KAMPALA - Marking the arrival of Islam to the East African country, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has praised Muslims for their spirit of tolerance and contributions to the society.
I wish to congratulate all Muslims upon marking 170 years of Islam in Uganda, Museveni said in a speech at an event co-organized by the Muslim Centre for Justice and Law and the Uganda Muslim Network (UNNet).
I thank the Uganda Muslim Network for organizing this symposium, which does not merely commemorate 170 years of Islam, but sets an agenda for enhancing better organization in key areas of socio-economic development.
Addressing the event themed 170 Years of Islam in Uganda: Way Forward for the Muslim community, Museveni said Islam spread in Uganda through Arab traders and preachers.
We started getting in touch with the Arabs through the East African Coast, in Zanzibar in 1844, he said in the speech read out on his behalf by Vice President Edward Sekandi on Friday, March 2.
This was Uganda's first contact with outsiders. Until then, our people worshipped their own traditional African gods.
He said though Islam has no formal structure like Christianity, the Islamic faith spread quickly in the African country.
Islam spread from informal conversion activities by Arab traders and local preachers, he said.
Museveni praised Ugandan Muslims for shunning extremism and fanaticism.
Extremism, egocentrism and chauvinism have no place in modern day society; co - existence and symbiosis are paramount.
Muslims comprise some 14 percent of the predominantly Christian country's 32-million population, according to the CIA Factbook.
The Ugandan president lamented that previous governments had divided the Muslim community for political gains.
As we celebrate 170 years of Islam in Uganda, it is important to note that previous governments in Uganda did not actively encourage Muslims to come to the fore. Instead they were used for political purposes, he said.
It is surprising that a community that is held together by pillars of Islam was so divided for flimsy reasons of leadership.
A conflict was created amongst Muslims that was so intense and yet unprincipled, Museveni said.
The Ugandan leader noted that his government is working to empower Muslims to help bolster the country's socio-economic and political structures.
"The NRM [National Resistance Movement] government aided the reconciliation process and took some bold steps to empower the Muslim community in the country, he said.
Museveni said interaction between Muslims and non-Muslims in Uganda has helped better clear the face of the Muslim community.
There has been an increasing understanding of the needs of the different religious communities, he said.The non-Muslim community has now come to understand the Muslim community better as a result of interaction among the different communities.