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Islam in Africa

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Atlas of the World’s Religions, Second Edition What is This? Depicts the historical development and present state of the world's major religions

    Islam in Africa

    THE RELIGIOUS SITUATION of Africa today is diverse and fluid, reflecting a rich variety of historical developments. Islam and Christianity have co-existed with, and partly assimilated indigenous religions, where the emphasis is on harmony and unity within the clan and the family as well as with the dead and the spirits. While there are Christians of many denominations, the overwhelming majority of Muslims are Sunnis of the Malikite legal school. Exceptions to this can be found in scattered areas of North and East Africa where the Ibadiyah tradition is still present, among Sufi tariqas and in areas of Asian Muslim immigration such as East Africa. Estimates of the number of African Muslims range from 250 to over 400 million – confrontations between Christian and Muslim missionaries make information about religions in Africa unreliable.

    The Spread of Islam in Africa

    The Muslim penetration of Africa has traditionally been associated with conquest, trade, migration and missionary activities, occurring in four main phases. The first dates to the seventh to eighth centuries, with the military conquests of Egypt and much of North Africa; Islamization of the area slowly followed the military presence, with the conversion of much of the Berber population.

    Islam in Africa

    1. Islam in Africa by 1700

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    During the second phase (eleventh to fourteenth centuries), Islam spread across the Sahara into West Africa and up the Nile into the Sudan, travelling along the expanded trade routes which connected West to North Africa. From an area between Morocco and Senegal new Berber converts, later known as the Almoravids, conquered Morocco, crossed to Spain, fought the Christian rulers, and ruled there for nearly a century ( 1056 – 1147 ). In East Africa, Islam travelled down the coast with seafaring Arabs, some of whom settled there and built up coastal cities, such as Sofala and Kilwa, which were major gold-trade ports.

    During the third phase (sixteenth to eighteenth centuries), the influence of Muslim scholars and Sufis, along with Muslim traders, was instrumental in the formation of states ruled by Muslim princes, such as the Muslim sultanate of Funj, or the kingdom of Kanem-Bornu, which became a great trading and military power in the late sixteenth century, famous for the devotion of its rulers and the authority of its ‘ulama’. The greatest state of Saharan Africa was the Songhay empire, Muslim since 1493 , which controlled the trans-Saharan gold trade until its power diminished in the early seventeenth century. During this period, Malays and Javanese emigrated from the Dutch East Indies to South Africa, especially the Cape Town region – the first settlement of Muslims in South Africa.

    Islamic Revival and the Colonial Period

    The fourth phase of Islamic expansion into Africa began in the eighteenth century and was characterized by the influence of Sufi orders, especially the Qadiriyah and the Tijaniyah, as well as Islamic revival and activism, upheld by militant Sufi leaders who declared a jihad, seized political authority and aimed to establish ‘pure’ Islamic governments. The best-known example is the Sokoto state in Hausaland, established in 1804 by Uthman Dan Fodio , while the Mahdist state of Eastern Sudan (1882–96) was the result of a religious-political movement of Islamic renewal fighting against colonists.

    The symbolic start of the colonial era was Napoleon's invasion of Egypt in 1798 . French expansion across North and West Africa had a great impact on both cultural and political developments in the area. The British held the other main share of power, absorbing the sultanate of Sokoto in the West, and controlling a large area of Eastern Africa.

    Islam in Africa

    3. European Colonialism in Northern Africa, c.1290

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    In some countries Sufi orders played a major role in resisting foreign domination. In Libya, for example, a vast network of Sanusi lodges stretched as far west as Timbuktu. The Sanusiyah, with its role in the development of trans-Saharan trade, its organized structure and its local tribal links, served to spread Islam and to organize anti-colonial resistance.

    Contemporary Islam

    In the last few decades there has been a revival of Islam in Africa.In some instances it was a response to secularism, whether imposed from above, as in Nimeiri's Sudan in 1983 , or arising from a popular level as in Nigeria. Islamic missionary activities, often using local missionaries, are flourishing. The close relation of Islam with some African beliefs, for example the belief in good and bad spirits, which is associated with the Muslim belief in jinns, is another reason for Islam's expansion.

    Islam in Africa

    2. Islam in Africa early 1990s

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    Recent immigration waves from South and Southeast Asia to East Africa and, as a result of Ugandan ruler Idi Amin's ( 1971 – 9 ) persecution of Asians, to South Africa, have added to the variety of Islam in the continent. Among them are Sunnis of the Shafi‘i legal school, Shi'is and Pakistani Ahmadis.

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