National mosque opens in Uganda
Libyan leader drives to spread Libyan and Islamic influence in AfricaBy Alfred de MontesquiouAssociated Press WriterKAMPALA, Uganda – In his drive to spread Libyan and Islamic influence in Africa, Moammar Gadhafi inaugurated a huge new mosque in this predominantly Christian country Wednesday, with several African heads of state attending and scores of Arab journalists flown in for the occasion.Packed in Kampala’s soccer stadium, a crowd estimated at 10,000 to 15,000 chanted “long live brother Gadhafi” before the Libyan leader delivered an hour-long lecture on the meaning of Islam.Gadhafi, who celebrates the Mulid al-Nabi, or Prophet’s birthday, a day earlier than most other Muslims, was in Kampala to inaugurate the huge new Gadhafi National Mosque, which he funded and is touted by Libyan officials as Africa’s second-largest.”Muhammad is everybody’s prophet. He was sent to all mankind, unlike the other prophets before him,” Gadhafi told the rally, which included Boy Scouts and school brass bands, all wearing Gadhafi T-shirts. They were jammed onto the lawn of Kampala’s football stadium.Half a dozen African heads of states, including Kenya’s Mwai Kibaki, Gabon’s Omar Bongo and Rwanda’s Paul Kagame joined Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni in greeting Gadhafi, who was the driving force behind creation of the African Union and wields considerable influence with African governments and rebel movements.”He who doesn’t accept Islam, in the end will be a loser,” Gadhafi said, speaking in Arabic, which was simultaneously translated into English. Museveni, a born-again Protestant Christian, sat frowning by his side.Fewer than 20 percent of Uganda’s 30 million people are Muslim. Kalfan M’barak, a medical doctor in the crowd, said his ancestors had converted “generations ago” through contact with Arab and Muslim merchants. “There is absolutely no friction here. You can find two religions inside one family,” he said.Religious toleranceUgandan religious tolerance was on display as heads of state and guests, regardless of their creed, crammed into the new mosque to celebrate.”I congratulate you for the birthday of Muhammad. I didn’t realize … that Muslims celebrate the equivalent of Christmas,” Museveni said during a brief ceremony inside the mosque.The complex can accommodate more than 30,000 people and took more than 30 years to complete, religious officials say. Gadhafi began funding construction in 2001, but officials would not say how much he paid.”It was the president of Uganda who asked us to build the mosque, and schools for Muslims,” said Ahmed Gadhaf al-Dam, Gadhafi’s cousin and close aide. “Helping Ugandans is part of the leader’s continued efforts for inter-African solidarity.”But some in the crowd found the Libyan presence overbearing, complaining that Gadhafi’s large security detail controlled the whole event. At one point, Libyan security guards scuffled with their Ugandan counterparts and bodyguards of the Rwandan president, until senior officials intervened.Dozens of sheiks, tribal and religious leaders were brought in for the event from as far away as Pakistan and Malaysia.”We came here on the invitation of the ‘guide of the revolution.’ He sent one of his special planes to fetch us,” said Gibrila Yayah, the king of the Sonrai, a nomadic tribe on Mali’s border with Algeria.Sheik Imad Essawi, an Iraqi leader of the al-Mukhtalifa Bedouin tribe, said it was his first time in Africa. “It’s not as hot as southern Iraq in summer,” said Essawi.Like most of Gadhafi’s guests, he was wearing his traditional tribal costume. Organizers also handed out baseball caps with the Libyan leader’s image to the 80 Arab journalists flown in from Cairo on a special plane.Islam is on the rise throughout sub-Saharan Africa, and some of the chiefs lauded Gadhafi’s efforts to promote their religion with black Africans.”It’s great, there’s lots of people here to celebrate,” said Sherif Abidine Kouta, who said his tribe of Arab nomads has done much to introduce Islam into West Africa over the past centuries. “For them, it is the beginning of their learning.”Nearby, 8-year-old Dragilio Nangera and 13-year-old Mark Santong performed a traditional African dance while chants of “Allahu Akbar,” or God is Great, blasted through the microphones at the stadium.”I’m not Muslim, but this is great fun,” Santong said.
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