Uganda: Unique shrine unites Muslims and Christians

By Godfrey

KAMPALA, Uganda (AA): A shrine in the central Ugandan village of Namugongo, 12 kilometers (9 miles) from the capital Kampala, is perhaps a unique place in the world, invoking equal veneration from both Christians and Muslims.

Every year in June, thousands of Ugandans and pilgrims from other African countries belonging to both communities travel on foot together to reach the shrine to commemorate the killing of people, who had converted to Christianity and Islam.

According to Badru Kateregga, professor and the chairperson of the Uganda Muslim Supreme Council, 73 Muslims, 23 Anglicans, and 22 Catholics were killed on the orders of Mwanga II, a local king in 1886.

Ugandan police spokesman, Fred Enanga said they are expecting over two million people to converge on Friday at the shrine. Due to the COVID19 pandemic, there have been no pilgrimages to Namugongo since 2019.

Abbas Ogude, 45, a Muslim, and his Christian neighbor Christopher Elegue are walking together on foot from the northern Uganda city of Arua to pay obeisance at the Namugongo shrine. Carrying a small bag containing food and water on their heads, they chat as they walk and break the bread together at the time of meals.

“We walked together as brothers and sisters. It did not matter whether one was walking while next to a Muslim or a Christian,” Oguda told Anadolu Agency.

Elegue said they were commemorating people, who belonged to all religions.

“Some were Catholics, protestants, and Muslims. So, it is not surprising that we walked together to Namugongo. We might belong to different religions but all the same, we all know that there is one almighty God. Namugongo units all religions,” he said.

The main ceremony at the shrine is held every year on June 3. The pilgrims, therefore, reach the place on June 1.

In 1969 Pope Paul VI visited and supervised a mass at the place, which was attended by over 10 African heads of state. Since then, two other popes have visited the place including the current Pope Francis.

Pilgrims across Africa

The Catholics have canonized those killed at the site and declared them saints.

Speaking to Anadolu Agency, local leader Willy Kintu said he is expecting one million people to join the feat on Friday. Besides Uganda, the pilgrims have arrived from Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, Burundi, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and even from Europe and the US as well.

Uganda Muslim Supreme Council has recently unveiled a master plan for the development of Namugongo Muslim Martyr’s place which also houses a mosque.

Kateregga, who is also in charge of the Namugongo Muslim Martyrs Mosque, said the development is meant to preserve the Muslim legacy of this site. Former President Idi Amin had designated a place for the memorial for the Muslims and laid the foundation stone for a mosque in 1975.

“For us Muslims we chose to come here to recount the Muslim history in Uganda. We thank the government for its decision to gazette the area as a historical site,” he said.

The Anglican Archbishop in Uganda, Stephen Kazimba, said those killed at the place died for a religious cause.

Uganda’s Internal Affairs Minister Kahinda Otafire said this place units all religions.

“When we went to the forests to fight against dictators in Uganda our main objective was to unite Uganda and Africa at large. The unity I have seen here shows that it can be achieved. Unity of Africa is the strength of Africa,” he said .

[Map of Uganda from CIA Factbook/Public Domain]

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