Islam: Islam in Sub-Saharan Africa

views updated


Islam entered Africa within decades of its inception in the seventh century ce. In North Africa its spread was related to the empire-building process which took Islam to Morocco and Spain in the far west and to India in the east whereas in the rest of Africa its diffusion followed a different path. The African dimension goes back to 615 ce when the first Islamic migration to Abyssinia, now called Ethiopia, took place, though its impact there at this early stage is not clear. A few years later, the epoch-making hijrah, or migration, by Muammad and his persecuted band of followers to Medina created the political center of the nascent Islamic state built in Arabia. The task of spreading Islam beyond the Arabian peninsula to other regions, including North Africa to the fringes of the Sahara, was left to Muammad's successors or caliphs.

Scholars, until recently, have not paid sufficient attention to the Islamic intellectual tradition and culture in sub-Saharan Africa which is generally treated as a periphery of the Islamic heartland in the Middle East. Moreover, studies about Islam in Africa are often marred by the view that gained currency during the colonial era, namely that African Islam represented a syncretic or diluted version of the faith, stripped of elements of its higher tradition. This view is difficult to understand given that Islam is indeed a religion of great synthesis which (in the areas where it has spread) has interacted with local cultures, enriching them and being enriched by them. The study of Islam in sub-Saharan Africa is now entering into a new and very interesting phase (for instance, witness local and international efforts to help save old manuscripts relating to Tombouctou's intellectual heritage) as scholars begin to look at Africa's literary tradition and contributions to aspects of Islamic law, mysticism, devotional matters, theology, and history in Arabic or local languages. The number of Qurʾanic translations in African languages, using the Arabic or Latin alphabet, moreover, has also been growing steadily and testifies to this increased urgency to produce written material for African Muslims.

Knowledge of the history of Islam in sub-Saharan Africa before the sixteenth century comes mainly from the works of Arab geographers and historians such as al-Bakr, al-Zuhri, Ibn Batuta, and others. Archaeological excavations of important centers of trade, such as Kumbi Saleh, Awdaghust, Jenne, Kilwa, and others, have added further to the knowledge of these cities by allowing for historical reconstruction. Finally, oral traditions have become an increasingly important source for the study of this history as they present information (in legendary form) of kings such as Sundiata, the founder of Mali, which can be critically assessed to provide insights into what is remembered and emphasized about the past. The sources of information become more varied after the sixteenth century and include written material in Arabic by local Muslims, oral traditions and ethnographic data, and European records in the era of European expansion and domination of the Atlantic system.

Islam in the Sahara and the Sahel

Islam made its presence felt in much of Africa (the east coast and Horn of Africa as well as West Africa) mainly through trade and migration. In the Sahara region and beyond it, for instance, Islam was introduced from North Africa by the Berbers, mostly members of Khārijī sects, through the trans-Saharan trade as early as the eighth or ninth century. They had their centers in the oases at the northern side of the Sahara in Sijilmasah, Tahart, Wargla, and Ghadames. With the expansion of this mainly salt-for-gold trade, important trading towns such as Awdaghust, Tadmeka, and Kawwar also sprang up at the southern end of the Sahara. Beyond them lay the important African states of Ghana (with Kumbi Saleh as its capital), Gao, and Kanem in the region that was known as the Sahel (which means in Arabic the "shore" of the desert). This was the region where the desert and the savanna meet and where Sahelian cities served as terminus points for a very vibrant international trade.

The Khārijī influence in North Africa had declined by the tenth and eleventh centuries due to a number of factors, including the Shīʿī Fāimid conquest of North Africa, the destabilizing migration of the Arab Hilalian nomads, and the rise of the Almoravid movement among the Sanhaja Berbers of southwestern Sahara and the Mauritanian coast. The latter factor was especially important in entrenching the Sunnī Mālikī school of law in the region against both the anafī (supported by the Aghlabids) and the Shīʿī Fāimids. Mālikī scholars had arrived in North Africa as early as the ninth century and had successfully won the support of both the pastoralists and traders among the Berbers who became the vehicle for dissemination of Islam into the Sahara and beyond it in West Africa.

The increasing interest in the wider Arab/Muslim world in the source of gold for the trans-Saharan trade led to Ghana receiving mention in Arabic writings as early as the eighth century. Nevertheless, it was only after Muslim traders from North Africa began to settle in the largest Sahelian states by the eleventh century that more detailed descriptions of these states appear. For instance, the Arab geographer in Islamic Spain, al-Bakr, described Ghana's capital, Kumbi Saleh, as constituting two separate towns situated at a short distance from each other. One was a distinctly Muslim town, set aside for Muslim merchants who had their own mosques, and the other, the royal town, consisted of a palace and conical huts where the imperial indigenous form of religion was practiced. The king, who was known to be a man of justice and extended his friendship to the Muslims, appointed many of them, as the literati in society, to ministerial positions. Similarly, Gao, on the Niger, east of the river bend, was also divided into Muslim and royal towns although the king in this case was a Muslim. It was only in Takrur, on the lower Senegal River, that the Muslim king was reported as carrying out a vigorous campaign of conversion among his subjects and neighbors.

By about 1050 ce the kingdom of Ghana had expanded to include the Berber town of Awdaghust. A few decades later the king and the people of Ghana, according to al-Zuhuri who wrote in the twelfth century, had converted to Islam under the influence of the Almoravids (al-Murabitun). Some scholars have read the early sources as suggesting that this conversion was not attained by peaceful means. Recent careful study, however, has raised doubts about this conquest hypothesis which is considered to be more fiction than fact. In any case, Ghana continued to thrive as a state until the thirteenth century when its decline began due to a combination of factors, including Bure gold fields opening up farther south in the savanna country, new trans-Saharan routes developing farther east of Awdaghust, over-exhaustion of resources in this marginal Sahelian zone for food and iron production, and the continuous pressure from Berber pastoralists in search of new pastures for their stocks. Mali by then had emerged as the dominant power in the region.

Mali: The West-African Pattern of Islamization

From an early period, political developments in West Africa were continually shaped by the trading network which depended on the trans-Saharan routes being extended to new sources of gold to the south. These trading networks developed among local African groups, mostly of Soninke origin (related to the rulers of Ghana), such as the Mande (Wangara/Dyula) whose area of operation was over a wide area, extending from as far west as Senegal to northern Nigeria in the east. This trade network, which led to exposure to Islam as a result of trading transactions with North Africans, was closely associated with the diffusion of Islamic studies, including mysticism in the later centuries, and enabled Islam to penetrate peacefully beyond the Sahel into the savanna area. Initially Islam was the religion of the African traders, then the rulers (who sought Muslim prayers if those of local priests failed), and finally (due to the efforts of Muslim scholars in later centuries) commoners among various African communities.

The cross-cultural trade in many parts of Africa, apart from reinforcing cultural self-identity and nurturing religious commitment, fostered a pluralist structure in which commerce, Islam, and the indigenous system supported the urban network. In this way a balance was established between local ritual prescriptions and those of universal Islam.

Islam in Africa was (as in many parts of the world where it reached) primarily an urban religion (with an urban ethos) which fostered commitment to its religious system, ranging from ethnic self-identity to Islamic self-identity, universal and trans-ethnic in scope. Islamic penetration in the rural areas, on the other hand, made slow infiltration over a long period of time with significant gains awaiting a much later period. The religion therefore entered much of Africa peacefully through the agency of trade and later gained status after the migrant community (purveyors of the written word and the visual symbols of Islam) became integrated into the political structure. Finally the ruling elite embraced the faith and appropriated its symbols for political purposes.

The level of commitment to Islam varied from one region of Africa to another and was influenced by a number of factors, including the length of interaction between Islam and the traditional religion, societal organization between centralized and non-centralized or "stateless" ones (in West Africa evidence suggests that Islam was not often adopted by segmentary societies), the compatibility or incompatibility of the world views of the two religious systems, and the level of resilience of the indigenous integrative symbols to sustain traditional structures of the local religion. Islam is based on a written scripture, prescribed ritual, a historical and historicizing tradition, and a supra-ethnic religious identity. Its interaction with traditional African religions is therefore governed by the tension between the supra-ethnic universality of its ummah and the ethnocentrism of traditional African religion. As one scholar has put it, for the African, the ethnic group is the matrix in which his or her religion takes shape, the meaning of myth communicated, and a person's sacramental relation to nature experienced. This means that when the traditional symbols of an ethnic group are challenged by a new system, recombination of old and new forms may appear to reorganize the group and to compensate for any loss. More specifically, becoming a Muslim and joining this universal ummah involves offering prayers in a mosque frequented by members of other ethnic groups, adoption of Muslim behavior patterns and dress code in some cases, and using a certain language (e.g., in the case of East Africa, Kiswahili). The Kano Chronicle, a written version of the oral traditions not committed to writing until the nineteenth century, brings out clearly the struggle between the two religious systems, the Islamic and the traditional one, after the symbolic tree is cut down and a mosque built in its place.

In the case of Mali, despite the influence of Islam among the Malinke chiefs prior to the founding of the empire by Sundiata, the latter is presented in the Arabic sources and oral traditions as a great hunter and a magician who mobilized the resources of his people against the Sosso in the name of the ancestral tradition, not Islam. Yet, when Mali expanded and was transformed from a small chiefdom to a sprawling multi-ethnic empire extending into the Sahel region, its Muslim rulers (including the famous Mansa Musa with his lavish pilgrimage to Mecca) shifted their attachment over time from traditional religious references to a more universal Islamic outlook.

Mali reached the height of its power in the fourteenth century during the reign of Mansa Musa (13121337) and Mansa Sulayman (13411360) when the specifically Muslim character came to be reflected by the many mosques and centers of Islamic learning, such as Tombouctou. Ibn Batuta visited Niani, the capital of Mali in 1352/3 and reported attending an official Islamic festival which attracted the presence of the king as well non-Muslims. He spoke highly of the people's efforts to study the Qurʾān from memory, their hospitality, and their love of justice, though he deprecated their pre-Islamic customs which he still found to be in vogue.

By the end of the fourteenth century and certainly the beginning of the fifteenth century, the Mali empire was in decline with a series of weak rulers, dynastic struggles, and loss of control to the Tuareg and later to Songhai over the Sahel (the region where Islam had been more firmly established). The outer provinces (such as the Mossi areas to the south of the Niger bend) broke away and went their separate way, with the Mali state contracting to its original borders on the upper Niger.

Scholars and Rulers: Tombouctou in Songhai

While traders played a major role in the dissemination of Islam across the various trading networks in the region, the work of entrenching and deepening peoples understanding and commitment to the faith was left to the religious scholars (ʿulamāʾ ). The term ʿulamāʾ covers a range of Muslim religious personalities, from the learned elite of the Muslim world who is steeped in one or more of the Islamic sciencesincluding Qurʾanic exegesis, Islamic jurisprudence, and so onto the teacher/preacher/healer/holy man who provides services of a magical-religious nature to both Muslims and non-Muslims. The latter played similar religious, social, and political roles as did the African priest/healer/diviner whose traditional shrines served the same type of function as did the mosque, God's house, or sanctuary. These Muslim healers maintained a level of neutrality in the political affairs of the places where they resided. This served to enhance their powers as they were not perceived to be a threat to the local political elite.

Muslim scholars provided their services at the centers of political power, in chiefly and kingly courts as well as at major trading and learning centers, such as Tombouctou which provided an important link between the Sudanic savanna and the Berber Sahara. The city produced its own indigenous scholars, some of whom, under the rule of Mansa, were sent to Fez in Morocco to further their studies. In the fifteenth century, the Sanhaja scholars (under the patronage of another Berber group, the Tuareg, who were their kin) became prominent in Tombouctou. They gained the title of the people of Sankore, owing to their residence in the quarter of the Sankore mosque.

Unlike their counterparts in West Africa, the Sanhaja scholars of Tombouctou did not shy away from the political message of Islam. They articulated the concerns of the merchants of Tombouctou about guarding the autonomy of the city which was conquered by Sonni Ali in 1469 thus setting off a bitter conflict. By then the kingdom of Gao had blossomed to become the empire of Songhai under the ruthless leadership of Sonni Ali, who persecuted scholars who opposed him, a fact noted in Arabic sources, while respecting those who collaborated with him. This is an early example of confrontation between religious scholars and a ruler of a West African kingdom.

After Sonni Ali's death in 1492, his son was soon ousted by Askiya Muammad Ture (14931528), one of the generals who had formed an alliance with discontented elements in the western provinces of Songhai. Ture, founder of the Askiya dynasty, strengthened the administration of the empire and consolidated the earlier conquests of Sonni Ali. He used Islam effectively to reinforce his authority, by involving the Tombouctou scholars in his pro-Islam policy, and to unite the various regions of his kingdom. His pilgrimage to Mecca a few years later brought him to the attention of the Muslim world as one concerned about the affairs of Islam. He returned with the title of amir al-muʾminin (commander of the faithful), conferred upon him in Cairo, which made him the politico-religious head of the Muslim community (ummah ) in western Sudan.

Askiya Muammad's politics of appeasing potential opponents helped integrate even the Tuareg of the Sahara into the empire, a development that safeguarded the commercial interests of Tombouctou. For their part, the scholars of Tombouctou favored piecemeal changes in the Songhai empire and did not call for radical transformations of the type advocated by al-Maghili, a visiting scholar from the oasis of Tuat in the northern Sahara. Al-Maghili's responses to Askiya Muammad's questions represent the most sustained criticism of the religious and political situation in West Africa prior to the Islamic revolutions of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Among Askiya Muammad's great achievements was his revival of Tombouctou as a great center of Islamic learning. During this period the Mālikī scholars from Tombouctou visited Cairo, a major source of Islamic intellectual influence in the region, on their way to and from Mecca. In Cairo they studied mainly under eminent Shāfiʿī scholars from whom they assimilated the science of adīth (the prophetic traditions), taawwuf ("mysticism"), and balāghah (rhetoric). In this way, scholarship in Tombouctou was broadened beyond the narrow parochialism of the Mālikī school that seems to have stifled intellectual life in the Maghreb at that time. One representative of this scholarly tradition was the famous Tombouctou scholar Ahmad Baba, who, along with the other leading scholars in the city, were exiled to Morocco following the invasion of Tombouctou in 1591. His excellence in Islamic erudition was acknowledged when scholars from the major towns of Morocco came to hear his lectures in Marrakech.

The Moroccan conquest transformed the autonomous town governed by its own patriciate of scholar families into the seat of an authoritarian military government. The outcome was that once again, as during the time of Sonni Ali, scholars led the resistance. The continued intellectual prominence of Tombouctou was confirmed by the two most important Arabic chronicles of West Africa, Taʿrikh al-Sudan (History of Sudan) and Taʿrikh al-Fattash (The researcher's history [of Takrur]), both of which were written there in the middle of the seventeenth century. They form part of the local Arabic historiography which documents, among other things, the rise and gradual decline of Tombouctou.

Tombouctou, which once had the status of a major center of learning and commerce, declined slowly, under the contested rule of the descendants of the Moroccan conquerors. Feuding factions struggled for power within Tombouctou and Tuareg nomads pressed the town from the outside. Arma (Moroccan) rule finally collapsed in 1737 when the Tuareg seized the town and became the dominant power on the Niger bend. Once commerce was affected, it did not take long for the decline in Islamic scholarship to set in. With military and political ascendancy passing into the hands of the Tuareg, learning and also spiritual leadership migrated to the nomads' camp. By the middle of the eighteenth century, the Kunta, a nomadic clan of Arab and Berber descent, exercised influence over the whole of Muslim West Africa.

The mediating and integrating functions of Islamic learning in the segmentary societies of the Saharan nomads was expressed through the influence of the marabouts who attempted to establish harmony between warring groups. These maraboutic lineages were also involved in trade, employing a network of disciples and followers. The transformation or conversion of religious prestige to economic resources and political assets accounts for the rise of the Kunta as a dominant scholarly and commercial network. Their leader, Sidi al-Mukhtar al-Kabir (17281811), a reputable scholar and a great mystic, reinvigorated the Qādirīyah ūfī order, which until then had not played a particularly distinctive role in the religious life of the Sahara for more than two centuries. He was highly revered by the Tuareg and through his influence over them extended his patronage over Tombouctou. Through his disciples he facilitated the diffusion of his Qadiri teachings among many Muslim groups in the savanna.

Islam in the Savanna

The collapse of the imperial system in western Sudan, which had been sustained by the successive powerful states of Mali and Songhai, weakened the position of Islam in the savanna. There were now no longer patrons of learning like the great kings Mansa Musa and Askiya Muammad, with their strong commitment to Islam and its promotion in their respective states. Moreover, by the seventeenth century, Muslims were living under the auspices or authority of lesser chiefs who were strongly influenced by their traditional heritage. Yet, all was not lost, as Muslim traders were venturing farther afield, to the fringes of the forest, opening new areas to the influence of Islam. This allowed Islam (the religion of urban centers, generally followed by merchants, scholars, and the like in the age of the great empires) to filter into the countryside by the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

The Bambara of middle Niger, who had previously resisted Islamization during the period of the Mali empire, became more open to Islam when they entered a process of state formation of their own. The Scottish explorer Mungo Park reported in 1796 seeing many mosques in the Bambara capital. Bambara chiefs began to practice Islam while retaining traditional rituals. The Islam practiced by their chiefs accommodated local ritual practices, a pattern that recurs throughout the regions where Islam spread in Africa and Asia.

The role of Muslims as advisers to rulers and as specialists with access to supernatural power was transmitted from the middle Niger (central parts of modern Mali) to the Volta basin, where several patterns of Islamization and integration had developed. In Gonja, Dagomba, Mamprusi, and Wa (present-day northern Ghana), Muslims of Dyula and Hausa origin had assimilated many aspects of the local cultures in addition to adopting local languages. Moreover, Muslims had become integrated into the sociopolitical system of these states. In the area west of the Black Volta River (modern Ivory Coast), the Dyula managed to maintain their cultural and linguistic identity either as residents of states, such as Buna and Gyaman, or as independent communities among stateless peoples. The exception was in Kong and Bobo-Dioulasso (formerly Upper Volta, now Burkina Faso) where the Dyula forged their own states.

Farther west, in the shared border area of Ivory Coast, Guinea, and Mali, the Dyula lived among Mande warriors and peasants, from whom they differed only in their commercial activities and Islamic faith. They were two contrasting groups, one of warriors (Mande) and the other of Muslims (Dyula). This dichotomy between warriors and Muslims held true over a large area of western Sudan and the Sahara. Thus warriors who exercised political authority, shed blood, and indulged in imbibing alcohol (which played the symbolic role of differentiating the two communities) often professed Islam but were not committed Muslims.

The Early JihĀd Movements

The jihād movements of West Africa represented a phase in the diffusion (often through the agency of ūfī orders) and further entrenchment of Islam in the region. Part of the process of conveying Islam from the urban areas to the countryside and from the elite to the common people, jihād movements had the literary consequences of stimulating, in some cases, the production of Islamic material in Arabic or in the indigenous languages. It was partly a response to mounting levels of violence, abuse of political power, and the enslavement of people (including Muslims) in the age of the transatlantic slave trade.

With the rise of militancy in the 1670s, a crisis came about which pitted activist scholars against the traditional political elite. Nāir al-Dīn, a Berber scholar from the southwestern part of present day Mauritania where the Almoravid movement had originated, challenged the political supremacy of the nomadic Arab Hassani warriors. He was an ascetic scholar known for his religious charisma (barakah ). He called for repentance and mobilized his devoted disciples for a jihad in 1675.

In West Africa, the jihāds succeeded in bringing about the political ascendancy of Islam not through conquest or expansion from the outside, but through the uprising of Muslim militants who lived within pluralistic societies including non-believers as well as men and women of varying degrees of commitment to Islam. West African jihāds can therefore be considered religious uprisings that accomplished a long evolutionary process.

While the military efforts of Nāir al-Dīn failed, his example most likely inspired the revolutionary movements which seized power in the following areas: Bundu, in present-day Senegal (c. 1700); Futa Jalon, in present-day Guinea (c. 1725); and Futa Toro (c. 1776). The scholars who led these movements, like Nāir al-Dīn before them, adopted the title of al-imām which implied political and religious leadership. They were Torodbe, members of scholarly lineages in Futa Toro.

Of the post-jihād states, the one in Futa Jalon was the least stable as it was plagued by internal conflicts and the lack of political integration of non-Fulani groups in the state. The one in Futa Toro did not fare any better as the leader, the almamy imām ʿAbd al-Qadir, and his successors were unable to establish effective central authority.

Kanem-Bornu and Hausaland to 1800

Kanem, in present-day Chad, northeast of Lake Chad, was one of the earliest states mentioned in Arabic sources, with references to the area in Arabic texts dating to the middle of the ninth century. But Islam was introduced into Kanem by Muslim traders from Tripoli and Fezzan (in present-day Libya) only at the beginning the twelfth century, at least a century after it had gained a foothold in Takrur and Gao.

Unlike the situation in western Sudan where the spread of Islam was facilitated by the trans-Saharan trade which linked the network of trading routes to the gold fields, in central Sudan the trade in captives with North Africa in exchange for goods, such as horses, dominated the economy and inhibited the spread of Islam. There was no comparable trading and scholarly diaspora across an expanding network of routes; instead, there was a Sahelian state which, even at the height of its military power, expanded, not southward into the savanna, but northward into the Sahara, eventually reaching the Fezzan. These contacts across the desert though led to the growth of Islam among the Kanuri-speakers. Islam, however, did not enter Baghirmi, the first Islamized state south of Lake Chad, until as late as the sixteenth century.

The above notwithstanding, the fact remains that the influence of Islam in Kanem was far more sustained than in western Sudan as judged by developments such as the state's expansion of its northern borders to as far as the southern part of modern Libya in the thirteenth century, Kanem kings underscoring the importance of Islam by performing pilgrimage, and the establishment of an Islamic school in Cairo for Kanem students and scholars. Sometime in the fourteenth century, the Saifawa dynasty, in order to stave off a complete disintegration of the state, located in a very precarious and fragile environment, moved its capital to the grassland region of Bornu in the southwestern corner of Lake Chad (present-day Nigeria). Bornu, formerly a tributary state of Kanem, had access to a wider trading network. This led the Saifawa dynasty in the fifteenth century to establish trading links with the Hausa which enabled them to exchange salt and horses for Akan gold, ushering in a period of prosperity.

The Kanem-Bornu state reached its peak under the rule of mai Idris Alawma (15701603), when government officials were Muslim and the capital, N'Gazargamu, emerged as an important center of Islamic learning. Muslim scholars were highly respected, exempt from taxes, and looked to for advice. Other scholars who wished to maintain their independence and keep their distance from political authorities created their own Muslim communities in the countryside. It was in this state, which became the most Islamized of all African states prior to the Islamic revolution in Hausaland, that Islam filtered more widely to the common people. Yet, even here, African ancestral elements remained at the symbolic and organizational levels.

Islam reached Hausaland during the fourteenth century when the Mali empire flourished and when the Saifawa dynasty relocated its capital to Bornu. This was the period when the Wangara trading diaspora was established on the eastern fringes of the Mali empire in Hausaland at the same time that a direct trade route from Hausaland to Tripoli was developed. These Wangara traders and the scholars who accompanied them provided services to Hausa rulers as they had done elsewhere in West Africa. Despite the employment of Wangara scholars at the courts, however, pre-Islamic beliefs continued to exist. Clearly, a struggle between the two religious systems existed as indicated by the Kano Chronicle.

By the end of the fifteenth century, King Rumfa of Kano attempted to make some reforms by ordering the symbolic tree to be cut down and a mosque built in its place. It is believed that the king, under the influence of al-Maghili, who visited Kano in 1493, installed Muslim judges and encouraged the construction of mosques. Moreover, Tombouctou scholars on their way to the pilgrimage visited Kano and neighboring Katsina to the north where they taught briefly. The outcome was the development or nurturing of a body of Hausa scholars in the region.

Some of the Muslim scholars who served at the courts of the Hausa rulers were later to become the object of criticism by later reformers. The former were seen as worldly scholars who had compromised Islamic teachings by their association with political authorities.

Revolution and Reform in Hausaland

The practice of living in separate communities (jamaʿat ) with their followers in the countryside had already began to develop among some pious-minded scholars who avoided both the kingly courts and the trading centers. Instead, they lived and preached among the peasants in the rural areas and contributed to the radicalization of attitudes. Some scholars became champions of the peasants and couched their grievances in Islamic idiom or language. The increasing production of devotional literature in Hausa by the eighteenth century contributed further to an Islamic awareness among the people.

Revivalist or reformist ideas gained momentum in different parts of the Muslim world in the eighteenth century and fed into mahdī expectations and millenarian excitement which, widespread in the Muslim world, dated back to the fifteenth century. Since the thirteenth century, ūfī orders had developed ecstatic practices and antinomian tendencies, but in the eighteenth century, they shifted their orientation toward greater adherence to the sharīʿah. Mysticism of the speculative kind, with its focus on otherworldliness, was increasingly being supplanted by the strands which emphasized involvement in societal affairs and even political activism. While Muammad Abdul Wahhab's struggles against syncretism in Saudi Arabia went as far as rejecting the whole mystical tradition, the reform movements of West Africa sought reform within the ūfī traditions of the area.

Several reasons have been suggested for this militancy. First, there was the religious excitement, particularly at al-Azhar, which influenced various parts of the Muslim world. In western Sudan this was expressed either through a radical Qadiriyah, or as was the case later, through a radical Tijaniyya. Second, Islamic messianism or millenarian expectations, which were quite widespread in West Africa, explains this tendency to radicalism. In particular the ideas of the eighteenth-century Egyptian scholar al-Suyuti had gained currency. Suyuti predicted that a mahdī would appear at the end of the eighteenth century. Even earlier than this was al-Maghili who presented in a radical way the doctrine of a rejuvenator or renewer of Islam (mujaddid). These seminal ideas took root and may partly explain the religious-political eruptions of the later centuries. Membership in ūfī orders by these leaders, with special powers being attributed to them, increased the prestige and influence on their followers. Third, the institution of pilgrimage played an important role in preparing the careers of certain leaders for an active political life. Apart from legitimizing their role, the institution of pilgrimage was important in launching the career of certain leaders on a reformist course. The Tijani order became the moving force behind several later revolutions of the nineteenth century. Fourth, there was a growing Islamic consciousness on the part of the more learned Muslim scholars; this awareness went hand in hand with a call for radical reform. These were the sharīʿah -minded scholars who aimed at forging Islamic states. They articulated some of the local political and socioeconomic grievances but in the language or idiom of Islamic reform. They championed what has been called the "radical tradition" which Thomas Hodgkin defined as follows:

A tradition which emphasizes the rights of common people against their rulers, takes an egalitarian attitude to social differences, is concerned with changing institutions as a precondition of changing human beings, demands the widest possible diffusion of knowledge and education, stresses the idea of an international community, the need for puritanism in personal life and the urgency of social changejustifying in some circumstances the use of revolutionary methods to achieve it. ("The Radical Tradition in Muslim West Africa," in Essays on Islamic Civilization, edited by D. P. Little, 1976, p. 103)

Shehu Usuman dan Fodio (Uthman Dan Fodio), a Fulani religious leader, belonged to the autonomous scholarly communities of Torodbe/Toronkawa who kept their distance and avoided making any accommodations with the Hausa elite of Gobir. They were neither traders nor pastoralists although they shared cultural values with the Fulani pastoralists who, like them, carried arms and also excelled in horse riding.

Usuman, the charismatic and missionizing teacher, along with his followers engaged in preaching around the villages. His scrupulousness as a scholar won him many sympathizers among the oppressed and exploited peasants. He called for responsible leadership committed to a moral vision of society, not a corrupt one which ruled arbitrarily. As the tensions mounted between Usuman and the king of Gobir, Usuman, whose life was in danger, was forced to disengage from society by moving from Degel to an alternative place (Gudu) to establish a new just society based on his Islamic reformist program. In effect, he and his followers performed a hijrah, or migration, following the example of the prophet, a preparatory stage for the jihād.

Once open conflict erupted between the king of Gobir and his Muslim protagonists, Usuman declared a jihād which, after its initial success, attracted other disaffected groups, including Fulani pastoralists who resented arbitrary seizure of their stocks. These military campaigns, which lasted from 1804 to 1810, engulfed not just the Hausa states, but also western Bornu, Adamawa, Nupe, and the Yoruba state of Ilorin (the basis of Islam's later impressive inroads among the Yoruba in the forest region of Nigeria). The outcome was a sprawling empire or Sokoto caliphate, with a number of separate emirates, which was ruled by a caliph (Amir al-Muslimin ). Usuman retired into a religious life and left the administration of the new state to his brother and son.

Thus the Muslim scholars were able to realize their vision of creating an Islamic state. The ideals and values of the reformers were never realized although they remained normative and guided Usuman's successors. More importantly, Hausa society became transformed with the state and its institutions became Islamized. Another major outcome was that the Hausa ruling elite were replaced by a new Fulani one that adopted Hausa language and culture. Nevertheless, not all pre-jihād structures and practices were eliminated, as evidenced by the continued existence of some communities of non-Muslim Hausa speakers known as Maguzawa.

The ŪfĪ orders and the Nineteenth-Century jihĀds in Western Sudan

Following Shehu Usuman's example, Ahmadu Lobbo conducted a jihād in 1818 against Fulani syncretists in Massina on the middle Niger south of Tombouctou. The state that he established, which lasted until 1864, was criticized by the Kunta and even Sokoto leaders for not being free of narrow-minded concerns and bigotry.

The first wave of jihāds or religiously inspired revolutions in West Africa were for the most part led by members of the Qadiri order (for instance, Usuman) while the later ones were mainly headed by Tijanis. The most important of these was the one led by al-Hajj ʿUmar (1794/971864), the Tijani leader in West Africa. His pilgrimage to Mecca and his appointment while there to Tijani leadership in West Africa confirmed him in his reformist mission to challenge syncretic Islam as well as other ūfī orders, including Qādirīyah. He used Islam to forge a large Islamic state incorporating the regions of Segu, Kaarta, and Massina, which make up large parts of the present republic of Mali. His influence spread rapidly, perhaps too rapidly, explaining why he clashed with the French as well as the established groups in Massina. Despite his death in 1864, his state survived for the next several decades amidst French imperialistic and colonial advances in the region. Further south, on the fringes of the forest zone, during the decade of the 1860s, Samoury Toure (1835/401900), a long distance trader, attempted to unite various southern Mande peoples and states into a vast political system.

The Progress of Islam in Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa

The economic, cultural, and political relations between Ethiopia and Arabia, separated only by the Red Sea, predate the coming of Islam by many centuries. In fact, this much earlier contact is evidenced by the presence of the locally evolved Geez, an Afro-Asiatic language, which bears the imprint of the interaction between south Arabians and the local Ethiopian groups. While in the seventh century Muslim refugees had migrated to the Aksum court to escape Meccan persecution, by the eighth century Muslims had settled on the Dahlak Islands off the Ethiopian coast, and by the ninth century there were Muslim communities along the long-distance trade routes into the interior. Islam expanded southwards, from the Harar area, in the direction of the Sidama principalities but not in the north where the Christian power was well established and well entrenched.

The growing power of Ifat and other Muslim states threatened the interests of an expanding Christian kingdom under the Zagwe kings who controlled the Ethiopian highland region. By the early fourteenth century, however, Ifat had been defeated. Yet, another Muslim state, Adal, asserted itself and began to recruit support from the Somali pastoralists who were increasingly being proselytized. More importantly, Adal controlled Harar, the most important center of trade and Islam in the interior, and also Zeila, on the Somali coast, south of modern Djibouti, which by the end of the ninth century had become a significant alternative Muslim trading settlement. Somali coastal settlements developed into thriving towns, the most significant of which was the sultanate of Mogadishu.

At the end of the fifteenth century or early sixteenth century, a Muslim general, Ahmad Gran, became the ruler of Adal and took on the title of imām. He saw Christian Ethiopia, then ruled by the Solomonid dynasty, as a threat to Muslim security. He articulated his policy toward Christian Ethiopia, which showed signs of breaking up, in religious terms and went on to overrun major sections of it with Ottoman-supplied firearms. The timely intervention by a Portuguese force, which came to the aid of Ethiopia, led to the two forces together defeating and killing Ahmad Gran in 1543 and thus saving the kingdom.

In the sixteenth century the pastoral Oromo, from northeast of Lake Turkana, moved into the southern highlands of Ethiopia, a region destabilized by the warfare, and pushed as far east as the plateau of Harar. Those that came into contact with Adal Muslims converted to Islam while others elsewhere became Christians. The Oromo became a major factor in the expansion of Islam from the eighteenth century onwards. Today they form the largest ethnic group in Ethiopia with probably more than half being Muslim.

Islam in East Africa and the Interlacustrine/Central Region

For centuries, even before the advent of Islam, there had always been contact between the East African coast and western Asia. Traders from south Arabia, the Persian Gulf, and western India took advantage of the monsoon winds to visit East Africa in pursuit of commercial opportunities.

The advent of Islam in Arabia in the seventh century marked the turning point in the trading relations between the two regions. The eastern Bantu speakers had already expanded to this coastal area probably by the midpoint of the first millennium ce, if not earlier. However, the growing commerce between Arabia and East Africa led to an increased migration to the area. The migrants appear to have come from a number of areas, but mainly from southern and, to a lesser extent, eastern Arabia. They first settled on the Benadir (Somali) coast in the ninth and tenth centuries, setting up settlements in Merca, Mogadishu, and Barawa. In later centuries, most notably the twelfth, traders from this regionAfricans and proto-Swahili speakers, including probably some African-Arabsalso moved southward along the coast as far as Kilwa and established their settlements there. This is the period of the Shirazi myths as found in a number of chronicles. More immigrants from Hadhramawt and Yemen followed later, although their numbers were much smaller in relation to the local African coastal urban population. The cumulative result of the gradual changes brought about by the interaction between the immigrants and the dominant African Bantu-speaking groups was the creation of a new urban ethos in which Islam blended with the indigenous local culture to produce Swahili Islam. Although the coastal area had not become fully Islamized by this time, by early 1330s when Ibn Batuta visited East Africa, he indicated that there were many Muslims to be found in the thriving coastal towns such as Kilwa, whose inhabitants he makes clear were of dark skin. Swahili culture and language were by then fully evolved that he could speak of the coast as Sawahil country. It took another century or two, however, before Islam became part of the Swahili identity.

There was a period when the founding of Swahili coastal towns was attributed to Asian and Middle Eastern colonizers. This is the Asian perspective or hypothesis popularized by colonial scholarship which denied Africans with a contribution in the evolution of historical towns in their own region. The overwhelming evidence from records of earlier travelers and geographers, recent archaeological findings, and linguistic studies are all, however, in favor of the African perspective, crediting Africans with establishing their own towns. This does not deny the fact that Middle Eastern Muslim immigrants, whether as refugees from the Middle East or attracted by commercial opportunities in the region, were absorbed into Swahili population over a long period of history as evidenced by the culture of the Swahili which is both Muslim and African.

Although Islam reached East and West Africa around the same time, the methods and timing of its diffusion in the two regions presents some interesting contrasts. To begin with, Islam in West Africa had penetrated inland from Sahel into the savanna and as far as the fringes of the forest by the end of the fifteenth century. In East Africa, on the other hand, Islam remained confined to the coastal area for a long time before it was introduced into the interior, for instance, in Buganda in 1840. The spread of Islam in West Africa, moreover, was not associated with one particular ethnic or linguistic grouping the way it was in East Africa. For the most part, Islamization in East Africa went hand in hand with Swahilization, a process by which members of different ethnic groups became integrated into the Muslim Swahili community. In fact, the introduction of Islam in the hinterland of East Africa is closely connected to the extension of Muslim trading communities along the coast as far as northern Mozambique to the Interlacustrine region (which includes present Buganda/southern Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, eastern Congo, and Malawi). Another significant difference is that religious upheavals in East Africa did not play a role as an instrument of conversion the way they did in some areas of West Africa. This means that there was no territorial expansion of Islam from the coast to the interior. There was a marked absence of empires like those of Ghana, Mali, and Songhai; instead, East Africa produced several dozen trading city states at the height of its commercial prosperity by the fifteenth century. Also, whereas East Africa was incorporated into the world of the west Indian Ocean, West Africa, through the trans-Saharan trade, was more connected to North Africa with which it traded for a long time.

The coming of the Portuguese to coastal East Africa at the end of the fifteenth century, as crusaders with commercial interests in the East, disrupted the Indian Ocean trade and also put to an end the first Muslim period of the East African coast. The brutal rule of the Portuguese provoked rebellions from time to time, and by the end of the seventeenth century, the Portuguese had been expelled from the coastal area north of Mozambique through a combination of local resistance and the rising power of Oman. Omani influence did not take hold until the 1830s when the sultan of Oman moved his capital to Zanzibar. This was a period of a commercial revival, including an expansion in slave trade, as well as growth in higher Islamic education along the coastal region and the development of the Ibadi school of thought in East Africa. Additionally, during the colonial period, Muslim communities from the subcontinent, Sunnī and Shīʿah, migrated to East Africa, adding a cosmopolitan dimension to the presence of Islam there.

Islam in South Africa

The highly urbanized Muslim minority communities of South Africa, with people of mainly Malay and Indian descent, have their origins in the developments starting from the mid-seventeenth century. As the Dutch began colonizing the Indonesian archipelago, the Cape of Good Hope functioned as a convenient place of exile for Indonesian political leaders. These exiles included Muslim learned men such as the scholar saint Shaykh Yusuf. A revered figure and a leader of an alternative culture, Shaykh Yusuf led foreign, non-white members of excluded or isolated groups who maintained their Islamic faith and perpetuated it among the slaves, convicts, and freed convicts from India and the Indonesian archipelago. Given the racial attitudes of nineteenth-century white South African society, many African slaves (liberated "Prize Negroes" or Africans freed by the British from intercepted slave ships) who could not be assimilated into white Christian culture found themselves turning to Islam. The final phase of Islam's entrenchment in South Africa through immigration came with the introduction of indentured labor service from India for the sugarcane fields in Natal. A significant number of these foreign workers were Muslim and succeeded in establishing a base for the faith in the region. Over a century later, Islam had survived in South Africa and even entered into a radical phase among some of its followers during the period of apartheid. The location of the South African Muslim communities on the periphery of the Muslim world in a secular Westernized world has allowed for some of its scholars to offer interesting modernist interpretations of Islam that are in keeping with progressive trends.

Islamic Art and Architecture

Treatment of the diffusion of Islam in Africa from both the east and the north would be remiss if the cultural dynamics of the interaction between the Islamic system and values and those of traditional African ways of thinking, especially in the area of visual representation, were not present or discussed at least briefly. The question that first needs to be asked is whether the old forms and symbols of the indigenous African system were discarded as a result of the encounters between Islam and traditional African religions? Did Islam, with its supra-ethnic universality, and the local African culture, with its ethnically centered identity, blend sufficiently during the process of Islamization on the continent to produce an Islamic art in Africa?

In the artistic and architectural domains there was a unique blending of Islamic structure and African representation. Once a balance had been reached between the local religious practices and the universal ritual prescriptions of Islam, the next step was to cast the imagery and iconography of African ancestral pillars, shrines, and so on into Islamized form. Where Islam was introduced, such items as charms, amulets, certain types of clothing, and prestige goods were incorporated into local societies. More importantly, the local altar-shrine was transformed into the mosque in such a way that the physical configuration represented a leap into verticality. Thus, the single, towering pyramidal earthen cone became the mirāb, while also serving as a minaret, with its system of projecting wooden pickets extending out of this massive structure. The ends of these wooden pickets served as a scaffold for workers to climb and repair the walls. The ancestral conical structure or pillar (in the Voltaic tradition) was now redirected to a new focal center, that of Mecca. In certain cases, as Prussin and Bravmann have observed, some of the mosques that were built in Mali had mirābs that evoked the image of an African mask, which traditionally represent powerful forces. This is how the mosques were constructed by the Mande of West Africa with Islam clearly inspiring the use of certain architectural features in the spatial configuration. The Islamic architectural tradition, mediated through the Maghrebian heritage, in turn inspired the architectural imagery or style represented by the thatched domes of the Senegal-Guinea mosques and maraboutic shrines, following the example of the domed cities of Tripoli and Cairo.

Islamic-type designs were also emulated and led to the adoption of arabesque wall patterning instead of the attached African charms. This calligraphy allowed for a new system of spatial organization. More than this, Islamic script was used in decorative ways even in non-Muslim areas such as modern-day Ghana, where in the nineteenth century, the Asantehene, head of the Ashanti confederacy, wore clothes with Arabic writing in various colors. Islam had clearly filtered through Ashanti politico-religious structure such that, as one scholar has noted, both in terms of ideas and in the realm of the arts, it provided a medium through which the ideology of the Ashanti was communicated.

Cultural Dynamics

Islam, which for many centuries coexisted well with traditional African religion, gradually over time attempted to replace it as the dominant faith of some regions. What made this possible was that the Islamic faith was much more adaptable in Africa, with minimum requirements for new members, including at the very least a change of name after reciting the testimony of faith. The observance of Islamic duties along with the understanding of the faith were supposed to follow later. For the first generation of Muslims, introduction to Islamic cultural values was what came first whereas Islamization itself could take generations to realize. At this level, there was accommodation to social and political structures of authority. This was the period when the learned Muslims, as in West African kingdoms, played a key role in administration and diplomacy. Eventually, however, a number of these African rulers adopted Islam and in doing so may partly have undermined the basis of their legitimacy as guardians of African ancestral religious traditions. Nevertheless, they did not completely renounce ties with the African traditional religion, which continued to be the religion of many of their subjects. This arrangement assisted in maintaining order although it did not please some West African ūfī leaders of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries who launched their jihāds and reform movements of Islamic revivalism, some of which had mahdī and messianic overtones, to establish Islamic states.

Islam during the Colonial Period

While there were some Muslim leaders who resisted colonialismsuch as Muammad ibn ʿAbd Allāh (18641920) of the Salihiyah order in Somalia, al-Hajj ʿmar, and Samori (Guinea and Mali)many others chose accommodation and collaboration. Colonialism facilitated the growth of Islam in areas of Africa as far apart as Tanzania (Tanganyika) in East Africa and Senegal in West Africa through the activities of Muslim brotherhoods (ūfī orders), traders, and others. For some African groups, the loss of power with the onset of colonial rule made them gravitate towards Islam which was seen as an alternative to the prevailing colonial order. The difficulties of a new life under the colonial system, which uprooted the African from his or her traditional universe, presented Islam with an opportunity to provide a new framework as meaningful and all-embracing as the old African one. This, for instance, happened with Amadou Bamba's Murid brotherhood in Senegal, which converted thousands of people whose earthly kingdoms had been destroyed by colonialism. In 1888 Bamba established Touba/Tubaa as a great holy city, some claim it to rival Mecca, where he was buried in 1927. Every year hundreds of thousands of his followers visit his tomb on the anniversary of his death. Generally speaking, for the uprooted African who joined the faith, the Muslim supra-ethnic ummah provided solidarity and a sense of belonging not very different from that of the African village or ethnic one. Moreover, while the Islamic prescriptions replaced the indigenous ones, in matters of worship, however, the Muslim ritual prayer did not completely dislodge the traditional rituals of seeking to appease one's ancestors. In fact, Muslim religious leaders and teachers performed, in some cases, the same kind of role as the African healers and medicine men in carving out the domain of popular religion.

Islam therefore spread rapidly during the colonial period and became the majority faith in Senegal, Gambia, Guinea, Mali, Niger, and northern Nigeria where Shehu Usuman's descendants continued to exercise influence. Islam also made progress in areas such as Burkina Faso, the northern parts of the Ivory Coast, Ghana, Togo, Benin, and the "middle belt" of Nigeria where twenty to forty percent of the population is Muslim. Were it not for the resilience of traditional religions and the activities of Christian missions, Islam would most likely have been a majority religion here too.

Popular Islam in Africa

Despite Muslim efforts to purge African elements from their faith, Islam continued to display a level of indigenization or Africanization in West Africa. In spite of producing such well-known major religious Fulani reformers of the nineteenth century, including Shehu Usuman dan Fodio, in northern Nigeria, women still tend to follow the traditional cults, including the bori spirit cult, even with the sustained impact of Islam in Hausaland for centuries. According to some scholars, there must be a level of affinity between the two religious systems which allows this to happen. For instance, the belief in mystical powers (jinn or invisible supernatural creatures) allows Islam to be accommodated to the African spirit world, which is important to understanding the African religious universe. In fact, the ancestral beliefs have been recombined with Muslim practice to form a new "folk" religion with emphasis on saint veneration, which popular Islam and Sufism reinforce and which approximates local ancestor veneration.

The diagnosis and treatment of illnesses attributed to occult forces in Africa have provided an opportunity for Muslim healing traditions to flourish and allowed for the services of Muslim healers and holy men, who provided additional healing choices to local practitioners, to be in high demand. The appearance of new epidemic diseases such as smallpox and cholera, which arose in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in hinterland East Africa and which the local people could not adequately deal with, led people to turn to the Muslim healing system. Muslim prayers and amulets were more popular than Muslim secular remedies in this atmosphere of suspicion, which took the form of sorcery and witchcraft accusations. As has been noted, apart from the fact that Muslim amulets were believed to embody the words of the Supreme Being and not that of the intermediary powers, making them therefore more portent as the Ashanti believed, Muslim literacy played a role as a potential source of healing. Furthermore, ūfī masters who had attained a closeness to God through following the path of spiritual enlightenment were believed to have special powers which made their prayers efficacious. This barakah, or blessing power which heals, was passed on in families and explains why the scholarly ūfī lineages of the Sahara have played a pivotal role in mediating Islam between North and West Africa.

Modern developments in the Muslim world have undermined, to some extent, the influence of the arīqah (ūfī orders) in some parts of Africa such as Tanzania. Yet, the commitment to a mystical engagement with faith continues to be strong in West Africa and especially in Senegal, although even there it is facing the challenge of the Salafī reformers, also known as Wahhābīs, a term that is not used approvingly. Sufism, far from being a predominantly rural phenomenon which would fade away as Muslim societies became increasingly modernized, has continued to thrive and to engage African Muslims of the urban centers as well. It is true to say though that for some educated young African Muslims who are discomfited by magical practices, saint veneration, hierarchy, and authoritarianism of some ūfī orders, the Salafī message has proved attractive.

The Salafī religious revivalism, despite its attractiveness to younger Africans, is generally conservative and traditional; to the extent that this is true, Salafī reform and ūfī traditionalism are constantly engaged in an overlapping movement of interaction. Will they creatively synthesize from the values of their common Islamic heritage while acknowledging the entanglements and creative encounters between and within cultures? It remains to be seen what the outcome of this clash will be. It is clear though that underlying the conflict between them are struggles for power and control of the Muslim community in places as far apart as Uganda, Nigeria, and Mali.

Women and Islam

With respect to gender issues, Islam did not introduce patriarchy to Africa. In fact, many African societies were patriarchal and polygamous even before their encounter with Islam. Nevertheless, where Islam was introduced and its values incorporated in the socioeconomic and political structures of these societies (especially those with a propensity for state or empire building), a hierarchical social organization resulted in which there were clear demarcations of male and female spheres of activity. This, of course, did vary from society to society. For instance, the Yoruba women of southwestern Nigeria continued to be market women even after the coming of Islam whereas their Hausa counterparts in northern Nigeria tended to lead more secluded lives. It is significant to note that the Mahdiyya movement, which was established in 1941 in southern Nigeria by the scholar Muammad Jumat Imam, emphasized the education of women, their attendance of mosques together with men, and their inclusion in public affairs. By way of comparison, among the Tuareg-Berbers of the Sahara, who tend to be matriarchal, their unveiled women continued to enjoy far more freedom of movement than their Arab counterparts in North Africa.

Mysticism, and its chant practices and the spirit possession cults, provided an opening or opportunity for the acceptance of female authority, for instance, Sokna Magat Diop of the Murids, or religious leadership located within the female realm. Moreover, the Qādirīyah order did not challenge the female leadership of Shaykh Binti Mtumwa, a former slave or person of low status, who founded a branch of the order in Malawi and was successful in attracting many women. Therefore, both possession cults and ūfī brotherhoods have allowed women to establish a sphere of action in hierarchical societies where control of the state is a male domain. These orders have incorporated women in both East and West Africa, especially in the area of education and fund raising, although women have a much larger scope in Senegal than Nigeria in brotherhood leadership.

There are Muslim women who, during the period of economic hardship at the end of the twentieth and beginning of the twenty-first centuries, have began to articulate issues of cultural authenticity rooted in Islamic identity in opposition to what has been perceived as Western cultural domination. They reject Western feminism, which they see as an extension of Western cultural domination and which sets Western values and ideas as the normative values. The role of these women has expanded as liberalization of the political process and the emergence of multi-party politics have led them to establish organizations and to embrace a particular agenda, including the Muslim dress code, and become involved in cultural politics. The Islamists and radical reformist activists are engaged in contesting existing gender relations and social justice. Islamists use the text (scripture) as their framework, whereas the secular activists' frame of reference is based on certain abstract concepts such as egalitarianism, humanism, human rights, and pluralism, concepts which have emerged from Western discourses on the subject.

The above examples indicate that the roles of men and women are constantly changing, especially due to urbanization, education, and cross-cultural contacts. For some women these changes have generated new freedom and opportunities for self-improvement.

Islamic Law in Africa

In the political domain, Islam united much of Africa in the past and was willing to accommodate local, including legal, practices. Nevertheless, as the level of Islamization deepened, learned Muslim scholars began to call for a strict interpretation of the sharī ʿah or Islamic law which they saw as different from the African legal and customary practices. Some obvious areas of difference included, for instance, the emphasis on individual ownership of land (and property inheritance through the male side of the family), whereas in various African societies land belonged to the community. Also, some have suggested, the way Islamic law was interpreted tended to give men more power over property matters than perhaps was the case in some African societies. Yet, comparative data across a number of African societies is needed to make this a meaningful comparison.

Unlike its African counterpart which is customary and unwritten, Islamic law, which covers both public and private life, is written, providing an extensive institutional framework within which Muslim qāī analyze legal issues and deduce new laws to handle new situations in the ummah. Its emphasis is on the rights or obligations of individuals, whereas African customary law (in which economic and social relations, especially in "stateless" societies, were regulated by customs maintained by social pressure and the authority of elders) is based on kinship ties in matters of marriage and property. It extends to commercial and criminal law and also has rules regarding the conduct of political leaders or those entrusted with authority. In their encounter with other legal systems, European colonial powers left these systems functioning in some societies (for instance, in Sudan and Nigeria as part of the British self-serving policy of indirect rule) while in others they allowed Muslim judges to apply Islamic civil and family law, except in criminal matters, which were tried by European courts. In the post-colonial period, the scope of Islamic law, where it is applied, is limited to religious issues and civil cases as the modern trend, with its emphasis on equal rights of citizens, is to have laws that apply across the board without recognizing any distinctions based on religion or gender.

The decision to recognize or not recognize Islamic laws in many African states after independence has created tensions and political controversy, especially when the secular elites have sought to forge a uniform system of law or at least have attempted to modify Muslim personal law, in aspects such as marriage for girls, to bring it in line with the inherited Western law and African customary practices. There has been a wide variety of responses to this dilemma regarding how much scope to give to religious laws. Mozambique, for instance, has made attempts to recognize traditional and religious marriages (thus doing the basic minimum) whereas Sudan has made sharīʿah the law of the state. The call by Muslim groups in northern Nigeria for nationalization of Islamic law has unleashed the sharīʿah debate, a source of tension in national politics in a country where at the very least only half or slightly more than half the population is Muslim. In African Muslim societies in general, however, it has been noted that there is often an anti-state discourse underlying the call for Islamic law by Muslim groups. These groups seek to foster their religious and cultural autonomy in societies where the state and secular institutions have neglected to respond to their needs.

Islamization of African Languages

Arabic as the language of Islam has provided abstract concepts, particularly religious ones, which reveal Islamic modes of thought and expression. Islamic influence is, in fact, revealed both at the explicit and suggestive levels in languages as different as the Berber dialects, Hausa, Fulani, Mandingo, Swahili, and Somali, to name just a few. These languages have absorbed the Islamic worldview, though at some level languages such as Swahili have been progressively secularized over time, during and after the colonial period, making them more neutral. Since the eighteenth century, religious poems, sermons, devotional prayers, and litanies have been committed to writing in some of these Muslim languages of Africa, and legal manuals have been translated from Arabic to these languages.

The written word has been held in such high esteem in Islamic culture that wherever Islam has reached in Africa versions of its script have been adopted in those regions of sustained contact. Moreover, Islamic penetration of Africa introduced Arabic as the language of religious discourse among scholars, official correspondence between Islamized states, and historical writing during the period of the Muslim kingdoms. The priceless Tombouctou Arabic manuscripts, which still survive though precariously, once fully studied and analyzed by scholars will likely demolish the conventional historical view of Africa as a purely "oral continent." Both East and West Africa have also produced Afro-Islamic literature, from the panegyrics of the Prophet to poetry, based on local languages that have absorbed many Arabic words in the spheres of religion, politics, and commerce. In some of these areas, the written word though has competed with the oral literature, especially among such clan-based people as the Somali.

Future of Islam in Africa

In the twenty-first century's era of globalization, Islam in Africa will continue to oscillate between accommodation and reform (both internally and externally generated), particularism and universalism, quietism and political activism, although increasingly the latter is the case in a significant number of countries in this era of Islamic resurgence worldwide. Islam has sought to penetrate Western secular cultures whose institutions and ideologies have not functioned well in Africa. In Muslim northern Nigeria, for instance, the sharīʿah debate is seen by some as masking concerns with Nigeria's federal system and is taking the form of cultural self-determination, cultural insecurity (in the wake of Western-driven globalization), and as a political-bargaining strategy for a region that thinks it is losing influence. Similarly, in Uganda in the 1990s, the increasing radicalization of Muslim Salafī and reformist groups, revealing social-economic forces at play and issues of inclusion or "full-citizenship," was partly a response to what was perceived as the failure of national institutions to provide social services.

See Also



By far the single most important volume to date on the history of the development of Islam in Africa is The History of Islam in Africa, edited by Randall Pouwels and Nehemia Levtzion, (Athens, 2000). This will no doubt remain the definitive study on the subject for some time. Earlier works, though dated, that laid the foundations of serious study of Islam in sub-Saharan Africa include those by J. Spencer Trimingham, Islam in the Sudan (Oxford, 1959), Islam in Ethiopia (Oxford, 1952), Islam in West Africa (Oxford, 1959), A History of Islam in West Africa (Oxford, 1962), and Islam in East Africa (Oxford, 1964). For broad historical outlines of the regions where Islam spread, consult the relevant sections in The Cambridge History of Africa, eight volumes, (London, 1975). Other useful texts include Peter Clark's West Africa and Islam (London, 1982) and Islam in Tropical Africa, second edition, edited by I. M. Lewis (Oxford, 1980).

The Institute for the Study of Islamic Thought in Africa (ISITA) at Northwestern University has produced a series of important publications, such as "Arabic Literature of Africa," in a projected six volume series, of which the first four have already appeared. They include Volume 1: The Writings of Eastern Sudanic Africa to c. 1900, edited by R. S. O'Fahey, (Leiden, 1994) and Volume 2: The Writings of Central Sudanic Africa to c. 1900, edited by John Hunwick, (Leiden, 1996). The proceedings of the yearly ISITA colloquia have also produced The Transmission of Knowledge in Islamic Africa, edited by Scott Reese, (Leiden, 2004).

The most significant Arabic sources are now available in English or French translations. Among them are those that appear in the series "Fontes Historiae Africanae." Many external Arabic sources before the sixteenth century are collected in the Corpus of Early Arabic Sources for West African History, edited by Nehemia Levtzion and J. F. P. Hopkins (Cambridge, U.K., 1981). Four chronicles from Tombouctou are now available in French: Taʿrikh al-Fattash, translated by O. Houdas and M. Delafosse (Paris, 1913); Taʿrikh al-Sudan, translated by O. Houdas (Paris, 1899); Tadhkirat al-Nisyan, translated by O. Houdas (Paris, 19131914); Tombouctou au Milieu du dix-huitieme siecle d'apres la Chronique de Mawlay al-Qasim, translated by M. Abithol (Paris, 1982). Al-Maghili's text has been translated by John O. Hunwick as Shariʿah in Sunghay: The Replies of al-Maghili to the Questions of Askiya al-Hajj Muammad (London, 1985). On the jihād in Sokoto, see ʿAbd Allah ibn Fudi's Tazyin al-Waraqat, translated by M. Hiskett Ibadan, 1963, and Usuman dan Fodio's Bayan wujub al-hijrah, translated by F. H. al-Masri. See also al-Hajj Umar's Bayan ma Waqaʿa, translated by M. Mahibou and J. L. Triaud, (Paris, 1983).

On Islam in the early states of western Sudan, see Levtzion's Ancient Ghana and Mali (London, 1973). This may be followed by John Hunwick's Timbuctu and the Songhay Empire: Al-Sadi's Tarikh Al-Sudan down to 1613 and Other Contemporary Documents (Leiden, 1999) and Elias Saad's Social History of Timbuctu: The Role of Muslim Scholars and Notables, 14001900 (New York, 1983). A new approach to the study of Muslim religious figures was opened by Lamin O. Sanneh's The Jakhanke: The History of an Islamic Clerical People of the Senegambia (London, 1979) and Piety and Power (New York, 1996). In Muslim Chiefs and Chiefs in West Africa (Oxford, 1968), Levtzion has analyzed patterns of integration of Muslims into the sociopolitical system of West African states. See also Rural and Urban Islam in West Africa (Boulder, Colo., 1987), edited by Levtzion and J. Humphrey.

For more information about two south Saharan societies that influenced West African Islam, see H. T. Norris's The Tuaregs: Their Islamic Legacy and Its Diffusion in the Sahel (Warminster, U.K., 1975) and C. C. Stewart's Islam and Social Order in Mauritania (Oxford, 1973).

On the important role of Sufism in Africa, see H. T. Norris's Sufi Mystics of the Niger Desert: Sidi Mahmut and the Hermits of Air (Oxford, 1990), Charisma and Brotherhood in African Islam, edited by D. C. O'Brien and C. Coulson (Oxford, 1988) and Bradford G. Martin's Muslim Brotherhoods in Nineteenth Century Africa (New York, 1976). Essays on the precursors and leaders of the jihāds are presented in Studies in West African Islamic History: The Cultivators of Islam, edited by John R. Willis, (London, 1979). For the major jihād movements and products of the jihād, see Mervin Hiskett's The Sword of Truth: The Life and Times of Shehu Usuman dan Fodio, second edition, (Evanston, Ill., 1994); B. B. Mack and J. Boyd's One Woman's Jihad: Nana Asmaʾu, Scholar and Scribe (Bloomington, Ind., 2000); Michael Gomez's Pragmatism in the Age of Jihad (Cambridge, U.K., and New York, 1993); Yves Person's Samori: Une revolution dyula, three volumes, (Nimes, France, 19681975); and Thomas Hodgkin's "The Radical Tradition in Muslim West Africa," in Essays on Islamic Civilization, edited by D. P. Little, (Leiden, 1976).

On Islam during the period of French colonialism in Africa, see Christopher Harrison's France and Islam in West Africa, 18601960 (Cambridge, U.K., and New York, 2003). For Islam in the modern politics of Africa, consult Religion and National Integration in Africa: Islam, Christianity, and Politics in the Sudan and Nigeria, edited by John Hunwick, (Evanston, Ill., 1992), A. El-Affendi's Turabi's Revolution: Islam and Power in Sudan (London, 1991), African Islam and Islam in Africa, edited by D. Westerlund and E. E. Rosander, (London, 1997), and Lansine Kaba's The Wahhabiyya: Islamic Reform and Politics in French West Africa (Evanston, Ill., 1974).

Specialized studies on Islam in East Africa have also began to appear, including Anne Bang's Sufis and Scholars of the Sea: Family Networks in East Africa, 18601925 (London, 2003); Randall Pouwels' Horn and Crescent (Cambridge, U.K. and New York, 1989); Abdin Chande's Islam, Ulamaa, and Community Development in Tanzania (San Francisco, Calif., 1998); Islam in Kenya, edited by Mohamed Bakari and Saad Yahya, (Nairobi, Kenya, 1995); and August Nimtz Jr.'s Islam and Politics in East Africa: The Sufi Order in Tanzania (Minneapolis, 1980). Interpretive studies, with numerous illustrations that represent the best of Muslim artistry and design in Africa, are offered in Rene Bravmann's African Islam (London, 1983); Labelle Prussin's Hatumere: Islamic Design in West Africa (Berkeley, Calif., 1986); and Islamic Art and Culture in Sub-Saharan Africa, edited by K. Dahl and B. Sahlstrom, (Uppsala, Sweden, 1995).

On popular Islam, as well as encounters between African ancestral religions and Islam, see Dean Gilland's African Religion Meets Islam: Religious Change in Northern Nigeria (Lanham, Md., 1986), and David Owusu-Ansah's Islamic Talismanic Tradition in Nineteenth Century Asante (Lewiston, N.Y., 1991). On Islam in the periphery, see A. Tayob's Islam in South Africa: Mosques, Imams, and Sermons (Gainesville, Fla., 1999).

Nehemia Levtzion (1987)

Abdin Chande (2005)

About this article

Islam: Islam in Sub-Saharan Africa

Updated About content Print Article