Going to Bukoto recently, I was talking to Hassan from the back of a boda-boda. It was a Friday and I asked him what the imam had to say that morning.
“He talked about an honest day’s work to get your pay and have no problems,” said Hassan.
Hassan told me that he knew about UCU – he called it “a good place” – and when we parted we exchanged smiles and I gave him a few extra shillings.
It was a small reminder that Muslim – Christian dialogue in Uganda should be as natural as talking to one’s neighbours. Then again, Uganda’s minority Muslims are just that: our neighbours.
We already realize this. VC John Senyoni has publicly expressed his heart on the matter on several occasions. The university’s Theology department is getting more focused on Muslim outreach. UCU’s Global South Institute recently organized an open event at Nkoyoyo Hall that looked at Muslim issues.
They’re all steps in a good direction, especially now, after the much publicized attack on a Muslim–to–Christian convert in Kampala in late 2011.
Muslims and Christians are, in fact, more similar than we often imagine.
I was shown this often during my four years in Yemen – a thoroughly Muslim nation that is the cradle of Islam – where I lived and worked before moving to Uganda.
Once a Muslim friend and I were talking about Easter and the movie The Passion. I asked him that somewhat familiar question, “If you were at Heaven’s gate and God asked you, ‘Walid, why should I allow you into my Heaven?’ what would you say?”
My Muslim friend, a newspaper publisher and a fearless man in many ways, looked at me and said, “I guess I’d say, ‘God, by your grace.’ ”
I said, “You know, that’s exactly what Christians believe. And we believe that God’s grace comes though Easter.”
Walid said something about “our small differences,” and I said it’s no small difference, the cross is everything, the foundation, and what Christians believe as historic fact. “Take away the cross and the whole house comes down,” I said.
Then Walid said something I’ll never forget. He said, “I never knew that.”
It’s a remarkable response because if Walid, a very educated man who had lived in the West for some years, didn’t know that basic tenet, what false notions about Christianity do millions of other Muslims have?
It’s also remarkable because Walid intuitively knew that regardless of what any of us believe or profess, we all, every one of us walking on this earth, are lost without divine grace.