Islam in Africa: Introduction

Islam’s presence in African history

africaIslam’s presence in African history dates back to the first phase of the Prophet Muhammad’s mission, when in 615 A.D. he instructed a group of Muslims to seek refuge in Abyssinia (present-day Ethiopia).

While this was a short-lived encounter, Muslims eventually left a lasting influence in North Africa which has since spread to western, eastern, and central Africa. In southern Africa, Muslims are tiny but vibrant minorities. Over the centuries, Muslims have made significant contributions to Africa as we know it.

Africa enjoyed unparalleled scholarship and intellectual revival under Muslim rule. Cities such as Cairo, Timbuktu, and Kairouan were academic and cultural hubs which attracted scholars and travelers alike. Today, Cairo houses the world’s second-oldest university, Al-Azhar, and the latter two are UNESCO World Heritage sites. Each of these cities is profiled in this section, complete with historical and intellectual overviews.

Renowned Muslims such as Saladin, Ibn Battuta, and Ibn Khaldun were all linked to Africa by residence or birth and contributed greatly to the traditions of heroism, traveling, and social sciences, respectively. A brief biography of each personality is presented in this section, with a focus on their individual achievements.

Islam has had a lasting impact on Africa, affecting its languages, architecture, and culture. Furthermore, contrary to the conventional belief that a predominantly oral culture has always existed in Africa, a rich literate culture thrived among Africans historically – going back as far as a millennium.

Recently discovered Arabic manuscripts, which had been passed on through descendants for centuries, have proven this beyond a shadow of doubt. In fact, John Hunwick and R.S. O’Fahey are currently collecting them in a comprehensive six-volume series called Arabic Literature of Africa; four of the six volumes have already been published. An article linked below gives details regarding this monumental project.

Lastly, there is emerging mainstream acknowledgement that Islam first came to America through African slaves. Many of these slaves were literate and continued to secretly practice their religion, as in the prominent example of Omar ibn Said. Sylviane Diouf explores their lives in Servants of Allah: African Muslims Enslaved in the Americas, an excerpt from which is included in this section.

In conclusion, Islam had an enduring influence both in Africa and in the lives of the African diaspora, as clearly exhibited through the various articles in this section.

Historical Cities and Figures

African Muslim Slaves in the Americas: An Understudied Presence

 

 

Related Links

History of Islam in Africa by Sulayman Nyang

Saving Africa’s Islamic History

 

 

3 Comments

  1. Tiffany says:

    It is documented in “Roots” by Alex Haley that Kunta Kinte, a slave forced to serve in the Americas, was actually a Muslim.

    It is also believed among Black American scholars that his Deen made him especially difficult for his slavemaster to “break.”
    Alhamdulillah. The slave to Allah (swt) will never be a slave to any man, even if he is held captive.

  2. Impact of Islam in Africa
    • Rise of Islamic empires and kingdoms in Africa. These included the Islamic caliphate states in North Africa and West Africa.
    • Growth of urbanization. Arab settlements especially on the East African coast grew to become important urban centers where Arabic culture and Islam were strongly rooted.
    • Spread of Arabic language and culture: foods, dressing (ustaarabu). Arabic culture was considered more superior to local African culture.
    • Rise of new cultures and new mixed populations such as the Swahili society at the east African coast.
    • Led to a new intellectual awakening in many parts of Africa. Islamic universities such as Timbuktu, Cairo, Fez in Morocco became important centers for the dissemination of knowledge in various fields such as law, history, theology, astronomy, biological sciences etc.
    • New architectural designs in the construction of buildings such as mosques, roads, houses, monuments (minarets) etc.
    • New techniques in the military; use of horses and chariots, swords, arrows and artillery. The Muslim armies were formidable and their techniques were copied by the local people.
    • Spread of agriculture especially the introduction of new breeds of animals such as the donkey, mule, goats, cattle etc and crops from the Middle East such as wheat, rice, spices. The Arabic farming calendar was adopted by many people. An Islamic calendar was divided into months of 10 days known as muongo.
    • New developments in technology and the sciences such as in medicine. The most important area was in alchemy which became the basis of the discipline of Chemistry.
    • Introduction of dynastic rule in the kingdoms and empires established by the Muslims
    • Development of an urban culture
    • Establishment of a class society. Arab settlers (such as the Shirazi and Mazrui in East Africa and the Berbers in Morocco) were at the top and below them were the mixed races and at the bottom were the Africans and slaves.
    • Economic impact. Expansion of regional and international trade. Introduction of new coinage mainly copper and silver coins that replaced barter trade.
    • However, although the spread of Islam was transformative on African societies, it also led to the escalation of violence and competition for territory that did not exist before. The escalation of violence had negative consequences on African societies.
    Impact of Islam in Africa
    • Rise of Islamic empires and kingdoms in Africa. These included the Islamic caliphate states in North Africa and West Africa.
    • Growth of urbanization. Arab settlements especially on the East African coast grew to become important urban centers where Arabic culture and Islam were strongly rooted.
    • Spread of Arabic language and culture: foods, dressing (ustaarabu). Arabic culture was considered more superior to local African culture.
    • Rise of new cultures and new mixed populations such as the Swahili society at the east African coast.
    • Led to a new intellectual awakening in many parts of Africa. Islamic universities such as Timbuktu, Cairo, Fez in Morocco became important centers for the dissemination of knowledge in various fields such as law, history, theology, astronomy, biological sciences etc.
    • New architectural designs in the construction of buildings such as mosques, roads, houses, monuments (minarets) etc.
    • New techniques in the military; use of horses and chariots, swords, arrows and artillery. The Muslim armies were formidable and their techniques were copied by the local people.
    • Spread of agriculture especially the introduction of new breeds of animals such as the donkey, mule, goats, cattle etc and crops from the Middle East such as wheat, rice, spices. The Arabic farming calendar was adopted by many people. An Islamic calendar was divided into months of 10 days known as muongo.
    • New developments in technology and the sciences such as in medicine. The most important area was in alchemy which became the basis of the discipline of Chemistry.
    • Introduction of dynastic rule in the kingdoms and empires established by the Muslims
    • Development of an urban culture
    • Establishment of a class society. Arab settlers (such as the Shirazi and Mazrui in East Africa and the Berbers in Morocco) were at the top and below them were the mixed races and at the bottom were the Africans and slaves.
    • Economic impact. Expansion of regional and international trade. Introduction of new coinage mainly copper and silver coins that replaced barter trade.
    • However, although the spread of Islam was transformative on African societies, it also led to the escalation of violence and competition for territory that did not exist before. The escalation of violence had negative consequences on African societies.

    Impact of Islam in Africa
    • Rise of Islamic empires and kingdoms in Africa. These included the Islamic caliphate states in North Africa and West Africa.
    • Growth of urbanization. Arab settlements especially on the East African coast grew to become important urban centers where Arabic culture and Islam were strongly rooted.
    • Spread of Arabic language and culture: foods, dressing (ustaarabu). Arabic culture was considered more superior to local African culture.
    • Rise of new cultures and new mixed populations such as the Swahili society at the east African coast.
    • Led to a new intellectual awakening in many parts of Africa. Islamic universities such as Timbuktu, Cairo, Fez in Morocco became important centers for the dissemination of knowledge in various fields such as law, history, theology, astronomy, biological sciences etc.
    • New architectural designs in the construction of buildings such as mosques, roads, houses, monuments (minarets) etc.
    • New techniques in the military; use of horses and chariots, swords, arrows and artillery. The Muslim armies were formidable and their techniques were copied by the local people.
    • Spread of agriculture especially the introduction of new breeds of animals such as the donkey, mule, goats, cattle etc and crops from the Middle East such as wheat, rice, spices. The Arabic farming calendar was adopted by many people. An Islamic calendar was divided into months of 10 days known as muongo.
    • New developments in technology and the sciences such as in medicine. The most important area was in alchemy which became the basis of the discipline of Chemistry.
    • Introduction of dynastic rule in the kingdoms and empires established by the Muslims
    • Development of an urban culture
    • Establishment of a class society. Arab settlers (such as the Shirazi and Mazrui in East Africa and the Berbers in Morocco) were at the top and below them were the mixed races and at the bottom were the Africans and slaves.
    • Economic impact. Expansion of regional and international trade. Introduction of new coinage mainly copper and silver coins that replaced barter trade.
    • However, although the spread of Islam was transformative on African societies, it also led to the escalation of violence and competition for territory that did not exist before. The escalation of violence had negative consequences on African societies.

  3. Reform India's Muslim Personal Law, Breach the Stagnation in Muslim Religious Thought, Use the Opportunity to Work out A New Islamic Theology of Peace, Pluralism and Gender Equality

    Sultan Shahin, Editor, New Age Islam
    (www.newageislam.com)

    It is for the government of India to take a call in the matter. Why should Indian Muslim women not deserve the protection of Islam provided to their counterparts in Pakistan, Bangladesh and elsewhere, practically in the entire Islamic world, except Saudi Arabia. … Why should Indian Muslims suffer the indignities imposed by the British in our land under an Anglo-Mohammedan law? …
    A debate kick-started by Personal Law reforms may then provide us an opportunity to take the issue of theological reforms to other areas too, which are far more important to the community and our religion. Personal Law debate would bring out the obscurantism of our ulema to the fore. It would bring out their lack of concern for Islam or Muslims.
    We have to virtually create, find acceptance for and popularise a new Islamic theology of peace, coexistence, inclusiveness, pluralism and gender equality.
    The stagnation, total lack of any theological debate, in the Muslim community, just has to be breached and broken. The stagnation suits the Islamist extremists who have a very coherent, well-designed, well-thought-out theology of violence and exclusivism, hatred and intolerance, as well as gender inequality and discrimination.
    http://goo.gl/hdPLJx

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