Skip to main contentAccess keys helpA-Z index
BBC World Service Launch BBC Media Player
  • Help
  • Text only
Radio home
World Service
Radio Schedules
Learning English
World News
Middle East
South Asia
Have your say
Country Profiles
In Depth
Last updated: 16 January, 2007 - Published 18:23 GMT
Email a friend Printable version
A spiritual identity

Alli Mutasa - bbc reporter in Uganda
So who am I, a social mess? No, because as philosophers would say, 'I think, therefore I am'
"Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they choose", wrote Karl Marx.

My identity, including name, is in reality a private image of my history – a Muganda, of Nkima clan.

Clans traditionally in Buganda, south-central Uganda, correlated with people's roles toward their Kabaka, the king.

Islam, Christianity and colonialism, disavowed those traditional roles to create a new social arrangement.

The American Rev Jessie Jackson once said: "religion can teach you politics, but politics cannot teach you religion".

And since war is politics by other means, Buganda was embroiled in a bloody religious conflict in 1888.

The Muslims faired badly in that war, which led to their marginalisation, especially in the fields of education and state-power, under colonial rule.

Peaceful co-existence of faiths

However, the recent festive season, coinciding with the Hajj and the Muslim Eid-l-Adhha, is testimony to a relatively peaceful co-existence of Islam and Christianity in independent Uganda, which, under the law, a secular and non-sectarian nation-state.

So who am I, a social mess? No, because, as philosophers would say, 'I think, therefore I am'.

What I am relates to my consciousness wrought from Islam; African traditions; and laws of the land.

In London, where I lived for nearly three decades - free from parental control - it was easy to trespass my customs and religious principles, which could have made my mother gasp: Oh God, the boy has gone astray!

But for the same Islamic and African traditions I was saved from an incessant, merry-making life-style, preceding a spiritual journey to Mecca – I made a good eight years ago.

My Hajj

 I even had a dream, contents of which I am usually reluctant to brag about.

The thrill of spiritual renewal faded under the drudgery of Hajj performance.

Most of the time the Hajj is trouble free, except in three places: during tawaf - going round the kaaba; trekking between the two hills - safaa and marwa; and stoning the devil, due to a limiting time frame, the sheer numbers and indiscipline among some pilgrims, and lack of crowd control.

In the year I was there, 1998, 130 pilgrims perished during the stoning stage.

Ill health was my main concern: I suffered diarrhoea, fever, and a severe dry cough.

But I prayed for strength and completed the hajj unaided.

I even had a dream, contents of which I am usually reluctant to brag about.

I vividly recall telling my younger brother with me then, you might say: "a little sun has gone into his head and now he claims Prophet Mohammad visited him in his sleep!"

Unique souvenir

I do not know what the prophet looked like, nor have I ever seen anyone resembling the image in that dream of mine, all those many years ago.

But I still remember it well - for me, it was the unique gift I left Mecca with.

My spiritual journey also brought home a realisation that 'what I am' was inferior to 'who I am' in a global sense.

The words of the late American President John F Kennedy, "Ask not what your country can do for you, but ask what you can do for your country," ring true to me too.

As a Ugandan Muslim, aware of what the Kenyan Professor, Ali Mazrui, calls "the other", it is incumbent upon me to fight for basic rights and justice.

Islam, along with other influences, only embolden the 'who I am', into a better human being, I must become.

The new Network Africa competition seeks explore our African identity. Who are you? Do you identify yourself first and foremost with your family, your ethnic group, your country, or your continent? and how does that affect the way you behave, the way you see the world?

If you'd like to share your personal thoughts on this subject, e-mail no more than 300 words to, and put 'Who Am I' in the subject line. Or write to Who Am I, Network Africa, BBC Bush House, London.

Identity collageIdentities of Africa
Africa at 50; is the continent suffering a mid-life identity crisis?
Kwaku Sakyi-Addo African, plus
"Who am I?": Kwaku Sakyi-Addo says his identity depends on his location
Email a friend Printable version
SERVICES About Us | Feedback | Daily Email | News on mobile devices
BBC Copyright Logo
^^ Back to top
  BBC News >> | BBC Sport >> | BBC Weather >> | Learning English >>
BBC Monitoring >> | BBC World Service Trust >>
  Help | Site Map | Privacy