BY FARAHANI MUKISA
They came chanting, “Takbir, Allah Akbar”. They attacked anyone who dared to stop their mission.
As the approached Old Kampala mosque, the headquarters of the Uganda Muslim Supreme Council, no stone was left unturned. It is here they declared Jihad – the Islamic holy war, according, Hajj Muzamir Luswaata 65, as he recalls incidents of the March 22, 1991 during the Tabliq attack.
It was On a Friday mid-afternoon, a group of young Muslim men stormed the then headquarters of the Uganda Muslim Supreme Council (UMSC) at the Aghan Khan Mosque on Namirembe Road.
Their mission was to forcefully remove the elected Mufti whom they branded a “moving dead” who deserved not to lead a Muslim community.
Sheikh Ibrahim Saad Luwemba was then the sitting Mufti, having rose from an election that resulted out of a protracted deliberation between the two warring factions spearheaded by Sheikh Obedi Kamulegeya and Kassim Mulumba.
Sheikh Mulumba’s group, however, on the other hand, fronted and paid allegiance to Sheikh Rajab Kakooza as their lawful Mufti, who, before the Supreme Court installed Sheikh Luwemba, was acting on the interim basis having been installed by Sheikh Kamulegeya.
Events before the attack
However, before the events, the Uganda Muslim fraternity since the 1880s, had had their internal wrangles that have went on for more than 180 year to date. The woes were, however, were based on the fact that each group struggled for leadership and recognition.
In 1979, however, a new phenomenon emerged in the Uganda Muslim fraternity.
A new group of young educated Muslims formed and its tenets were to restore the true Islamic doctrines that were erased by the old guard in the religion.
According to Hajj Nsereko Mutumba, the spokesman of the UMSC, the group was led by Sheikh Kizito Zziwa and was dubbed the Salaf group – literally meaning those that follow the right path of Prophet Muhammad’s true Sunnah (practice).
The Salaf group was characteristic of youthful men who observe certain practices including putting on bout-cut trousers, wear and keep beards and had banned certain traditionally practiced activities they believed were unlawful in Islam and had been concocted by the Sheikhs of long ago and christened into Islam.
These activities among others included; fortune telling or sorcery (Okuba ekitabo), “Okwaabya Olumbe” or funeral rites and celebrating the Mawlid to mention but a few.
Hajj Nsereko notes that these were activities, however, used to bond most of the aging practicing Muslims.
“When the young Muslims, many of them had travelled and studied in Saudi Arabia came back to Uganda, they came back with a lot of vigour and sought fight many of these practices,” says Mr Nsereko.
However, as a ploy to bar the young Muslims from fighting for the doctrines they believed in, says Hajj Nsereko, the old Sheikhs could not permit the young ones to speak at Muslim public congregations such as on Idd days and during Friday sermons.
Hajji Luswaata recalls that this forced the young Muslims to devise means on how they will counteract the spread of what they called Bidi’a (invented Islamic practices).
“We then started what used to call the Open Universities and the young Muslims movements,” narrates Luswaata, who was an active member in these groups.
He says the open universities played a strong role in teaching young Muslims what the old men termed as a new religion.
“As leadership fracas continued to a climax, on both sides of Sheikh Mulumba and Obedi Kamulegeya and then Sheikh Kakooza and Sheikh Luwemba, in 1970s to 1980 respectively, the young Muslims concentrated on sinking and extending their teachings to different parts of Kampala,” the father of seven, adds.
However, Luswaata shares, in 1981; our leaders felt they cannot achieve their motives without capturing leadership from the old group whom they accused of self-seeking interests than serving the bigger cause of advancing Islam.
According to Hajj Nsereko, between 1981 and 1982, the Salaf group, which he actively participated in all their planning activities, had gained the approval of the young Muslims majority and had a big following.
“We started conducting open Da’wah in open places. And that is when even people like Sheikh Mustafa Bahiga converted into Islam,” he recalls.
Hajj, however, prefers to say that these newly converted Muslims were just “reverting into Islam.”
Others that converted into Islam were the notable Sheikh Jamil Mukulu, who before he converted on May 17, 1984 was called Mr Alirabaki Kyagulanyi, a church catechist and a born of Muntooke Parish in Bugerere.
Because of their mode and style of practicing Islam, old Muslim men branded them the Tabliqs, which is an Arabic word to mean – the religious crusaders.
This term, however, according to Mr Ashraf Muvawala, a research at the UMSC was locally termed as Abatabuliki [Tabliqs] in 1985.
Other notable figures during the active period of the Tabliq movements, were Hajj Imam Kasozi, currently the leader of the Uganda Youth Muslims Association (UMYA), Hon Hussein Kyanjo the Makindye West MP and many of the Sheikhs who have been shot in the recent months.
During the turmoil that brought President into power, Sheikh Zziwa Kizito fled the country and left the leadership of the Salaf group turned Tabliq sect under Sheikh Yunus Kamoga.
However, says Hajj Nsereko, just it is today that the newly converted Muslims tend to study Islam and practice it more than most of the inborn Muslims.
“Thus was the case with Jamil Mukulu. He studied Islam and immersed himself with the religion doctrines to an extent that he even started passing Fatwas [Islamic decrees],” the 60 year old recounts.
As the old Turks fought for leadership positions and recognition, their woes did not cease even when the NRM government intervened to restore sanity on both camps.
The camps; of the Luwemba were now based at a big store on William Street (the store then became the current Masjid Noor) and at Nakasero and the Kakooza group based at Old Kampala but attached to Kibuli Mosque.
The group, however, was being accused of imposing itself at Old Kampala and conniving with police to force the Kakooza group out of William Street store to a small old Kabalaza Mosque on Rubaga road.
The Uganda World Muslim League was then struggling to mediate between the two factions until an election was organised in 1987 and Sheikh Luwemba won it. Though, the Kakooza group did not agree with the results, leading to the group refusing relinquish power to Sheikh Luwemba.
Sheikh Luwemba petitioned the High that ruled in the favour of Sheikh Kakooza and the matter was appealed in Supreme Court, which ruled in favour of Sheikh Luwemba and issued a directive that Sheikh Kakooza vacates the office with immediate effect.
The attack on Old Kampala
Before the court ruling in 1990, the Tabliqs had attempted to attack Kakooza accusing him of “poor management of Muslim properties, ill health,” which was reportedly due to an organised motor accident and of being “illiterate”.
“By this period some people had politicized the events and it is during this period that the Justice Forum (Jeema) was found and you find it mostly dominated by youthful Muslims,” opines Hajj Nsereko. And Sheikh Mukulu had sought to bring a new social order based on Shari’a (Islamic laws) only
Then, when court ruled in favour of the group led by Sheikh Luwemba and yet it was covertly influenced by Sheikh Kamulegeya, as a parallel leader now based at Kibuli Hill under the stewardship of Prince Badru Kakungulu, the duo, Sheikh Kamulegeya and Sheikh Luwemba persuaded the Tabliqs as a they were a potential force to unseat Sheikh Kakooza from Old Kampala.
At 8am on a Friday, on March 22, 1991, Sheikh Kamoga and Sheikh Mukulu summoned all Muslim Tabliqs to Nakasero Mosque, narrates Mr Muvawala.
“We convened and listened to a sermon that was given by Mukulu. It was dominated by charging shots, calling Muslims that it was time to save their religion from the mouths of dogs,” says Hajj Luswaata.
“From there, the Tabliqs stormed the Agha Khan Mosque chanting Allah Akbar. They overran the security men at the Mosque and forced those who were inside the Mosque including Sheikh Kakooza to flee for their dear lives,” Mr Luswaata who witnessed the turmoil at the scene narrates.
As Sheikh Mukulu gave a Friday sermon, where he declared Jihad, government through its District Commissioner, the then DC James Nsaba Butuuro, the retired Minister of State for Ethics and Integrity in the Office of the Vice President had summoned Sheikh Kamoga to his office.
Mr Butuuro is said to have persuaded Sheikh Kamoga to direct his “boys” to retreat, however, according to Hajj Nsereko, by the time Sheikh Kamoga returned from the meeting since he was the Tabliq Amir (leader), he had been overtaken by events, as Sheikh Mukulu has already declared Jihad and the “boys” had gone on a rampage.
It was a tense period, and police were called in to save the situation. However, Luswaata notes that what was shocking at the moment, was the fact that police came with their usual batons, unknowing that the Tabliqs had been infiltrated by some Idi Amin’s moles.
“Bullets started firing from the Tabliq group and many police dogs were killed including a one police officer who also lost his life, leaving many of them injured,” he observes.
However, he opines that no single Muslim was killed though hundreds were injured, a fact that Daily Monitor could not independently verify.
At this moment, Sheikh Mukulu had even passed a Fatwa that whoever find Sheikh Kamoga “must” bring only his head claiming that he had betrayed their (Tabliqs’) Jihad and that government had “bought” him, says Hajj Nsereko.
“Sheikh Kamoga had to flee the country for his dear life. He went into exile with his brother Murta Bukenya [who are both currently under detention for alleged murder of fellow Sheikhs in the country],” he adds.
“Mobile and Military police had to be called on under the command of the late James Kazini to quell the fracas,” says Sheikh Siliman Afaris, one of the victims of the fracas.
According to accounts provided by most of the narrators, all nearby places to Agha Khan Mosque were put under siege by the Tabliqs and people abandoned all the Central Business District markets and parks, fleeing for their lives.
“For me, I even thought that Kampala had been taken over by rebels. As I ran for my life moments later, I realized that many people had fled and closed their shops,” recounts, Sheikh Afaris, who operated a spare parts shop at Namirembe road.
After the intervention of the Kazini forces, most of the Tabliqs were arrested and detained, some even being released after three years of detention.
However, even after his release, Sheikh Jamil Mukulu, reunited with some of the released strongholds and formed a more radical group. “They started preaching hate messages against the Museveni group, calling other Sheikh dog and all sorts of abuses,” Hajj Nsereko says.
According to Sheikh Luswaata, Sheikh Mukulu at one point said, “Sheikh Abdukarim Ssentamu [the late] was like a dog having Gold in its mouth.” This, he meant, according to Sheikh Luswaata that Sheikh Ssentamu, a revered Muslim cleric, he was like a useless item that has some goodness it, and you only have to get out the goodness and leave it at peace.
“That was the level of extremism Sheikh Mukulu had reached at. Time reached when he started fearing for his life and had to flee Uganda to [currently the North] Sudan for safety as government had started racing all his movements, since he proved a threat to the government and other people’s lives,” says Hajj Nsereko.
It is said that before he fled the country, he had even started recruiting young Tabliqs into rebel acts, activities said to have been taking place in Kyazanga, Masaka district.
While in Sudan, it is said, Sheikh Mukulu teamed up with Hassan al-Turabi, who had the ideology of Islamizing the whole of Africa and thus the rebel group of the Allied democratic Forces (ADF) in 1995.