The Gaddafi National Mosque
Originally called the Gaddafi National Mosque, the Uganda National Mosque is the biggest mosque in the East African region second biggest on the Continent. It is located on the top of Old Kampala Hill, one of the 7 most distinct of the 23 hills that make up Kampala, Uganda’s largest urban center. These seven hills include Rubaga, Old Kampala, Mulago, Kololo, Kibuli, Namirembe and Makerere each holding distinctive religious, cultural or colonial significance landmark.
History of the Uganda National Mosque
The idea of building the Uganda National mosque started with former president of Uganda, late Iddi Amin Dada in the 1970’s. This was after Amin realized that the Catholic and Anglican communities had well established buildings (cathedrals) as significant emblems for their religion at the hills of Rubaga and Namirembe respectively but the Muslims lacked any. There had to be a building to represent the Muslims on one of the hills in Kampala and thereby house the headquarters of the Uganda Muslim Supreme Council that had been formed by the government in 1972. The headquarters were by then at the Entebbe road mosque that had been taken over from the Indian-Moslem community that owned it before the Indian dismissal from Uganda in 1971.
The mosque was later on funded to completion first indirectly in the 1970’s and later on directly in the 2000’s by Late Libyan President Col, Muammar Gaddafi.
Mind you, however much Amin and Gaddafi were friends during their time, the two were not at first. The fallen Libyan leader wasn’t happy with Amin’s taking over of Obote’s government because Obote and Gaddafi shared the same ideology of socialism (even though they were not friends). The Amin-Gaddafi friendship only started in February 1972 after West Germany government brokered their first meeting in Tripoli Libya which later grew when Gaddafi offered space in Tripoli towards the setting up of a Ugandan chancery. After subsequent visits by Amin, later on Gaddafi started making donations to the Muslim community in Uganda.
With the inflow of more of such funds towards the Muslim community, Amin developed the idea of constructing a magnificent national mosque and the headquarters of Uganda Muslim Supreme Council and chose Old Kampala hill. However, the council was reluctant to start putting Amin’s idea in place despite receiving a lot of donations for that cause.
On October 31, 1976 when President Idi Amin had gone to Masaka Suicide Revolutionary Mechanized Specialist Reconnaissance Regiment barracks to commemorate Prophet Muhammad’s birthday, he complained about this issue of reluctance and revealed that a lot of money was donated for the construction of the National mosque by Ugandans and by foreign governments of Libya, Saudi Arabia, Central African Republic, Qatar, Iraq and United Arab Emirates.
After realizing that some leaders at the Uganda Muslim Supreme Council had embezzled these funds, he decided to withhold sh70m, which Saudi Arabian king offered towards the mosque construction. He noted that he felt embarrassed before Libyan leader Col. Muammar Gaddafi over the money he (Gaddafi) donated towards other Muslim projects in Uganda, but was also swindled by the same council members.
However, much of the sh77m, which was fund-raised was swindled, Idi Amin commissioned this unbefitting structure first by ordering the architect M.A. Karim, to draw up the plans within a month. The construction of this mega building later on started. Gaddafi started funding its construction as a donation to Uganda.
However, after Amin was toppled on April 11, 1979, Gaddafi and Saudi Arabian government first lost interest in Uganda since they could not ally with the new Uganda National Liberation Front (UNLF) government backed by their nemesis, president Julius Nyerere thus putting the mosque construction on a standstill because of a number of political and religious reasons.
After many years and change of different governments, Gaddafi later on May 11, 2001 visited Uganda at the invitation of President Museveni to attend his swearing-in ceremony at Kololo Airstrip. Gaddafi had a longtime friend in Uganda, a one Kagimu who on this visit he (Gaddafi) requested to organize for him a lowkey night tour of Kampala city that day. Among the places that Gaddafi toured was Makerere University Hill and while there, Kagimu showed him the tower of an old mosque at Old Kampala.
Kagimu explained to Gaddafi how Idi Amin the previous president had mobilized huge funds for the construction of a better mosque, but most of those funds were embezzled leading to the setting up of a wanting structure before proposing to him that the best gift he could give to Muslims in Uganda would be the construction of a magnificent national mosque.
Before the end of Gaddafi’s visit, Kagimu hastily arranged a meeting between Gaddafi and some Muslim leaders whom he had coached on how to request Gaddafi to fund the construction of a better mosque at Old Kampala. Indeed, Gaddafi was impressed by the choice of words they used in requesting for it.
Later on, Gaddafi accepted the request that was also backed up by a special formal one from President Museveni and instructed that the World Islamic Call Society should fund the construction of a magnificent mosque for Uganda at Old Kampala Hill with notes that if it was not done, Allah would on judgment day condemn him for having not constructed it, yet he was formally requested for it by a non-Muslim (Museveni).
Accordingly, a mosque with a sitting capacity of up to 15,000 worshippers was constructed and completed in 2006. When Gaddafi was presented with videos and photographs of its works, he was impressed and, therefore, agreed to attend its launch in June 2007 under the name of Gaddafi National Mosque.
After Gaddafi was murdered, its administrators in Uganda renamed it ‘National Mosque’ in a bid to continue receiving its maintenance funding from Gaddafi’s successor regime in Libya. However, in 2013 its name was changed to ‘Uganda National Mosque’ as the new Libyan administration was reluctant to rehabilitate the mosque under the old name.
It currently houses the headquarters of Uganda Muslim Supreme Council, that takes care of all Islamic affairs in Uganda.
Structure of the Mosque
The Uganda National Mosque sits on over 10 acres of land thus emerging as the second largest mosque in Africa, accommodating as much as 200,000 worshipers, seating up to 15,000 worshipers in the main mosque while holding another 1,100 in the gallery and 3,500 in the terrace.
It’s a two storied building and the mosque is on the upper floor while the offices are on the ground floor. The mosque is only opened on special occasions like weddings and Eid days while the offices are on the ground floor which is open at all times. It has large domes covered in brown mosaic and a minaret, (a prayer tower) rivaling the typical Ugandan ‘sky- scraper’ as a symbol of religious architectural superiority.
The mosque offers breath-taking city wide views, religious artistry, beautiful Islamic embroidery on the inside of the dome and wonderful architectural elements that pay tribute to a great deity.
Visiting the Mosque
The mosque is located just 2 kilometres from the Kampala centre and it is one of the interesting attractions that can be explored by tourist any day of the year as soon as they visit the country in a city tour.
All tourists are well come to visit the Gaddafi Mosque and should dress modestly. Women should wear loose fitting clothes covering to the wrist, ankle and cover their heads. One should know this that the coverings are available at the reception for those who need them and should be returned immediately after the visit. Men should wear trousers, shirts with sleeves.
While inside, there is a lot to see, hear, touch and excite for any visitor like it is with any other piece of art. A half ring that arches the main entrance of the mosque stair hangs in the sky like a mosaic rainbow. While on the ascent to sky, the main entrance peers over the worshiper in a distance hence setting the place for worship. Don’t forget to leave your footwear at the entrance and climb up the minaret is a treat.