Dr. Ahmad Kawesa, Rector of Islamic University in Uganda (IUIU), in this interview, says their students spend less time to obtain degrees. He also spoke on why the youths are vulnerable to extremism.
How did the university come into existence?
It was established by the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). The decision to establish the university was taken in Darfur in 1974 during a meeting of the OIC Heads of State and Government to fill the education gap among Muslims. We started operation in 1988 with 80 students and two degree programmes, Islamic Studies and Arabic Language and Education.
At present, we have 8,500 students from 23 countries including Nigeria and we have different academic programmes in seven faculties. In addition, we have a centre for postgraduate studies which coordinates postgraduate programmes, including masters and PhD.
Most of our degree programmes are three years except law and science and nutrition which are four years, and medicine which is five years plus one year remedial programme. The university has four campuses, all in Uganda.
We are mandated to serve the English speaking African countries and the opportunities are available and we will like to offer them to Nigerians. In this way hopefully, we can build a group of young men and women who are not only educated in terms of skills but also have moral values.
Our philosophy as an institution is academic excellence and moral uprightness. Islamic values are core to our function and we pride ourselves of producing students who are not only competent in their respective disciplines but also have values which are critical. This is because in Africa and indeed the rest of the world, our problem is not shortage of graduates but that of those who are transparent and can serve the common good of the people.
We are working with other institutions to see that in the future we can have more students’ exchanges, so that our youths can have a greater understanding of what it takes to succeed in a globalised world.
Do you have the intention of establishing off campus outside Uganda?
Discussions are ongoing to explore the possibilities of doing that. We are given the mandate to establish campuses outside Uganda and we are looking on to brothers and sisters in Nigeria to see how best that can be done. Until that happens, we are now working on having online programmes which will hopefully be available by January. We are beginning with two programmes – Information Technology and Masters in Business Administration (MBA).
We are also working on having digital learning centres, where students who don’t have access to internet can go to download lectures and other academic materials. We are also working on having our institution affiliated to Nigerian universities to offer our programmes in this country.
Meanwhile, we have to work together to make Nigeria better and the key factor is education with morals and human values. That is what we are trying to emphasise in our university and we believe we can spread that light far and wide because once you have the critical mass of education professionals of values, the country can best move forward.
A number of Islamic institutions and universities are making efforts to tackle radicalism and terrorism through education. Do you have similar programme in your school?
In our case, we have many programmes, we do not only concentrate on academic lectures but we also have other activities such as public lectures. In this, we try to talk to our students on what it takes to succeed in life. And part of that helps them not to get radicalized.
We are also looking at many more programmes in their associations and groups outside the academia. Part of the problem is when young people don’t see hope in the future, then they become extremely vulnerable.
The other problem, which is the biggest dilemma of the Muslim world, is lack of proper understanding of Islam. Many Muslims don’t understand the basis of Islam. That is why many people become so obsessed with a few Sunnah (traditions of Prophet Muhammad) and reduce the whole Islam to them.
Muslims need proper understanding of the basis of Islam. If you understand Islam properly, you will know that having a non-Muslim neighbour is not a problem but an opportunity for you to do da’awah. If you want to do da’awah with someone, you can’t fight him, abuse or attack him. That’s the proper da’awah of Islam. People who are in that kind of situation will not be radicalised.
In addition, we have a Masters programme in Religion, Peace and Conflict Resolution in which we train people who will go out there and help in building peace. We have, in the Faculty of Law, programme called International Humanitarian Law and this helps to teach students how to manage conflict and make it less disruptive to the lives of innocent people. These are part of efforts in immunising the students against radicalism by giving them a broad mind to be able to see the bigger picture and have an understanding that diversity is a rule of Allah (SWT).
What is the state of Islam in Uganda?
Islam entered Uganda in 1844, and since then the religion has spread to all parts of the country. But because of colonial history, Muslims there are lagging behind in education. At the time of independence, there were only two Muslim graduates in Uganda.
To this day, the Muslims are still behind in education but we thank Allah for having Islamic university. Before now, we had very serious shortage of Muslim teachers. You will find a Muslim school but 90% of the teachers, including the head teachers are non-Muslims. But now, we have produced enough teachers for our schools and are even exporting the excess to Tanzania and Kenya. That has been the impact of the university. That is why we started with the focal point of education in the very beginning. Overall, the impact in the society has been good. We now have a good number of our alumni serving or have served as high ranking government officials in and outside Uganda.
About 30% of our students are non-Muslims and we also have staff who are non-Muslims.