Islam in the African-American Experience

Islam in the African-American Experience

“Mervyn Hiskett describes the Islamic lands of West Africa as the area commonly referred to as “the west and central Sudan”…extending from the desert scrub in the “north” to the southern edge of savanna in the south. From west to east it extends across this scrub and savanna belt, from the Atlantic coast to the eastern shore of Lake Chad.”

“Arab and Berber Muslims from Egypt and North Africa first established contact with this area in the eighth century through the caravan trade across the Sahara, which was inhabited by Berber nomads and black town dwellers. The merchants initially involved in this trade were interested mostly in gold, ivory, and slaves, not in proselytizing.”

“By 990, however, the Arabic geographer al Muhallabi reported that the West African city of Gao had a mosque and a Muslim ruler. In the tenth century, the desert trading city of Tadmakatt was also an important source of Islamic ideas for West Africa. During the same period, the empire of Ghana, which was the center of the gold trade, already had a separate Muslim district and employed Muslims in governmental affairs, even though its ruler was a Soninke polytheist.”

“A-Bakri’s account of Ghana in the eleventh century indicates that the racial and cultural separatism characteristic of West African Islam was already evident in the capital city of this empire: The city of Ghana consists of two towns in a plain. One of these towns is inhabited by Muslims.”

“It is large with a dozen mosques in one of which they assemble for the Friday prayer. There are salaried imams and muezzins, as well as jurist and scholars… In the eleventh century, Islam first became a major factor in West African history when the orthodox “Muslim militants”-the Almoravids, led by Abu Bakr, organized the Sanhaja Berbers in a holy war against the non-Muslims in western Sudan.”

“The motivation for this jihad was economic as well as religious, for the Almoravids wanted to control the northern end of the desert caravan routes. Eventually, they succeeded in making Islam the official religion of the empire of Ghana and Islamicized some of the black kingdoms and towns in Sudan. Although historians dispute whether the Almoravids came to power in Ghana by military force or peaceful means, it is certain that they quickly lost their military and political advantages over the Soninke people and eventually became wandering scholars and preachers of Islam in Sudan.”

“Indeed, black Muslims in West Africa were not seriously affected by the military power of the Muslims world again until the Moroccan invasion of Songhay in the sixteenth century. The Arab and Berber advance in West African societies often occurred in subtle stages over a long period of time.”

“First, Muslims established contact with Sudan as visiting merchants and craftspeople to obtain slaves and precious minerals. Eventually, some of these merchants would settle in a permanent trading outpost in West African towns and villas as African leaders began to  perceive the advantages of economic ties with North Africa and the Middle East. These immigrant merchants and craftspeople were the first representatives of Islam in sub-Saharan Africa.”

“Although the impression of these different Muslims influenced the West African black ruling elite and merchants to convert to Islam, they had little impact on the traditional religous praxis of West African peoples in rural areas before modernity. The racial seperatism of West African Islam resulted from the signfiication of black Muslim identiies by rich and poowerful black rulers who attempted to reconcile their new religion with African traditional religous cultural praxis.

“Thus, as we shall see, North African and Middle Eastern Muslims and blacks were deliberarely segregated from each other in seperate residential areas in West African cities and towns, to ensure that Islam would be used to the economic, political and cultural advantage of black ruling elites. In the Muslim state of Takur (inhabited by the Tukolor people), the Jolof empire of the Wolof, the Senegambian villages and towns established by Mande traders, Mali, Songhay, the issues of signification and seperatism were played out in the context of West African Islam.”

“In these locations West African Muslims attempted to defined their identities both as Muslims and as ethnic people in light of the competition between their allegienace to the religions and cultures of their ethnic groups and the beliefs and practices of orthodox Islam from North Africa and the Middle East.”

Forty years later, Mansa Musa’s fame had spread to Europe as map-makers put Mali on the Catalan map of West Africa and referred to its ruler as “Lord of the Negroes of Guinea.” They described his country’s gold as “so abundant…that he is the richest and most noble king in all the land. Mansa Musa had inherited the mantale of leadership from a long line of black Muslim kings from the Kieta clan of the Mandinka cheifdoms. This line included Sundita (c.1230-1255), a Mandinka Muslim convert who had bult the vast empire of Mali on the ruins of Ghana, thus unifiying the Mandinka people; Mans Uli, the son of Sundiata, wo was the first in his Askiya Benkan was abruptly replaced by Askiya Ismail in 1537.”

“Political stability returned to Songhay from 1539 to 1591 under the ruler of Askiya Iskaq I and Askiya Daud. Some of the political tensions in sixteenth-century Songhay resulted from different rulers efforts to reconcile Islam, the relgion of the urban ruling elite, with the African cultural particularism of the traditional religions which were also practiced by the rulers and the peasants.”

“This tension between orthodox Islam and African cultural particularism was at the heart of what made West African Islam a vibrant and distincitive religous tradition in the world of Islam. Although West African Muslims had signifiedi themselves as the people they wanted to be through their embrace of Islam and seperarated themselves from the judgments of non-black Muslims from North Africa, they could not united politiclaly and militarily to sustain their powerful Isslamic empires in the modern era. On the even of modernity, Islam in Wet Africa was destined for radical changes, although its themes of radical cultural particularism, singification, and jihad were destined to live on as a paradigm endemic to global Islam, and would later be utilized by black Muslims in America.” 

“In 1591, the Songhay empire fell when it supposed ally, Morocco, invaded the country to seize its salt mines. Although Songhay had carefull developed diplomatic and cultural ties with North Africa, the Moroccan sultan wanted complete control over the salt mines, gold, and slaves of the Sudan, which legally belonged, in part, to Songhay. This was a watershed event in West African history for several reasons.”

“First, it signaled the end of the mighty economic and political power of the empires that had sustained West African Islam.”

“Second, Timbuktu, the great West African city, declined as black Muslim intellectual center.”

“Third, the focus of West African Islam changed radically as Islam centered a period of decline which lasted until the nineteenth century.”

“Fourth, the fall of Songhay signaled the beginning of modernity, during which cataclysmic changes in the instittion of slavery wre destined to change the fortunes of African peoples in the world. By the beginnnig of the sixteenth century, it became clear to informed observers that Arab Muslims had a seperate and radical agenda for black Muslims in West Africa.”

“They were enslaving them in record numbers under the banner of jihad and taking control of the rich mineral resourcs of their lands. This was clearly against the laws of Islam. The issue of the enslavement of West African Muslims by their Arab co-religionist had still not been resolved in 1614 when Ahmad Baba, a Muslim scholar from Timbuktu, wrote a legal interpreation of the issue: Whoever is captured in a condition of non belief, it is legal to own him, whosoever he maby be, but not he was converted to Islam voluntarily from the start, to any nation he belongs, whether it is Bornu, Kano, Songhai, Katsinsa, Gobir, Mali and some of Zakzak. These are free Muslims, whose enslavement is not allowed in nay way.” 

 

Source: Islam in the African-American Experience By Richard Brent Turner

El Aemer El Mujaddid

American born Moor, Author, History Researcher, Modernist, 720 Entrepreneur/ Corporate Mogul in the making; who observes & analyzes human nature for data mining purposes. Knowing is Half the Battle, Wisdom is needed for appropriate application of knowledge and right reasoning.

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