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Acid attack on pastor highlights growing religious intolerance in Uganda

Country/Region: Africa, Uganda

Christians in Uganda are calling for protection from Muslim extremists after a pastor had acid thrown in his face, leaving him disfigured and partially blind in his right eye.

acid-uganda-4x3.jpg
Pastor Umar Mulinde
Image: Vision Group/New Vision Printing and Publishing Company

The attack on Umar Mulinde, a convert from Islam, happened outside his church in Kampala on Christmas Eve, 24 December 2011.

Bishop David Kiganda of the National Fellowship of Born Again Pentecostal Churches called it a “terrorism act that the government should take seriously”.

Pastor Umar, who suffered burns to the right side of his face, neck and arms, is believed to have been targeted because of his conversion from Islam to Christianity and strong criticism of Islam. The 38-year-old father of six was also a leading figure in a campaign to block the introduction of Kadhi courts (sharia courts) in Uganda.

The attack took place in the church car park shortly after the conclusion of a seven-day evangelistic campaign. Pastor Umar, who had previously received death threats, said:

It was such a horrific terrorist attack on me by persons who in the name of religion poured acid on me seeking my death because of my religious affiliation and views.

I was attacked by a man who claimed to be a Christian. He called out to me shouting "pastor, pastor", and as I turned to see who he was, he poured acid which burnt part of my face.

As I turned away from the attacker, another man poured the liquid on my back and ran away shouting "Allah Akbar (god is great)."

Pastor Umar was taken to hospital in Kampala, where specialists struggled to restore the sight in his right eye. He was moved to a medical centre in Israel on 5 January after it was decided that he needed more advanced treatment. Barnabas Fund is assisting with the costs.

In an update from Pastor Umar from his hospital bed on Wednesday (25 January), he said that he is still in pain, having had two skin-graft operations on his face. The wounds on both of his hands have healed, but treatment is continuing on his right eye, which was severely damaged.

Rising tensions

The incident took to a new level the rising tensions in Uganda over religious conversions. Christians say that it demonstrates the government’s failure to protect them from Muslim extremists.

Pastor Umar’s wife, Evelyn, also a convert from Islam, said:

The main point of contention between Muslims and Christians in Uganda is that Muslims are yet to embrace the reality of freedom of worship or coexistence, but Muslims always think that any person who doesn’t believe like them is an enemy who deserves to be killed.

Pastor Umar came from a strict Muslim family and his father was an imam. He was a sheikh (Muslim teacher) before converting to Christianity, a decision that caused a strong reaction in the Muslim community. He used his extensive knowledge of both the Quran and the Bible in public debates about Islam and Christianity. Many Muslims were reportedly converted through his preaching.

The population of Uganda is around 85 per cent Christian and 12-15 per cent Muslim.

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