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Remembering Muslim Martyrs

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Every 3rd of June, Christians in Uganda celebrate Martyrs’ Day in remembrance of Ugandans who were killed by the King of Buganda, Kabaka Mwanga II, between January 31, 1885, and January 27, 1887.



The main celebrations are organized at Namugongo, the primary site of the killings, but there are other significant sites like Munyonyo and Nateete. Christians from around the globe come to Namugongo for pilgrimage, with many Ugandans walking as a form of self-punishment to honor the martyrs.




The killings in Namugongo were overseen by Mukajaanga, a security officer for the king, and involved 22 Catholic and 23 Anglican martyrs.


When discussing religions in Uganda, it is crucial to acknowledge Islam. Researchers and historians note that Muslims were the first to be killed by the Buganda king in 1875. This happened under Kabaka Muteesa I when Muslims refused to eat meat slaughtered by the king, deeming it unclean since the king was uncircumcised.




This incident, along with others, led to the deaths of more than 100 Muslims, regarded as martyrs or “shuhadau” by the Uganda Muslim Supreme Council (UMSC).


During Idi Amin Dada’s presidency, these shuhadau began to be recognized, with prayers (dua) held in Namugongo. This led to the construction of a mosque opposite the Anglican shrine, although the mosque was later destroyed after Amin’s downfall in 1979.




The mosque was built on a 6-acre land, but much of it has been encroached upon, leaving Masjid Noor Shuhadau on less than an acre. Despite promises from President Museveni to reclaim the land, this has not yet been fulfilled.



In the past five years, the activity of praying (dua) for the shuhadau has been revived, though it has caused debate among Muslims. Some view it as an innovation (bidia) while others accuse the organiser of trying to emulate Christianity. The UMSC has refuted these claims, emphasizing that they organize dua to honor the heroes of Islam in Uganda, not to mark the day like Christians.


Sheikh Dr. Ziyad Swaleh Lubanga, the Director of Sharia at UMSC, stated that they organize dua to remember those killed for their faith. He quoted Islamic scholars and traditions, emphasizing that martyrs have a special place in Islam. According to the Quran, those killed in the name of their religion are still alive in the eyes of Allah.


In Surah Imran 3:169, Allah says, “Think not of those who are slain in Allah’s way as dead. Nay, they live, finding their sustenance in the presence of their Lord.” Dr. Lubanga highlighted that while we may not see this, their souls receive more than those still living. He explained that martyrs are special in Islam, and there are specific rituals for them, such as not changing their clothes after death.


He also noted that martyrs are not all on the same level. For example, those who die in pandemics, childbirth, or natural disasters are also considered martyrs but are ranked differently. The highest level is reserved for those killed because of their faith in Islam.


Dr. Lubanga cautioned Muslims against seeking help from martyrs, stating that praying to martyrs or prophets is against Islam. Muslims should only pray to Allah. He urged historians and researchers to document the stories of these martyrs so that future generations can know and pray for them.



He referenced Ibn Kathir’s book “Al-Bidaya wa Nihaya,” which documents various martyrs in different fields.


Dr. Prof. Adam Ssebayala, a lecturer at Al Mustafa College, remarked that ignoring history can lead to the loss of culture and the forgetting of the sacrifices made by individuals for the country’s sake. He emphasized the importance of remembering the martyrs’ sacrifices to uphold Islam.


This year’s celebrations will begin on June 7th with a dua at Masjid Shuhadau in Namugongo, followed by tours of significant religious sites, and will culminate in a major event at the UMSC headquarters in Old Kampala on June 10th, 2024. More than ten muftis have been invited to attend.


By Issa Kigongo

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