In May 2012, a friend and I entered Umar Mulinde’s hospital room in Israel. And I was grateful that the woman who arranged our interview had sent me Mulinde’s photograph, which partially prepared me for the sight of the disfiguring burns on his handsome face. But I quickly learned that the blinded right eye, the scorched skin, the missing nostril and the swollen lips—which made it difficult for him to speak—had not lessened his passion for his dual life-mission: to proclaim his love for God and his love for Israel.
Umar Mulinde was born in Uganda in 1973 to a devout Muslim family, comprising many children and wives. His maternal grandfather was an imam and his father a well-known Islamic leader. But after converting to Christianity as a young man, Umar became an Evangelical Christian pastor of a large church, where he was an avid spokesman for his new faith and his new-found love for Israel.
On December 24, 2011, after Umar hosted his church’s Christmas service, a terrorist made his way through holiday crowds. While shouting “Allahu Akbar!” three times, he threw acid at Mulinde’s face, chest and arm. The young pastor turned his head in time to avoid being hit directly; his right side bore the brunt of the injury. He was rushed to the hospital, but it was soon evident that Uganda’s medical capabilities to treat such horrific burns were inadequate. Umar contacted friends in Israel, and they quickly transported him to Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer, where I first met him.
Umar’s vicious attack was the result of his conversion from Islam to Christianity—a capital crime according to Islamic Shari’a law. So I asked him how and why he had become a Christian.
Despite his strict Muslim upbringing, a pastor convinced Mulinde that Christianity was true by explaining passages from the Koran that mentioned Jesus while introducing him to the New Testament. At 19 years old, Mulinde knew very well that converting to Christianity would mean being totally cut off from his Muslim family and friends, and thus from his future plans. But the following Easter Sunday, he entered a church for the first time in his life and announced to the congregation that he wanted to convert to Christianity.
That very day, three of his Muslim friends spotted him leaving the church and promptly reported it to the sheikh. A group of them attacked him and beat him up. That was the beginning of his persecution.
Yet from that moment on, although alienated from his community, he began to speak publicly about his new faith, and he did so before increasingly large audiences. “I am a new person. I have started a new life.” He repeated these words a number of times during our meeting. Even from his sickbed—in pain and with slurred speech—it was not difficult to imagine him speaking to large crowds of people with peace and confidence.
He also explained his love for Israel. “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, he met a group of devout Christian women who prayed for Israel every day, which also helped change his mind. They encouraged him to visit Israel, which he did on several occasions. In fact, it was due to his outspoken love for Israel that Umar Mulinde was receiving treatments for his terrible burns in one of Israel’s finest medical facilities.
Umar Mulinde has since recovered, although he has lost sight in his right eye and is visibly scarred. After completing his medical treatments he returned to his home country, where he continued to evangelize. But after surviving another near-fatal shooting in September 2018, in a recent conversation he told me, “I have not been so public in Uganda, although I still closely monitor events through my nationwide network and in other East African countries.”
He went on to say that although Uganda is over 80 percent Christian and the Ugandan constitution guarantees religious freedom, Muslim activists continue to persecute Christian converts from Islam. “Local Muslims, with support from Pakistan, Iran, Qatar, and Yemen are dominating Uganda’s economy, sponsoring Islamic activities, and bribing government security officials to act in their favor.”
A Voice of the Martyrs report confirms Mulinde’s observations:
Many of the [pro-Islamic] policies Idi Amin put into place continue to influence society and government today. Uganda’s parliament even recently passed Sharia banking, which gives zero interest loans to Islamic projects. Arab countries also continue to invest large amounts of resources into furthering Muslim interests within the country. As a result of this, radical Islam’s influence has grown by more than seven percent in the last three years, and many Christians within the majority Muslim border regions are facing severe persecution, especially those who convert from Islam.
In our conversation, Umar Mulinde also told me that he thinks radical Muslims have infiltrated Uganda’s police, army, and judiciary and converts from Islam to Christianity are particularly targeted. In fact, a just resolution of his own assaults remains elusive.
“Up to now those who attacked me have not been arrested or charged,” he told me, “and the file my 2011 case—which was attempted murder—was ‘lost’ by the police. Then, after another attempt on my life in September 2018—when gunmen entered my house at night and I narrowly survived—those culprits are also yet to be arrested!”
Let us pray for an end to religious persecution in Uganda.