By Rev. Canon Kasibante.
No, there will never be another Muzaata. Not only because each human being is unique and irreplaceable, but because Sheikh Nuhu Muzaata was one of a kind. He was in his own league. Islam in Uganda had not seen a Sheikh of that calibre, not in terms of Islamic scholarship – there have been others with PhDs – but in his boldness, conviction and outspokenness.
Muzaata was ecumenical
Even if you were Muslim, you did not have to agree with everything the Sheikh said, but you could not deny that he said many things which it took only a man of this clarity of vision and purpose could say. I took some trouble to listen to/watch as many of his speeches as I could find time for. He sometimes proved some expectations wrong.
Take, for instance, his ecumenicity. You would think that an abrasive Sheikh that Muzaata was, he would have little to appreciate about Christianity and Christian leaders. And yet he had the greatest respect for Catholic bishops and priests.
I had him rebuke Muslims who had no respect for Catholic clergy. I wonder whether the Catholic (or Christian) leaders reciprocated. Sheikh Muzaata probably did not sit on the Inter-Religious Council of Uganda and yet he was ecumenical. But probably he would have been too abrasive for a Council whose voice is muted.
In terms of morality – while the Sheikh had a lot to see about marriage and in this case was just like the Christian leaders, he re-defined the area of morality. While Christian, especially Anglican and Pentecostal, bishops, clergy and pastors were fixed on sexual morality and on homosexuality in particular, Sheikh Muzaata instead was concerned about public morality and the use or abuse of power within the Muslim community (the Umma), public life and politics.
Rupture between politics and religion
Christian leaders are often lectured by the state to keep religion out of politics or to remain within their own competence and not muddle in politics. They have been warned to respect division of labour between political leaders and religious leaders, and often the Christian leaders have succumbed to such admonitions. It could not work with Sheikh Muzaata.
His religion extended into his politics and, in any case, Islam does not establish a dichotomy between religion and politics. That is not to say that Sheikh Muzaata wanted to see Ugandan society Islamised or subjected to Sharia.
He was more realistic than that. Nevertheless he knew that you cannot put a wedge between religion and politics or confine morality to the private life.
Sheikh Muzaata demonstrated that we do not have to keep our religion and our politics in different compartments. Religion influences life and vice versa. I have noted that although Muzaata was a staunch Muslim he was not advocating for Sharia Law to be applied indiscriminately or generally in Uganda.
In that sense, he was not an Islamist. Nevertheless, he carried his religion with him and it was a strong motivation in his relationships and actions and it informed his public life. Christians could learn a lesson from this.
You did not have to be a Muslim to listen to Sheikh Muzaata. That he was a controversial cleric, there is no doubt. But his public utterances were serious or appealing enough to draw the attention Ugandans of different stripes. That was quite an achievement. Many would not understand the Arabic/Koranic quotations with which he spiced his speeches, but it did not really matter. He still made himself clear.
Humility and willingness to heal divisions
You might say that Sheikh Muzaata and humility could not be spoken of in the same sentence. And yet, Muzaata was a humble man. If he got things wrong, he was willing to seek amends for his mistake.
Unless, I did not see correctly, but Sheikh Muzaata’s face bore a slight resemblance to that of Idi Amin, but that’s where the resemblance ends. For a Muslim who was in his teens when Amin was in power, Muzaata learnt a lot from the regime of Amin and its failures and he kept warning the politicians and those in the security forces that killing and mistreating wananchi was suicidal.
Not mentioned here
Not gone into here is the making of Sheikh Muzaata Batte. What goes into the making of such a man? What were the formative forces in his life? What made him the kind of irrepressible person that he was? How did Islam influence his character, his convictions?