ISLAM IN LIVING AFRICA
This article intends to serve two aims:(a) to provide information about Islam in Africa (the continent and Americas)
; and (b) to offer a guide to African Islamic global identity in the context of culture, politics and personality.
It is also a cultural and historical site on progressive understanding of Islam from the lenses of this promising community of people—the Africans. Which shows a religion, which is dynamic, hospitable, and beautiful. But not without its challenges. The objectives here are Pan-African that create unity through fostering knowledge between and about different African religious groups in the world. Islam has been a central force in the creation of the plethora of African Kingdoms (from Ethiopia, to Islamic Spain, to the largest African empire of Songhai), and has been part of Africa since its emergence. Sculpted by African and Arab agents, Islam is one of the fastest growing religion among Africans (Black people) and the largest religion in Africa— accounting for 1/4 of the world’s Muslim population of 1.5 billion. Islam and Africa is also the most misunderstood, under-represented, and misrepresented.
The site aims to give service to these reflections by dealing with historical truth from a cultural Pan-African position. We aim to focus on an African-Centered Islam as distinct from Arabized Islam, or a monolithic restrictive Wahhabi Islam or the Hindu influenced Indo-Pakistani variant of Islam.
In any multi-faith continent, knowledge of self must include knowledge of our neighbors. Ignorance of each other has been the tool which others can use to create friction. Anyone who does know this will become a victim of the oppressors biggest weapon “divide and rule.” In seeking a Pan-African future a constructive dialogue is necessary which deals with Africa today and not a mythical romantic historical Africa. Culture has never been static, and certainly no static culture has survived history. A culture which is inflexible in a globalized world is a culture on the verge of extinction. African Culture is not a monolith and while the foundations remain fundamentally unaltered, the interpretation and expression of continues to be a forever blossoming flower.
Islam has been a traditional (while not indigenous) part of the dynamic African landscape for over 1438 years, far older as a contained religion than much of the 11th and 15th century native religions that came with the Bantu expansion into Southern Africa and West Africa. Beginning with the Hijra of Islamic refugees to Ethiopia in 615.
And beyond argument remains one of the most fundamental sculptor of the African reality, past and present. And with every step towards Islamization Africa has responded with the Africanization of Islam creating Africa’s own Islamic orthodoxies. And by the time of the Atlantic slave system approx 15-30% of the enslaved Africans that arrived in the New World were Muslim. Influence much of the culture and traditions of African American people. These enslaved Muslims stood out from their compatriots because of their “resistance, determination and education”1)(Hill/Lippy 2005)
Islam has always taken on the cultures of the peoples it passes over. Just like water passing over a rock. There is no such thing as African Purity, cultures smash through deserts and cross trade routes, and they travel through immigration borders and disregarding our notions of geography and race. Throughout history, Africa has influenced, and been influence. Names, foods, cultures, religions, genetics have jumped between Asia and Africa from the dawn of humanity.
WHAT IS ISLAM?
Whoever of you sees wrong being committed, let him change it with his hand. If he is unable to do that, then with his tongue, and if he is unable to do that, then with his heart–Hadith (Muslim)
Islam ( الإسلام ) is a global spiritual technology, which codifies a way of life and dictates relationships between God, the environment and other human beings. Religion is the culture of spirituality, the container that gives spirituality structure. The code of Islam serves to create cohesion among its members by propagating certain core principles.
The highest ideal governing all forms of Islam is Tawheed, the oneness of Allah (the absolute and only divinity). Communal activities form ibadats that facilitate a relationship with God: (iman), prayer (salaat), pilgrimage (hajj) and fasting (sawm) and alms giving (zakaat). Zakat serves as a socio-economic wealth distribution system, which has deep parallels in ancient African practices. The ultimate aim of the Islamic faith is to guide humanity to a successful balanced, and structured society, with morality as the apex principle by showing obedience to the laws of the Creator, Allah. The final destination is for the deeds of the individual to be weighed to allow entry into paradise (al-Jannat), A concept found in Ancient African Egypt thousands of years earlier. Unlike Western Christianity, Islam–just like native African religions does not dichotomize religion and state. Sharia is therefore just another political system with Islamic ethics. Sharia is no more or less valid as a system of governance compared to democracy, or communism.
And Sharia, just like democracy (an ideology forced all over the world by war or threat of war) or communism, extreme practices can have elements of oppression.
The Hajj was not only for religious worship, it was a centralized place for networking, exchange and a kind of global market. This was where people acquired new information and ideas which they took back to their local communities. Out of these networks came new business relationships, political relationships, and development. (See Kanka Musa)
While most religions bear the following format, Islam is different: Christianity – Christian, Hinduism – Hindu, Judaism – Jewish, Rastafarian – Rasta, Buddhism – Buddhist. But the followers of Islam are called Muslims. This is because the name of the religion is not after its founder but after its theological root—Submission to God in peace (Islam). Muslim is one who submits.
Some unique under-discussed aspects of social Islam is it was in response to social-economic-racial inequality in Arabia (Hijaz). Islam was born into a multicultural racialized world similar to today (i.e. Black and White (Arab)). It was the first religion to be preach emancipation as a core doctrine.
RISE OF ISLAM IN AFRICA
The key means by which Islam is particularly true regarding the spread of Islamic civilization in Africa, which was the result of a profound global trading network which stretched eastward from Futa Turo, to Walata, the Akan, Timbuktu, Jenne, the city states of Hausaland, Kufra, lake Chad, Darfur, Sennar, Soba, Suakin, the Two Sacred cities of Mecca and el-Medina stretching eastward along the Silk Road as far as the imperial capitals of China–Muhammad Shareef
The presence of Islam in Africa, predates all notions of “an Africa” by at least 1000 years. This is also true for Judaism and Christianity in North-East Africa. So by the time a notion of an “Africa” and the later formulation of an “African identity” superimposed on the people of that continent;, Islam was already a standard identity in Africa. And this is a critical perspective in how we engage the study of an authentic Africa, which is largely a modern construction projected backwards in time.
Islam entered Africa (Ethiopia) before it reached the Indus river of India, or the poppy fields of Afghanistan, the heart of Palestine, Iraq or Persia or even the city of Medina in Saudi Arabia. East Africa and the Arabic world have a deep historical Afro-Asiatic relationship which is defined not only by the Arab slave trade, but in cultural and linguistic, political engagements.
cess of Islamization in West Africa was by African traders such as the Fulani. Islamization and Arabization was the principle process which operated in North Africa (including Sudan) resulting in its Arabized Berber population. The process in East Africa (Kenya and Tanzania) was the legacy of Arab colonization, with the exception of Abyssinia (Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti) and to some extent Somalia.
In West Africa, Islam was the religion of the elites, merchants and rulers for over 1000 years. Later on Islam became a military force of conquest which was used to expand the faith and the Islamic polity. Two forces silently worked themselves out in the background of African life, the Islamization of the area, and the equally potent Africanization of Islam.
The final wave of Islamic domination came to parts of Africa with colonization Because Islam was familiar, its legacy of resistance appealed to the ordinary person who saw corruption in their own native systems (made up of elite collaborators), and alien culture and inequity in the actions of Europe. The Wolof, and even the Serer, who were historically resistant to Islam, peaceful became a dominant force in Islam. Islam was for most a social conscious revolution against the imperial Western ambitions and this featured in many of the 18th century conversions in West Africa.
The Oriental aspects of Islam has become largely modified in Negroland, not, as it too generally supposed, by a degrading compromise with the Pagan superstitions, but by shaping many of its traditional customs to suit the milder more conciliatory disposition of the Negro–Edward Wilmot Blyden
Mansa Musa was an important Malian king from 1312 to 1337 expanding the Mali influence over the Niger city-states of Timbuktu, Gao, and Djenne. Mansa Musa (Mansa meaning emperor or sultan and Musa meaning Moses), the grandson of one of Sundiata’s sisters. Timbuktu became one of the major cultural centers not just of Africa but of the world. Vast libraries, madrasas (Islamic universities) and magnificent mosques were built. Timbuktu became a meeting place of poets, scholars and artists of Africa and the Middle East. Even after Mali declined, Timbuktu remained the major Islamic center of Africa (Hooker 1996). Mansa Musa maintained a huge army that kept peace and policed the trade routes.
Mansa Musa’s hajj, which may have even indirectly funded support for the Italian renaissance, was the only time in recorded history that one man directly controlled the price of gold in the Mediterranean. Musa’s Hajj across North and West Africa to Mecca , inadvertently devastated the economy of the region. In the cities of Cairo, Medina and Mecca, the sudden influx of gold devalued the metal for the next decade.
In recent times Islam has seen a rise in previously non-Muslim countries particularly Rwanda. During the Rwandan genocide mobs avoided searching in local Rwandan Muslim neighborhoods, which were used to hide Tutsi and other persecuted people. In places like Cyangugu, it was also widely believed that local Muslims and Mosques were protected by the power of Islamic magic and the efficacious Jinn. Post-genocide many Rwandese mass converted to Islam because of protection Islamic communities offered them.
We picture Islam and picture Arabs on horseback, swinging swords and conquering Africa, chopping heads of all who cling to “heathen ways” while screaming Allahu Akbar—that is Hollywood, that is the deliberate fabrication of crusader mythology. Even when Islam came with armies, like in parts of North Africa, tribal leaders agreed—for political and practical reasons— to embrace Islam, and as was the custom the entire “tribe” embraced Islam. And we should never isolate religion out of the 1000 reasons people went to war. Why would Islam be the primary agent of conflict when so many other reasons, like standard national expansion avail themselves? Why is Islam always the motive? Who is inserting this undue emphasis. Even when war “for the sake of Allah” was declared, very rarely were the motives any different to the standard “I want to expand my power.” Everyone did this, Muslim and non-Muslim. Even Muslim vs. Muslim was common place because the wars were about gold not God.
And evidence of this is the gradual process of Islamization in places like West Africa and Egypt. Had it been overtly forceful it would not have absorbed the cultures of the people who embraced Islam. There is also a longstanding myth that the Arab slave trade Islamized Africa. There is no logic in making slaves into new Muslim as it would lead the way to their manumission. Accepting Islam was part of the self-determination of many nations to enhance their trade relations and political position. It moreover allowed them to unify greater territories and create multi-ethnic polities. (just like was the case for Ezna building a Unified Abyssinia)
POPULARITY OF ISLAM
I believe in a religion that believes in freedom. Any time I have to accept a religion that won’t let me fight a battle for my people, I say to hell with that religion–El Hajj Malik Shabazz
Islam is one of the most popular religions in Africa. Even outside of its traditional territories (East, North and West Africa). Islam is on the rise among the Khoisan people of Namibia and very popular in Rwanda due to the protection/shelter Muslims gave victims of genocide. All of this against the strong current of Western dedication to the demonizing of every inch of Islam.
slam allowed a greater centralization of governance which was traditionally ethnocentric. This allowed for a far more egalitarian society w
hich appealed to many of the “weaker” nation groups. Islam has been a profound contributor to African culture beyond the boundaries of the Islamic faith. The dress we associate with African culture is from Islamic culture. The Kufi, Islamic skull cap which is cross-religious, comes from West African Islamic dress culture. The African word Kufi is now the standard term across Islam for referring to that style of head-dress.
In America the Nation Of Islam is the single largest force in recent history for conversions to Islam and almost overnight creating a new Islamic identity, the African-American Islamic cultural identity. Iconized by powerful people such as Malcolm X and Farrakhan. Cities like Philadelphia even have their own integrated Islamic language “Sunni Joint – Beard”, “Deen = religion.” It is intertwined in the African-American identity even where people are not Muslims because of the names like Alliyah, Rihanna, Shakira, Shanice, Rahim, Na’im, etc.
Many of the philosophies manifesting in the Diaspora are claiming Africa origins but are inefficient at navigating the moral corridors of life. While there are academic ring-tones and sound bites, they fail to have systems, which address the human spiritual thirst. Their subjects are left wanting; floating spiritually disconnected to be ultimately annexed in the worst expressions of Eurocentric conduct or the primitive world of spookism. Islam with is strong African conscious associations is very different to Eurocenrtism and yet presents itself as an equal force with infrastructure and sophistication. It is not Western, it is not White, it has a spirit of resistance which attracts Africans everywhere.
The wonders of the Islamic world testify to one indisputable fact, that Islam has the power via its ideological structures to extract the best out of humanity. From deserts we see massive civilizations appearing overnight. We see Arab-African building Andalusia, we see universities and science flourishing and which impact on European development. History testifies to the potential of Islam as a unifying force and a force for giving a power advantage.
And like anything which grants this power, it can be used for good (Universities) or bad (Conquest and Arabization). But It is this same real potential that captures those who seek success within its ideological structures.
O My Servants, indeed I have prohibited injustice for myself, and I have prohibited it among you–Hadith
When Islam is defined by imperialism, it modifies Islam to suit its objectives. Terms like Islamist, radical Islam, political Islam, fundamentalist Islam, which contrast the Western preferred moderate Islam, apolitical Islam. There is certainly no authentic version of Islam that is moderately apolitical; impotent in face of tyranny, silent in the face of oppression and exploitation. Islam is political and there is zero fragmentation of Islam as a religious system versus Islam as a system of governance.
That split occurs when Western forces seek to pacify opposition from a faith that is equipped to be a enduring tool of resistance. (Sudan, Crusades, Algiers, Somalia, Afghanistan, etc).
Radicalism and fundamentalism, when they exist, and they do exist, can only be defined by authentic representatives of the faith, not by the Islamic scholars for dollars; but by the Qur’an and Hadith. We cannot live in a multicultural world where elements of Islam are first filtered for Western acceptance before being deemed acceptable. And there is no escape or propaganda that can change the core tenants of Islam, there is no degree of acquiesce in leadership that can make Islam some spiritual hocus pokus with no political teeth.
What is loosely, nebulous, hypocritically, termed the war on terror™ is a Western response to a failure of convention treatment to resistance stemming from “religious” fervor. Conventional treatment for Pan-Africanism, strains of socialism, and other social dissenting movements was be to throw money at the problem. However, this conventional treatment of trinkets for opinions fails at every conceivable level with the so-called Islamist. You cannot offer them alcohol, positions, money, not even a billion dollars, in exchange for acquiesce. Because the antibodies in the Islamist ecosystem are vulgarly intolerant to accommodating anything which remotely smells Western. What Islam, as the spiritual motivational energy, therefore represents—in its most resistant strain—is a serious impasse, an “unknown” obstacle to any imposition. As it fails to respond to conventional treatment, the West has deployed unconventional treatment. In comes the media to brand any and all forms of religious dissent (violent or non-violent) to imperialism as extremist, hardliner, radical. The nebulous nature of language mask realities, blurs objectives, so much so the sole arbiter on what constitutes terrorism, radicalism is control by one player.
And when there is a fundamentalist element in some applications of Islam, then it must be fighting a fundamentalist element in Western foreign policy. And why is Zionism, the Western created and approved system of extremist fundamentalist, which governs Israel not classified in this way? Why are the numerous occupations under Western foreign policy not labeled as a form of terrorism and extremism? It is very hard to seriously engage extremism when it does occur when disingenuous agendas labeling even seeking a Sharia state a form of terrorism–it is not, unless self-determination is no longer a human right.
THE “ISLAMIST” TODAY
The campaign to fracture and split Islam from Africa is an age old colonial campaign. What is really stinging the West is after all their plotting and planning all the so-called “horrible” Islamist (a Western manufactured political term with zero meaning to anything but Western propaganda) so dear to their propaganda machine are the ones winning the hearts and minds of the people. But if you just read BBC you would never think people want these “radicals” it means there is something missing in the reports. Egypt, all over the Arab spring the very thing the West hated is the one thing that is rising. Let see how “democratic” values critical to the Western “moral” campaign pan-out when the process of democracy puts their interest at a disadvantage. Part of the Western problem is in their arrogance they assumed the world is what they say it is, hence they create dichotomies and assume everyone else believes in them— not the case. The campaign to push religion out has not worked, what is happening the people see the pro-gay west, the immorality, the consequences of capitalism, greed, and inequity in the West and do not want that future for their country.
Statistics on Islam (CIA) : Algeria 99%, Benin 15%, Burkina Faso 50%, Chad 50%, D.R Congo 7%, Ivory Coast 60%, Djibooti 94%, Egypt 86%, Ethiopia 47%, Ghana 30%, Kenya 7%, Libya 97%, Malawi 20%, Mali 90%, Mauritania 99%, Mozambique 20%, Niger 80%, Nigeria 47%, Senegal 92%, Somalia 98%, South Africa 2%, Sudan 70%, Tanzania 35%, Tunisia 98%, Uganda 16%
ISLAM & REVOLUTION
If one of you sees something wrong, let him change it with his hand; if he cannot, then with his tongue; if he cannot, then with his heart and this is the weakest faith–Hadith [Sahih Muslim]
Islam like the radical teachings of Jesus, is a revolutionary religion. It is the only major world religion to be abolitionist in its Holy text – the Qur’an. But like any tool of revolution it can be poorly used if poorly understood. Some things cannot be denied from Islam is the fact it has been part of shaping Pan-Africanism and African consciousness.
Islam underwent a change in the time-line in West Africa. It started out as the religion of the minority elite (trader and administrator) to become a reaction of popular resistance against arbitrary rule of the reigning aristocracies, combating the negative impact of the Atlantic slave system in general.[Senegambia and the Atlantic Slave Trade (Africa) Hardcover) by Boubacar Barry]
It has produced more African kingdoms and preserved African history via agami. And Islam’s role in aggressively repelling colonialism in Africa. (Senegal, Algeria, Sudan, etc). The first Jihad in the Western Hemisphere was the Bahia Muslim Slave uprising in 1835 . The revolt was the largest slave revolt in Brazil and the largest urban slave revolt in the Americas. The campaigns of Nasr al-Din’s (Tubenan movement) anti-slavery and Western imposition galvanized Africans in the region in the late 17th century.
The most excellent jihad is to speak the truth in the face of an unjust ruler–Prophet in Mishkat, Hadith
In the Diaspora the process of Islamization (making new Muslims) is an equal counterpart to the process of African consciousness. African consciousness in the Diaspora has largely been expressed through conversion to Islam; the two walk hand in hand, thus becoming Muslim is associated with becoming aware of an African identity. This makes Islam unique as a vehicle for revolution. Islamophobia and Eurocentrism has hidden much of Islamic contributions and tried to create rifts in the African world by funding and encouraging Black revisionist.
In the UK, the mechanisms of Islamization in African communities (in recent years) has been radically different due to the Salaafi-Wahabbi impact which divorces African consciousness from Islamization. However, the historical record is loaded with the contributions of Islam to Africa but also to Pan-Africanism and the foundation of Black consciousness. Islamic influence is a fundamental partner in Pan-African thought development. Commanding what is right, and forbidding what is wrong provides a mechanism whereby the Muslim communities can fight off various social, moral and spiritual ills and maintain a healthy and dynamic life. Where the African is concern this is why Islam has an appeal as Malcolm X said:
I believe in a religion that believes in freedom. Any time I have to accept a religion that won’t let me fight a battle for my people, I say to hell with that religion–Malcolm X
In recent history the list includes Elijah Muhammad, Farrakhan, Malcolm X, Duse Muhammad, Cheikh Anta Diop, Edward Wilmot Blyden, and even African conscious musicians such Art Blakey and many conscious hip-hop artist .
It was out of Trinidad that African Muslims called the Mandingoes wrote legislation to the British Parliament applying for repatriation back to Africa in 1833. It was African Muslims out of Trinidad who gave the world the idea of repatriation that was transformed into reparations–Farrakhan
Islam has a political system embedded in its foundation, there is no way to escape sharia as part and parcel of Islam. It would be like discussing Islam and leaving off the praying. There is no complete Islam without its political system, because how can a “way of life” not also instruct politics for ruling people? So in theory why would Muslims need democracy when sharia deals with the governance of Muslim lives? And the reason this logic is not well received because the media has constructed and cherry picked examples of sharia as backward, barbaric and oppressive: e.g.. Sharia = Taliban. Why would we assume that is the only expression of Sharia? Especially when much of the African kingdoms were under sharia law, Islamic Spain which was a sanctuary for Jews and persecuted people during the Almoravid reign for over 500 years. And this was not unique in the history of sharia, the mighty learning centers were a haven to all, because of the reputation Islamic governance had for degrees of justice and truth. Even in the UK sharia law has done a better job than so-called secular law with family affairs and is tolerated because of its success rates. Right now in Europe Islamic banking (based on sharia law) is adopted and used beyond the believers of Islam because of its ethical policy (the entire concept of Ethical banking started with Islam). Islamic banking is the new banking revolution in Europe and HSBC and other major banks now engage in it. Even in South Africa most banks now offer Islamic banking. But none of these conversations come up when sharia is mentioned in Western media, leaving the most ignorant debates to go on; informed by CNN on one hand and Hollywood on the other.
There is no area of Islam more misunderstood, demonized and misrepresented by utter ignorance than the topic of sharia. Lets get straight to the truth, skipping religion for the moment. Sharia is bad for business. Sharia threatens Western trade in the vices the feed their economies; liberal media, alcohol, etc. It is necessary to use every single muscle in the Western arsenal to demonize Sharia. Sharia like socialism and communism is a competing political ideology. Sharia can be very destructive in the hands of the wrong leadership, but which one caused the deaths of millions of people in the 21st century, sharia or Western democracy? What was the motives for poisoning and slaughtering millions of people in Indochina? Countless wars after wars all over the world in the bloody name of Western democracy. So it is hypocritical if fear of persecution, intolerance and violence are being used as the primary augments by the detractors of sharia.
Now why is Shariah such a hot topic? For the same reason communism was 40 years ago. Its all about political power struggles. Why do people, even practicing Muslims, run when they hear the word? Because of the Western indoctrination. If you lived on Mars for the last 1000 years you would treat Sharia with the same academic neutrality as Democracy, Socialism, Capitalism and all the other isms failing as builders of civilization. We have to ask our selves, are the best components of democracy (justice, balance, fair play) absent from Sharia? Does anyone actually know what Sharia means? Is Sharia a monolith? Is the Taliban and Saudi models the only examples of Sharia? The point here is we cannot even begin the debate because of the prejudicial climate which was created to frame the debate.
One thing that Islam brought to Africa and also to Arabia was something that is often neglected, and overlooked but has profound administrative and social implications. And that is a notion of time based structure. In Islam the day is divided into 5 sectors, Fajr, Zuhr, Asr, Magrib and Isha. Observance of the daily prays or Salaat, means that people lives are governed by time base. The consequences of this spill over into all areas of social, administration, legal and trade. Time in the Qur’an is a divine element in which gives humanity a notion of the local time, but also the finality of time. A notion also sacred in Ancient Egypt:
By (the Token of) Time (through the ages), Verily Man is in loss, except such as have Faith, and do righteous deeds, and join together in the mutual teaching of Truth, and of Patience and Constancy.–Qur’an (103:1-3)
COMING OF ISLAM
In 1324, the Mali king Mansa Musa is said to have told the Arabic historian, Al-Umari that “his predecessors had launched two expeditions from West Africa to discover the limits of the Atlantic Ocean
When Islam arrived, war and servitude were features of African and Arabian life. Judaism existed among certain Arab tribes as well as Christianity, and like them Islam did not blatantly out law slavery; Islam did however blatantly outlawed chattel enslavement. The Qur’an with every reference to slavery ask the believer to free the slave as atonement for sin, the term “emancipating a slave and feeding an orphan” are repeated constantly throughout the Qur’an as acts which gain God’s favor. Islam is therefore the only abolition mainstream religion which contains within its scared text a message of manumission. Also there were regulations which enhanced the pre-Islamic laws with respect to the treatment of enslaved people. Ideally they were entitled to good care, to the same clothing and food as their masters. These enslaved people were more akin to indentured servants in Europe than Chattel slaves in the Americas.
EGALITARIAN CODE & RACE IN ISLAM
All mankind is from Adam and Eve, an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also a White has no superiority over Black nor a Black has any superiority over White except by piety and good action.–Prophet Muhammad
One unique feature of Islam is it egalitarian code. The only superiority in Islam is piety (Taqwa).Therefore when people enter say a Mosque there is absolutely no hierarchy, may someone be a president or a pauper. They wash (wudu) in the same place, they pray (salaat) in the same place. There is no front row, or recognition of political or economic station in the canon of Islam.
Race is real in Islam, and the purpose of race is a blessing to humanity. It is a gift to create a diverse and beautiful world. It is also a challenge which test our development and humanity. But today we see a Wahabbi imposed mono-cultural Islam which tries to destroy culture and religious diversity within Islam. And while Wahaabism tries to make obsolete, it is the Arabized culture which they bring as the norm for diverse people. So race is irrelevant as long as Islam is Arabized. Nothing in creation is accidental, Black skin is not an accident, or a topic not to be discussed. In both the Qur’an and Hadith, the Prophet refers to both Ethnicity and Nationality. Thus the issue of race can never be smooth over with “it doesn’t matter.” If it did not matter then we are saying God made a mistake.
O Mankind, We created you from a single (pair) of a male and female and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know each other–Qur’an
ISLAM AND AFRICA
Islam was founded in a multi-ethnic Arabia which lay 22 km of the coast of the African continent. Prior to the rise of Islam, Ethiopia, a super power of that time, had annexed modern day Yemen and parts of Saudi Arabia for centuries. The Qur’anic accounts of the mighty f
orces of the Ethiopian general Abraha, who marched towards Mecca with an arsenal of elephants, this testifies to the power of the ancient Ethiopian Empire.
Historically, Islam was a religion inseparable from trade relationships. Africa and Arabia were old partners in trade so it is no surprise that Africans were among the first handful of people to accept the new religion brought by the Prophet Muhammad. It is said that when Bilal the Ethiopian, one of the most revered legends of Islam, first heard of Islam he called it the ancient religion. The call to pray which echoes over Muslims lands today was first carried on African lungs (by Bilal).
Islam became a permanent feature in Africa when the prophet Muhammad in 612 sent the first group of the early Muslims to be protected from Arab persecution by the Negus of Ethiopia; this was the first Hijirah. Islam was thus spreading in Africa before it even reached Medina.
The Eurocentric opinions of Orientalist scholarship has been copied into Africanist europhone writings. These attitudes reflect a failure to account for the full complexities and heterogeneity of Islam and its history in Sub-Saharan Africa–Bangura, Islam and the West African 
It is important to note that while Islam generally disseminated in most of Africa peacefully it took wars, such as the Riddah wars, to conquer the Arabs into accepting Islam. In the mid-tenth century during the rule of the Ummayad Caliph Abdul-Rahman III (929-961), Muslims of African origin sailed westward from the Spanish port of Delba (Palos) into the “Ocean of darkness an fog.” They returned after a long absence with much booty from a “strange and curious land.” It is evident that people of Muslim origin are known to have accompanied Columbus and subsequent Spanish explorers to the New World.
Also it is reported that the descendants of Kanka Musa of Mali made and epic voyage with a 2000 strong fleet in search of the Americas. Recent linguistic, cultural and archaeological finds in Brazil and Peru offer documentary evidence” that West African Mandinka Muslims explored the early Americas. Islam spread across to West Africa (by African traders such as the Fulani people) from as early as the 8 th century by African traders and was firmly established by the 11 th century.
The peaceful non-obstructive course Islam took in West Africa was mainly because those propagating the faith were culturally and ethnically identical to those receiving it. Also the indigenous African had many features in common, such as animal immolation, communal pray, celebrating ancestors, circumcision, polygamy, dowry bride gifts, and the spirit or jinn world. The African spirit world of Bori and Zar was bridged to the Islamic world of jinns whom like African spirits could be friend or foe.
Such similarities between Islam and indigenous African religions facilitated a general peaceful conversion and religious tolerance in West Africa. Islam hence left African culture uniquely African and a traditional African Sufi Islam was formed over the centuries. This brand of Islam in time even reshaped Islamic culture in the lands beyond Africa.
Diop: The primary reason for the success of Islam in Africa, with one exception, consequently stems from the fact that solitary Arabo-Berber Travelers to certain Black kings and notables, who then spread it about them to those under their jurisdiction, promulgated it peacefully, at first… What is to be emphasized here is the peaceful nature of this conversion, regardless of the legend surrounding it. (Pre-Colonial Black Africa, page 163.)
Asante: The religion of Islam made each Muslim merchant or traveler an embryonic missionary and the appeal of the religion with its similarities to the African religions was far more powerful than the Christian appeal. (Asante, Genocide in Africa 1991 10)
Diop: The Arab conquests dear to sociologists are necessary to their theories but did not exist in reality. To this day no reliable historical documents substantiate such theories. ((Pre-Colonial Black Africa, page 102)
When Islam proliferated in West Africa around the 9 th century, one of the first universities was founded by African Muslims. It was called Sankore, Arabs and others came to Sankore which was built in Timbuktu to learn from the African erudite who lectured on Islamic belief, Islamic jurisprudence, astrology, science, and many other subjects. Timbuktu was reputed for African erudition where books and those who traded in books were the wealthiest elites of the merchant society.
The bulk of African history after the Ancient Egyptians Medew Netjer , was written in the Arabic language by both Africans and Arabs. The Arabic script also served as an agami to write languages such as Swahili, Wolof and Mande. For thousands of years Arabic served as the international language of trade as English is today. Some of the hidden histories of Africa are locked in as many as 700,000 Arabic manuscripts written by ancient African scholars. One of these the Tariq-ul-Sudan, details the history of Islamic West Africa, but this manuscript remains inaccessible to non-Arabic speakers.
NATION OF ISLAM
See | Nation of Islam
A sect of Islam, NOI teaches Black pride, economic empowerment within an Islamic framework. They now teach that their founderr Wallace Fard Muhammad was the Mahdi of God (Allah).
Nation of Islam produced Malcolm X, Louis Farrakhan, Muhammad Ali; and Warith Deen Mohammed. All of which have been instrumental in Diaspora Islam. Elijah Muhammad (the principle leader until his death) is perhaps on of the most influential Muslim religious leaders in recent times, responsible for the rise of Islam among the African-Diaspora. NOI was known as a pioneer of self-determination and do for self (Black empowerment). Elijah was a living example of separation and racial independent in America, as oppose to strike for inclusion and justice NOI created their own sustainable world inside of America. Elijah took broken people and gave them back pride in their race, morality, and discipline.
No other Diaspora leader has created such economic and social transformation since. By the 1970s, the Nation of Islam owned bakeries, barber shops, coffee shops, grocery stores, laundromats, a printing plant, retail stores, numerous real estate holdings, and a fleet of tractor trailers, plus farmland in Michigan, Alabama, and Georgia. In 1972 the Nation of Islam took controlling interest in a bank, the Guaranty Bank and Trust Co. Nation of Islam-owned schools expanded until, by 1974, the group had established schools in 47 cities throughout the United States. In 1972, Muhammad told followers that the Nation of Islam had a net worth of $75 million.
While controversial, from a sociological perspective, the Nation of Islam (NOI) are a Muslim community. Disputes to their “validity” are internal religious issues. And such objections to their inclusion under the ‘banner of Islam’ have been silenced by their reform to mainstream Islam (praying, Ramadan, etc). It can be argued that their Islamic identity is just as valid as that of some Shiite or other sects. Unfortunately elements of anti-African racism are nested in objections to NOI because it is Islam on African-American terms they cannot be controlled or turned into little Black Arabs or dressed up like little Black Pakistanis. Nation of Islam is on a spiritual journey and should be embraced and encouraged into the Islamic brotherhood.
HIJAB | ISLAMIC VEIL
The hijab identifies women as followers of Islam, with it also comes tremendous responsibility. The hijab is not merely a covering dress, but more importantly, it is behavior, manners, speech and appearance in public. The headscarf is an outer manifestation of an inner commitment to worshiping. It symbolizes a commitment to piety and is a form of spiritual beauty. It is also a symbol of human cultural diversity.
The hijab is the culture of Islam worn on the bodies of Muslim women. The hijab is also a political symbol which calls multiculturalism into account in the West. And the respect of their cultural dress crosses the religious-geographical divide, even in the West, people automatically have a different sphere of engagement when dealing with women in hijab. The same is true for all cultural attire; it informs behavior and in turn behavior is informed by it. No Muslim woman wears a Hijab to help Westerners better understand Islam. Islam makes sense to Muslims, it doesn’t become valid because some White person somewhere “Gets it.”
Contrary to popular belief the hijab is a high fashion item worn in some many different styles it is an additional woman’s dress and deeply varied and expressive. Some ways of pinning it alone speak to the culture where people come from (e.g. Malaysia vs. Somalia).
The hijab is a alternative paradigm of beauty, style and femininity. Some have noted that the hijab re-focuses it on areas of the woman’s non-sexualized beauty– like the eyes. Any woman therefore wearing the hijab is instantly transformed to another paradigm of beauty. [Google result on Hijab diversity]
The Hijab has extended its influence far beyond the corridors of Islam. What is rarely written about is the profound influence of the Hijab on what is widely now considered an African headdress style. All of these stylistic variations seen from Erica Badu to Nigeria come from the consequence of cultural sharing between when Islam entered into Africa. What is largely considered “African dress” is a direct variation of “Islamic dress.”
The false focus on a woman head-dress is part of the Eurocentric tradition of removing “the other” to bring diversity into a European notion of acceptability. Thwarting the very diversity they claim to support in their human rights rants.
This is the continuation of the tradition in orientalist thinking which misunderstood everything in African culture it saw. It is ironic that the issue of “liberation” in the West is anchored almost exclusively to sex: Freedom is an expression of excessiveness and immorality.
And while they would say “choice” when it comes to Western societies, the word is “coerced, and brainwashed” for Islamic communities. However, the majority of Hollywood actresses and singers always end up 1/2 naked in FHM and the like to appease the sexualization and commodification of Western markets. Yet this is not labeled as a form of denigration and oppression. There is a serious social expectation in Western societies to sexualize women, from Rihanna to Beyonce, all of them express themselves with degrees of nudity.
So what is the real issue the West has with the Hijab? The Hijab is a cultural political symbol of the face of the rise of Islam. Every year more of the West sees women wearing this “alien” dress on their high streets. It is a political sign of a world they have always been at odds with. But now the Muslim is again in Europe, but not with weapons of war, but weapons of culture. Now in the UK we see White skinned British girls walking down Oxford street in hijab. A serious threat to the “Europeanization” which is being diminished in the face of multiculturalism.
NIKAB (NIQAB)- FACE VEIL
The Niqāb (the extra veil that covers some Muslim women’s face in public) can be viewed from different perspectives. Some have raised the issue of security where face identity maybe required (banks, ID cards etc). That can easily be fixed with regulations that are sensitive to both parties interest. Because in all honesty when is the last time a woman in a Niqāb held up a bank? However, from an Islamic perspective there is zero demand for a Muslim woman to wear a Niqāb. It is an self-inflicted “extra” sign of piety people place on themselves (like monks self-enforcing celibacy).
slam makes it clear that Mizan (balance) is key to the religion, that not to make the religion a burden: No one was wearing a Niqāb at the time of Muhammad. While subjective, the Niqāb does become a excessive burden that adds no true spiritual reward. It does have some cultural value where it is an aspect of identity and social piety. Either way this is an internal issue for Muslim people to debate. As long as we have true freedom if women feel like the Niqāb is an aspect of their spirituality then no one nowhere has a right to stop them from their version of Islamic spiritual expression
Another sale, $30 billion to Saudi Arabia, so much for fear of radical Islam. If radical Islam has $30 billion dollars to spend on arms you can be our friend, if you don’t well you can just be plain old Al-Qaeda fundamentalist Islam. The deal secures 50,000 jobs in America. And for public performance, and public performance alone Islam is factored as enemy number one. Now and then it has almost exclusively been about the politics of money and resources. If Iran is in America’s pocket and buying arms and getting its energy from the Western alliance and helping Israel then the debate over “Islamic fundamentalism” doesn’t come up. If the Taliban were happy allowing American soldiers to train in the mountains then the issue of the Burqah would never get to the New York times. Religion is used to persuade the public of a course of action to support Western economic and political interest.
For the last 1000 years the biggest threat to European imperialism was Islam. The one thing that almost took over all of Europe. The one force that was mightier and more long-lasting the communism. Now tracing back a lot of the antagonism becomes clear. Edward Said claimed a “subtle and persistent Eurocentric prejudice against Arab-Islamic peoples and their culture.” He argued that a long tradition of false and romanticized images of Africa and the Middle East in Western culture had served as an implicit justification for Europe and the US’ colonial and imperial ambitions.” He goes on to state “So far as the United States seems to be concerned, it is only a slight overstatement to say that Moslems and Arabs are essentially seen as either oil suppliers or potential terrorists.”
In the mid Prince Henry the Navigator expeditions were sent to create much-needed maps of the West African coast, to defeat the Muslims, to spread Christianity, and to establish trade routes. Prince Henry attacked the Muslim port of Ceutha in Morocco. This successful attack in 1415 inspired Prince Henry to explore West Africa, most of which was unknown to Europeans. Prince Henry wanted to find the limits of the Muslim world to circumvent and destroy the Islamic advantage. He was also looking for the mythical Christian empire of the priest-king Prester John.
A royal edict, for a while, prohibited the taking of African Muslims as slaves due to the likelihood of rebellion. The rise of Islam in America among African-Americans has been seen as an extension of this threat. And it must be remember that Spain for 800 plus years was controlled by Berber Africans, West Africans and Arabs.
It is evident that people of Muslim origin are known to have accompanied Columbus and subsequent Spanish explorers to the New World. Also it is reported that the descendants of Kanka Musa of Mali made and epic voyage with a 2000 strong fleet in search of the Americas. Recent linguistic, cultural and archaeological finds in Brazil and Peru offer documentary evidence” that West African Mandinka Muslims explored the early Americas.
ORIENTALISM – MYTHS & ISLAM
Knowledge is a function of information received, which is diminished or enhanced by the condition of the mind receiving it.–‘Alik Shahadah
The knowledge of any subject is limited by the information received and the conditioning of the mind which processes this information. These two variables explain that all studies are subjective and bad information = bad conclusions. Low information on living Islam continue the veil of ignorance. African Islamic studies is traditionally treated as a marginal and not a serious aspect of the Islamic world. (David Robinson) We have seen this with how Islamic Spain was treated until recently. And this anti-scholarship is the foundation of how African scholars outside of the African Islamic world treat Islam and Africa.
With the most ridiculous turn of the century notions still being posed as fact. the myth of Islamic intolerance, where every study shows Ancient Islamic societies are some of the most peaceful, non-violent and tolerant societies compared to similar societies in antiquity. And still today Muslim communities are safe, peaceful, tolerant, and hospitable.
One of the sources of pseudo-intellectualism is the Afrocentric aka Afro-Orientist (absorbing Eurocentric phobias, and orientalistic world view like an orphan minion inherits the agendas of their master) regarding the “origin” of Islam. But foreign to who? Was Africa one big happy Afrocentric-pagan romantic construction before Islam? So foreign to who? Foreign to the Amhara of Bahir Dar? – No. Foreign to the Tuareg of the Sahel -No. Foreign to the Mandé and the Fulani (who brought Islam to the region)? – No. What about the people of the Swahili coast with their long history of cultural fusion? – No. Was it perhaps fore+ ign to the Muslim Khoisan of Namibia? Maybe it was, but they chose Islam out of their own self-determination: no coercion, no Arab conquest, no “convert or die.”
The origin of this website is the UK (for the sake of argument), what bearing does that have on the content of this page? The language of Islam is Arabic. The language of this website is English, what bearing does that have on this sites unique ability to articulate a deeply African consciousness? Arabic is not an ethnic language, like Gurage of Ethiopia, it is primarily a Lingua Franca for large communities of diverse ethnic groups.
Islam originating from a multi-cultural society moots all baseless arguments that suggest that coming from Arabia has any special negative significance. Afrocentricity comes from America, would historians 1000 years from now see Afrocentricity as a foreign European construction? Because none of it has been written in an African language and none of it comes out of geographical Africa. So what makes something African or Arabian culturally? Only its values and principles. It is therefore critical that a paradigm-shift in intellectual debates deal with the value formulations of Islam as oppose to some colonial monolithic understanding of an Islam (which they saw as an competing adversary). It is regressive and anti-intellectual to keep throwing 1960’s reactionary arguments at a continent so diverse. “foreign“, “Invasion” is the languages of victims, not people of agency. Aksum was no victim when they embraced Christianity, no more so than when Rome did.
What part of the ablution ritual is “foreign”, What part of communal pray is foreign to Africa? Islam hugs a large constitutions of values under one umbrella. Polygamy was not introduced by Islam, neither was the sexual modesty. Zakat is neither foreign nor harmful? So what are these pillars in Islam that are so deeply destructive to Africa? Asante would argue that it created a disloyalty for things Africa and reassigned value to things Arabian and in principle we must concede this as a valid observation across all mainstream religions. But beyond the Hajj and the usage of Arabic, it would be fair to say that the majority of the Islamic faith does not do this. More over how is it then possible for Islam to create might Ottoman empires in Europe? (who used Arabic). How is it possible for a religion that reassigns values at the scale Asante discusses able to create such superpowers which ultimately annexed Arabia and oppressed the very same Arab people? If the Ottomans (who are not an Arabic people) fit into Asante’s theories how did these cultural orphans create a massive empire which lasted for 600 years and creating some of the most marvelous arts and science the world has seen? And what about the Mughal Empire of India, or the Islamic people of Indonesia and China? Something is not adding up when theory attempts to make the jump to reality. It would be far more correct to say, that regardless of what system you bring, African or otherwise, if AGENCY is lacking you will witness cultural disloyalty in preference of a “foreign” cultural transplantation. Because Islam did not create weak stateless of pseudo-Arabs in the Sahel of Mali and Nigeria. And it is for this very reason that Timbuktu was sacked by outsiders (Berbers and Morocco), despite all parties on both sides of the conflict being Islamic.
If Islam was incompatible with Africans then how was it able to be used to create the libraries of Timbuktu? Or the scholarship of the university of Sankore, which still exist? How was it able to produce Malcolm X and Askia? Where is the massive history of this idealistic Africa that they speak of? Even the dress we today globally associate with “being African” is an Islamic import.
If Islam or African Christianity in Ethiopia is foreign, and hence undesirable, then was Christianity not also foreign to Europe? How has that “foreign” product serve Europe? Has it been an agent of advancement or destruction? So “Foreign” is a baseless anti-intellectualism for a pub debate not in an progressive African historiography. Even with Europe losing a part of its culture to Christianity it has undoubtedly been the backbone of its political supremacy.
CULTURE AND ISLAMIZATION
Islam is like water flowing over a rock, it takes on the color of the rock it flows over
The other notion of an Islamic monolith (per Edward Saïd observations) assumes that Islam is one cultural (ثقافة) product of Arabia. Islam takes on the cultures of the peoples it passes over. Just like water passing over a rock. Islam and Arabization might coexist but that does not make them one and the same thing. As Ali Mazrui explains, the processes sometimes run in opposite directions. But Islam, like any ideology coming in, takes on the personalities of those bring it; as long as agency is in place. And it is very important to state, that Islam has never been a monolith.
Islamization rarely equals Arabization. The creation of new African-Caribbeans Muslims in London is not by Arabization, but an Indo-Pakistanization, because the dominant agents of Islam in London are Pakistanis. The agents of Islamization in Barbados are Indians, specifically Gujarati Indians.
So with the conversion of Islam you get an imposition of Gujarati Islamic flavors. The same is true for Durban, South Africa. In Cape Town the Malay culture dominates and flavors the Islam to that cultural orientation. In America the process of Islamization is via the Black consciousness of the Nation of Islam. In Indonesia the process of Islamization (making new Muslims) carries the cultures of Indonesia Asian people, which is very different from the Arabization process. So in Ramadan you see the ritual of breaking fast might be relatively standard across all these groups but the foods used is culturally unique to each group. In Indian communities Indian food is used, in Ethiopia they use Ethiopian food in the Iftar ritual (evening meal to at the end of fasting).
All of these examples show how many non-Muslims authors have oversimplified and reduced Islam with very poor understanding of the diversity of Islam. The assumption of Arabization (as what happens in Sudan) is not true for Ethiopia and Senegal. The Fulani people that brought Islam into these regions would have been the dominate depositors of cultural to the variation of Islam in these territories. Cultures fracture and reform creating new realities which seed progress and usher in diversity. That has always been the way of the world.
Africans, like all other Muslim people, must separate out the culture (ثقافة) from the religious ideology (دين) in shaping new flavors of Islam. The Prophet Muhammad was not only a prophet in the religious sense; he was a man, an Arab Qureshi, and a 7th century person. So the sunnah (way) of the prophet would be informed by all of these considerations. Maybe the Prophet licked his fingers after eating his favorite Arabian food (honey, meat and wild birds). Had he been Chinese that would be chopsticks and chow mein, and he would not have licked his fingers. Had he been French it would have been a knife and fork with a croissant, had he been Ethiopian it would have been ingera and Wot. None of this is an aspect of the faith, but a cultural trend, which is inescapable. The Islamic etiquettes of eating and leaving space for breathing however are acultural, and applicable independent of culture. This wholesale taking of traditions is sometimes stifling, unproductive, tedious, and regressive. And while being all of these things the most critical values, and ethics are lost.
ISLAM AND SLAVERY
see Arab Slave Trade
The most numerous Empires in Africa’s history are the Islamic Empires. Songhai was the largest African empire, even larger than Kemet at it’s summit. Songhai was 1.4 million km2 (1500), followed by Mali, followed by Aksum, followed by Kanem and then Ancient Ghana.
- Kanem Empire (700 AD – 1376 AD)
- Kingdom of Kano (1000 AD – 1805 AD)
- Ifat Sultanate (1285 AD – 1415 AD)
- Songhai Empire (1340 AD – 1591 AD)
- Bornu Empire (1369 AD – 1893 AD)
- Adal Sultanate (1415 AD – 1555 AD)
- Sennar Sultanate (1502 AD – 1821 AD)
- Dendi Kingdom (1591 AD – 1901 AD)
- Wassoulou Empire (1878 AD – 1898 AD)
- Sultanate of Darfur (1603 AD – 1874 AD)
- Kong Empire (1710 AD – 1894 AD)
- Kingdom of Gumma (1770 AD – 1899 AD)
- Fouta Tooro (1776 AD – 1861 AD)
- Kingdom of Gomma (1780 AD – 1886 AD)
- Kingdom of Jimma (1790 AD – 1932 AD)
- Sokoto Caliphate (1804 AD – 1903 AD)
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