Africa under Islam

Any discussion about Africa conjures up images of poverty, starvation, famine and civil war. Since the scramble for Africa in the 20th century for the continent’s coveted minerals and resources by the European colonialists, Africa was carved up to act as mere supply lines for their attempts at Empire. For the Western colonialists African crown jewels were too good an opportunity to give up.

The Muslims on the other hand have an illustrious history in Africa, this is why 52% of Africa’s population today is comprised of Muslims. Islam came to North Africa after Al Sham came under Islam. Islam’s initial launch pad into the continent was through the conquest of Egypt. Egypt was inhabited by a mixture of people, such as Copts, Jews and Romans. Similarly North Africa was where the Berbers lived under Roman dominance. The Romans viewed Africa as their colony and through patron rulers it maintained its grip on the continent.

An official campaign to conquer North Africa began in 663, and the Muslims soon controlled most major cities in Libya. Tripoli fell in 666 and by 670, the Muslims had taken Tunisia. The Maghreb territory consists of present-day Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco, and was collectively known as the Byzantine province of Africa which eventually capitulated and sent shockwaves across the Roman territories. The loss of Egypt, which was the breadbasket for the Roman Empire, was a loss the Romans never recovered from.

The largest African cities and kingdoms were located in the Sahel, a desert and savannah region south of the Sahara. After 750 AD, these cities and kingdoms arose because they served as hubs for the trade routes across northern Africa. By the 1300’s, these large Sahelian kingdoms became Islamic and, more importantly, centers of Islamic learning. By 675 North Africa was under the Khilafah and as the Muslims has done in all the territories that came under its authority, the Khilafah worked to consolidate Islam which led to economic development. The Muslims constructed the city of Qairouan (roughly eighty miles south of modern Tunis). This city became the capital of Islamic Africa. Initially the location of a military base, like many bases these became cities and centers of learning.

The Al Qayeawm mosque (Jamil Uqba) was constructed by the Muslims and it became established as a centre of learning throughout the Islamic lands. By the 9th century the city attracted scholars from all over the Islamic World. Imam Sahnun and Asad ibn al-Furat became famous for their contribution to science and philosophy. Muslim scholars from Walata came to Timbuktu and solidified the position of Islam. Timbuktu become a center of Islamic learning, with its Sankore University becoming an esteemed institution, it comprised 180 Quranic schools and collected over 100,000 manuscripts in subjects such as astronomy and botany.

There are a number of important practices that Islam gave to Africa. The most important was literacy. Egypt and the Nilotic kingdoms of the Kushites and the Nubians had long traditions of writing, and the Ethiopians had acquired it through their ties to the Semitic peoples of southern Arabia. But these writing systems did not spread throughout Africa. Islam, however, as a religion of the book, spread writing and literacy everywhere it went. Many Africans dealt with two languages: their native language and Arabic, which was the language of texts. However, this gradually changed as Africans began using the Arabic alphabet to write their own languages. To this date, Arabic script is one of the most common scripts for writing African languages. With literacy, the Islam brought formal educational systems. In North Africa and the Sahel, these systems and institutions would produce a great flowering of African thought and science.

 

Africa Today

Fast forward to today and Africa is a far cry form where it was in the past. The first scramble for Africa began when Henry Stanley claimed the Congo River Valley for Belgium. France then invaded Egypt and built the Suez Canal. Britain invaded Egypt in order to have control of the canal, which was crucial to their shipping routes. Britain and Egypt then took control of Sudan. France began to colonize Tunisia and Morocco. Italy took Libya. Britain fought a war with and defeated the Boers in order to gain control of the resource rich Southern Africa. Cecil Rhodes became rich from the Kimberly diamond fields, which produced 90% of the world’s diamonds at the time. By the early 1900’s most of Africa was taken by European colonialists. Today, political power has been reordered, America is now the leading world power replacing the European nation’s influence. But while the control over the world’s resources has passed into different hands the objectives have not changed.

While the western Capitalist nations traditional interest in Africa has been ‘cash crops’, diamonds and other minerals, it has gained significant attention in recent times due to oil discoveries and increased oil production in existing fields. This has happened as the realization has dawned of the instability of the Middle East oil supply in the future, due to the rise of political Islam.

Africa represents a highly significant portion of the world’s oil resources. Capitalist nations are preparing the grounds in Africa through explorations on land and under the sea, oil companies issuing significant bribes to African government officials, increased military expenditure for US ‘Peace Keeping’ forces in Africa and several presidential visits to secure political allegiance to oil exports. Western oil companies and African governments come from the same style of Capitalism and therefore the wealth generated from oil exports tends to circulate amongst themselves, leaving the average man to become even poorer, a fact documented by several organizations. Therefore, whatever the resource finds in Africa, poverty will continue to be the lot of the African continent.

In contrast, the Islamic Khilafah system fully integrated the peoples and lands it governed over with statesmen from the Khilafah marrying from and intermingling with the indigenous people. The spread of Islam to Africa was not driven by material gains rather the aim was the furthering of the message of Islam and its noble values. The Islamic economic system facilitated the well being of Africa via the distribution of wealth. The strong injunctions to ensure that wealth does not remain in the hands of the wealthy led to wealth flowing throughout society. The current international competition between the US, EU and China on Africa’s immense oil and mineral resources highlights the need for the return of the rightly guided Khilafah Rashidah to the continent.

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