- - Wednesday, January 18, 2012

KAMPALA, Uganda — A Pentecostal preacher who has converted thousands of Muslims to Christianity was disfigured when men shouting “God is great” in Arabic threw acid in his face in a Christmas Eve attack that has stoked religious tensions here.

The victim, Umar Mulinde, is a Muslim convert to Christianity and now a vocal critic of Islam. He is also a key figure in opposing the establishment of Islamic civil courts in this majority Christian country.

Christians say the attack on Mr. Mulinde is symbolic of the government’s failure to protect Christians from Muslim extremists, even in a country whose population is 85 percent Christian. They say Muslims refuse to accept the concept of religious freedom, especially the right to choose how one worships.

Mainstream Muslims say they practice a tolerant version of Islam and that violent thugs like the ones who attacked Mr. Mulinde do not represent them.

Muslims make up 12 percent of the population of 35 million in this East African nation.

“The main point of contention between Muslims and Christians in Uganda is that Muslims are yet to embrace the reality of freedom of worship or coexistence, but Muslims always think that any person who doesn’t believe like them is an enemy who deserves to be killed,” said Mr. Mulinde’s wife, Evelyn, also a former Muslim.

Bishop David Kiganda of the National Fellowship of Born Again Pentecostal Churches called the attack on Mr. Mulinde a “terrorism act that the government should take seriously.”

Nsereko Mutumba, a spokesman for the Uganda Muslim Supreme Council in Kampala, said some Christian leaders are using the attack on Mr. Mulinde as an opportunity to promote themselves as defenders of Christianity.

He insisted that most Muslims in Uganda are tolerant of religious conversions, unlike Muslims in many Islamic countries where converts face death sentences.

“Muslims here don’t care what religion one decides to be,” Mr. Mutumba said.

Ssekito Abdulhakim, general secretary of the Makerere University Muslim Students Association, said Muslim-Christian tensions are rising mainly because both Muslims and Christians have become more active in conversion efforts.

Muslim and Christian speakers often hold public debates and try to convert members of the audience. Each speaker will claim his religion is the one true word of God.

Joshua Kitakule, secretary-general of the Inter-Religious Council of Uganda, called those forums divisive.

“These debates are not respectful and healthy. They’re built on saying one is right, the other is wrong. That offends,” he said.

“Preach your gospel as is, and if people like it, they will convert. But there’s no need to disrespect the other.”

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