West Africans developed a unique religious parallelism with Islam and because of its ability to co-exist, shared local authority. There are misunderstandings about the historical role of Arab Bedouin military conquests during the initial spread of Islam in Africa. The second myth purports Arab Bedouin merchants brought Islam to Africa, and Arab military might destroyed African institutions and cultures. The spread of Islam south of the Sahara owes very little to Arab military occupation. What is more accurate is that Arab merchants reported to wealthy Arab sponsors the religious appetite Africans had for Islam.
In time, teachers and imams relocated to African towns and became responsible for the spread of Islam. The role of the merchant was the introduction of Islam and a precursor of Arabization. It was, however, the scholarly community, the teachers and imams, who became the agents of Islamization. Merchants certainly inspired an intellectual curiosity about Islam, and on return to their homelands, they reported, as mentioned previously, the eagerness of the Africans to learn more about Islam. Typically, local West African rulers embraced Islam first and became the indigenous progenitors of the process of Islamization.
Traveling scholars and imams, as long as they posed no threat to the existing socio-political order, completed the process of Islamization in both East and West Africa.
The masses initially considered Islam an innovation, and had difficulty fitting a universalist concept into their local context. The introduction of Christianity in Africa experienced the same social phenomenon and challenge. In the middle of the fourteenth century, Ibn Batutta attested to the division between indigenous practices and classical Islam. Expressing abhorrence, he wrote of gambling, drinking, sexual deviance, nudity, and idol-worship in Mali under Mansa Musa. Records indicate these practices caused a sterner Askiya Muhammad of the Songhay Empire to be religiously and morally repulsed.
At its peak, the Songhay Empire encompassed much of the territory that had belonged to the Mali Empire in the west.
Malian hierarchy and early Abbasid infrastructure had its similarities and differences. African scholars of Timbuktu, unusually active in the political sphere, lived with more than a modicum of religious authority. The campaign to determine final authority played out between the civil authority of court qadis judges represented on one side, and the ulama Muslim scholars who embraced Islamic theology, on the other side.
In dynastic form, the solution of the Abbasid royal courts was to absorb the ulama into the qadis community, control legal verdicts, and further their absolutist rule. In West Africa, where there was more success, the ulama and the qadis remained separate and empowered, each in their own sphere. As with the Abbasids, the kings of Mali lived in opulence and grandeur, secluded from the lay community.
They adorned themselves with imported cloths and jewels. When entering the royal space, visitors sprinkled dust on their necks to designate their lowly position and absolute loyalty to the throne. The Mansas kings or emperors avoided demonstrations of their humanness, so they never slept, ate food, or changed clothes in front of others.
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By the ninth century, Arab merchants made substantial profits in the marketplace. These Arabs found willing urban consumers, presenting them with abundant supplies of material goods for sale. Even as early as the ninth century, slow commercial expansion of Takrur territories found receptive African converts.
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Among the newly converted, Islam signaled the religion of transactions, literacy, and recording and documentation, all hallmarks of development and progress. Only by the late twelfth century did religious conversions in West Africa accelerate, marked by such conversions as the King of Gao in and the King of Kanem-Bornu in With the face of universal Islam peering over a pagan, parochial Africa, a second period begins in the thirteenth century.
After southerly Taureg and Almoravid incursions, the empire of Ghana weakened through internal disputes and rival provinces. A pattern of dynastic disagreements and jockeying for the throne eventually shattered its strength, and diffused the wealth from the trade routes. The people of the rural areas, considered servile in status, but loyal to ancient traditions, reemerged, claiming positions of power.
The demand from the countryside for increased participation in the towns created stress and political divisions which, like in the Umayyad Empire, ultimately caused its downfall.
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In the first quarter of the fourteenth century, Sundiata, a descendant of the royal Keita family, rose to take the mantle of the new Mali Empire. A marginal Muslim, Sundiata expanded the empire, increased production from the alluvial gold fields, developed the military, and claimed to be a liaison with the spirit world. During his reign, he sent a signal that tolerance of traditional and indigenous practices would remain; however, he alone would now be the representative of Allah.
By borrowing from the larger Muslim world, Musa built a literate nation. He replicated the Abbasid learning centers, and although illiterate himself, Mansa Musa found inspiration in scholarship and encouraged study abroad. Known for his insistence upon civil law and highly reputed for his generosity, Mansa Musa became a household name. Pointing to his generosity with gold, an account of his visit to Egypt while on his way to hajj tells of the Egyptian economy taking a nosedive upon his departure. With internecine squabbling in Mali, succeeding Mansas never embraced the long-range vision of Mansa Musa, and this, along with fiscal mismanagement, resulted in the empire capitulating to the Songhay.
In the Songhay, the last of the large Muslim spheres of influence, the ulama were the avowed enemies of the founder Sunni Ali. After years of intense negotiations, though, they reasserted their loyalties to the king and found political justification to back Sunni Ali.
He was an ambitious leader, who like Sumanguru of Ghana and Sundiata of Mali, was also a charismatic magician, an astute politician, but, again, a nominal Muslim at best. Amongst the few to travel to Mecca, Muhammad realized the need for outside scholarly assistance, so he encouraged Muslim scholars from Morocco, Syria, and Andalusia to relocate to sub-Saharan Africa. The Songhay did not destroy domestic slavery, but did not benefit from the European slave trade.
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Unlike his predecessors, Muhammad lived in accordance with the Sunnah, read Arabic, and wholeheartedly subscribed to the Maliki School of jurisprudence. In the second half of the sixteenth century, in Jenne, one of the great learning centers in West Africa, a qadi who was a son of the chief of Kala, rejected his royal status to become a scholar. In the early years of Islam in Africa, before the Malian Mansa left for Mecca, the principal interaction between Arabs and Africans was through the markets and the hajj.
On the east coast of Africa, and based upon its proximity to the Arabian Peninsula, Arabs and Africans quickly became co-religionists, engaging in much cultural exchange. East of the Nile River, Christianity dominated and thus stunted the growth of Islam for more than five hundred years. Until the nineteenth century, Islam in East Africa remained a coastal religion, with the majority of schools, mosques, and trade centered on the coast, whereas in West Africa Islam stretched into the interior. In West Africa, these movements were in the same direction, from north to south, as that taken by Islam.
In East Africa on the other hand, migrations and the movements of goods, from the interior to the coast, were contrary to the direction Islam would have taken, that is to say from east to west. Hanif was originally a Black African Negro religion for the simple fact that the originator of that religion, Prophet Abraham, was himself a Black African Negro.
Abraham is a compound of Abra and Ham. Abra is the same as Afra, since f and b are interchangeable phonemes, which, as we have mentioned above, is the original name of Abraham. That was the state of affairs when Prophet Muhammad Sallallahu Alaihi Wassallam was born in the holy city of Mecca the centre of the Jahiliyya religion.
He was born in The Prophet Muhammad Sallallahu Alaihi Wassallam was a very spiritually minded person right from the beginning of his life and was said to have always sought after the orthodox religion of Prophet Ibrahim Alaihis Salam. The Hanifs were absolutely opposed to the religions of Jahiliyya, Judaism and Christianity. We quote below the th Hadith in the 5th Volume of Sahih Bukhari as narrated by Abdullah bin Umar; this hadith gives an early insight the nature of the Hanif religious movement before the rise of Islam.
A meal was presented to the Prophet but he refused to eat from it. Then it was presented to Zaid who said, "I do not eat anything which you slaughter in the name of your stone idols. I eat none but those things on which Allah's Name has been mentioned at the time of slaughtering. He used to say so, for he rejected that practice and considered it as something abominable. He met a Jewish religious scholar and asked him about their religion. He said, "I intend to embrace your religion, so tell me some thing about it. Can you tell me of some other religion?
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The Christian said, "You will not embrace our religion unless you get a share of Allah's curse. Will you tell me of some other religion? I make You my Witness that I am on the religion of Abraham. By Allah, none amongst you is on the religion of Abraham except me. Before the rise of Islam there was the religion of Jahiliyya in Arabia especially in the Hijaz. Jahiliyya was a neo-Jara resurgence of the protoprehistoric religion of Jara of the Ija civilization of the Black World Order era.