Who brought Islam to Nigeria

The spread of Islam in Africa

The year was 622 AD. The former caravan leader and merchant Mohammed ibn Abd Allah was living in the Arab city of Mecca at the time. Since childhood he has reported about the apparitions of the Archangel Gabriel, who brought divine messages to him. Mohammed was deeply religious and he had a strong sense of mission. He was an excellent speaker and made a great impression on the Arabs of his day with his revelations. After his death, followers wrote the merchant's revelations in the holy book of the Koran. Some of his thoughts and messages were changed by the followers. For example, Mohammed envisioned a peaceful coexistence of religions. But Islam was soon spread throughout North Africa by military force.

Mohamed and his African roots

Mohammed ibn Abd Allah belonged to the Arab ruling family of the Umayyads, who founded the Islamic empire. The well-traveled trader Mohammed had lively connections to the Abyssinian empire early on. An Ethiopian woman was one of his ancestors, as did his wet nurse and nanny from Africa. So Mohammed had a special connection to the African continent from an early age. He preached to help the poor and to be more humane towards the slaves than was customary in his day. This message reached some Africans who served as slaves to Arabs. Many of them became his most staunch supporters. Among them was Bilal, an Ethiopian slave who adopted the Islamic faith. Because of his beautiful voice, he was given the task of calling the believers to prayer. He is considered the first African muezzin and is revered as the ancestor of African Muslims. The eldest of his seven sons settled in Mali, and his descendants can be traced back to the rulers of the Mali Empire.

Arab-Islamic troops conquer North Africa

639 was an important year in African history. In that year the general Amr ibn al-As invaded Egypt with an army of 4,000 Muslims. Amr ibn al-As was a successor to Mohammed. He conquered Egypt, which was the richest province of Byzantium at the time. He had a mosque built in his army camp bearing his name. The city of Cairo later emerged from this camp. More and more Arabs settled in Egypt as traders and ranchers. In the years that followed, the armed force conquered the entire African Mediterranean coast. In what is now Tunisia, they founded Kairouan as the capital of the new Ifriqiya province. Only the Berbers offered bitter resistance. There were many fights in which the Berbers suffered great losses. They had to agree to a peace treaty that severely restricted their rights and their rule. The conquered peoples had the opportunity to accept the new faith. If they wanted to remain Christians, they had to pay a tribute.

The spread of Islam via the trade routes through the Sahara

Islam spread along the trade and caravan routes through the Sahara. The map on the right shows the spread of Islam around 750. After that, Egypt was firmly in Arab-Islamic hands and the coastal area of ​​North Africa was occupied. The Kingdom of Kanem-Bornu on Lake Chad had long had trade relations with Arab traders. His wealth did not consist of gold but of slaves! They traded prisoners they had enslaved for salt and horses from the north. From Kanem-Bornu, Islam penetrated further into West Africa and conquered the kingdoms on the Niger such as Ghana, the Songhai Empire and Mali. Gradually the upper class in the African urban communities converted to Islam. If an African ruler and his family became Muslim, then it was not connected with the Islamization of the entire state at the same time. In the 11th century, the great kingdoms of West Africa professed Islam.

The Islamization of West Africa

The African rulers valued the culture that Islam brought with it such as the advancement of science, contracting, astronomy, and mechanics. Arab mechanics could build the most beautiful clockworks at the time. Conversely, the Africans also changed Islam. They continued to practice their animistic beliefs and found mystical forms of Islam, Sufism. Eventually Islam reached the coastal countries of Morocco and Mauritania. Chinguetti, a city in Mauritania, became one of the seven holiest sites in Islam. The city has long been considered the religious center of West Africa and was the meeting place for pilgrims on their way to Mecca. For centuries, Islam remained a religion of the “Arab traders”. It is reported that Muslims led independent lives within the West African kingdoms.

The Almoravids from Morocco spread the jihad

At the beginning of the 11th century, Islamic Moors founded the Almoravid Empire in what is now Morocco. In its heyday in the 11th and 12th centuries, the Almoravids also incorporated the empire of Ghana. They were among the particularly orthodox Islamists. They covered the entire north of Africa with armed actions. The peoples who opposed Islam fled to the southern regions of the continent. The Almoravid Empire collapsed in 1147. The north of Mauritania remained loosely connected with Morocco, the south with Mali. Towards the end of the 15th century, nomadic Kunta Arabs began to spread the teachings of Islam throughout western Sudan. During this time, Islam changed from the “ruling religion” to the religion of the individual. African rulers ruled in old Muslim strongholds until the 18th century. Then a reform of Islam began among the West African peoples. The spread of Islam became radicalized.

Islam reaches the coasts of East Africa

In East Africa, Islam began its triumphal march on the coast of the Red Sea down to the Indian Ocean, to Mozambique. The Arabs were valued as good merchants. There were Arab trading posts along the east coast of Africa long before small Islamic principalities emerged here in the 12th century. Mosques were built at the most important coastal towns, because the seafarers sometimes had to stop for weeks to wait for favorable winds for their sailing boats to return. Trade with China brought the Kilwa dynasty to its prime in the 14th century. The dynasty was founded by a Persian trader who, with great skill, soon developed the place into the most important city on the east coast. His main livelihood was the Indian trade in gold, silver, perfumes, Persian ceramics and Chinese porcelain. Kilwa's rulers attained immeasurable wealth over three generations. They built mosques and made a pilgrimage to Mecca. Slaves, gold and ivory were exchanged for salt and luxury goods from the north and east. Slaves? Hadn't Mohammed preached of a humane attitude towards enslaved people? Yes, but the reality was different. The slave trade among Arab merchants assumed unimagined dimensions. People from East African areas were hunted, captured, sold and used as work slaves. Slaves, gold and ivory were exchanged for salt and luxury goods from the north and east. In 883 there was a slump in the Arab slave trade. Black serfs had allied themselves and organized major uprisings. They put their lives in the fight for freedom. They were armed much worse than their guards. almost all of them were destroyed. It was a disaster, but it gave the black population of East Africa some respite. Arab traders were forced to limit themselves to selling house slaves, eunuchs and female slaves as concubines. For the dealers it was still profitable, if no longer very big business. It was a disaster for the enslaved.

Arabs and Portuguese fight for supremacy in East African ports

(c) Matthias Krämer

After a brief stint by the Portuguese, who established trading centers on the east coast, the Sultanate of Oman developed into the dominant power here from the middle of the 18th century. The Sultanate of Oman owed its rise to the slave trade. Arabs were involved in the slave trade from an early age. Nor did the Qur'an prohibit trafficking in people. He only called for human treatment of slaves. People were sold to the Arab-Islamic world or to European slave traders who could no longer capture slaves on the west coast. The West African areas had been depopulated by manhunters. They procured slaves on the east coast for America, Brazil and for islands in the Indian Ocean. Now the fortresses on the East African coast became the saddest places in the world.

Zanzibar becomes the center of the slave trade in East Africa

(c) Chunks of Inaglory

In 1840 the capital of the sultanate was moved to Zanzibar and neighboring islands such as Lamu, Pate and Mombasa were captured. Islamization began in the interior of the continent around 1870. Islam spread along the caravan routes to Lake Victoria, Malawi and Mozambique became Islamic, and later Uganda as well. For the Muslims of the countries, the Sultan of Zanzibar represented the center of Islamic scholarship. A slave monument can be seen in the picture on the left, a reminder that there were slave markets in Zanzibar for many years. The sculptures are by Clara Sörnäs.

Islam in Africa today

More than 40 percent of the African population today belong to Islam. In the North African countries, more than 90 percent of the residents are Muslim. The numbers vary greatly in the countries of West Africa. The teaching of Allah divided the continent into an Islamic north and an African south. Most African Muslims are Sunnis, including the Sufists, who worship saints and practice “un-Islamic” rites. They are among the Muslims who changed Islam most in the course of its spread in Africa. Depending on the region, the teaching of Allah has been more or less strongly Africanized. Above all, the Berber peoples in North Africa retained their animistic ideas alongside Islam. The self-confident Berber women were unwilling to submit to the misogynist ideas of the Islamic faith. The Berbers were also too liberal to use the cruel punishments prescribed by Sharia law. The same applies to West Africa. Here, too, old beliefs exist alongside Islam. Today Islam is spreading more and more into southern Africa. Two changes can be seen here. The number of those calling for a return to pure Islam is increasing. Radical Islamism is gaining more and more influence on African soil.

Radical Islamic Movements in North Africa

(c) Anne Look

In East African countries like Somalia, the Al Shabaab militia governs, who want to transform the country on the Horn into a state of God. But Somalia is just one country among many where radicals have gained a foothold. Their zone of influence extends from Mauritania on the Atlantic across the Sahel and Sudan to Mogadishu on the Indian Ocean. On the other hand, they are gaining influence in West African countries, where governments are at the helm that hardly put a stop to the radical forces. The situation has deteriorated particularly in countries such as Nigeria and Mali, where there are secession movements by individual ethnic groups, such as the Ansar Dine rebels in Mali, on the right in the picture. And they are gaining popularity where there is poverty and unemployment, as in Nigeria. Here they lead to conditions similar to civil war.