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African Muslims, Christian Europeans, and the Atlantic Slave Trade When the first Africans were shipped to the New World, beginning in 1501, Islam was already well established in West Africa. The religion revealed to the Arabian trader Muhammad between 609 and 632 c.e. had been introduced to North Africa as early as 660. South of the Sahara it had been known since the eighth century through contacts with merchants from the north. Islam in its orthodox Sunni form started to spread, however, after the conversion of the two rulers War Diaby, from Takrur in northern Senegal—which, by applying the sharia, or Islamic law, became the first West African Muslim state—and Kosoy, from Gao in present -day Mali. Both conversions occurred at the beginning of the eleventh century. Within fifty years, Islam had expanded from the banks of the Senegal River in the west to the shores of Lake Chad in the east. Malian traders and clerics introduced it to northern Nigeria—where the Muslims became known as Malé, or people coming from Mali—in the fourteenth century. In contrast to its arrival in North Africa, where it had been brought by the invading Arabs, the spread of Islam in sub-Saharan Africa followed a mostly peaceful and unobtrusive path. Religious wars or jihad, came late—in the eighteenth and especially the nineteenth century—and Islam was diffused not by outsiders (except in the early years) but by indigenous traders, clerics, and rulers. These carriers of the faith were natives and therefore identified culturally and socially as well as ethnically with the potential converts. Some fundamental features of traditional religions and customs, such as the ritual immolation of animals, circumcision , polygamy, communal prayers, divination, and amulet making, also were present in Islam. Such affinities facilitated conversion as well as accommodation and tolerance of others’ rituals and beliefs. Africans themselves considered Islam an African religion. 1 4 Islam and Islamic populations quickly became an integral part of the West African landscape; but Islam was not the religion of the majority, and its followers coexisted with non-Muslims. Some Muslim rulers governed largely non-Muslim populations, while animist or polytheist kings often had Muslim subjects. Muslim minorities could be found in practically every town, Muslim majorities in many. Islam was initially the religion of traders and rulers, but depending on the time and place, it also became the religion of the masses in opposition to their “pagan” leaders. As with any religion, Islam in Africa had a variety of followers—the devout , the sincere, the casual believers, the fundamentalists, the lightly touched, and the mystics. Starting in the fifteenth century, Islam in West Africa gradually became associated with the Sufi orders. The Sufis stress the personal dimension of the relationship between Allah and man, as embodied in surah 2:115: “Wherever you turn, there is Allah’s Face.” They emphasize rituals and devotional practices such as the recitation of the Koran, incantations (dhikr), music to attain spiritual ecstasy (sama), meditation, acts of devotion , asceticism, retreats (khalwa), and fasting as techniques to get closer to God. Their leaders offer a mystic path (tariqah) to the believer that is more personal, more immediate, and more “human” than the intellectual and legalistic way of the ulama (learned men). The Sufi brotherhood also serves as a social organization that links its members over geography , ethnicity, and social class. They recite the Koran together and have their particular holy days and pilgrimages. There is usually much cohesion and support among the members of the brotherhood. The most extensive Sufi order in West Africa until the mid nineteenth century was the Qadiriyah, founded by Qadir al Gilani, who lived in Baghdad from 1078 to 1166. With the transportation of Africans across the Atlantic, Sufism, which was dominant in West Africa, took hold in the New World; the traces it left can still be detected today, as is assessed in later chapters. Just as they were part of a local milieu, the West African Muslims belonged to a much larger sphere—an Islamic world with pockets of followers from Spain to China. The West African Muslim world had direct economic, religious, and cultural ties to the Maghreb, Egypt, and the Middle East and was evolving in what today would be called a global market of ideas and goods. Kingdoms and empires such as Kanem and Mali had established diplomatic relations with Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, and Algeria. Pilgrims on their way to Mecca spent...


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