The Spread And Expansion Of Islam In Sub Saharan Africa, Challenges And Prospects (Part II)

18 Feb 2012

By Mr. Muhammad Makaato

Paper to be presented at the International Conference on Islam in Africa: Historical, Cultural and Global Perspectives, 19th -21st July 2011 organized by the International Institute for Muslim Unity, International Islamic University Malaysia.

Islam during Colonial Period

Colonialism found Islam already well established and the Muslim communities had a highly developed culture with Swahili which was wide spread in Eastern Africa. The Muslims in East Africa resisted the colonial intrusion when they deeply get involved in the anti-colonial nationalist movements. The colonialists therefore, developed strategies and policies to change the status quo. This was through promoting "civilizing" mission. However, civilization meant both converting the people to Christianity and educating them into Western culture.  

The presence of Islam and Muslim communities in the East African region was a major obstacle to their mission. In areas where the Muslims were the majority of the population such as in Somalia, Sudan, Zanzibar and the Comoros.  The colonialists used educational system to undermine Islam; they produced a secularized, non-religious Africans. It was hoped that such an elite or middle class would undermine the power of Islam in their own countries and prevent the emergence of an Islamic state.  

In other societies where Islam had little influence like the interior of Kenya and Tanganyika, the colonialist created educated, anti-Muslim and anti-Arab elite. They used the Church, Colonial Government schools, all their resources and power to accomplish this task.  The colonialists propagated racial division and hatred by using slavery as an emotive issue of creating good and bad guys. They portrayed the Arabs and Muslims as bad people. For over 70 years colonial rule in East Africa, the implementation of these strategies resulted into conflicts. Other conflicts were promoted among Clans, which degenerated into a conflict between leaders fighting for power and wealth by using unemployed youth of lineages and clans. In Zanzibar it was a conflict between the "races", Africans, Afro-Shirazi and Arabs. In the Comoro conflict was in form of a struggle between secularists, and Islamists, and Uganda was along religion.  

In Uganda for instance, the colonialists left education under the hands of Christianity missionaries who discriminated the Muslims e.g. by 1962, the Muslims in Uganda had only two graduates. Muslims were left in informal sector as drivers, domestic servants, butchers etc. (Sekatawa, 2009: 185) 

 The colonialists distributed Buganda's wealth; land in 1900 Buganda Agreement according to the class stratification which based on religion and royalty. Since the Muslims had rebelled against the colonial agent; Lugard, they were the least to gain from the agreement and the government.(Sallie Simba1994:328). Whereas the Protestants and Catholics were given land on which to develop their clerical work, the Muslims were not given, yet land was the main determinant of wealth at a time. The community had to depend on the land given to their leader Prince Nuhu Mbogo who was given as a member of the royal family.

In terms of leadership, most of the positions went to the Protestants and Catholics. Out of 20 counties in Buganda the Muslims were given two; Butambala and Gomba. This greatly undermined the position of the Muslims. Since the chiefs were influential in the society, as they were law makers, tax collectors and judges, denying the Muslims meant depriving them their influence they had in Buganda. (Sekatawa, M 2009:191). After effective occupation, the colonial government's policies did not favour the progress of the Muslim community. For instance in education sector, the colonial state left it in the hands of the Christian missionaries that discriminated other members of the society like the Muslims and traditionalists. 

The few Muslims who tried to join the missionary schools were indoctrinated into Christianity. The classic example here was Yusuf Kironde Lule from Butambala was converted at Kings College Budo (Kiyimba, 2003). This scared other Muslims from joining such schools and left the whole community uneducated. The efforts by the Muslims to establish their secular schools were fruitless since they lacked finance, land and their idea was opposed by the Christian missionaries. The Muslims confined their education at the Madrasah level and studying from the sheikhs homes.

However, on realizing that the Muslims were lagging behind in education, they formed an education association in 1944; Uganda Muslim Education Association (UMEA) to promote education of the Muslims. This attracted the colonial government to extend some help towards Muslim education. However, this was too little compared to the necessary demand.  E.g in 1944 out of 134.000 planned for education, the Muslims were given 213 (Soghayroun, 1980: 116). This was too little to uplift the already marginalized group and explains the status of Muslims throughout the colonial Uganda.

However, the political religious wars and colonialism promoted the spread of Islam accidentally.  Many Muslim refugees took Islam to the regions where they took refugee for instance to Ankole region and Bunyoro. The process of Expansion of Islam continued during the expansion of colonial rule in Uganda. When Kakungulu was sent to eastern Uganda to extend colonial rule, he was accompanied by a group of the Muslims who spread Islam to Bukedi, Mbale and Teso. However, this does not mean that Kakungulu was interested in spreading Islam; it was as a result of the pressure from the Bugisu community whose culture demanded to work with circumcised men. To ease his administration, Kakungulu took a number of Muslims to help him in his administration as interpreters, police men, store keepers which facilitated the spread of Islam.

Spread of Islam in post colonial era.

The post colonial era in Africa witnessed relative peace and religious freedom that one would expect a breathing space for the spread and expansion of Islam.  However, it looked opposite in East African region. For instance, the granting of Uganda independence in 1962 did not change the status of Muslims. They continued to be in a marginalized position. Though few Muslims managed to rise to the level of ministers in central and Buganda government, these did not help to over whole the existing social strata in the favour of the Muslims. Of all the political parties formed towards independence, the Muslims had none (Kasumba,1995). They chose to ally with other parties; some joined Kabaka Yekka party(KY), others Uganda People's Congress(UPC) (Karugire 1980). In the power struggle between KY and UPC, the Muslims were used by the leaders for their political maneuvers. For instance, Obote the Prime Minister influenced the UPC Muslim Youth to form the Uganda Muslim League under the Youth winger Musa Sebirumbi. This league later turned into the National Association for advancement of Muslims (NAAM) (Sallie  Simba1994). This did not mean that Obote influenced the Muslims for development, but rather for political maneuvers and divide and rule policy.

The coming of Amin to power changed the life of the general Muslim community in Uganda. Idi Amin tried to foster unity by forming an umbrella of all Muslims for united development and spread Islam; the Uganda Muslim Supreme Council (UMSC). After its inauguration on 1st June 1972, the UMSC started mobilizing the Ugandans towards Islam. Schools and mosques were established and managed by the council.

During Amin's time it was privilege to become a Muslim. On a number of Muslim functions like Mauled and other festivities, many non Muslims converted to Islam and Many mosques were constructed (Bond 1986). However, this was for strategic reasons; some people expected material gains after becoming Muslims. Thus after Amin's time some of them reverted to Christianity.

In education sector, the problem of Muslims lagging behind in Secular education was addressed by Amin. By the time Amin came to power, he found handful number of the Muslim schools. However, by 1979 a number of primary and secondary schools had been established. For instance the prominent schools were Bombo SS, Arua Public, Masaka SSS, Kampala High School, Kololo High School, Kabukunge Teachers training College. Islam as a religious subject is also being taught at primary and Secondary Schools (Kiyimba, A (1986).  However, many Muslim founded schools have been mismanaged by the Muslims and some are now managed by the non Muslims. They are featured by constant conflicts between the school management boards and the administration. Other conflicts have been seen between the mosques and schools. All these have affected the goal of promoting education and Islam. 

The establishment of Islamic University in Uganda (IUIU) became the Muslims' hope in the field of higher education. It was established by the Organization of Islamic Conference to promote education standards of Muslims from the English speaking countries in Africa. The university opened in 1988 at Mbale and since then, it has played a crucial role in the promotion of both Arabic and secular education in Uganda and sub Saharan Africa. IUIU has used that concept of the Islamisation of knowledge to spread the ideals of Islam to its graduates.  Since its inception, the university has produced over ten thousand graduates of with Islamic ideals. These have been incorporated in civil service, civil society and other private sector. IUIU also organizes outreach Dawa programmes to the communities around and annual Ramadhan conventions to spread and expand Islam.  However, all these are curtailed by inadequate finance. There is a great need for scholarships to help the many poor and needy Muslim students who constantly apply for dead years and at times drop out before completing their degrees and diplomas. 

Politically, since Mutesa 1's time, the Muslims came to political lime light again during the reign of Idi Amin. He had a cabinet of over 70% Muslims, employed them in public service and placed them in strategic positions in government (Sallie Simba 1994). Though some of them lost their positions after Amin, they were able to empower their families and uplift their economic and social status that later helped the Muslims in other regimes. To date quite a number of Muslims are able to participate in public Offices like parliament and local councils. When Amin expelled the Asians, he distributed their wealth to Ugandans especially Muslims (Twaddle 1975). However, most of the Muslims who received the properties lacked the ability and qualification to manage them. Consequently, the Ugandan economy went in shambos under the Muslims.

Besides, the role of Idi Amin in uplifting the Muslims increased the hatred between the Muslims and other Ugandans. After the over throw of Amin, many Muslims were evicted from public offices. In the ministry of education, the permanent secretary, Jamada Luzinda and Chief education officer Abubaker Kakembo were imprisoned, Some Muslims went to exile.  In addition the down fall of Amin led to the massacred of hundreds of Muslims in Ankole, Masaka and Arua Districts by the Christians. Land was grabbed from Muslims which affected the spread of Islam in Uganda.(Kiyimba 1989)

In addition, the UMSC became a centre of Conflict among the Muslims. Power struggle emerged in the leadership circles of the council. The UMSC was formed as a company with a vague constitution that has been a centre of conflicts among the successive leaders. This explains the current status of the Muslims despite its existence for over thirty years. To date the UMSC hardly collect Zakat from Muslims, leaders are languishing in poverty and some Muslims have shunned away from praying at UMSC headquarters

Throughout the 1960s to date, the Muslims in Uganda had been characterized by conflict and friction between factions, with small spells of peace and unity once in a while. In early 1960s Muslims were divided along ideological lines for instance the Uganda Muslim Community led by Prince Badru Kakungulu established its seat at Kibuli, the African Muslim Community the Bukoto Sect, the Juma Zukuli sect at Kawempe, the NAAM etc such division continued beyond 1990(Kasumba 1995: 100). Throughout the 1980s up-to-date there has been leadership crisis in the UMSC, this started with the two Chief Kadhi- Sheikh Mulumba and  Sheikh Kamulegeya, two Muftis Sheikh Kakooza and Sheikh Luwemba  then  Mufti- Sheikh Luwemba and Sheikh Mukasa and today's Sheikh Shaban Mubaljje the Mufti from Old Kampala and Shiekh Zubair Kayongo the Supreme Mufti from Kibuli.

The later was crowned after accusing Mubaje for selling Muslim properties and mismanagement. The multiplicity of factions among the Muslims has been partly promoted by the successive governments in Uganda, tribalism and theological reasons. Though such factions have promoted the spread of Islam since each sect wants to win as many supporters as possible, it has generally undermined the strength of Muslims in the country.  Muslims missed the opportunity to bargain for their dues from the successive governments, Islam has been featured by fighting for and in the mosques, Loss of lives such as those lost in Kajara, imprisonment and the general stagnation of the whole community in Uganda. (Nkonge  Ally Cheune,  August 3, 2009)


Ali Mazrui, (1986) The Africans: A Tripe Heritage, London: BBC publication
Ali A. Mazrui, (2004) a lecture, entitled Islam And Acculturation in East Africa's Experience, at the National Defense College of Kenya on July 27th 2004
Bond, B. H. ( 1986) Imposing Aid, Oxford
Edmond, A, Alpher (2000) "East Central Africa", in The history of Islam in Africa, Nehemia leutzion and Randall Powell, Oxford; James Currey ltd.
Edward, A Alphers (1972) "Towards the spread of Islam in East Africa: The Matrilineal peoples of Southern interior" in The historical study of African religion, eds. T.O. Ranger and Kimambo, Berkeley, University of California.
Kanyeihamba, G (1998) Reflection on the Muslim Leadership Question in Uganda, Fountain Publishers, Kampala, Uganda.
Karugire, S.R (1980) Apolitical history of Uganda, Nairobi; Heinemann.
Kasumba ,Y 1995," The development of Islam in Uganda 1962-1992,with Particular reference to Religio- Political Factionalism" unpublished M.A Thesis, Makerere university.
Kiyimba, A (1986 ) "The problem of Muslim Education in Uganda" Journal of the Muslim Minority Affairs, Vol. 7,No.1, London
Kiyimba A (2003) "National politics and Development of Muslim Education in Uganda since 1962" A,paper presented at Islamic University in Uganda.
Kiymba, A ( 1989) Is the 1789 Mbarara Muslim Blood- Bath in Bushenyi history? A review of the Genocide that was Called liberation, Kampala
Makaato, M (2009) The Right to Education in the Muslim Community in Uganda: A case of Kiboga District, un published MA thesis Makerere University.
Mudoola Dan (1993) Religion, Ethnicity and Politics in Uganda, Fountain Publishers, Kampala, Uganda.
Norman, R. Bennett "The Arab impact" in Zamani A survey of East African History, ed. B.A Ogot, Nairobi, Longman 1973
Nkonge Ally Cheune, A diagnosis of conflicts and factions among the Ugandan Muslims.A paper Presented at a conference organized by Uganda Muslim Professionals at Uganda Management Institute, August 3, 2009 ,http//, Posted by B.B Bakampa
Ray. B.C. (1976) African Religions , Englewood Cliffs prentice hall
Sallie Simba Kayunga (1994) "Islamic Fundamentalism in Uganda: The Tabliq Youth Movement" in Mahmood Mamdan and Olaka Onyango (eds), Uganda: Studies in Living conditions, popular Movements and constitutionalism, Kampala: JEB Book Series and centre for basic research.
Sekatawa (2009) " Politics and Development of muslim Communities in Sub Saharan Africa: Potential lessons form Ugandan Experience in Muhammed Harron and Essop Dangor(eds) Islamic Civilization in Southern Africa Johannesburg, Istanbul
Semakula, K (1971) A history of Buganda from the Foundation of the kingdom to 1900, London, Longman.
Sekimwanyi, (1947) Ebyafaayo ebitonotono ku diini Y'ekisiraamu okuyingira mu Buganda( A short History of Islamic penetration in Buganda, Kampala.
Soghayroun, I. E (1980) "Education Status of Uganda Muslims: A historical Note" Journal of the Muslim Minority Affairs, Vol.1, No.2 Jeddah
Spencer, J. Triminghan (1968), the influence of Islam upon Africa, London and Harlow: Longmans,
Thomas, Arnold, ( 2003) The spread of Islam in the world: A History of peaceful Preaching, New Delhi: Goal word books
Timothy, Insoll, (2003) (The Archeology of Islam in Sub Saharan Africa , Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
Twaddle, Expulsion of a minority essays on Ugandans Asians, London, Athlome press 1975
Umar, K, "The impact of Islam on the Death, Funeral and Marriage Customs of Buganda" un published MA Thesis, Makerere university, Kampala 1992.
Vieira, pawlikova-Villanova (2009) "Similarities and differences in the spread of Islam; East and south Africa compared "Islamic civilization in southern Africa, Euromat, Istanbul.
Viera, Pawlikova- Vilhanova "Crescent or Cross?" Islam and Christianity missions in 19th century East and Central Africa 1972.
World Religion Database. Historical data draw on government records, historical atlases and reports of religious organizations at the time: April 2010


BY Mr. Muhammad Makaato
(M.A History, M.A Human Rights, BA Education)
Ass. Lecturer in the Department Of History
Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences
Islamic University in Uganda



Add Comments

Comments & Debates :-: التعليقات والمحاورات

:-: Go Home :-: Go Top :-: