A recent raid by Muslims on a Christian worship service near the capital city of Kampala, Uganda – where several members were injured and their building was damaged – is prompting concern among missions agencies that a new and more violent form of Islam is taking root in the region.
The attack, carried out by a 40-member mob wielding machetes and clubs, surprised many in a nation where conflicts between Christians and Muslims have not reached the level of other nations, according to Amnesty International’s Msia Kibona Clark.
“Unlike Kenya and Tanzania, Ugandan Muslims have not had much real or sustained contact with extremist Muslim factions abroad. There is a large Christian and Muslim population in Uganda but the groups have historically gotten along fairly well,” Clark said.
The Joshua Project, a Christian missions think-tank and research group, puts the number of Christians among Uganda’s 32 million residents at 88.6 percent. Muslims make up about 6 percent of the total population, with pockets where they are the majority.
But even with those small numbers, Uganda has a history of supporting Islam.
“Uganda is a member of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, which means that Uganda serves to uphold Muslim values and even supports Islam in the United Nations,” said Jonathan Racho of International Christian Concern. “Uganda’s participation in this group began when Idi Amin was the leader of Uganda.”
The upsurge in Christianity can be attributed partly to the evangelical
Christianity of Uganda’s president, Lt. Gen. Yoweri Kaguta Museveni. Museveni seized power in a coup in 1986 but has openly promoted evangelical Christianity with his wife, even sponsored and led an evening prayer meeting on the national radio station.
Racho says this is not the first instance of Muslim-backed, anti-Christian persecution.
“Christian minorities in the Muslim-dominated areas of Uganda frequently suffer persecution at the hands of the Muslim majority,” Racho said.
Most of Uganda’s Muslims are in the northern part of the country in the Bunyoro province. It’s in those regions where most of the persecution takes place, according to Racho.
“There are a few regions where Muslims are the majority and persecution frequently takes place there. It’s fortunate that the persecution is usually limited to the Muslim areas,” he said.
The attack is drawing the attention of missions specialists, because it represents an emboldened attitude of the Muslims in the capital region.
Racho says this is consistent with the way Muslims operate.
“When Muslims become a majority even in one part of a country where Christians are the majority, they become very vocal, extremist and radicalized,” Racho said.
“Ethiopia, for example, is also a predominantly Christian country, but in the areas where Islam is the majority, Christians have been killed and churches have been burned down,” Racho continued.
“The same is true in Kenya, where Christians are also in the majority. But there are areas where Muslims are the majority and in those areas Christians have trouble getting permission to build churches,” he said.