Police in Masaka are on heightened alert in the wake of growing tensions between two Muslim factions in the district.
The simmering tensions are between a group loyal to the Old Kampala-based Mufti Shaban Ramathan Mubajje, which wants to forcefully take over the Masaka Main mosque from those loyal to the Kibuli Islamic faction. Sheikh Bruhan Bagunduse, a newly-appointed district Kadhi loyal to Old Kampala, recently tried to mobilize Muslim youths to take over the mosque, the headquarters of the Masaka Muslim district council.
The faction, loyal to Sheikh Mubajje, was forced out of the mosque in 2009, after the Muslim district council unanimously passed a vote of no confidence against the long-serving district Kadhi Sheikh Huzairu Kiruuta. Kiruuta was replaced by Sheikh Swaib Ndugga, who has since realigned himself with the Kibuli leadership. Bagunduse has set the repossession of the mosque as his top priority. He also wants the Uganda Muslim Supreme Council-owned commercial buildings in the town.
"We wrote to the tenants advising them to stop paying fees to a group that is not recognized by the (Uganda Muslim Supreme Council) UMSC hierarchy," Hajji Ali Matovu, the Chairman of the pro-Mubajje group told The Observer.
However, Matovu poured cold water on fears of violence.
"The mosque belongs to us [UMSC] only that it is under the control of another group. There is no need of a violent takeover, this is something we shall do through proper legal channels," he said.
However, their rivals said there have been a series of meetings to plan the takeover, and have shortlisted key leaders to be killed. According to the mosque's Imam Sheikh Jamir Mbuga Kabangala, the pro-Mubajje group has listed him, Sheikh Ndugga, Sheikh Ahmed Kayemba (the General Secretary), and Estates Manager Amir Kakomo as targets.
Kabangala added that they have already repulsed an attack on the mosque. However, Matovu, in a separate interview, accused the Ndugga group of attacking one of his executive committee members, Ismail Ssemanda's home at Kirimya in the deep of the night and threatened his life.
As tensions between the two groups rose, the Police deployed near the mosque as District Police Commander Edward Sserunjogi sought a meeting with leaders of the two rival groups. Banguduse's group, however, kept away from the meeting.
"On Sunday evening, we received information that a group of Muslims loyal to Mufti Mubajje were organizing to forcefully take over Masaka Main mosque, but we immediately deployed to avoid bloodshed," Noah Sserunjogi, the Southern Region Police Spokesman, said.
By the time of Police's deployment, Ndugga's group had mobilized several youths to retaliate in case of any attack. Ali Matovu, however, told us that their rivals are probably working on misinformation, denying that the meetings that his group has been holding have anything to do with the takeover of the main mosque.
"We are preparing for the outgoing district kadhi [Sheikh Huzairu Kiruuta] to hand over to his successor [Sheikh Bagunduse] although the dilemma we are facing is that all the properties he is supposed to hand over are under the control of the other group," he said.