The main subject of our investigation is Islam, one of the seven major world religions today. Although Islam has existed in West Africa since the seventh century, its growth was a slow and difficult process. Our goal is to help you understand the history and basic values of this important religion in West Africa.
THE ORIGIN OF ISLAM
The founder of the religion of Islam was Mohammed who was born in Mecca of Arabia in 570AD. he lost his parents at a time of very early age and was brought up by an uncle. During this time, he took part in several trading expeditions to Syria. Later, when his uncle died he entered the service of a rich widow Khadija as a camel driver. At twenty-five years of age, Mohammed married Khadija who was ten years older than himself and managed her trading business. During his journeys to Syria, he came into contact with Christianity and Judaism and began to compare these religions with the primitive pagan beliefs of the Arabs who at Black this time worshipped idols, most notably the Stone of the Kaaba.
On the was about forty, Mohammed began .to see his mission as that of a prophet and preacher. He now often withdrew into complete retirement, spending his time in prayer, meditation arid fasting. After a series of what he believed to be Spiritual revelations, he was convinced that he had been called upon by God to regenerate, his people with a new religion. This religion he called ‘Islam’ means ‘submission to God1. 3o he began to preach Islam among his people of Mecca.
At first, the people of Mecca were hostile to Mohammed and his teaching. 30 In 622A he fled to Medina where large crowds of followers soon gathered around him. When he felt sufficiently strong, lie invaded Mecca and conquered it in 630A.D., and before long, the whole of Arabia was under his religious and military sway. Mohammed’s Islamic teaching consists briefly of the brief in one supreme God and in Mohammed as His Prophet, the existence of Angels, life after death, Heaven and Hell.
The practical devotions consist of daily recital of the; creed five times, praying, fasting during Ramadan, almsgiving, pilgrimage to Mecca and ‘jihad’, that is, the conversion of infidels by peace or conquest.
HOW ISLAM CAME TO WEST AFRICA
Some of the Abrahamic religions were from the African continent, which has a long history of Islam. Between Egypt’s conquest in 641 A.D. and Morocco’s conquest in 680 A.D., Arabs conquered and converted North Africa to Islam. From this point on, Islam gradually grew in Sudan. Most historical accounts place the introduction of the Islamic faith to Africa in the 7-8th centuries. However, early Islamic historians and explorers asserted that Africa was the first continent to receive the transmission of Islam from southwestern Asia.
Two factors in the West were responsible for the spread of Islam To West Africa.
The first was trade. The conquest of North Africa gave a strong feeling to the trans-Saharan trade which as we have seen had existed from early times. The attraction of gold drew the Muslim Berber and ‘Arab merchants of North-West Africa to Sudan in ever-increasing numbers. Consequently, there grew Up large Muslim communities in the market towns of Western Sudan such as Audoghast and Ghana, Timbuktu, Jenne and Kukia Muslim a little to the south of modern. The Spanish geographer Al-Bakri tells us that the city of Ghana in 1067 consisted of two towns, one of which was inhabited by Muslims. This city was evidently inhabited by Muslims and Berber merchants from North Africa.: The Muslim traders’ from North West Africa became the agents for, the spread of Alujoravids of Islam in Sudan.
The second factor was the Almoravid conquest of Sudan.
The Almoravids or Al Murabitin were Muslims who sprang up on an island in the Senegal river in the century. Their original leader was a learned Muslim preacher from North Africa called Abdullah in rain. When he started to preach among the Goddala – a pagan tribe in the Senegal river area, he was strongly opposed. So Abdullah retired to a fortified retreat on an island in the Senegal River. This formed the recruiting, base for his fantastical Muslim followers. When they were ready, the Almoravids (as they were later called! by European writers instead of Al-Murabitiri launched a militant reforming movement aimed at conquering and converting the pagan peoples of Sudan to Islam.
Thus, Sudan witnessed the first jihad in V/est African history. You will remember that in 1076 the Almoravids under their leader Abu Bekir conquered Ghana a result of which the empire broke up.
THE SPREAD OF ISLAM IN WEST AFRICA
African kingdoms eventually started allowing Muslims to assimilate. Around this period, the Western Sahara-based Almoravid reform movement spread to Mauritania, North Africa, and Southern Spain. Islam was implemented in a “fundamentalist” fashion by the Almoravids. The empire broke up into several little kingdoms over the course of the following 100 years.
Between the eighth and thirteenth centuries, there was an upsurge in Muslim-African contact in Bilad al-Sudan, also known as the area of the Black people of the Sahara, and Muslim governments started to form in the Sahel.
The Jakhanke Islamic Movement
Under the leadership of Alhajj Salim Suwareh, the Jakhanke Islamic Movement promoted Islam in West Africa. Instead of using violence to preach the faith, they turned to nonviolent strategies like founding mosques and Quranic schools. Mali, Guinea, Senegal, and The Gambia are currently the West African nations that have embraced Islam the most.
But they also have tactics in addition to their approaches! For instance, they valued quantity and were eager to increase the number of their tribes or disciples. After receiving years of instruction, the disciples would be free to scatter and eventually gather new followers on their own. According to historians, the Jakhanke contributed to the massification of their religion.
Muslims from Ghana promoted Islam among the numerous inhabitants of Mali that they still controlled. Despite Ghana regaining its independence in 1088, the kingdom continued to be ruled by Muslims. They converted the locals to Islam and retook Audoghas, a subordinate kingdom of the Ghanaian empire, in 1055.
The minor Mandingo state of Kangaba’s monarch, Baramendana, converted to Islam around 1050, during the Almoravid conquest of the Ghana empire. His successors continued the realm’s Islamic heritage; as you may recall, this modest state eventually expanded to become the Mali empire under Sursdia. Mansa Musa, the greatest monarch of Mali, conducted a pricey and flamboyant trip to Mecca in the years 1324–1325. He brought home Muslim scholars, built mosques and began the practice of Friday congregational! prayers.
Timbuktu was established as a Berber settlement in 1096 A.D. Due to its favourable location, it quickly rose to prominence as a major Islamic and commercial hub. In the fourteenth century, Mansa Musa of Mali conquered Timbuktu and erected a renowned mosque there. Muslims from Jenne and the North trade.
The Songhai region was exposed to Islam in the eleventh century. Timbuktu and Jenne, two important Islamic centres in Western Sudan, were later colonized by Muslims. Islam was revived and made the official religion of Sudan by Askia Mohammed Toure (1498–1528).
Islam in Mali
After assuming control in 1312, Musa’s popularity grew throughout North Africa, Sudan, and even into Europe. He undertook his renowned Hajj to Makkah in 1324–1325 and gathered many Muslim academics and architects who helped to construct five mosques. Many academics concur that Mansa Musa could contribute novel concepts to his administration due to his adherence to Islam. Islam thus saw its greatest growth during Mansa Musa’s rule.
Islam in Songhay
Islam was originally acknowledged by the governing Za or Dia dynasty in the Empire of Songhay. It had fallen under the control of the Mali Empire by the 13th century, but by the end of the 14th century, when the dynasty was given the new name Sunni, it had gained its independence. He was treated with great respect by the King of Makkah, who also had him turbaned and given the title of Caliph of Western Sudan. The Songhay Empire’s frontier now grew, and in the 15th century, Sunni ‘Ali, who ruled from 1464 to 1492, brought Western Sudan’s most significant towns under his control.
Islam in Kanem-Bornu
In the 13th century, Kanem-Bornu encompassed the area surrounding Lake Chad and extended as far north as Fezzan. Relations with the Arab nations of the Middle East and the Maghrib were established, and Islam became the main focus of Muslim influence in central Sudan. In earlier chapters of this book, we learned that Tunis and Kanem-Bornu in Egypt had extensive communication.
Islam in Hausa-Fulani land
Between 1349 and 1385, during the rule of Sajrki (King) Yaji AH, Islam was introduced to Kano (1349 – 1385). The king of Katsina was converted to Islam in 1493 by the renowned missionary Al-Maghili of Algeria, and it was brought here by Muslim academics from Mali. Islam had a stronghold in Kano by the time Muhammad Rumfa (reigned 1453–1499) arrived in power. Shehu Uthman Danfodio, an Islamic reformer of the 18th century, was compelled to make changes to what he called Bid’at al-Shaytaniyya, or Devilish inventions, because of the syncretic rituals that are exclusive to Hausa and Fulani Muslims.
Compared to the states of Western Sudan, the conversion of Hausa land was a little different because it did not involve conquest. It was brought about by the people’s ready acceptance of Islamic teaching from more intelligent people.
Finally, the characteristics of Islam, its tolerance of other African religions, trade, the activities of Muslim rulers and clerics, holy war, and scholars are among the factors that prompted the founding of educational institutions that paved the way for literacy among adherents of the faith in the continent. The countries of Gambia, Guinea, Mali, Nigeria, Niger, and Senegal currently have some of the largest Muslim populations in all of West Africa.
IMPORTANCE OF THE COMING OF ISLAM TO WEST AFRICA
One of the greatest events in the history of West Africa was brae introduction of the Islamic religion in Sudan. It is as important as the coming of Christianity to the forest belt of the mouth, for both religions have had a tremendous influence on the peoples of West Africa Islam brought about a complete change in the cultural, political and economic life of the peoples of Sudan.
Firstly, the advent of Islam meant much closer contact across the Sahara between the Arab world of North Africa and Arabia and the Negro world of West Africa- This meant the growth of Muslim culture with its civilizing influences, the most important perhaps being the introduction of Arabic writing and language. It brought to West Africa the benefits of Arabic learning. For instance, what we have learnt in previous chapters about the Sudanese Kingdoms before the 19th century is cornea mainly from books written by Arab geographers or Negro scholars writing in the Arabic language. Now, of greater significance is the fact that Islam and the Arabic language gave cultural unity to the Sudan which has remained to this day. Muslim culture is the fundamental difference between the peoples of the savannah belt and the forest belt of West Africa today.
Secondly, Islam is just not only a religious creed It goes further than this. Islamic law as contained in the Koran regulates every aspect of the life of Muslim/ communities. According to J.O. Hunwick, the Koran is “a book of law and precept, regulating the eating and drinking habits of believers, containing laws of marriage, divorce and inheritance and establishing a political community based on adherence to Islam which cuts across clan, family, tribal and ethnic groupings.”
The introduction of Islam into Sudan, therefore, gave rise to the growth of states based on the Muslim system of government and law. Similarly, the introduction of Arabic writing and language was also politically important. It made possible the growth of larger states run with efficient and systematic methods of government because written records could be kept and written messages could easily be sent to the governors.
Of the political importance of Islam in Sudan, Muhammad Al-Maghili’s book ‘The Obligations of Princes is especially significant. This was a treatise on government written by this famous Muslim scholar and preacher for the king of Kano in the early 16th century. E.W Bovill says that the book “reveals high ideals and the writer’s keen appreciation of the practical difficulties, of government. It can therefore be seen that Islam helped the rulers of the Sudanese states to solve their many practical problems of government.
Finally, Islam was also of great commercial significance to the Sudanese kingdoms before the 19th century. Although trade existed between North Africa and Sudan before the coming of Islam, its introduction into West Africa strengthened the economic ties between the Muslim peoples on both ends of the Sahara desert.
In concluding this section, I wish to make the following observations:-
Firstly, it must be pointed out that Islam did not take a deep root in the above Sudanese states and was now generally accepted until the 19th century. In general, Islam made little or no impact on the peasant farming beliefs and practices even though Islam was the state religion. Islam remained mostly the; religion of the trading! class and the royal courts. Even among the rulers themselves, the practice of Islam was still imperfect; pagan practices were still retained and there were frequent relapses into paganism. This situation remained unchanged until the Islamic movements of the 19th century.
Secondly, the principal method by which Islam spread in West Africa before the 19th century was by means of the peaceful settlement of Muslim merchants in the large cities, of the Western and Central Sudan. These cities were usually the seats of government. Because of their literacy and knowledge of Arabic, these merchants not only carried out their commercial activities but also became advisers to the kings and their countries.
In time, the religion of these educated merchants with their wider knowledge of the world would begin to interest the rulers and their courts. Eventually, conversion to Islam followed first of the ruler and his countries and household, and gradually the subjects. Thirdly, Islam made little if any headway outside the savannah belt of West Africa until the 19th century. It made no progress among the Gurma and Mossi, and apart from a few places revealed by recent research, it did not penetrate that forest region.
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