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An Outline Introduction to Islam


Orville Boyd Jenkins

North Africa was conquered in only a few decades of Muhammad's death.  Influence gradually moved south.  West Africa had trade contacts with the Maghreb (Morocco, and the Western Sahara).  Timbuktu, Mali, became a legendary trading center.  East Africa experienced extensive trade and settlement down to Mozambique, but only on the coast and the islands.

Strong Christian communities in Egypt and Ethiopia stubbornly maintained their identity, but they became isolated cultures under siege.  As a whole, Africa South of the Sahara experienced the greatest incursions only from the 1700's, largely due to trade.  Indian Muslims are quite visible in South Africa, but Central and Southwestern Africa have little Muslim influence.

Africa has become the focus of the era, as Muslim residents, Islamic missionary societies and Qur'anic societies systematically and aggressively expand their faith in the new nations of Africa.  With the secular constitutions guaranteeing freedom of religious expression, Muslims have borrowed methods from the Christian churches and missionary societies to win new converts.

A.  West Africa.  From the first century, Islam was spread along established trade routes.  Arab and Berber people settled in areas of West Africa, and local peoples accepted the culture of Islam.  In modem times, Lebanese and Syrian traders have been established in West Africa.  This is one legacy of the last two centuries of French colonialism, protectorates and, later, alliances in the Muslim Middle East and West Africa.

B.  East Africa.  Islam is predominant from the Red Sea to the Indian Ocean.  Bantu tribes were not affected initially, except the Swahilis.  Trade between East Africa and Persia, India, Arabia and North Africa led to the development of a strong Islamic culture on the coast of East Africa.

This area, consisting of a mix of African, Arab and Persian peoples, referred to as Swahel, or Swahili, was ruled for centuries by the Sultan of Oman, and later by the breakaway Sultan of Zanzibar.  Zanzibar was a big slave trading center.  Slave raiding was associated with Muslims.  The imposed British protectorates in Eastern Africa suppressed slavery.

Some Swahilis use clan or tribe names identifying them with Arab or Persian origins, like "Shirazi," from Shiraz, the center of the ancient Persian Empire.  Some coastal Africans identify themselves as Arabs.  Some are people of slave descent.  It is said that there are 70 tribes of Muslim Africans on Zanzibar alone.

Nyamwezi, Kamba and Kikuyu Muslims have identified with the Swahili rather than their own tribes.  In Uganda, Muslims have not separated from their tribes.  Many live around Lake Victoria.  A minority, the farther north, the fewer there are.  They are found in Masaka and West Nile areas.  Most are independent traders, not farmers or laborers.


Originally published in An Outline Introduction to Islam (Nairobi:  Communication Press, 1991.)
Posted on Thoughts and Resources 20 November 2007

Orville Boyd Jenkins, Ed.D., Ph.D.
Copyright © 1991, 2007 by Orville Boyd Jenkins
Permission granted for free download and transmission for personal or educational use.   Other rights reserved.

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