As we enter Umar Mulinde’s hospital room, we are immediately grateful that the
friend who arranged our interview also sent us Mulinde’s photograph. She at
least partially prepared us for the sight of the disfiguring burns on his
beautiful face. Still, we quickly learn that the blinded right eye, the scorched
skin, the missing nostril and the swollen lips – which make it difficult for him
to speak – have not lessened his passion for the mission he has set for himself:
to tell his personal story and the story of Uganda, and to proclaim his love of
God and his love for Israel.
Mulinde was born in Uganda in 1973 to a
devout Muslim family comprising many children and wives. His maternal
grandfather is an imam; his father is a well-known Islamic leader. Today,
however, Mulinde is an Evangelical Christian pastor who leads a Kampala church
of more than 1,000 believers.
On Christmas night 2011, a terrorist made
his way through the holiday crowds, and while shouting “Allahu Akbar!” three
times, threw acid at Mulinde’s face, chest and arm. The young pastor turned his
head just in time to avoid being hit directly in the face; his right side bore
the brunt of the injury. He was rushed to the hospital, but it was soon evident
that the medical treatment in Uganda for such severe burns was inadequate. He
called friends in Israel, and they quickly transported him to Sheba Medical
Center in Tel Hashomer, where we are meeting him.
We wonder if the attack
resulted from his conversion to Christianity – a capital crime according to
Islamic Shari’a law. So we ask him how and why he became a
“Even though Uganda’s population is 80 percent Christian,” he
explains, “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
Deogratias convinced Mulinde that Christianity was true by
explaining passages from the Koran that mentioned Jesus, and he taught Mulinde
about the New Testament.
Still, the 19-year-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. Instead he chose to live a
double life: Inwardly he was a Christian, but outwardly he fulfilled all the
requirements of Islam.
Then, he tells us, a recurring dream began to
visit him: “My hands and my feet are 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.’” He went to his
grandfather the imam to seek advice. “He said that maybe Christianity had sent
an evil djinn to torture me and that we needed to cast it out using a
But when Mulinde returned home, on the day before Easter, the dream continued to recur.
The next morning – Easter Sunday –
he entered a church for the first time in his life. He announced to the
congregation that he wanted to convert to Christianity. Just as he left
the service, three of his Muslim friends spotted him and promptly reported to
the sheikh that Mulinde had been in church. A group of them attacked him and
beat him up. That was the beginning of his persecution. From that moment on, he
was alienated from his community.
Nonetheless, he began to speak publicly
about his new faith, and he did so before increasingly large
“I am a new person. I have started a new life.” He repeats
these words a number of times during our meeting. Even from his sickbed and with
his slurred speech, it’s not difficult to imagine him convincing great crowds of
people with the peace and confidence that he radiates.
“As a Muslim, I
had a very legalistic approach to life,” he explains. “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.”
HE RECOUNTS for us how his
attitude toward Israel changed.
“When I was a Muslim, I hated Israel,” he
says. “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, he met a group of devout Christian
women who prayed for Israel every day, which also raised questions in his mind.
So in 2008, he made his first visit to Israel, arriving through Egypt via the
In the car that met him were an Israeli guide and an Arab
driver. He was astounded. “I didn’t know that Jews allowed Arabs to live in
Israel and to work. I believed that Jews were persecuting and hunting
During his visit, he saw that hotel workers were Arabs, living in
safety and going about their business. He saw with his own eyes that Israel was
a democracy, “and that this is a country of peace. I loved the nation and the
In the meantime, he took an online course about Israel, which
further changed his thinking and, before long, transformed his life. Before his
attack, he organized two more tours of Israel, introducing it to other
Although only around 12% of Uganda’s population is Muslim,
Islamist activists are increasingly trying to enact Shari’a law there. Iran’s
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visited in 2010 seeking to install Iranian oil
refineries in the country. Mulinde and colleagues wrote letters to
Uganda’s ministers of external and internal affairs, opposing Shari’a and
declaring that the state government had to make a choice between Iran and Israel
– and that Israel was, by far, the best option. A similar letter went out to
President Yoweri Museveni. Mulinde also organized quiet street
“Wherever there is Shari’a law, there is no Christianity
and no love for Israel,” he tells us. “We managed to gather millions of
signatures against the Shari’a, and I threatened to take legal
He believes that his public activities against enforcing the
Shari’a as a national law are among the reasons for the attack against him. “We
stood and we fought against the main principle. We chose to do that because it
was the right thing to do.”
There is no doubt in his mind 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 the democracy in the West for their own gain.
Outwardly they preach peace, but in the mosques they preach something totally
Just as he has dedicated his life to revealing the truth
about Israel, he wants to expose the lies in which he says Islam wraps itself.
We ask him what he would say to the people of Israel and America.
to thank the Israelis for being lovers of peace and for being considerate of
other nations,” he replies. “But I also want to encourage them not to give their
land away for 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.”
In his view, the conflict
is rooted in the Arabs’ unwillingness to live side-by-side with
“People in America must learn more about Islam,” he continues.
“Compromising with Islam will not solve a thing. It will just destroy the
When we ask if he plans to return to Uganda, he is not so
quick to answer. It seems as if the memory of all the suffering is momentarily
washing over him again.
“I thought that they would beat me up a bit and
after that would calm down,” he says. “I never imagined that they would chase me
until my death.”
But yes, he does intend to return to Uganda once his
health improves sufficiently. In recent days, he has undergone further
surgery, this time on his left eye – doctors detected acid in the eye socket,
and they fear he will lose sight in it as well. He is still in severe pain, and
recovery is frustratingly slow. But he refuses to allow discouragement and
hopelessness to overcome him.
He has been a victim of Islamist brutality
and his body a “sacrifice” to merciless violence. Still, he reminds us as we go,
“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. Her
Saturday People, Sunday People: Israel through the Eyes of a
Christian Visitor (Encounter Books) will be released later this year. She is a
fellow at Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom.