An important collection of historical accounts about the spread of Islam in the Motherland is captured in “Africa’s Islamic Experience: History, Culture and Politics” edited by among others A. Ali Mazrui, a famed Kenyan-born political scientist and one of Africa’s leading public intellectuals. The book was published in 2011 and Dr. Mazrui is now deceased.
But the work gives insight into how Africa has influenced directions of Islamic history instead of how Islam has impacted Africa.
In one essay, the book makes the point that divine revelation is never limited to a single place, referencing the Muslim holy book of scripture, the Qur’an’s verse, “And certainly We raised in every nation a messenger, saying: Serve Allah and shun the devil … ”
Mazrui, in the book, also notes, “Long before the religion of the crescent or the religion of the cross arrived on the African continent, Africa was at worship and its sons and daughters were at prayer.”
The essay “Islam in Africa’s Experience: Expansion, Revival And Radicalization,” contained in the book, gives insightful though brief substance to Sudan’s Muhammad Ahmad’s “Muslim Reformation,” beginning in 1881, in the wake of many years of “Turco-Egyptian rule compounded by British manipulations.” This Sudanese leader declared himself the Mahdi “appointed by God to re-unite the Muslim ummah (community),” which is significant.
So was Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan’s address in 1993 to 19 African heads of state in Gabon at the African African-American Summit, the Nation of Islam’s 1994 Saviors’ Day Convention in Accra, Ghana, and the Muslim leader’s 1996 African tour after the historic Million Man March, in Washington, D.C.
Though Min. Farrakhan is not included in the book, there are striking resemblances in his activity and Black Muslim activity in Africa going back to the 1950s and 1960s visits of Nation of Islam patriarch Elijah Muhammad, and his students Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali.
In 1996 Farrakhan put an exclamation point on being the Western Hemisphere’s leading voice for African Muslims, Africans and Africans in the Diaspora. During an interview 60 Minutes’ Mike Wallace, questioning the Minister’s visit to Nigeria, called the West African country the “most corrupt nation in the world.” The Minister fired back, “Thirty five years old, that’s what that nation (Nigeria) is.
Here’s America 226 years old. You love democracy, but there in Africa you trying to force these people into a system of government you’ve just accepted. Thirty years ago Black folks got the right to vote. You should be quiet, and let those of us who know our people go there and help them get out of that condition. But America should keep her mouth shut.”
He later says the most corrupt country in the world is the United States in response to another question from Wallace.
The Mazrui book also highlights, and rightfully so, Africa’s protection of Islam. “What part did Africa play in protecting Islam? Early converts to Islam in pre-Islamic Arabia were being persecuted and in danger of their lives in pre-Islamic Mecca. The Prophet Muhammad authorized some of his followers to cross the Red Sea and seek asylum in Christian Ethiopia–among fellow monotheists,” it notes.
Other African Islamic contributions, according to “Africa’s Islamic Experiences,” include the Black African Muslims’ or Moors’ impact on the European Renaissance.
“The earliest North African Diaspora produced some of the rulers of Muslim Spain over a period which added up to eight centuries. The Moors produced some of the most spectacular architectural wonders of Muslim Spain, such as Alhambra. And Moorish scholarship contributed to both the Renaissance and the Enlightenment in Europe,” it noted.
An interesting irony in the Moors being expelled from Europe in 1492, the burning of thousands of books and the “terrible loss to the Renaissance” was the emergence of Shakespeare’s “Othello” the Moor in a play. His physical prowess was obviously substituted for the Moors’ history of intellectual prowess. In fact, some Blacks in Europe were in many cases held in the highest regard in centuries prior–from the Black Catholic patron Saint Maurice to legendary Black knights like Sir Morien.
Historically, the battles of Islamic armies were mostly contained to North Africa, there were few incursions into sub-Saharan Africa.
According to Syviane Al Diouf’s 1998 book, “Servants of Allah: African Muslims Enslaved in The Americas,” religious wars of jihad came late, in the 18th and in the 19th centuries, and were carried out by indigenous traders, clerics and rulers.
When the Western press reported that Timbuktu, the historic African city of learning and scholarship in Mali, fell under the domination in 2012 of the Islamist group Al-Qaeda, the Western press often failed to mention that its inhabitants were Muslim and the city had historically been home to early Islamic literature and learning.
Dr. Chekh Anta Babou, who grew up in Senegal and specializes in Islam in Africa, said, “As it relates to (the advent of) Islam, there has been a long process of what I call incubation, or what you might say a long conversation that (has) lasted for centuries between Islam and African traditional religions.”
“So what resulted is the consequences of a very long conversation rather than the imposition of a dominant political and military power,” Babou, an associate professor in history at the University of Pennsylvania, continued.
Islam, according to Dr. Babou, was brought to sub-Saharan Africa “by traders, by holy men and by teachers, across the Sahara.”
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