily Nation and other media reported.

The restoration of the Namayiba mosque "is a positive community development venture, because it helps to unite people," Catholic village elder Roy Namayanja said.

Hajji Nsereko Mutumba, a spokesman for the Uganda Muslim Supreme Council, agreed. "This is a welcome gesture. We have a good working relationship with people of other faiths," Mutumba said.

Last update: Wed, 20/01/2016 - 16:05

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