KAMPALA, Uganda — Thousands of Ugandans celebrated the birthday of Prophet Muhammad on Wednesday, with Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi and tribal and religious leaders flown in from across the Muslim world for the occasion.
Gadhafi, who celebrates the Mulid al-Nabi, or Prophet's birthday, a day earlier than most other Muslims, was in Kampala to inaugurate the huge new Gadhafi National Mosque, which he funded and is touted by Libyan officials as Africa's second-largest.
"Muhammad is everybody's prophet. He was sent to all mankind, unlike the other prophets before him," Gadhafi told a crowd estimated at 10,000 to 15,000 by organizers.
"Long live brother Gadhafi," chanted the crowd, which included Boy Scouts and school brass bands, all wearing Gadhafi T-shirts. They were jammed onto the lawn of Kampala's football stadium.
Half a dozen African heads of states, including Kenya's Mwai Kibaki, Mali's Amadou Toumani Toure and Rwanda's Paul Kagame joined Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni to greet the Libyan leader, who was the main drive behind the creation of the African Union and wields considerable influence with African governments and rebel movements.
"He who doesn't accept Islam, in the end will be a loser," Gadhafi said, speaking in Arabic, which was simultaneously translated into English. Museveni, a born-again Protestant Christian, sat frowning by his side.
Most in the crowd were Muslims, who make up about 20 percent of Uganda's 30 million population, and who loudly cheered the Libyan leader. They then went in for midday prayer along with dozens of sheiks, tribal and religious leaders from the Sahara desert to Pakistan to Malaysia.
"We came here on the invitation of the 'guide of the revolution.' He sent one of his special planes to fetch us," said Gibrila Yayah, the king of the Sonrai, a nomadic tribe on Mali's border with Algeria.
Sheik Imad Essawi, an Iraqi leader of the al-Mukhtalifa Bedouin tribe, said it was his first time in Africa. "It's not as hot as southern Iraq in summer," said Essawi.
Like most of Gadhafi's guests, he was wearing his traditional tribal costume. Organizers also handed out baseball caps with the Libyan leader's image to the 80 Arab journalists flown in from Cairo on a special plane.
Islam is on the rise throughout sub-Saharan Africa, and some of the chiefs lauded Gadhafi's efforts to promote their religion with black Africans.
"It's great, there's lots of people here to celebrate," said Sherif Abidine Kouta, who said his tribe of Arab nomads has done much to introduce Islam into West Africa over the past centuries. "For them, it is the beginning of their learning," he said, as the chant "Allahu Akbar" (God is great) blasted through the microphones.
Nearby, 8-year-old Dragilio Nangera and 13-year-old Mark Santong performed a traditional African dance to the rhythm.
"I'm not Muslim, but this is great fun," said Santong, who plays trumpet in a Boy Scout band.
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