Apart from Christianity, Islam has been one of the more dominant religions in the African continent. Here in this article, we are going to go back in history to trail the genealogy of how the religion of Prophet Muhammad traveled all the way from the Arabian Desert to become one of the most revered in the African continent.
In pre-colonial times, traditional African spiritualism was the main force that dominated the African belief system, but all these were to change at some point in history. Islam was first introduced to the Sahara and Western Sudan as far back as the second half of the eleventh century.
The conquering Islamic movement continued into North Africa, first in A.D 641 and 708 when it touched down in Morocco and Egypt, introduced by the Arabs. Freebooters, missionaries, and soldiers were among other tools used in converting the Sahara and Interior African people to Islam.
The dominance of Islam begun as early as A.D. 985. The eleventh century saw the ruler of Gao being won over, the kings of Tekrur, Silla and Kugha, all vassal of the kings of Ghana had also embraced Islam at this point.
In the tenth century, the main inhabitants of the Western Sahara (Sanhaja Berbers) who had established quite a strong kingdom at Awdaghost as its capital had been converted. This also had the Berbers of the important Sahara trading centre bending to the great rising force. Fast forward to 1067, there were Muslim quarters with 12 mosques in the capital city of ancient Ghana, Al-Bakri.
However, the Ghanaian kings themselves did not adopt Islam and remained faithful to their traditional gods. They allowed complete freedom of religion and worship, even employed some of the Muslims as civil servants, allowing some even into sensitive positions in court.
Between 1042 and 1054, the spread of Islam was interrupted 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. Between this period, the Islamic movement recorded their least followership as compared to years gone.
Several authors, including Prof. Albert Boahen, have given their views of how the dominance of Islam began. Writing towards the end of the tenth century, Boahen 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 Sudan, began in turn to propagate the religion of Islam.
Regardless of the author’s view, the ultimate truth is that Islam was spread by means of Jihad (holy war). Proponents, arising from deep within the Arab world, used violence and the threat of it, to conquer lands and forcefully convert the people in places they conquered. The Quran, Islam’s holy book, condones the act of Jihad, or Holy War, and this served the basis on which Islam gained in followership and prominence.
Ghana initially resisted Islam, being a pagan kingdom. The attacks of the Almoravid weakened 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 overtime, but the state never regained its power.
The spread of Islam will continue till 2000 covering every route and country in Africa. It was later made mandatory for every Muslim state with its kings going to Mecca for pilgrimage. Almoravid Jihad had the Mali Empire right in its formation.
The dominance of Islam keeps growing with an estimated 1.6 billion adherents in the year 2010. Sub-Saharan Africa records about 248,420,000, ranking among the largest across the world.