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Islam in North Africa

In: Religion Topics

Submitted By Sadiya94
Words 3166
Pages 13
Fatima
Soleman Abdi Idd
Hist 275
Essay 1 :

Islam was born in the Hijaz in the 7th century and expanded to the rest of the Middle East where its key institutions were established. Simultaneously, it went through a rapid wave of expansion and eventually reached the African continent though North Africa and was progressively embraced in Sub-Saharan Africa. However, we cannot say there was such a thing as a unique process of expansion of Islam because an African identity was inexistent. Indeed, the continent and especially our area of focus, consisting of North Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa, was composed of different regions defined by their ethnicity and their ancestry. Furthermore, the physical separation created by the Sahara desert also played a major role into accentuating the disparities. We will explore here, how the introduction of Islam in both regions differed significantly and how in the secondary phase of “rooting” of the faith, this key difference in the first contacts the religion had in these two regions led to the establishment of two distinct Islams. Finally, we will demonstrate that when we look beyond the complexity of both processes, they ultimately share many similarities.

The main difference in the process of arrival of Islam in North Africa and Sub-Saharan African is displayed by the rapidity of expansion. Whereas by 720, North Africa was controlled by the Muslims, the adoption of Islam below the Sahara appeared to be more slowly paced and gradual.There exists such a disparity because of the modes of introduction of Islam in both regions. While Islam was imposed in North Africa, we can say Islam arrived in Sub-Saharan in a more pacific manner and we can even suggest that its adoption was negotiated. In North Africa, the spreading of Islam was part of the great empire building process undertook by the Caliphs, Muhammad’s successors which took place within decades after the birth of Islam in the Arabian peninsula. The invasion of North Africa commenced in 640 and was ordered by the Caliph Umar and started with the conquest of Egypt and Tripolitania, which were part of the Byzantine Empire. It was then followed by the invasion of what we call the Maghreb today and consists of the currents Morocco Algeria and Tunisia. The process of occupation wasn’t pacific as Arab armies or Arab led armies conducted the Jihad of the sword and had to confront the resistance of the local populations such as some of the Berber communities established in Western Northern Africa. For instance one of the most famous Berber revolt was led by the Queen Al-Kahina between 692 and 698. As a direct consequence, there has been overall a phenomenon of mass conversion in the Northern part of the continent, which was later shown by the apparition of unified Islamic caliphate before the 9th century such as the Fatimid dynasty, one of the most important Caliphate in the history of Islam and that started in Ifriqiya (modern Tunisia and Libya) and later expanded to the rest of North Africa and included parts of Yemen and the Hijaz . Furthermore, there exists no cases of forced conversion but although there wasn’t a direct imposition of Islam to the local populations, the Jizyah tax to the non Muslims and more specifically to the people of the Book, gave incentives to convert to Islam in order to avoid monetary burden. Similarly conserving a position of authority often implied converting. Because the initial Arab conquests didn’t go through the arduous effort of crossing the Sahara in their mission of spreading Islam, we observe that the arrival of Islam in Sub-Saharan Africa was much more progressive. Although we face an absence of local documented sources and precise chronologic indications of when exactly Islam was first introduced in the region, the written chronicles of certain important travelers and historians who crossed the Sahara and were welcomed in medieval African empires allow us to reconstruct the history of events which often suggest an adoption of the religion that was more negotiated than imposed. We are able to associate the first presence of Islam with the Transsaharan trade. Some Berbers and Arab merchants ran important networks of trade and exposed the local groups to their faith. By the 9th century, there was an expatriate Muslim community in the city of Gao composed of Muslim Arabs and Berber merchants. But the Muslims were isolated from the rest of the population and lived in their own quartiers. Therefore, the first ones to convert to Islam were the traders in contact with the Muslims and the majority of the inhabitants of trade centers such as the city of Gao remained adherents of the traditional religions. What really accelerated the process of Islamization was when rulers converted because they were in most cases followed by the rest of the population. For instance, the Andalusian geographer Al Bakri tells the story of a West African king who converted to Islam and rejected sorcery and idolatry after a Muslim scholar was able to pray for rain during a period of severe drought. His descendants and the elite surrounding him also accepted Islam as a superior religion. This specific example shows that Islam was regarded as a superior religion because of its spiritual dimension but not because of the monotheistic faith. The other major example of a king accepting Islam was the conversion of Sundiata Keita. However, his conversion was mainly a tool to gain a better position with the Arabs, who held much of the trade in western Africa. In the case of the arrival of Islam in Subsahran Africa, I used the term negotiation because what really led to a greater number of converts was the result of a process that introduced Islam in a manner that suited more people’s needs and the circumstances.

As a direct consequence of this imposition vs negotiation model of introducing Islam, there was a major difference between the way North Africans and West Africans have appropriated Islam. After the Arabs’ victory was declared in the region extending from Egypt to Morocco, besides the adoption of Islam as a religion, we start observing the establishment of an Islamic culture in the region. Indeed, even after the end of the conquering period, there was still a dominant presence of the Arab culture, which is why the process of islamization in Africa is often referred to as “arabization”. First, it is important to mention that there existed cultural affinities between the Bedouin culture and the Berber culture in the sense that both were nomadic cultures that mastered the desert, which might have the propagation of an Arab culture easier among the Berber communities. Furthermore, with Arabic quickly replacing Latin as the administrative language of the region and after just several centuries, Arabic became dominant in North Africa and many Berber languages got displaced. Moreover, with the continuing arrival of Arab immigrants, we also assist to a displacement of some of the Berbers’ traditional animistic religions, which were a fundamental part of their culture. Furthermore, as we’ve seen earlier, by the 9th century, the set up of Islamic states and principalities starts occurring with the emergence of early Islamic dynasties such as the consolidation of the Aghlabids, initially consisting of Sunnis from Arabia. Their dynasty was centered in Qayrawan in Ifriqiya where they founded centers of learning and a legal system based on the Maliki School of law. Consequently, we are able to draw the conclusion that the introduction of Islam in North Africa was accompanied with the local populations embracing the Arab culture until homogeneity was created. Across the Sahara however, we can’t say that the progressive adoption of Islam was synonym with “Arabization”. Instead, we observe a phenomenon of symbiosis between Islam as a religion and the existing traditions and culture of West African communities. For instance, the traveller Ibn Battuta in his narrative of his journey in Mali mentions amongst what he disliked about the “blacks”, the fact that the serving women “appear before people naked, exposing their private parts” and this even during the holy month of Ramadan. On the other hand, the presence of religious pluralism was observed in the region. The best example would be the reign of Sunni Ali in the Songhay Empire in the second half of the 15th century, which shows that although Islam was well implanted in the empire, there was still adherence to traditional religions. It can be shown through Sunni Ali’s own attitude towards Islam; although he embraced Islam and valued its notoriety; he was convinced that his political and military success was due to his knowledge of traditional divination and the spiritual powers he had inherited from his ancestors. Finally, what we call the Africanization of Islam can be further demonstrated through architecture. In Al Sadi’s tarikh al Sudan, he mentions that around the very beginning of 13th century, Sultan Konboro, the leader of the city of Djenne, which was an important commercial center at the time, had converted to Islam and decided to replace his palace with what we now refer to as the Great Mosque of Djenne, classified as a Unesco World Heritage site. It is completely built out of local materials such as palm wood and reflects an earthen design that embraces the traditional architecture that was found throughout Mali in the time of its construction. The Djenne Mosque owes its uniqueness to the absence of an Arabic conventional architectural style that we often encounter in mosques worldwide.

The process of expansion of Islam in North Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa is way to complex to apply a “black and white” methodology. There are several other factors we need to consider which ultimately show similarity in both processes. First, it wouldn’t be completely correct to differentiate the adoption of Islam in both North and Sub-Saharan Africa as a pacific vs non-pacific model. For instance, we see that the Jihad of the sword also took place in West Africa when the Almoravids with their leader Abu Bakr led a conquest in the important Ghana Empire in 1076. As a result of their victory, the Soninke were compelled to adopt Islam and converted en masse. Similarly, it is not completely true to say Islam was imposed to Berbers in North Africa since there is evidence that the resistance of the Berbers was due to the rejection of the political domination of the Arabs. Indeed, in this particular case, the conquered embraced the religion of their conquerors while aspiring to assert their own independence. For example, in 740, there was a Berber rise against the Arabs, conducted by the leader Mayzara which had for objective to end the Arab military domination in Qayrawan. Indeed, the revolt had nothing to do with the spiritual domination of Islam since Maysara and his followers defined themselves as Kharijis, adherent of the Islamic egalitarian ideology of Kharijism. Second, we need to take the political factor into account since the current political situation in both regions favored the expansion of Islam, which upon its establishment contributed creating political hegemony. In the case of North Africa, the Arab victory was facilitated by the weakening of the Byzantine empire whose hold on North Africa was very fragile at the moment. Indeed, it explains why the most challenging adversaries of the Arabs in their conquest were some Berber tribes who expressed fierce opposition almost everywhere in North Africa. In addition, the Byzantines didn’t manage to have a strong control over this region since the local populations maintained their cultural identity, which helped them conserving some political independence. As we’ve demonstrated previously, less than two centuries after the arrival of Islam there was greater political hegemony with the establishment of important dynasties such as the Fatimids, which displayed tendencies that became permanent. Similarly, at the time when the presence of Islam started becoming important, the majority of Sub-Saharan Africa was in the context of complex state formation. For instance, in the Mali region, there was no centralized state but there were instead clusters of chiefdoms, each with a powerful chief or Mansa at its head that had been able to bring several clans together. At the next level, the process of bringing chiefdoms together was much more complicated since it involved greater military or monetary efforts. Sundiata Keita, the chief of the small chiefdom, however, managed to create unification by conquering other chiefdoms and established the Malinke hegemony of what later becomes the Great Empire of Mali. We see that Sundiata’s conversion to Islam was key in his need to impose over other kingdoms. For example, although he would fulfill the traditional religious functions expected from the non-Muslim population, he would dress as a Muslim when he would meet with the provincial chiefs because it put him in a position of authority. This is further supported by Robin Horton’s intellectualist approach concerning the theory of conversion, which states that the idea of a single God was always existent amongst the West African society. More specifically at the macrocosm level when broader issues such as global trade were being considered, and the magnitude of lesser gods at the village level became insignificant. Consequently, the formation of the Mali Empire was favorable for the expansion of a monotheistic religion since the spirituality at the microcosm level was having less weight. Furthermore, in this particular context, Islam was an essential tool to legitimize authority and to guarantee greater chances of political hegemony. Later, in the Songhay Empire, the apparition of a class of lettered Muslims allowed for the cohesion of populations who were previously separated by territorial traditional cults based on family. Indeed, the literacy brought by Islam allowed the functioning and the improvement of the empire as we see that the Ulamas, muslim scholars, were true pillar during the reign of Askiya Muhammad. Last but not least, it is interesting to observe that although we have previously defined the appropriation of Islam in West Africa as Africanization, there is evidence that the phenomenon of arabization was also present in Sub-Saharan Africa. For instance, claiming to be a Sharifian, affiliated with the noble bloodline of Muhammad’s family, was very advantageous because it allowed distinguishing yourself and legitimizing authority in a Muslim state. There was also a form of holiness associated with the descent of the early companions. For instance, Sundiata Keita, the first leader of the Mali Empire claimed descent from Bilal, freed Abyssinian slave in Medina, who was one of the earliest converts and became the first Muezzin in the history of Islam. Furthermore, Arab Muslims were also able to distinguish themselves and legitimize credibility in terms of diplomacy or institution building. This is the reason why the Songhay leader Askia Muhammad , besides pursuing the development of his own faith and piety, tried to reinforce Islam in his empire by bringing back several Arab Muslim scholars upon his return from the pilgrimage and sent hundreds of young men to study Islam in Medina. Therefore we can say that for Askia Muhammad, integrating Songhay in the Dar Al Islam and legitimizing the Islamic institution of his state meant Arabization.

In conclusion, the context in which Islam was introduced in North Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa was completely different. On the one hand, Islam arrived in North Africa with the early Muslim conquests that had the purpose of spreading the new faith to the people that were still in their period of ignorance. As a result, the victory of the Arabs didn’t only mean political domination but also implied that the local populations had to convert to Islam, the religion of their vanquishers. Clearly, there wasn’t much room for choice in this case. As a direct consequence, the Arab culture was also embraced in the centuries following the conquests. On the other hand, in Sub-Saharan Africa, the gradual adoption of Islam was due to a peaceful initiative led by traders and holy men which allowed for much more flexibility in the appropriation of Islam and made possible the Africanization of Islam, consisting of a symbiosis with the local culture. However, when we look beyond these complex processes dealing with a very long period of time and several ethnic groups, we are able to see that there isn’t only one way to perceive the matter and we can draw the conclusion that two processes aren’t that different. Indeed they are similar when we notice that the expansion of Islam in both regions was possible because of the political instability of both regions. This is further proven when we see the failure of the establishment of Islam in Abyssinia, which was already a strong centralized state with a strong Christian identity. Finally, when we observe the current situation of Islam in Africa, we notice that tendencies change. For instance, we see in Algeria, Berber groups such as the Kabyle who are trying to reassert their identity by regaining their ancestral culture and language that was lost at the expense of an Arab culture and language. In West Africa, the reappearance of the Jihad of the sword in Nigeria shows the determination of some Northern Nigerians to reinforce an Islamic institution in their state.

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[ 3 ]. Hiskett, M. "North Africa." The Course of Islam in Africa. Edinburgh: Edinburgh UP, 1994. N. pag. Print. (page 3)
[ 4 ]. Ernst, Carl W. Following Muhammad: Rethinking Islam in the Contemporary World. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina, 2003. Print, (page 120)
[ 5 ]. Clarke, Peter B. West Africa and Islam: A Study of Religious Development from the 8th to the 20th Century. London: E. Arnold, 1982. Print.page 47
[ 6 ]. http://www.islamawareness.net/Africa/afri_article001.html
[ 7 ]. http://epicworldhistory.blogspot.com/2012/09/sundiata-king-of-mali.html
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[ 9 ]. Hiskett, M. "North Africa." The Course of Islam in Africa. Edinburgh: Edinburgh UP, 1994. N. pag. Print. (page 3)
[ 10 ]. Batuta, Ibn, Said Hamdun, and Noel Quinton. King. Ibn Battuta in Black Africa. Princeton: M. Wiener, 1994. Print. (page 59)
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[ 12 ]. Robinson, David. Muslim Societies in African History. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge UP, 2004. Print. (page 39)
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...revelation by the angel Gabriel (so 40 years and was the first revelation came when the prophet). In the year 622, Islam becomes uninhabitable in Mecca, the pressures of the Meccans against Muslims, the Prophet of Medina. Muhammad (pbuh) Prophet reasons like to invite. Muhammad and his Companions emigrated from Mecca to Medina.EMIGRATION called this event in Islamic history. Hijrah, the Prophet. Omar was considered the beginning of time Hijri calendar. HZ. MUHAMMAD (s.a.v.) IN THE TRIPS Battle of Badr (624) Causes; Muslims further away from the desired strength to be removed, to follow the caravan to Mecca, Muslims, seek to prevent the Muslims of Mecca trade. Muslims won the battle. Results; Islam and Muslims gained strength, the Meccans seized a large amount of booty and prisoners. Battle of Badr, the first major war between Muslims and Meccans. Muslims they won the first battle against the Meccans. Battle of Uhud (625) Causes; Meccans, they want to avenge the Battle of Badr, Damascus wants to take to secure trade routes, they want to conquer the Muslims of Mecca caravan trade.Meccans won the battle. Trench War (627) Reason; Meccans they want to blow an end to Muslims. Muslims won the battle. Results; Meccans they understand you can not beat the Muslims, the Meccans defense, Muslims were attacked, has accelerated the spread of Islam. Hudeybiye Peace (628) was among the Muslims with the Meccans. This treaty with the Meccans Muslims......

Words: 487 - Pages: 2

Premium Essay

Islam

...Islam is a monotheistic religions convention that created in the seventh century C.e. Islam, which actually signifies "surrender" or "accommodation," it was established on the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad as a statement of surrender to the will of Allah, the inventor and sustainer of the world. The Quran, the holy content of Islam, contains the teachings of the Prophet that were uncovered to him from Allah. Crucial to Islam is the conviction that Allah is the one and genuine God with no accomplice or equivalent. Islam has a few extensions and much mixture inside those limbs. The two divisions inside the convention are the Sunni and Shi'a, each of which claims diverse method for keeping up religious power. One of the binding together attributes of Islam is the Five Pillars, the essential practices of Islam. These five methods incorporate a custom calling of confidence, custom petition to God, the zakat (philanthropy), fasting and the hajj (a journey to Mecca). Numerous Muslims are described by their dedication to appealing to Allah five times each day. One of the characterizing qualities of Islam is the supremacy of sacrosanct spots including Mecca, Medina, and Jerusalem. Muslims accumulate at mosques to love Allah, supplicate, and study scripture. There is not a sharp refinement between the religious and mainstream parts of life in Islam; all parts of a Muslim's life are to be arranged to serve Allah. Islam extended practically promptly past its origin in the Arabian......

Words: 651 - Pages: 3

Premium Essay

Islam

...Islam Change over time ! The spread of Islam throughout the world was among the most significant worldwide movements in history. Beginning as the faith of a small community of believers in Arabia in the seventh century, Islam rapidly became one of the major world religions. The core of this faith is the belief that Muhammad (570-632), a respected businessman in Mecca, a commercial and religious center in western Arabia, received revelations from God that have been preserved in the Qur'an. The core of Islam remains the same today after 1396 years. Islam still translates to “submission” and Muslims still live by the Qur’an and follow the 5 Pillars of Islam. However, throughout the Pre-Islamic, Umayyad, and Abbasid eras, the political structure that governed the societies that followed Islam differed over the years with some minor continuity. The pre-Islamic era lasted from 400 B.C until the revelation of the Prophet Mohammad in 610 C.E. The lack of Islam evidently created a lack of true unity. The basic social unit of the Bedouin was the kin-related clan. The struggle to survive in the unrelenting Arabian environment led to strong dependence in one’s family and clan. Clans could never rest to maintain everyday lives with their necessities met. Clans were also linked to larger tribal groupings, however these tribal units seldom met together. Additionally, clans would often feud over water rights, animals, or even perceived sights to clan members’ honor, all of which often......

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Islam and Muslims in North America

...Islam and Muslims in North America * With arising consciousness, with American blacks, the idea that very many of them could have been Muslims, got stronger and stronger * There are estimates that between 14-20 % of Africans brought over to America, were Muslims. * The first Muslims: pre-Columbian and Columbian arrivals or visits? * Muslims arrivals through the slave trade, from early 1600’s to Abolition of slavery in 1863 * Muslim migration to North America * African American Muslims- assertion of identity from 20th c. On 1.3rd of total Muslim population in the USA * Converts * Omar ibn Sayyid (1770-1864) * Born in Senegal, he was enslaved and brought into American in 1806. * Prescribed himself out of a teacher and left the slavery expeditions * Was sold to one master, who died * The next one who bought him forced him into hard labour * Although he was baptized, he was still a practising Muslim Muslim Immigration to North America * Immigrant “cohorts” -Pioneer families (19th c. To WWII) -Transitional families(post WWI to 1968) -Differentiated families (From 1968to today) * Issues -Integration -{reserving an identity) -Diversity within (ethnic, religious) -Proselytizing from other faith communities * 60’s are the turning point for Muslim migration -the post war economic boom and economic recovery, necessitates the influx of labour in Europe and in the North America= immigration is incurred. The...

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