Christians in Uganda demand protection from Muslim extremists

UGA151127TO003MBALE, Uganda – Sleeping on a hospital bed at Budaka Health Centre in eastern Uganda, 12-year-old Emmanuel Nyaiti writhed in pain as he explained how Muslim extremists recently attacked him for refusing to convert to Islam.

“’Islam is a good religion,’ they said. ‘Please convert. We’ll not kill you, and you will go to paradise,” Nyaiti recalled.

Nyaiti was walking home from his grandmother’s house when four men ambushed him and spirited him to a cassava plantation where they tortured him, including attempting to strangle him to death. One was named Ali, while another was named Abdul, he said. They wound up leaving him for dead.

“Ali convinced me to convert and become a Muslim, but I declined. They started pushing me on the ground threatening to kill me if I don’t accept Islam,” he said. “One of the attackers hit me with a sharp object on my neck and I became unconscious. I remember them saying they have killed me.”

Nyaiti is one among millions of Christians in this East African nation who face unprecedented levels of persecution from Islamist extremists.

Christians in Eastern Uganda are among those in their faith who the most serious dangers in the world, according to World Watch Monitor, a group that tracks persecutions of Christians. The charity counted at least two incidents of Muslims killing Christians as well as vandalism of at least two churches.

Concentrated largely in the country’s east, Muslims comprise around 14 percent of Uganda’s largely Christian population of 42 million.
But more than 1.6 million Anglicans and almost 800,000 Catholics converted to Islam, Pentecostal Christianity or traditional African beliefs, according to the 2014 Ugandan census, the most recent survey, which did not break down which faith receive which converts.
Muslims said their community is growing fast.

“Muslims are 25 per cent of the total population and not 13.7 per cent,” Hajj Mutumba, spokesperson of Uganda Muslim Supreme Council told local media recently. “We have two to four wives and we are producing about six children in a space of two to three years.”
In eastern Uganda, Islamist extremists have intensified their campaign to convert more people to Islam.

Many of those extremists belong to the Alliance of Democratic Forces, a Democratic Republic of Congo-based group of Muslim Ugandans who have fought an insurgency against their country’s central government in Kampala, noted World Watch Monitor. The alliance has helped stoke anti-Christian feelings in the region while calling has called for Sharia law in Uganda.

“Ugandan Muslims were not intolerant in the past,” wrote World Watch Monitor. “But those who sympathize with ADF are preaching the idea of having an Islamic state in Uganda (and in a part of the DRC), and this is taking away the culture of tolerance.”

In June, a group of Muslims attacked Christian preachers seeking to convert Muslims in Iganga in eastern Uganda during a so-called “crusade” where Christians publicly profess their faith in Jesus and invite others to join their faith.

Muslims in the town accused the Christians of mocking Islam by publicly saying Jesus was the son of God.

“They became very angry and began throwing rocks at Christians, chanting ‘Allah akbar,’" said Pastor Moses Saku. “Many Christians were injured during the incident.”

Such altercations have become common, said Saku.

“I witnessed an incident here where a Christian woman was brutally attacked with a machete by her Muslim husband for refusing to convert to Islam,” said Saku. “We continue to condemn the incident and urge our Muslim brothers to respect other religions and uphold freedom of worship.”

Muslims, however, dismissed the allegations, saying they have warned their Christians neighbors not to make provocative statements that offend them. “We have now declared a Jihad against them,” said Abubakar Yusuf, 55, a Muslim teacher. “We are not going to allow anybody to despise Islamic teachings at their church or crusade. We will seek revenge.”

Pastor Saku and millions of other Christians across Uganda are now demanding government protection.

“We cannot continue to live in fear of preaching the gospel and telling people the truth that Jesus is the son of God,” said Saku. “As Christians, we need protection from the government because our Muslim brothers are very angry when they hear the truth. But we have never abused Muslims or Allah during our preaching.”

Police said they were still investigating the details and circumstances behind the attack on the churches, crusades and people using provocative statements on others.

Pastor Saku said the police needed to make some arrest to scare some Muslims who are attacking Christians. “They need to arrest these people,” he said. “We cannot live like refugees in our own country where we cannot worship and preach the gospel freely.”

Photo: November 27, 2015- Kampala, Uganda. Choir practice goes into high gear ahead of the Pope's visit to Munyonyo Martyrs Shrine near Kampala. The choristers were the first Church choir to sing for Pope Francis during his visit in Uganda in November 2015.
Credit: Tonny Onyulo/ARA Network Inc. (11/27/2015)

Story/photo publish date: 12/24/2018

A version of this story was published in the Washington Times.
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