The African belief or faith system is regarded by some as the oldest or one of the oldest in the world.
Why then are the majority of Africans dominated by Christians and Muslims and not traditional African Spiritual System practitioners? For today’s piece we shall look at how Islam penetrated the interior of Africa.
From the second half of the eleventh century onwards, Islam or Mohammedanism was introduced into the Sahara and the western Sudan.
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Islam was introduced into North Africa by the Arabs during their meteoric sweep across the whole of North Africa – from Egypt to Morocco between A.D. 641 and 708. Among the soldiers and freebooters were missionaries who were bent on converting the people of the Sahara and interior of Africa to Islam.
By the tenth century, the Sanhaja Berbers, the main inhabitants of the Western Sahara who had established quite a strong kingdom at Awdaghost as its capital had been worn over. So also had the Berbers of the important Sahara trading centre of Tadmekket.
According to Prof. Albert Adu Boahen in his ‘Topics in West African History’ book, Ibn Hawkal writing towards the end of the tenth century described the kings of Tadmekket as ‘holders of leadership, learning and jurisprudence’. And it was these Berbers who in the course of their normal trading activities in the land of the Negros, that is Sudan, began in turn to propagate the religion of Islam.
As early as A.D. 985, the ruler of Gao was won over and by the middle of the eleventh century, the kings of Tekrur, Silla and Kugha, all vassal of the kings of Ghana, had also embraced Islam.
It should be noted that the although kings of Ghana themselves did not adopt Islam and remained faithful to their traditional gods, they allowed complete freedom of religion and worship and even employed some of the Muslims as civil servants at court.
By 1067, Al-Bakri noted that in the capital city of ancient Ghana, there was a Muslim quarters with 12 mosques.
But this peaceful spread of Mohammedanism was interrupted between 1042 and 1054 when a fanatical religious movement known as the Almoravid movement arose among the Sanhaja Berbers in the Sahara region to the north of ancient Ghana.
This movement was dedicated to the spread of Islam by means of the jihad or holy war. Ghana being a pagan kingdom whose kings hitherto resisted Islam, naturally attracted the attention of these fanatics. The attacks of the Almoravid weaken the ancient empire and although Ghana later organized and regained its freedom, its gold trade routes had lost its security with traders looking elsewhere and with land not seeing agricultural work over time, the state never regained its power.
It is due to the Almoravid jihad that made the Mali Empire right in its formation a muslin state with its kings going to Mecca on the mandatory pilgrimage. As at 2010, there were an estimated 1.6 billion Muslims around the world with 248,420,000 from Sub-Saharan Africa.