The Arrival of Islam in Uganda – 1840s – The First Foreign Religion in Uganda
In the 1840s the first Muslim, Arab trader Ahmed bin Ibrahim, was received at the court of Kabaka (King) Suuna II. Arab and Swahili traders arrived in the Great Lakes Region looking for ivory and slaves, particularly when the eastern slave trade increased, after the official abolition of the trans-Atlantic slave trade.
Relations between Ahmed bin Ibrahim and Kabaka (King) Suuna II were reasonably good, and the trader started using Buganda as the base for his activities. However, he had to leave Buganda and seek refuge in Karagwe, in present day Tanzania, which served as the new base for his business, the trade between Buganda and the Tabora Region. After Kabaka (King) Suuna II died, in 1856, the influence of the Arab traders started to decline until the 1860s during the reign of the late Kabaka (King) Suuna’s son now Kabaka (King) Mutesa I (1856-1884). Even if Kabaka (King) Mutesa I never converted to Islam and was never circumcised, he began to listen to Koran readings and to frequently receive Arab Muslim traders.
Thus, during the first ten years of Kabaka (King) Mutesa 1’s reign, Islam once again entered Buganda’s courts through trade and Kabaka (King) Mutesa I started to use Arab Muslim traders as advisers and seemed to have the will to convert to the new faith. He helped its dissemination, requiring his subjects to observe Islamic law, the Ramadan and ritual prayers. Quite a few mosques were built, and the most important was in Nakawa (east of current Kampala), where Kabaka (King) Mutesa I had one of his palaces. Many pages at the court converted to the new faith and many Baganda showed their obedience to the taught Islamic rules.