“All human beings are created from the foundation of Islam,” our tour guide said warmly to the Canadian co-operators who had come to his place of worship during our two-day orientation in Kampala, Uganda. “You are all Muslims. Welcome back home!
Home? I was a Canadian woman in Africa standing in a Muslim mosque , named in honour of the late Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi. How out of place could I be?
And yet I fully understood the significance of his greeting.
Only minutes earlier, I had donned a head scarf and skirt, slipped off my sandals and entered this magnificent copper-domed structure. Like most Westerners, I knew little about his faith. But as we compared the text of the Qu’ran and the Holy Bible, shared religious teachings and discussed Muslim and Christian rituals, I learned our beliefs were more alike than not.
The visit to the Gaddafi National Mosque, and an earlier excursion to the Kampala arts and craft market, were early introductions to Uganda, as we settled into our new surroundings, including getting acclimatized to the plus 30 degree Celsius weather, getting to know our teammates, and becoming more familiar with the Canadian Co-operative Association’s international development work here and throughout Africa.
The mosque sits high atop one of the 20 hills that encompass Kampala. A few of us took the 308 steps to the mosque’s minaret, where we were rewarded with a panoramic view of the capital. The structure is the second largest of its kind in Africa and has the capacity to hold 35,000 worshippers. The faithful are called to prayer here five times a day. About 20 per cent of the Ugandan population is Muslim, the remainder largely Christian.
Our trek to the hill top was a perfect starting point from which to begin our two-week educational study mission.
It was a reminder that we are a family of brothers and sisters – black and white, Muslim and Christian.
The next morning we headed to Misandi to start our journey of discovery – to gather and tell stories of people helping people.