Pastor Umar Mulinde’s love for Israel has only grown since he began treatment here for the burns he sustained in a horrific acid attack in his home country of Uganda on Christmas Eve last year.
“I really love being here in Jerusalem,” said Mulinde, wearing a mask to hide his burns.
“My family and I love Israel and feel safe here.”
In a wide-ranging interview on Monday with Steve Linde, The Jerusalem Post
’s editor-in- chief and other staff at the newspaper, Mulinde explained his journey from being a Muslim to his conversion to Christianity and his untiring support for the Jewish state.
The pastor said he was attacked by a presumed Muslim terrorist in the east African country because of his outspoken sermons in favor of Israel, and his screening of pro-Israel films.
But the attack, which left him with severe burns and without an eye, had failed to sway him.
“There is a lot of biased information about this country [Israel] and a need to get balanced information,” said Mulinde, seated in the Post
editorial lounge with his wife, Evelyn, and their two children.
Mulinde’s efforts to debunk prejudices against Jews and Israel had led him to arrange for a film presentation on Jerusalem.
He recalled that as he left the event in Kampala – the capital of Uganda – a man confronted him. He had felt “a splash of a very hot substance” on his head and managed to pivot away to avoid his entire face from being doused with acid.
The assailant screamed “Allahu Akbar” during the attack. Mulinde said at that moment, he realized that the assailant had been a Muslim terrorist.
Seriously disfigured by the acid, Mulinde has been receiving free treatment at the burn unit of Sheba Medical Center. His entire head is bandaged and one of his eyes is covered by an eye-patch.
Evelyn, his wife, described the family’s reaction to her husband being doused with acid.
“It was so traumatizing for me and the kids,” she said, remembering how they had cried, knelt down and prayed together.
Mulinde also delved into the period of Ugandan history under the notoriously anti- Israel president Ida Amin, whose military dictatorship reigned from 1971-79 and engaged in a blood-soaked repression against dissenters.
“Idi Amin declared Uganda an Islamic state and ushered in Shari’a law,” said Mulinde.
“Any country that practices Shari’a law will not have good relations with Israel. And less than 10 percent of the country was Muslim at the time.”
Uganda’s Christian population now comprises 84% of the country, with an estimated 12% Muslim.
Mulinde said he was born a Muslim in 1973, and his family rejected him when he converted to Christianity as a 20-year-old. He said he had experienced an Islam “filled with hate.”
His sharp break with the indoctrination of an intolerant form of Islam, which, he noted, caused him to “hate Jews and Israel” as a student of the Koran, moved him to analyze the two monotheistic religions – Judaism and Christianity.
“I said I must understand the Israelites and the Jewish people if I want to continue with the study of the Bible,” he explained. “When I realized there was bias against Jews, I spoke out.”
His high-energy pro-Israel advocacy work involved speaking to up to 5,000 Ugandans at a time in a football stadium and reaching thousands more during his day-to-day Internet activities.
He established contact with Andrea Gottlieb, from Philadelphia, who serves as the executive director of JerusalemOnlineUniversity.com, a pedagogical online portal devoted to Israel and Jewish affairs.
Gottlieb, who met Mulinde for the first time in person at the Post
’s headquarters on Monday, said she had first communicated with the pastor online three years ago.
After the attack, Gottlieb engineered Mulinde’s travel to Israel and helped enable his treatment process at Sheba Medical Center.
Gottlieb described her efforts in December of last year to secure him treatment in Israel during a family holiday in Florida.
“Our whole vacation was about the pastor,” she said, smiling, with tears in her eyes. She noted that her family had been very supportive of the need to fly Mulinde, who had initially flown to India, to Israel for the best treatment.
As a pastor, Mulinde had organized group trips to Israel.
“When you come to Israel, you realize the story is different,” he said.
Mulinde noted that his work had helped debunk the myth that there no Israeli Arabs living in Israel.
“When I first got here, I was surprised to see Arabs living together in peace with Jews,” he said.
He has since lectured in South Africa on Israel’s vibrant democracy. Any comparisons between Israel and the former apartheid regime in South Africa, he said, are made by people “who do not know what they are talking about” and only serve to “abuse the African people.”
Asked about why he had converted to Christianity, he said he had met a pastor “who was preaching a different message – a God of Peace, in contrast to the God of the Koran.”
With the experience of Israel’s Operation Pillar of Defense behind them, Evelyn said that despite the rocket attacks from Gaza, “I feel safe in Israel. I feel loved.”
The Ugandan authorities have failed to apprehend the perpetrator of the acid attack on Mulinde, who blamed a Muslim in charge of Uganda’s counterterrorism unit for not pursuing the “act of terrorism on me.”
He said one person had been arrested but within two days, the suspect was released.
Mulinde complained and the counterterrorism head was relieved of his duties. Yet the Ugandan security officials have still not made an arrest, he said.
Prof. Zeev Rotstein, the CEO and director of Sheba Medical Center, said his hospital had welcomed Mulinde with open arms, and he was making good progress.
“Our decision to treat the pastor was completely humanitarian. It was not done to receive publicity or thanks from anyone,” Rotstein told The Jerusalem Post
. “Here was a man who had been hurt in a hostile attack because of his strong support for Israel. And we, in the best tradition of Israel, offered our help.”
Rotstein and Mulinde were honored recently by the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem at the conclusion of their annual Feast of the Tabernacles. Both men were given a standing applause by the audience of over 5,000 Christians from some 90 nations at the Jerusalem International Convention Center.
“It really moved me,” Rotstein said. “It was a pleasant and unexpected surprise. I was dumbfounded by the outpouring of support for us, for Israel and for the Jewish people by the huge crowd.”
Steve Linde contributed to this report.