Islam in Africa
Sankara Saranam once noted that the mode of worship each person believes in is the best. It is innate for a person to believe that in order to save the world from sin, one must adhere in converting everyone else in the religion that would help recognize the capability of man to picture God in humanity. Almost all the religions present today have greatly deviated in hoping to understand God and seek salvation (Sankara). One of the religions that has a strong impact among its believers is Islam.
Islam, founded during the 7th century, is one of the most prominent world religions established by the prophet Muhammad. Islam is the youngest monotheistic world religion alongside Judaism and Christianity. A believer of the said religion is called a Muslim, which means “the one who submits.” Worldwide, there are over one billion followers of Islam, most of them are found in parts of Asia. Many countries also practice Islam but only with a sizable population. However, other countries like Africa and India are predominantly inclined with Islam (“Islam”).
Africa is noted as one of the nations which first embraced the religion. Based from the oral tradition of the Arabs, Islam believers became widespread in Africa during the 7th and 8th century. The Meccan persecution led to the escape of a group of Muslims. This group brought the religion in the Middle East that expanded to the coastal regions of North Africa. The Berbers, who were the people in the coast of Africa, were the first to join the Muslim community and headed to the north across the Mediterranean to Europe. The city of Fes in Morocco was founded by the Muslims, which later became the sanctuary for the fleeing Andalusian Muslims during the insurgence in Cordoba. In the 9th and 10th century, the Arabs penetrated and created a permanent colony on the offshore islands of East Coast Africa primarily in Zanzibar.
However, the slow acceptance of Islam in the interior of Africa led to the development of the Swahili culture and language. Although the recognition of Islam as well as the Arab trade in the interiors of Africa was remote, the spread of Islam believers in the lands to the south of Sahara was considered as its greatest gain. West African islamization began when the ancient kingdom of Ghana broaden into Sahara and Sanhajah. Mansa Musa of Mali spearheaded the recognition of Islam as the state religion. The Mali empire took over in Timbuktu as well as in the other regions with Saharan centers of trade and learning. Meanwhile, the East of Sudan that followed the route of Nile was also perforated by the religion. There were two Christian kingdoms in the East of Sudan that embraced Islam, Makkura and Aloa. Makkura became an Islam nation in 1366, while Aloa was seized by the Muslims in 1504 (“Islam in Africa”).
Before Islam fully dominated Africa, it underwent a dynamic and chaotic history, through holy war incidents. Various reform movements alongside the clash of different dynasties for power were rampant. Apart from these, securing trade routes into the areas in the gold producing areas of Sub-Saharan Africa became an imperative for leaders. By the last quarter of the 11th century, the Mediterranean region was fully dominated by Islam. In the 20th century Islam has gained more converts in Africa compared to Christianity. This was accounted for the Islams belief in traditional values which allows a man to have more than one wife (Blyden).
It was noted that the spread of Islam in Africa is an attestation of faith’s dynamism. Caesar Farah presented different factors why Islam in Africa is widely embraced compared to Christianity. The political dominance of the whites and blacks were evident in Christian community, while Islam presented freedom in the social stigma of identification. Moreover, while Christian blacks are restrained in the practice of religious freedom, the Muslim blacks do not experience such restraint; Islamization allowed black men to practice nationalism which is favorable for the nationalist while Christianity does not. Islam also represented the essence of indigenous inhabitant making it a cultural force that helped Africans to identify themselves as a part of a society where social standing is enhanced and intellectual growth is gained. By the time the modern civilization took over Africa, Islam became the refuge for the African Muslims to see certain compatibility with animistic traditions and Muslim practices (Farrah 315-317).
In general, the practice of Islam in Africa may be attributed as a mode of faith that maintains the balance between every aspect in the African community. It is also noteworthy that religion has deep roots in the land where superstitious practice was once dominant. In a broader sense, Islam was able to touch the aspect of the community and impart the unity of the religion and the society. Islam also poses that this universality within the community and faith is the reflection of the total submission of oneself to the Deity.
Blyden, Edward. (n.d) “The Story of Africa Islam.” BBC World Service. 20 July 2008 ;http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/africa/features/storyofafrica/index_section7.shtml;.
Farah, Caesar E. Islam Beliefs and Observances. Hauppage, NY: Barron’s educational series. 2003.
“Islam.” (2004) Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia. 20 July 2008 <http://www.reference.com/browse/columbia/Islam>.
“Islam in Africa.” (2004) Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia. 20 July 2008 <http://www.reference.com/browse/columbia/IslaminA>.
Sankara, Saranam. God Without Religion: Questioning Centuries of Accepted Truths. East Ellijay, GA: The Pranayma institute incorporated. 2005.