and M. Tebajjukira
MUFTI Mubajje, the man at the centre of the fraud case, came on a ticket of unity and development. He was little known when he was elected Mufti on December 11, 2000.
Eight years later, Sheikh Shaban Ramadhan Mubajje is a force to reckon with.
While some Muslims hail him as developmental and a unifier, others accuse him of abusing their trust.
While the court yesterday cleared him of wrong-doing, analysts argue the Mufti still has to win in the court of public opinion.
Mubajje, 53, was born in Bungokho in Mbale district. He is well-grounded in Islamic affairs, thanks to the years spent in a Madras Islamic Primary School in Natete Kayunga district and Namatembe Islamic Institute in Namutumba. Mubajje later joined Bugembe Islamic Institute in Jinja, where he completed senior six in 1976 in Islamic studies. In 1977, he went to Riyad in Saudi Arabia for a bachelorâ€™s degree in Sharia (Islamic law). In 1981, he became the Imam of Madinah Mosque, Mbale and founded Mahdi Noor Islamic Institute.
Months later, he became the Mbale district khadi, while pursuing a post-graduate diploma in philosophy at Mbale Islamic University.
Mubajje later enrolled at Makerere University for a masters degree in religious studies. After graduation, he returned to the Mbale university as a lecturer in religious studies.
His organisational ability began to show when he united many small Muslim groups to which he announced his plan become the head of the Muslim community in Uganda. This was the time various factions were fighting for the top office.
With the strong backing of the electorate, Mubajje headed to Kampala as the Mbale district delegate. The other candidates, Rajab Kakooza for Kibuli and Twaib Mukuye for Old Kampala, were no match since they were perceived to be of part of the problem.
Besides, the militant Tabliq youth were wary of the Kibuli and Old Kampala groups, which they accused of compromising the faith.
In Mubajje, they saw a man who would represent their rigid understanding of Islam; shortening his trousers and spotting an over-grown beard.
That boosted Mubajjeâ€™s profile further, throwing the Kakooza and Mukuye camp off balance.
Mubajjeâ€™s frontman Muhammed Kakooza sensed it and went for a kill. Word spread at the assembly that Kakooza had allied with Mubajje, leaving Mukuye isolated.
A deal was struck. Kakooza would be the deputy Mufti if Mubajje won. On election day on December 11, 2000, Mubajje was unanimously voted Mufti at Africana Hotel, Kampala. Kakooza had withdrawn his candidature and Mukuyeâ€™s was half-hearted.
Kakooza became the director of Sharia and the unity of the Muslims had become a reality.
Addressing the press after the election, Mubajje preached unity and development. â€œWe have been confused, fighting each other over none issues. Itâ€™s time to put our differences aside and work together for the Muslim community.â€
Mubajje, who had been the Mbale district khadhi since 1981, ascended to power at 45 years. Under the Muslim constitution, Mubajje could hold the office for another 22 years until he clocks 75.
At the peak of rivalries in 1991, militant Tabliq youth twice raided Old Kampala, the Muslim headquarters, to topple chief khadi Sheikh Hussein Rajab Kakooza. His rival, Sheikh Saad Luwemba, had camped at a Lubaga Road mosque after winning a court battle declaring him Mufti. He dislodged Kakooza from Old Kampala. Kakooza retreated to Kibuli.
Unable to handle Luwemba, Kakooza handed over the button to Ahmed Mukasa. But this did not stem the divisionism. Mukasa was restricted to Kibuli mosque as Luwemba remained at Old Kampala. When they met at Kololo for the independence celebrations in 1993, the sheikhs shoved each other for the microphone to lead the national prayers.
President Yoweri Museveni appointed Justice Kanyeihamba to broker peace. Luwemba died and Sheikh Ahmed Ssemakula became the acting Mufti. He handed over to Mubajje.
At his inauguration on December 15, 2000, at Old Kampala Mosque, Mubajje promised reforms and not to cling to power for long. â€œAs long as my priorities are fulfilled, I will resign and go home,â€ Mubajje said.
â€œThe reign of the Mufti who should be in office up to the age of 75 shows the mentality of holding onto the seat,â€ Mubajje said.
Mubajje support for the government has been open. At a State House dinner, he once said he had mobilised Muslims to support the NRM government, which had uplifted them.
Inspecting Old Kampala Mosque with Mubajje on June 15, 2006, Museveni said under Mubajje, Muslims had finally united.
â€œIn the past, there were Muslims of Saudi Arabia, Muslims of Libya, and Muslims of Iran. Now, you are all Muslims of Allah.â€
Whether the ruling will divide the Muslim fraternity again, remains to be seen.
Mubajje once told reporters that â€œa few disgruntled and selfish peopleâ€ were baying for his blood.
Suleiman Kakeeto, the Amir of the Tabliq sect, says Mubajje is the best Mufti Uganda has had. â€œHe is the only leader who has tried to cause development,â€ he said. â€œWe have a radio and a university. Ugandans should learn to appreciate.â€
But Muhammed Kisambira, a member of the UMSC general assembly, disagreed: â€œMubajje is a very deceitful man who has deceived the world, including our courts of law. The struggle continues and he shouldnâ€™t celebrate.â€
Who is Sheikh Shaban Mubajje?