's Ancient Civilizations of the World/Islamic Invasions and Expansion in Africa



From its beginning, Islam has been a central feature in Africa. Africa was the first continent into which Islam expanded, and it has become an integral part of many African cultures and histories. In fact, Islam is the largest religion in Africa, followed by Christianity. Africa harbors the highest percentage of Muslims (52.39%). A quarter of the world's Muslims live in Africa.



The presence of Islam in Africa can be traced to the seventh century when the prophet Muhammad advised a number of his early disciples, who were facing persecution by the pre-Islamic inhabitants of the Mecca, to seek refuge across the Red Sea at the court of Axum in Zeila, under the rule of al-Najashi. In the Muslim tradition, this event is known as the first hijrah, or migration. These first Muslim migrants provided Islam with its first major triumph, and the coastline of Somalia became the first safe haven for Muslims and the first place Islam would be practiced outside of the Arabian Peninsula. Seven years after the death of Muhammad (in 639 CE), the Arabs advanced toward Africa and within two generations, Islam had expanded across North Africa and all of the Central Maghreb. In the following centuries, the consolidation of Muslim trading networks, connected by lineage, trade, and Sufi brotherhoods, had reached a crescendo in West Africa, enabling Muslims to wield tremendous political influence and power. During the reign of Umar II, the then governor of Africa, Ismail ibn Abdullah, was said to have won the Berbers to Islam by his just administration. Other early notable missionaries include Abdallah ibn Yasin, who started a movement which caused thousands of Berbers to accept Islam.

Similarly, in the Swahili coast, Islam made its way inland - spreading at the expense of traditional African religions. This expansion of Islam in Africa not only led to the formation of new communities in Africa, but it also reconfigured existing African communities and empires to be based on Islamic models. Indeed, in the middle of the eleventh century, the Kanem Empire, whose influence extended into Sudan, converted to Islam. At the same time but more toward West Africa, the reigning ruler of the Bornu Empire embraced Islam. As these kingdoms adopted Islam, its populace thereafter devotedly followed suit. In praising the Africans' zealousness to Islam, the fourteenth century explorer Ibn Battuta stated that mosques were so crowded on Fridays, that unless one went very early, it was impossible to find a place to sit.

Great Mosque of Djenné 1


"Islam in Africa" (Wikipedia)