UMSC leadership crisis: Mubaje impeached, faces 6-month suspension

UMSC leadership crisis: Mufti Mubaje impeached, faces 6-month suspension
Sheikh Shaban Ramathan Mubajje

Kampala, Uganda | By Michael Wandati | The Uganda Muslim Supreme Council (UMSC) is facing increased turmoil with the recent removal and suspension of Mufti of Uganda, Sheikh Shaban Ramadhan Mubaje.

Following this development, Sheikh Abdallah Ssemambo, the deputy Mufti of Uganda, was elected to serve as the acting Mufti of Uganda. Over the weekend, a faction of the UMSC general assembly (a group of about 180 Muslims), the highest decision-making body of the organization, convened a special session at Ggangu Muslim School, off Busabala Road in wakiso district, resulting in the suspension of both Sheikh Mubaje and UMSC chairperson, Dr. Mohammed Lubega.

However, UMSC spokesperson Ashiraf Zziwa Muvawala has said Mubaje’ contract is still running until 2025 and he is still in charge at the UMSC.

“Those who purport to have suspended the Mufti (Mubaje) have no powers and I think that is comedy. His contract is still running until 2025. Whoever wants to take over power at UMSC must follow the due process,” Muvawala said.

He disclosed that Ssemambo’s office has since been locked and the process for the election of the first deputy Mufti of Uganda replacing him has commenced.

The decision that has so far sparked controversy at UMSC, was prompted by a court order granting authority to Yudaya Babirye, Burhan Namanya, and Hussein to organize the said special session.

On December 12, a court order issued by Justice Faridah Shamilah Bukirwa Ntambi of Jinja High Court permitted the assembly to discuss the overall state of the UMSC. The order also mandated an immediate obligation to submit a report on the proceedings to the court.

“…let a special sitting of the general assembly of the UMSC be immediately called to look into the affairs of the UMSC generally and immediately file a report before this court: the said general assembly should sit at any time and from time to time as the circumstances permit,” the court order reads in part. 

Ordinarily, such assemblies are initiated by the UMSC secretary general and held at the organization’s headquarters. However, the court order, as seen by the Kampala Dispatch, allowed any person designated by the petitioners to convene the meeting. The order stipulated that a neutral person, elected by the members during the initial session, preside over the proceedings.

During the meeting, an inquiry was launched into the alleged sale and auctioning of Muslim mosques, including the National Mosque. As part of this investigation, Mubaje was suspended for six months to facilitate the commencement and conduct of the inquiry.

A committee was formed to conduct the investigation, comprising members such as Hajji Mudathi Dooka from West Nile, Musa Muyinda from Makindye, Zulaika Kamara, the Women representative, Isa Gule from the eastern region, Yasin Kakuru from Kigezi, Muzamul Nsimbi from Busoga, among others.

The special session also appointed Isa Gule as the new chairperson for the UMSC, resulting in the suspension of Dr. Lubega from his responsibilities. However, some meeting participants noted irregularities in Lubega’s election. Hadji Abbas Sekyanzi Muluubya, UMSC general secretary, has characterized the events at the Gangu Islamic schools sitting as superficial.

He argues that the proceedings during the special session of the general assembly deviated from the proper procedures stipulated in the UMSC constitution. According to article five of the council’s constitution, the removal of the Mufti from office can only occur through a joint session formed by the combined meeting of the executive committee and the Majlis Al-Ulama or the college of Sheikhs. 

The constitution outlines six reasons that may lead to the removal of the Mufti, which include if he becomes mentally unfit, is declared bankrupt under Ugandan laws, conducts himself in a manner unsuitable for his office, is convicted of a criminal offense, violates Islamic norms and national laws, tarnishing his public image according to the Majlis Al-Ulama’s opinion, or becomes incapable of performing his duties. 

Article 11 of the same constitution outlines the impeachment process and offers an alternative avenue. It says for an impeachment to be initiated, a written petition in triplicate is required. It further says that the petition must bear the signatures of at least one-third of the members comprising the joint session. 

Hajji Muluubya added that UMSC is operating normally and officially recognizes only one Mufti, who is none other than Mubaje. Prior to the weekend special meeting, an order was issued to the UMSC leadership, but it was rejected by the UMSC advisory council during its inaugural meeting on December 13.

This council is composed of retired Muslim leaders, Muslim opinion leaders, experienced and seasoned Muslim leaders, eminent Sheikhs, and the current Mufti of Uganda, not exceeding 21 members. Chaired by Obed Kamulegeya, the former chief Khadi of Uganda, the council emphasized that before resorting to civil courts, Muslims should first exhaust internal mechanisms. 

Muluubya asserts that the order was erroneously issued because the judge overlooked Article 17 of the UMSC, which outlines the provision for holding extraordinary sessions. He adds that the council has initiated processes to challenge the order and the activities stemming from it.

“That very constitution article 17 stipulates processes of holding an extraordinary and an ordinary general assembly. It is strange that the judgement considered only article one and did not guide them on article 17. So we think that the judgement is in error, it did not follow the law and is being challenged. Everything that accrues from that judgement is going to be quashed,” said Muluubya.

Article 17 of the UMSC says that the secretary general is responsible for convening an extraordinary general meeting of the assembly upon receiving a memorandum signed by one-third of the members of the general assembly, requisitioning such meetings. The article further stipulates that the meeting is to be convened with a seven-day notice, which is to be sent and published in electronic and print media.

Is acting Mufti Sheikh Abdallah Ssemambo in trouble?

Since being sworn in as the acting Mufti, Ssembabo seems to be facing challenges, as the UMSC is reportedly considering initiating an inquiry into his conduct. Sources suggest that meetings to “discipline” him have already started.

Sheikh Abdallah Ssemambo

“By appearing there, he himself knew what would follow. The (Mubaje-led) UMSC cannot sit and do nothing,” remarked a source from Old Kampala. 

Indeed, Muluubya noted that during the swearing-in, the deputy Mufti pledged to uphold the UMSC constitution. According to Abbas, any failure by the deputy Mufti to adhere to this oath would constitute a violation of the constitution. Abbas further notes that there is a prescribed process for addressing instances of non-compliance. 

In a telephone interview, Ssemambo emphasized that he was duly elected as the acting Mufti during the investigation into his boss. However, he declined to comment further saying he was heading into a meeting. 

“What do you expect people from Old Kampala to say?,” Ssemambo asked.

A lay Muslim expressed the view that the two conflicting factions are not primarily driven by religious differences or a concern for Muslim welfare. Rather, they appear to be entangled in a power struggle for control over the leadership of UMSC.

“The Mubaje faction engaged in wrongful actions by selling Muslim property and endorsing inappropriate documents. However, even those opposing these actions had a hand in similar activities. Currently, both groups are putting on a show for the public, but the truth is that these are power games determining who controls UMSC,” he stated.

While the current controversy was triggered by allegations of the Mufti and others selling Muslim property, earlier events indicate a longstanding conflict that dates back to the revision of the UMSC constitution, the election period, and the general assembly in December of the previous year.

During the December 2022 general assembly, the conflict became apparent between the Hussein Bassajabala faction, led by Hajj Abdul Kyimba, the representative from Lwengo, and the Mubaje faction on the opposite side.

Bassajabala, with a history of rivalry with the incumbent Mufti, aimed to reclaim the position of chairperson of the general assembly. However, his candidacy faced challenges due to his previous impeachment, rendering him ineligible to contest under the provisions of the UMSC constitution.