Confronting the real face of Islam
with Pastor Umar Mulinde, from Uganda
As we entered Umar Mulinde’s hospital room in Ramat Gan, we were immediately grateful that a friend had sent us his photograph. This at least partially prepared us for the sight of the disfiguring burns on his beautiful face. Still, we quickly learned that the blinded right eye, the scorched skin, the missing nostril and the swollen lips have not lessened Umar’s passion for his mission in life: to proclaim his love for God and for Israel to fellow Ugandans.
Mulinde was born in Uganda in 1973 to a devout Muslim family comprising several wives and 52 children. His maternal grandfather is an imam, his father a well-known Islamic leader. Today, however, Mulinde is an Evangelical Christian pastor who leads a Kampala church of more than 1,000 believers, many former Muslims like him.
Last Christmas Eve, a figure approached Mulinde shouting “Allahu Akbar” and threw acid on him. The right side of his face bore the brunt of the injury. He was rushed to the hospital, but it was soon evident that the medical facilities in Uganda for such severe burns were inadequate. Mulinde called friends in Israel, who quickly arranged for his admittance to Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer, where we met him.
We wondered if the attack on Mulinde was because of his conversion from Islam to Christianity – a capital crime under Islamic Shari’a law. “Even though Uganda’s population is 80 percent Christian,” he explained, “it was declared a Muslim country under Idi Amin, and the Muslims were organized and motivated. They always found ways to disprove Christianity’s claims by using passages from the Koran. But a pastor named Deogratias decided that if he wanted to convince Muslims about the truth of Christianity, he needed to study Arabic and be familiar with the Koran.” Deogratias convinced Mulinde that Christianity was true. He was 19 at the time and knew converting to Christianity would mean being totally cut off from his Muslim family and friends. Instead, he chose to live a double life, inwardly believing as a Christian but outwardly keeping the rules of Islam.
Then he began having a recurring dream: “My hands and my feet were tied. And I’m burning in fire. I am screaming. To my right a man with a shining face is telling me, ‘Islam brings you this torture. Become a Christian and you will survive it.’”
Mulinde went to his grandfather the imam to seek advice. “He said that maybe Christianity had sent an evil jinn to torture me and that we needed to cast it out using a prayer.” But when Umar returned home, on the day before Easter, the dream recurred again and again. The next morning – Easter Sunday – Mulinde entered a church for the first time in his life and announced that he wanted to become a Christian. Just as he left the service he was spotted by three Muslim friends, who promptly reported him to the local sheikh. A group of Muslims assaulted him – the beginning of his persecution. From that moment on Mulinde was an outcast from his community.
Nonetheless, he began to speak publicly about his new faith, and he did so before ever larger audiences. “I am a new person. I have started a new life,” he repeatedly told us. Even from his sickbed and with his slurred speech, it’s not difficult to imagine Mulinde convincing great crowds with the peace and confidence that he radiates.
“As a Muslim, I had a very legalistic approach to life. I did things not out of love, but out of fear of Allah. I did not have inner peace but was a prisoner on a mission. I did things not because I wanted to do them but because I was told to do them, and I did them in the exact way I was taught to. As a Muslim I thought I had to kill infidels, but now that I am a Christian my heart is filled with love. The power that motivates me is God’s love and love for Israel. I feel that the spirit that previously dwelt in me has disappeared and now I’m a real person.”
Ugandan pastor Umar Mulinde wearing a special Israeli-developed mask that promotes proper healing and shaping of the major skin graft operation he underwent to repair facial burns he suffered from an acid attack by Muslim militants. (ICEJ photo)
“When I was a Muslim I hated Israel. Don’t know why. Everybody was like that. I knew nothing about Israel – not even where it was on the map. But after I became a Christian, I loved reading the Bible, both the Old and the New Testaments, and I saw phrases like ‘the God of Israel’ and ‘the people of Israel’ repeated continually in the Scriptures. What did that mean?”
In Kampala, Mulinde met a group of devout Christian women who prayed for Israel everyday. So in 2008, Mulinde made his first visit to Israel, arriving via the Taba crossing from Egypt. In the car that met him was an Israeli guide and an Arab driver. He was shocked. “I didn’t know that Jews allowed Arabs to live in Israel and to work. I believed that Jews were persecuting and hunting Arabs.” During his visit he saw that hotel workers were Arabs, living in safety and going about their business. “My eyes were opened that Israel is a democracy... and a country of peace. I loved the nation and the people.”
In the meantime, Mulinde took an online course about Israel, which further changed his thinking and, before long, transformed his life. Before the recent attack, Umar organized two more tours of Israel for fellow Ugandan pastors.
Although only 12% of Uganda’s population is Muslim, Islamist activists are increasingly trying to enact Shari’a there. Then Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visited in 2010 seeking to install Iranian oil refineries in the country. Mulinde and colleagues wrote letters addressed to Ugandan officials, including President Yoweri Museveni, opposing Shari’a and declaring that the government had to make a choice between Iran or Israel, with Israel by far the best option. Mulinde also organized quiet street demonstrations. “Wherever there is Shari’a law there is no room for Christianity and no love for Israel,” he told us. “We managed to gather millions of signatures against the Shari’a, and I threatened to take legal action.”
Mulinde believes that his public activities against enforcing Shari’a is one of the reasons for the attack against him. “We stood and we fought because it was the right thing to do.” He also has no doubt that the Muslim agenda is to Islamize the whole world. “Both in Africa and in the West, Muslims use money as a means of influence. While there is no democracy in their own countries, they exploit democracy in the West for their own gain. Outwardly they preach peace but in the mosques they preach something totally different.”
Just as he has dedicated his life to revealing the truth about Israel, Mulinde wants to expose the lies surrounding Islam. “I want to thank the Israelis for being lovers of peace and for being considerate of other nations. But I also want to encourage them not to give their land away for promises of peace. You gave away Gaza and you are receiving missiles in return. If you give east Jerusalem, they will take the western part of the city too, until they also take Tel Aviv.” “People in America must learn more about Islam,” he continued. “Compromising with Islam will not solve a thing.” Mulinde plans to return to Uganda soon, though reluctantly. “I never imagined that they would chase me until my death.”
In recent days, doctors decided to remove Mulinde’s damaged right eye before the infection spread to his good one. He still has severe pains and recovery is slow. But Umar Mulinde refuses to be discouraged. “Someone once said, ‘Evil triumphs when good people do nothing.’ But if we act, we will win.”
Daphne Netanyahu is the editor-in-chief of Maraah, a Hebrew language online weekly.
Lela Gilbert is an author and editor whose latest book, Saturday People, Sunday People: Israel through the Eyes of a Christian Visitor (Encounter Books) will be released in late 2012.
This article was first published in the May 2012 issue of The Jerusalem Post Christian Edition; www.jpost.com/ce