I am, and have always been, a staunch atheist with a respect and fascination with religion but a firm belief that it shouldn’t be aggressively re-enforced or alluded to, publicly. Personal experience has dictated that people who vocalize their beliefs are the same people that disregard those of others. Further being raised in the semi-rural Ireland of the 1990’s, I had a Catholic-immersed childhood. The most positive result of which having ample imagination-developing time at Mass each week. However, peculiarly I don’t find the reality of religion seeping into every facet of life in Uganda as abhorrent as I thought I would.
Uganda embraces something that I thought impossible. It has two publicly-dominating and by most culture’s standards (though there is very little in terms of fact to support) opposing religious structures – namely Islam and Christianity. I’ve experienced the two co-exist under the surface in a secular setting, most notably in Istanbul. However, in Uganda what one experiences is two distinctly overt religions, not so much conflicting or trying to outshine each other, but instead just letting you know -rather loudly – that they exist.
For instance, to summarize yesterday, I was woken at six by prayers in the Mosque near my house – it being Ramadan. Upon leaving the house I flag down a motorbike-taxi and as I hop on the back of it greeted by ‘Jesus Loves You’ in Lieu of a license plate. As we ride into town a bombardment of cars, trucks and motorbikes prophesying ‘God is Good’ and ‘Insha Alla’ litter the roads.
On arrival at one of the schools I’m helping with Teacher Training, the Pastor-Headmaster warmly greets me before showing me one of the state examinations. I read the state Religious Education exam for six year-old’s and am struck by one question in particular: ‘What is the name of this animal that God/Allah created?’ I must say that seeing the co-existence of religion to this degree is something rather refreshing. That is, if I ignore the fact that the animal shown was a domesticated cat. Which even side-stepping natural selection, through selective breeding programs, which are well documented and proven -humanity created the domestic cat. But facts aside, it’s still a sweet sentiment, isn’t it?
This anecdote in many ways encapsulates, my experience, of Uganda’s relationship with religious expression. It seems that both Christianity and Islam can exist in an overbearing way, at least somewhere in the world.