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Imtiyaz Yusuf
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Tanzania is an East African nation formed out of the union of Tanganyika and Zanzibar in 1964. Tanganyika became independent in 1961, and Zanzibar in 1963. The current population of Tanzania is 37 million, of which one million inhabit Zanzibar island. The population on the mainland is 35 percent Muslims, 30 percent Christian, and 35 percent indigenous, while 99 percent of the population of Zanzibar is Muslim.

The earliest Muslims to arrive in Tanzania were two Ibādī princes belonging to the Ibādī Julanda dynasty of South Arabia, fleeing from the Umayyad invasion of 696 CE; they were followed in the eighth and ninth centuries by the followers of Zayd bin ʿAlī, the grandson of Ḥusayn, the fourth Imam of the Shīʿah, and subsequently by the Sunnīs of the Shāfiʿī madhhāb and Shīrāzīs from Persia. The existence of the still-functioning mosque at Kizimkazi in Zanzibar, built in 1007, offers evidence of the full presence of Islam in the Indian Ocean zone by the eleventh century, resulting in the formation of the Swahili Muslim culture of East Africa. The main features of this culture were the Swahili language, formed out of the intermingling of Bantu, Arabic, Persian, and Indian languages, and the cultural aspiration to become ustraarabu—civilized.

The Portuguese gained control over Zanzibar in 1530, bringing the whole coast under their rule. The Portuguese rule lasted until 1729, when it was overthrown by the Bū Saʿīdīs from Oman in alliance with local Swahilis, who first took over Mombasa, and then Zanzibar. The Zanzibar Sultanate was established in 1832 with the arrival of Sayyid Saʿīd bin Sulṭān from Oman. The sultanate became a British Protectorate in 1890.

Important religious changes took place during the period of the Zanzibar Sultanate. As a result of the distance from Oman, the local Ibādīs gradually adapted themselves to the Shāfiʿī madhhāb, and by 1880 several African tribes had become Islamized. The Ṣūfī orders of the Qādirīyah and Shādhilīyah played a major role in African conversion to Islam, especially during the era of German colonialism (1885–1918). The coastal territory from the northern border with Kenya to the southern border with Mozambique and extending internally to Lake Tanganyika became predominantly Muslim. Although the spread of Islam slowed down during the period of British Protectorate (1918–1961), international Islamic trends such as Pan-Islamism and Islamic modernism made an impact on local efforts at religious and educational reform during this period and in the early years after independence. Other Muslim sects such as Khoja Ismāʿīlis, Khoja Ithnā ʿAsharīs, and Bohrās are also present in Tanzania.

After World War I, Muslims and the Ṣūfī orders played a central role in the Tanzanian independence movement through such organizations as the Tanganyika African Association, formed in 1929; the Tanganyika African National Union (TANU), formed in 1954; and the All-Muslim National Union of Tanganyika (AMNUT), formed in 1957.

In 1967, Tanzania embarked on the political ideology of Ujamaa socialism—a version of non-Marxian African socialism formulated by the first president of Tanzania, Julius Nyerere. In 1977, the leading mainland party TANU and the Afro-Shirazi Party (ASP), the sole ruling party in Zanzibar, were merged to form a united party called Chama Cha Mpinduzi (CCM). During the era of Ujamaa socialism, religious activities were nationalized. The main Muslim welfare organization, the East African Muslim Welfare Society (EAMWS), which was led by African Muslim nationalists and not Ujamaa socialists, was banned in 1968 and replaced by Baraza Kuu La Waislam Wa Tanzania (BAKWATA) in order to streamline Tanzanian Islam along the lines of the political ideology of Ujamaa socialism. Muslim opposition to the ideologization of Islam was represented by the emergence of young Muslim activists who in 1975 established Warsha Ya Waandshi Wa Kiislamu (Muslim Writers Workshop) within BAKWATA; they were influenced by the worldwide phenomenon of Islamic resurgence in the 1970s and 1980s. These activists sought to topple the pro-Ujamaa leadership of BAKWATA but were expelled from the group in 1982.

Tanzania became a multiparty state in 1992, and the first multiparty elections were held in 1994, then again in 2000 and 2005. CCM won all three elections with majority votes on both the mainland and the island of Zanzibar. It has become an unwritten rule in Tanzanian politics to rotate the presidency between a Muslim and a Christian. In 2008, the president was Jakaya Kikwete, a Muslim. There are eighteen political parties in Tanzania; the main opposition political party, the Civic United Front (CUF), is a liberal party with popular support in Zanzibar.

Since the late 1980s, several Muslim organizations have emerged in the country representing different Islamic trends, including Uendelazaji Koran Tanzania (Tanzania Quranic Council); Dar es Salaam University Muslim Trusteeship; Baraza Kuu la Jamuia na Taasisi za Kisslam (the Supreme Council of Islamic Organizations); Bimillahi (In the Name of Allah); and Jumuia ya Uamsho na Mihadhara, also known as Uamsho (Revival and Propagation Organization), an umbrella group for fundamentalist Muslim organizations. The country 's first Muslim university was founded in 2006 in the town of Morogoro and is managed by the Muslim Development Foundation, a group of private Muslim investors.

Generally, Islam in Tanzania is of a moderate type, but certain political, social, and economic grievances may find expression in religious sentiments that cause tensions between Muslims and Christians. These grievances are mainly caused by historical gaps in the educational and economic opportunities available to Muslims and Christians. African Muslims faced discrimination during the colonial era; however, the open political system has allowed for freedom of expression. For example, Zanzibaris who are not in favor of the political union between former Tanganyika and Zanzibar and those who are not happy with the 2001 Mufti law that is believed to give undue control to the government in the management of Muslim affairs have expressed their opposition in politico-religious terms. They have protested that the Mufti law gives too much power of control to the government and this may be used by the state to curb religious freedom. In order to promote religious tolerance, political leaders of the country have promoted interreligious dialogue and activities.

See also ISLAM, subentry on ISLAM IN SUB-SAHARAN AFRICA; and OMAN.


  • Martin, B. G.Muslim Brotherhoods in 19th Century Africa. Cambridge, 1976.
  • Nimtz, August. Islam and Politics in East Africa: The Ṣūfī Order in Tanzania. Minneapolis, Minn., 1980.
  • Pouwels, Randall L.Horn and Crescent: Cultural Change and Traditional Islam on the East African Coast 800–1900. Cambridge, N.Y., 1987.
  • Rosander, Eva, and David Westerlund, eds.African Islam and Islam in Africa. Athens, Ohio, 1997.
  • Westerlund, David. Ujamaa na Dini—Some Aspects of Society and Religion in Tanzania. Stockholm, 1980.
  • Yusuf, Imtiyaz. “Islam and African Socialism: A Study of the Interactions Between Islam and Ujamaa Socialism In Tanzania.” Ph.D. diss., Temple University, 1990.
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