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Mufti Mubajje goes into hiding

By YAHYA SSEREMBA

The whereabouts of Ugandan Mufti Sheikh Shaban Ramadhan Mubajje are unknown a day after hundreds of Muslims mounted a nearly-successful offensive to drive him out of the headquarters of the Uganda Muslim Supreme Council (UMSC) at Old Kampala.  

Equally secret is the hideout of most senior members of Sheikh Mubajje’s isolated administration. Contrary to routine, neither Mubajje nor his leading officials attended the Juma (Friday) prayers at the national mosque, which were presided over by a junior cleric. 

The prayers were conducted under makeshift tents outside the magnificent mosque that remained locked for fear of being seized by the followers of a rival mufti.

In his Friday sermon, Sheikh Ali Juma Shiwoyo said the youth who attempted to seize the seat of the UMSC, which is also home to the national mosque constructed by Col. Muammar al-Gaddafi, merely succumbed to the manipulation of self-interested clerics whose opposition to Mubajje is driven by tribalistic sentiments.

Mubajje’s troubles started in 2006 when it emerged that he had secretly sold Muslim properties he was supposed to safeguard. A group of Muslims dragged him to a secular court, but he was acquitted on grounds that his office had the authority to dispose of Muslim properties. 

But Mubajje didn’t win in the court of public opinion, especially in central Uganda – the heart of the country’s everything, including political as well as religious affairs. In the eyes of many faithful believers, the name Mubajje became synonymous with mubbi, the local language word for thief.

His unpopularity continued mounting until a section of the Muslim community chose for itself another mufti, Sheikh Zubair Kayongo, and pitched camp at Islam’s historical hill of Kibuli.

The enthusiasm with which Sheikh Kayongo was embraced reflected the bitterness with which Mubajje was discarded. Mubajje’s former associates, the salafis (locally known as the tabliqs), who propelled him to prominence because he shared their literal interpretation of Islam, openly sided with Sheikh Kayongo whose brand of Islam they would otherwise denounce as adulterated by innovations.

To the puritanical salafis, Sheikh Kayongo was now the lesser of the two evils – a lesser evil with whom a temporary alliance could be forged to fight the greater evil. Moreover, Mubajje had also deviated from “pure Islam” by attending maulid (celebrations of the Prophet’s birthday). 

The youthful salafis thus buried their theological differences with their older brethrens – who don't keep beards and who celebrate the Prophet’s birthday – to fight the greater evil in Mubajje.

This fight gathered astonishing impetus when Mubajje tried to win some legitimacy by organizing countrywide elections to constitute a new UMSC general assembly. With the full backing of the so-called grandfather of Islam, Prince Kassim Nakibinge, rival Mufti Kayongo’s loyalists reacted by matching to Old Kampala Thursday to stop the elections and possibly to topple Mubajje.

Just meters away from its destination, the match dispersed after tasting enough of the wrath of a heavily armed police deployment. The match neither toppled Mubajje nor stopped his elections outside central Uganda, but it must have cast fear into the heart of the mufti who ranks number three on The Campus Journal’s list of 10 Most Corrupt Ugandans.

The match equally demonstrated the extent to which President Museveni’s government constitutes the lifeblood of Mubajje’s maladministration. This Museveni-Mubajje marriage highlights the similarities between the two leaders, especially their eagerness to dip their hands into public coffers.

But Museveni’s support has limitations – it cannot enable Mubajje to set foot in almost all mosques in Kampala, or even attend Friday prayers at the headquarters of his own administration.

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