Running head: ARABISM, IMPERIALISM, & RELIGIOUS DUALITY  New Approaches to African History: Arabization, Imperialism, & Re...
ARABISM, IMPERIALISM, & RELIGIOUS DUALITY                                              2The following is a collection of ...
ARABISM, IMPERIALISM, & RELIGIOUS DUALITY                                              3knowing how these processes inter...
ARABISM, IMPERIALISM, & RELIGIOUS DUALITY                                                4II.) Sudan and the Mahdi: Muham...
ARABISM, IMPERIALISM, & RELIGIOUS DUALITY                                              5defeating Turkish imperialists (i...
ARABISM, IMPERIALISM, & RELIGIOUS DUALITY                                              6was. For example, Muhammad Ahmad ...
ARABISM, IMPERIALISM, & RELIGIOUS DUALITY                                               71970’s the Tariqas and Izala, Is...
ARABISM, IMPERIALISM, & RELIGIOUS DUALITY                                               8          Although neither Islam...
ARABISM, IMPERIALISM, & RELIGIOUS DUALITY                                              9a population in the same era; suc...
ARABISM, IMPERIALISM, & RELIGIOUS DUALITY                                               10enslavement was below the divid...
ARABISM, IMPERIALISM, & RELIGIOUS DUALITY                                            11                                  ...
Upcoming SlideShare
Loading in …5

New Approaches To Africa History: Arabization, Imperialism, & Religious Duality


Published on

  • Be the first to comment

  • Be the first to like this

No Downloads
Total views
On SlideShare
From Embeds
Number of Embeds
Embeds 0
No embeds

No notes for slide

New Approaches To Africa History: Arabization, Imperialism, & Religious Duality

  1. 1. Running head: ARABISM, IMPERIALISM, & RELIGIOUS DUALITY New Approaches to African History: Arabization, Imperialism, & Religious Duality Max J. Smith Arizona State University
  2. 2. ARABISM, IMPERIALISM, & RELIGIOUS DUALITY 2The following is a collection of passages providing insight into the often overlooked andneglected history of Africa from an Islamic and Arab paradigm. The essay is basedaround the work of Religious and African Studies scholar, Prof. David Robison, pullingmostly from Cambridge text, Muslims in African History: New Approaches to AfricanHistory.I.) Arabization, Islamization, & Africanization To begin, on must understand the difference between Arabization andIslamization. Arabization is the spread of the Arabic language (As it is the ‘word of god’)while Islamization is the spread of the Islamic Faith. "Sharia Law," or the divine law ofgod, and the Quran made each of the above processes possible on a grandeur scale for asimple reason; they made Islam portable. Having said that one would assume these twotightly knit processes would work hand-in-hand, however, such is false. Arabizationcame along the same paths as Islamization throughout Africa but at a different pace andwith different consequences (Miles, 31). While many Northern Africans were convertingto Islam (Islamization), Africans on other parts of the continent were keeping to theirnative Creole languages. This Africanization of Islam is found much more prevalentduring the spread of Islam throughout the country than that of Arabization. Islam is saidto have spread during three phases or process in Africa: Minority Islam, Court Islam, andMajority Islam (Robinson, 28). Beginning with Minority Islam, Islamic influence camethrough merchants and traders in Sub-Saharan bazaars. This was followed by CourtIslam, which entailed the spread of Islam in cities/towns through wealthy merchants,ranking officials, and rulers. The spread of Islam didnt reach the countryside until muchlatter; being that this was where the majority of Africans lived, the Majority Phase. In  Arizona State University – Hugh Downs School of Communication – Smith 
  3. 3. ARABISM, IMPERIALISM, & RELIGIOUS DUALITY 3knowing how these processes interact one can address at how each were African-ized to accommodate African cultural norms. A primitive example of these processes atwork is the African Talismans. Followers of Islam used (in addition to spiritualprotection) talismans to make his or her faith concrete by the combination preciousstones/metals with Arabic numerology or language. This Islamization and Arabizationwas prevalent over the entire continent. However, in a more remote occurrence in EasternAfrica, Swahili Muslims carried scripture accompanied by a translated copy in Swahili,featuring both secular and Islamic themes. It can be said from this that althoughIslamization took a strong initial hold in the Swahili states, it took Arabic much longer toinfiltrate the culture of the area (Robinson, 36). On the other hand, the Berbers in theSahara converted to Islam as groups rather than singularities as a choice of their leaders;as a result, Berber Muslim devotion was much less. It was in these Berber communitiesthat a Dar Al-Islam was created which supposedly aided in the removal of the Jahiliyya(time of ignorance) or time before Islam. Tribes in different areas accommodatedaccordingly to fit Islam into their existing life: Africanization. More wealthy tribes hadlarge concrete mosques with multiple versions of translated scripture allowing the onsetof Arabization to move slower (Miles, 39). Poor areas of Arica had only few copies ofscripture in a native language and mosques made out of mud and stick, requiring poorerareas of conversion to learn Arabic more quickly. The dynamics of these processes seemto have more reciprocal effects than imagined – the integral movement of Sharia Law andthe Quran throughout Africa.  Arizona State University – Hugh Downs School of Communication – Smith 
  4. 4. ARABISM, IMPERIALISM, & RELIGIOUS DUALITY 4II.) Sudan and the Mahdi: Muhammad Ahmad and Khalifa Abdullahi Beginning in the Nineteenth Century the Sudan was privileged with two highlyinfluential religious leaders: Muhammad Ahmad and Khalifa Abdullahi. These Sudanesemen of Islamic faith, Muhammad Ahmad and his successor Khalifa Abdullahi had verysimilar reigns over the Sudanese population which swore allegiance to each. DuringMuhammad Ahmads reign he was often opposed by Turkish forces with Imperialistictendencies just as Khalifa Abdullahi fought against Imperialist forces and King Yohannesprior. In addition to handling similar Imperial pressure, both men were scholarlyeducated, preachers and writers. Both men were well known for their dedication toscripture and its power to bring people together through indoctrination. Most importantly,both of these men used their understanding of Islam to motivate and mobilize largepopulations of Muslims against foreign intrusion and economic hardship (Robinson,156). While appearing quite similar in Islamic nature, Muhammad Ahmad’s and KhalifaAbdullahi’s Sudanese Regimes differ greatly in regards to the oppressors and outcome ofthe regime. Muhammad Ahmad grew up in the Nile River Valley beginning to study theQuran at very small age. As he became older he began to speak outright as a partisan ofreform of certain Islamic traditions, such as burial and ceremonial fasting. MuhammadAhmads mission to gain a Islamic Sudanese following began to gain steam due tonoticeable press on Ahmads dedication. Not much time after Ahmad claimed he was thegreat Mahdi, meaning "he who comes at the end of days (Fradin, 45)." As he recognizedhimself as the Mahdi, his following began to grow at exponential rates; adjunct, Ahmadand his Ansars (helpers of the prophet) spent much of the next three years in battle  Arizona State University – Hugh Downs School of Communication – Smith 
  5. 5. ARABISM, IMPERIALISM, & RELIGIOUS DUALITY 5defeating Turkish imperialists (in hope of stopping imperial control of from outsideregimes) (49). However, after many years of fighting Mahdi Muhammad Ahmad diedabruptly in 1885, in which he appointed Khalifa Abdullahi as his successor. KhalifaAbdullahi was a cleric to the Mahdi and one of his most reformed and passionateMuslims. However when Abdullahi took reign of the Sudanese following he found muchmore opposition from within his own community than the Mahdi (Robinson, 155). Themost serious of these oppositions came from the Ashraf also known as the "descendentsof the prophet." These descendents of the prophet claimed that as sons (blood relative) ofAhmad they were the rightful heirs to the throne. In addition to civil pressure, Abdullahiwas also under constant pressure to protect the Sudanese Muslims from outside regimessuch as the British and Turkish forces (Fradin, 66). As time passed Khalifa Abdullahireceived more imperial pressure from Christian Ethiopia in addition to a widespreadfamine that stormed the country. British Colonialism would be the final draw of theMahdist State, as the Sudan was completely inhabited by British force by 1900. TheKhalifas attempt to lead Sudan can be viewed as a futile attempt to restore order in a timeof chaos; sparked by after the abrupt death of Mahdi Ahmad (159). The oppressingcommunities the Mahdi’s regime dealt with were almost all Turko-Egyptian factionswhile the Khalifa’s regime dealt with multiple imperial forces as well as oppression fromwithin his own following. The outcome of each regime is apparently different as well:Mahdi Ahmad began an Islamic Reformation in Sudan, while Khalifa Abdullahi, theleader of the same sect of Muslims was suppressed by imperialism. Although Muhammad Ahmad and Khalifa Abdullahi had much in common asrulers of the same regime, however, retrospect shows how different each rulers era  Arizona State University – Hugh Downs School of Communication – Smith 
  6. 6. ARABISM, IMPERIALISM, & RELIGIOUS DUALITY 6was. For example, Muhammad Ahmad sparked an Islamic revolution within the Sudan,and declared jihad on his Imperialist enemies while claiming to be the Great Mahdi fromthe Quran. On the other hand, his successors era is defined by internal Sudanese revolts,famine, and military pressure from the Turks, British, and Ethiopian regimes. MahdiMuhammad Ahmads era began a strong Islamic reformation within the Sudan, whereasKhalifa Abdullahis era can be viewed as the demise of the very same reformative statebegun by Ahmad Muhammad.III.) Post-Colonial West Africa and Islamism Colonial influence has had a multitude of effects on West Africa. For over onehundred years West Africa was under control by either British or French control. WestAfrican Architecture, Cuisine, Music, and Language alike were all affected by thiscolonization. This is the reason many areas in Mali speak French as their primarylanguage, or the reason why many areas in Ghana have British architecture within theirmosques (McElroy, 17). A commonality between British and French colonialism is theirbelief in a separation of church and state for nation-states in West Africa. Both countries,Britain & France, felt strongly that mosque rule and political rule must be separate(Miles, 109). Although Britain and France enforced a separation of mosque and stateduring their colonial rule, recent political evolutions in Nigeria and the Senegal prove this“church and state” influence left no lasting effects in West Africa. From circa 1850’s to 1960 Nigeria was a British Colony affected by separation ofmosque and State; unlike influences in Architecture and Cuisine in the nation, thisseparation did not remain. After Nigeria gained its independence in the 1960 the countryslowly began integrating more and more religion in to political rule (Mahmud, 85). In the  Arizona State University – Hugh Downs School of Communication – Smith 
  7. 7. ARABISM, IMPERIALISM, & RELIGIOUS DUALITY 71970’s the Tariqas and Izala, Islamic organizations with military means, began to rise inpower and popularity. Over the next two decades these groups, as well as smaller Islamistgroups, began to clash with each other and the government for power (Mahmud, 86).Verbal and violent attacks on buildings and government officials from small radicalIslamic groups demanding Sharia law lead to Nigeria’s biggest step in evolving towardsan Islamist state. As of 2000 twelve nation-states were currently bound under IslamicLaw, Sharia Law (Mahmud, 87). Meaning, the separation of mosque and state put inplace not but forty years before was completely nullified. British colonialism had noeffect on keeping mosque and state separate in Nigeria, and for that matter, West Africa. Like Nigeria, the Senegal was under colonial rule for over one hundred years.Beginning in 1860 French colonialists manipulated Islamic rulers as a way to control theindigenous more easily. Although these officials were Muslim their ‘official duties’ werein no way connected to Islam; or at least the French wanted it that way. Until Senegaleseindependence in 1960 the French kept a control over major political offices to make suremosque officials had limited power (Robinson, 109). This French influence over mosqueand state became non-existent as time elapsed. Post-independence, the Muslimpopulation in Senegal, mostly Sufi, began to outgrow the non-Muslim population. ThisMuslim majority played a prevalent role in the 1990’s and even more so in the 2000presidential election (Villalon, 86). The 2000 Presidential election contained two Suficandidates who based their entire election on an Islamist basis. Both men constantly citedscripture and Islamic narratives to frame the current situation in the Senegal. In 2000, thedemocratic landscape had changed from mosque and state being separate nearly fourdecades before to Islamist rhetoric as a means of presidential platform (Villalon, 88).  Arizona State University – Hugh Downs School of Communication – Smith 
  8. 8. ARABISM, IMPERIALISM, & RELIGIOUS DUALITY 8 Although neither Islamist candidate was elected in 2000, since that election onlytwo percent of those running for political office are non-Muslim. Senegal’s politicalstructure evolved from a small Muslim influence in the 1960’s to one considering anIslamist president (Villalon, 87). The power of the mosque in Senegalese elections showhow little a long-lasting effect the French separation of mosque and state had on politicalstructure in West Africa. West Africa colonial influences from both the France and Britain are impossibleto ignore however as described above not all influences leave lasting impression. BothNigeria and the Senegal were subjected to a separation of Church and State, however,neither show lasting effect. The West African people of Senegal and Nigeria demonstratehow one country’s strong convictions (Britain and or France) can have far less value toothers.IV.) African Slave Trade and an Islamic Dichotomy From the beginning of documented history, there have been systems designed toexploit humans for slave labor. Slavery, as it is commonly known, has plagued societiesfor generations often times intertwined with a people’s religious identity, either in thename of or in order to cope with (Miles, 89). For example, religion was used as a copingmechanism for Jews during WWI, using Judaism to help escape the hardships of harshconcentration camp life (Chilton, 29). Religion has also been used to enslave populations,as during the tenth century when Christian Knights would use their religious conversiontactics to enslave, convert or kill those in the midst of their Crusade (33). Although bothcases are recognized, very rarely is it that the same religion can both enslave and comfort  Arizona State University – Hugh Downs School of Communication – Smith 
  9. 9. ARABISM, IMPERIALISM, & RELIGIOUS DUALITY 9a population in the same era; such is the case for Islam in Africa. Islam was used to bothenslave Africans as well as help them cope with the hardships of being enslaved. Beginning in the 1400’s African Muslims were enslaved by different groups ofEuropeans, and as a result these men and women used their religion to cope with theconditions they were subjected too. A prototypical example can be found in theenslavement of Abu Bakr. Abu Bakr was a West African Muslim who lived with hisfamily of traders along an old Mali Empire trading route. As European influence movedcloser so did the conflicts. Abu was soon forced to fight a war with which he had littlevested interest in (as both sides had no connection to Islam). Abu, as part of the ‘losingside,’ was enslaved by his new imperialist masters and then shipped to Jamaica for trade(Robinson, 61). He is quoted from his journal, “They tore my clothes off, gave me aheavy load to carry, then made me walk the road…made me change my name to Edward,…sleep like animals,…eat like animals (63).” Scholarly research shows that such storieswere common of those taken through the Atlantic Slave Trade. These subjections to harshenvironments, humiliating conditions, and over work take a hard toll on the AfricanMuslim slaves. To help cope with these issues, these Muslims would pray as a form ofescape (68). However, due to the fact that there were so few African Muslims takenduring the slave trade it was hard to create religious congregations or establish Islamiccontinuity. By default of this, transplanted Muslim slaves in the West Indies andAmericas used faith to cope with their hardships in private. During the same era, thissame religion played a part in enslaving inhabitants on the very same continent. To understand how Islam was used to help enslave Africans, one must firstunderstand how the Muslims justified slavery. Slavery was just as long as the  Arizona State University – Hugh Downs School of Communication – Smith 
  10. 10. ARABISM, IMPERIALISM, & RELIGIOUS DUALITY  10enslavement was below the divide of the the: the faithful of Islam (Dar al-Islam), and theignorant or the non-believers (Dar al-Kufr). This meant that as long as those beingenslaved were non-believers, such an act was a just cause. Just as there was a ‘losingside’ in Abu Bakr’s war, there was also a ‘winning side.’ Many times Muslims foundalong the Trans-Saharan Trade route were patrons of ‘winning sides’ and thus werereluctant to help the victors with their interest in Africa: Slavery (Robinson, 72). Becausemany of the ‘victorious’ Muslims were from flourishing cities, they were in turn welleducated; providing them work as appraisers, inspectors, and recruiters by their Europeancounterparts (68). All of these jobs were utilized in the trafficking of human property(Chilton,33). Muslims used their religiously gained education to help facilitate levels ofthe slave trade; helping to enslave Africans by way of Islam. It should be recognized thatsome African Muslims of the time questioned the involvement of Muslims andjustification of non-Muslim slaves but little could be done during the time as the Muslimsareas were inundated with European military influence (Robinson, 66). The use of Islam in Africa during the Slave Trade appears somewhat to be in thedichotomy of war. The dichotomy of war in this case states: at the wars end there is adefinitive a ‘winner’ and a ‘loser.’ The application of Islam in Africa (at the time) wasdetermined by which side of the dichotomy a Muslim patron sided with. If one was amember of the ‘winning’ side he or she may be given a skill position like those in thetrans-Sahara. However, if you were on the ‘losing side’ you may end up more like AbuBakr, as a commodity in a slave trade. The arbitrary lines of war create a divide in whichpeoples of the same religious sect oppress one another, using their similarities asmechanism of facilitation.  Arizona State University – Hugh Downs School of Communication – Smith 
  11. 11. ARABISM, IMPERIALISM, & RELIGIOUS DUALITY  11 ReferencesFradin, M.S. (2003). Jihad: The Mahdi Rebellion in Sudan. ACP: New York. PP 1-86.Mahmud, S.S. (2004). ASR Focus: Islamism in West Africa, Nigeria. African Studies Review 47, (2). PP 83-101.McElroy, W. (2004). West Africa and Colonialism: Part 1, 2, & 3. Freedom Daily 5, (4), PP 1-22.Miles, W. F. (2004). ASR Focus: Islamism in West Africa, Introduction. African Studies Review, (47), 2. PP 55-117.Robinson, D. (2008). Muslims in African History: New Approaches to African History. Cambridge Press: Boston. PP 164 -169.Villalon, L.A. (2004). ASR Focus: Islamism in West Africa, Senegal. African Studies Review, (47), 2. PP 61-71.  Arizona State University – Hugh Downs School of Communication – Smith 