Media fuelling Islamaphobia in Uganda
Islamophobia is an exaggerated fear, hatred, and hostility toward Islam and Muslims that is perpetuated by negative stereotypes resulting in bias, insult, prejudice, discrimination, and the marginalization and exclusion of Muslims from social, political, and civic life. In Uganda, there is a perceived bias against Muslims which has prevented them from accessing basic services.
On 3rd July, 2020, the Daily Monitor published an Article on “Who funds High Rise Mosques” that alludes to Muslim NGOs funding terrorist activities and that the government was investigating the matter. Whereas the investigative journalists did not make any findings of mosques being funded by terrorists, they concluded the Article with statements creating the link between terrorism and Islam.
On 12th July, 2020, the New Vision ran an Article “Police halts construction of Al Shabaab funded mosque”. The Reporters stated that construction of a multi-billion mosque at police headquarters “has been” halted following reports that the funding was coming from Al-Shabaab.
The Article went ahead to discuss terror activities at both national and global level before concluding with statements that “the youths who could not explain why they were learning Arabic” yet learning Arabic is a characteristic of ADF recruitments. After a few days, the RDC Mr. Byamugisha clarified that there were no rebels in Mpigi and ISO had acted on wrong Intelligence. The suspects were all released, unfortunately, this was not widely covered by the media.
Back to the Naguru Police mosque incident, construction of the mosque started in 1976 on a piece of land that was donated by the late Idi Amin the then President of Uganda, however the construction stalled following the overthrow of Amin. The Muslims constructed a small permanent mosque in 1995 and the same is still standing though inadequate to accommodate the increasing numbers.
In the letter dated the 17th of December, 2003, and referenced to OPS 175/223/01, the Uganda Police granted permission to Uganda Police Muslim Community to construct and expand the mosque that was begun in 1976. The said letter was signed by E. Muwanga for the Inspector General of Police. The permission was conditional pending approval of permanent structures by the Uganda Police Force Estates Department.
On the 22nd of February, 2006, the Force Estates Department approved the plans for the mosque construction in a letter dated 22nd February, 2006 and referenced 23/44 VIII/714. In another letter dated 23rd of February 2006 and referenced PLM/207/1, the town clerk of city council of Kampala granted a temporary permit of two months to commence construction while awaiting formal council approval.
On 10th of July 2013, the then Director of Logistics and Engineering, G. Bangirana, wrote to the commandant –Ntinda Barracks directing him to prevail over un approved construction of the mosque in the barracks. On the same day the commandant –Ntinda, Naguru and Kireka police Barracks wrote the chairman construction committee of Naguru police Barracks communicating the direction to stop the construction citing lack of approval from police management!
Upon being stopped, the Muslim community in the barracks came up with proper building plans for the mosque which they submitted to Kampala capital city authority for approval. The Mosque got a certificate of good structural practice from Kampala Capital City Authority on the 20th of August 2019 confirming that the submitted structural designs were in accordance with the requirements of the city by-laws.
Following the approval from KCCA, in a letter dated 20th of December 2019, the Uganda police Muslim community wrote to the Inspector General of Police seeking permission to complete the construction of the mosque, to date the community has not received any formal response from Inspector General of Police.
It is therefore clear, since the stopping of construction of the mosque in 2013, no construction whatsoever has ever taken place up to date. The Muslim community has been taking lawful steps to ensure that they get all the necessary permissions to complete construction of the mosque as indicated in the above correspondences. The above notwithstanding, other religious denominations have been permitted to construct places of worship in the barracks where they congregate.
It is therefore surprising, that the media continues to publish stories that construction of the mosque “has just been halted” and that the same is being funded by Al-Shabaab. To date, no arrests of any of the committee members has been made. The Muslims praying from that mosque and their leaders still move in a shadow of terrorism owing to the media reports. The wives, relatives and children of these Muslim leaders still suffer psychologically despite the fact that no charge of terrorism has ever been preferred on the mosque committee leaders. The media reports are one of the attempts to Islamize terrorism which is a component of Islamophobia.
It is a duty of the State, particularly through their security agencies, to protect all individuals within their jurisdictions from terrorism, as part of their human rights obligations in order to guarantee the right to life, the right to security and other human rights and fundamental freedoms. This requires that they adopt a comprehensive approach to countering terrorism, with a particular focus on preventing and countering violent extremism and radicalization that lead to terrorism, while upholding human rights and the rule of law.
The effectiveness and legitimacy of a State’s actions against terrorism will always be undermined once it uses its power in violation of international human rights standards, through its security agencies or justice system. As the State plays a central role in countering terrorism, it is predominantly crucial that the various duty bearers are held accountable for their actions in order to ensure legitimacy, confidence, trust and support from the public. The State ought to firmly reject any tendencies for the identification of terrorism with a particular religious’ affiliation.
It should be noted that those who employ terrorism, regardless of their specific secular or religious objectives, strive to subvert the rule of law and effect change through violence and fear. Islam as a religion that strongly prohibits terrorism in all its forms and manifestations and the Quran emphasizes the sanctity of human life (5:32), respect for human dignity (17:70), acceptance of plurality (5:48, 11:118), peaceful co-existence with all (60:8-9), justice (4:135, 5:8), human brotherhood (49:13), and Mercy (21:107).
Media is now recognized as the 4th Estate for its power to influence the way the public views certain aspects. The questioning of source of funds for construction of mosques and linking the construction to terrorism even when the investigations reveal nothing in that line, should not be taken for granted. The authors have a clear intention of making the general public believe that Muslims are too disorganized to make their own developments which depicts Muslims and Islam as a weaker species in our society. Alternatively, the authors want the public to believe that there is connection between Islam and subversive activities. Such innuendos by the media have greatly affected the fundamental rights of Muslims to worship, express their opinions and access capital.
We therefore Appeal;
- To the Government
- a) To create awareness and come up with policies and programs geared towards checking Islamophobia.
- b) To work with Muslim CSOs in identifying and addressing pressing concerns affecting the Muslim community.
- Uganda Human Rights Commission;
-To take action against discriminative practices especially those that infringe on people’s right to worship and express their religious opinions
- To Uganda Police Force;
- a) To come out and clear the air on the alleged investigations into funding of Naguru barracks mosque by Al -Shabaab.
- b) To allow the Uganda police Muslim community to complete the mosque and afford them all necessary support.
- To the media; To investigate and avoid publishing stories that perpetuate Islamophobia
- To Ugandans; To fight together and resent religious discrimination.
This report was authored by the Muslim Centre for Justice and Law