General History of Africa/Volume I/Methodology and African Prehistory/M.El Fasi & I. Hrbek/The coming of Islam and the expansion of the Muslim Empire

UNESCO — General History of Africa
Volume I. Methodology and African Prehistory

Joseph Ki-Zerbo, ed. 1981, 820 pp.

4. — Z. Dramani-Issifou
Islam as a social system in Africa since the seventh century

Islam as a religion, and thus as a constituent part of spiritual and social culture, is one of the fundamental aspects of modern African civilizations, to such an extent that many inhabitants of the continent often regard Islam and Africa as being a single entity. Indeed, Africa and the religion of Islam are old acquaintances. Even before the hidjra certain companions and converts, on the orders of the Prophet, had-found refuge in Ethiopia at the court of the ruler of Axum. This little community of refugees, which included relatives of Muhammad and some of the first Meccan converts to Islam, was very generously received by the sovereign. Hardly eight years after the death of the Prophet, Islam was gaining a firm foothold in Egypt; the conquest of the north of the African continent was to be completed during the following century.
Islam was carried by a people — the Arabs — who had in pre-Islamic times been the repository of varied forms of cultural life which arose in the desert and in the towns and which the Byzantines, the Persians, the Christians and the Jews had endeavoured to influence. The message of Islam was expressed in a language in which God had “sent down His word” quite apart from questions of linguistic pride , it was invested with the certainty of having brought about a unified Arab culture. Islam could therefore be the bearer of a cultural hegemony which was a source of conflicts with other cultures rooted in other types of societies. The pre-Islamic cultures and societies dominated by Islam in the Near East were worthy of note, in particular, by reason of their written heritage. There is no need to dwell on the subject here. The case of African cultures and societies is more difficult to deal with. As in many other cases, the oral transmission of their knowledge, the implicit nature of their rich and ancient cultural life, means that factual evidence concerning them is often derived from external sources; in this instance, the evidence comes from Arab historiography which is marred by prejudice and by ideological assumptions which must be identified and clarified. If this is not done, there is once again the risk that the history of Africa will seem to be a history without any inherent originality and will appear, for long periods of time, as an “object-history”, the history of a land that was conquered, exploited and civilized. Indeed, since, unlike the inhabitants of the Near East and the Ethiopians, they did not possess a Book which is the pledge of a Divine revelation, the black Africans and their religion were, from the outset, categorized among the peoples without a respectable religion, incapable of acquiring the status of peoples ‘protected’ by Islam and therefore as hardly likely to possess respectable languages and cultures

Islam, African peoples and their cultures

Islam proclaims a profound unity which does not theoretically preclude cultural diversity. It strongly affirms the unity of the human race and recognizes all men as having an identical nature, created by God. They all belong to the “race” of Adam to whom God has granted, in pre-eternity, the “primordial pact”. At this level of theoretical generality the profound unity of Islam could not raise any problems for Africans. It did, on the other hand, raise very serious problems for the Egyptian Christians, the Ethiopians and in general for Christian and Jewish monotheists. The Sura entitled “The Table” establishes a historical continuity after Abraham, through Moses, Jesus and Muhammad, three Messengers of a single God. The human beings who received the message of the first two Prophets failed to remain faithful to it; the rigour imposed by the third Prophet concerning the observance of divine commands is explained both by man’s tendency to infidelity and by the fact that the revelation through Muhammad is, historically, the last.
Underneath this unity which, except for Christians and Jews, is easy to grasp and to accept, there appears a second level of contact with Islam: the observances that denote that one belongs to the Muslim community and thus, also, the possible prohibition on engaging in forms of religious life other than those required by the Quran. The obligations are well known: they are contained in the “five pillars” of Islam: the shahāda or profession of faith which is expressed in the affirmation “there is no divinity but God, and Muhammad is the Prophet of God”; the salāt or set of ritual prayers, five times a day; the fast of Ramadān, one month per year; the zakāt or legal almsgiving which provides for the support of the poor and of orphans; and, lastly, the hājj, or Pilgrimage to Mecca, once in a believer’s lifetime, if this is materially possible. Unity in the faith and in religious practice, the fraternal solidarity among believers who are all “brothers”, hospitality and justice which flow from this sense of community: these, similarly, pose no serious theoretical problems. The social ideal of the Muslim faithful is seen as being adapted to the forces of human nature by practising mutual assistance, hospitality, generosity, the honouring of commitments towards members of the Community (umma), first, but towards other communities, too, and the tempering of desire. Beyond that, this ideal offers through jihād (the holy war) and the sacrifice of one’s life, the opportunity to transcend oneself. This is the expression of the profound unity which characterizes Islam and which gives it its uniqueness. This spirit of community is clearly compatible with deep-seated African traditions of social organization. Muslim texts coincide with underlying African assumptions: in the hadīth of Gabriel, al-Bukharī wrote that Islam is also “giving food [to the hungry] and giving the greeting of peace [salām] to those whom one knows and to those whom one does not know” or again: “None of you becomes a true believer if he does not desire for his [Muslim] brother what he desires for himself” . However, this unity coexists with a truly personal moral responsibility; no one can be charged with the fault of another; everyone must be responsible for his own actions. Thus, the sense of community, the feeling that one is part of a whole, is united, as though by a dialectical process, with a concern, for one’s own destiny and for one’s own obligations. The believer is aware of being in a personal relationship with God who will require him to give an account of himself.
It must at the outset be noted that the act of embracing Islam is an individual one; if it is to be a responsible act it must be freely chosen: moral and physical coercion are prohibited by the Quran. But it is also an irreversible act: it is a social conversion which denotes the act of joining a community of a new type and severing links with other types of socio-cultural community. This is a fundamental point at issue for the relations between the Muslim world and the societies and cultures of Africa. Historical situations are certainly varied, both in time and space. An African of a different religion could not be forced to embrace Islam; however, his religious status — without a Scripture — made him entirely dependent on Islam and with no protection vis-à-vis the Muslim community.
We have thus moved towards a third and much more dramatic level of contacts: that of the law. It was almost three centuries before legal rules were established in the Muslim world in accordance with the Quran and the teachings of the Prophet — the Sunna. These rules involved a compilation of “all the [Prophet’s] sayings, deeds, ways of eating, drinking, dressing, accomplishing his religious duties and of treating both believers and unbelievers” . The law — sharī’a — gathers together the Quranic prescriptions supplemented by the prohibitions and clarifications contained in the jurisprudence —fikh. The law has been interpreted by four schools of jurisprudence in varying ways and in a spirit which differed in its degree of literalness and rigour. One interesting feature of the debate on the relationship between Islam and African societies is that the legal schools of jurisprudence with which the Africans had to deal were not the same in the west of the continent as they were in the east. The west, from the Maghrib to West Africa, bore the deep and almost exclusive imprint of Mdlikism. The Māliki school, which was more formalistic than certain other Juridical schools, particularly after its triumphs in the fifth/eleventh century, was brought in conjunction with Sunnism to a high degree of intransigence by the jurists (fukahā’). These played a highly important role, in particular from the fifth/eleventh to the tenth/sixteenth century. To the east, Shāfi’ism, which was strongly established in Egypt and was more liberal, was generally predominant in the Horn of Africa and on the East African coast. Numerous subtle distinctions can probably be accounted for by this fact.
Lastly, it must be added that the fifth/eleventh century witnessed a movement in two directions which are contradictory only in appearance. On the one hand, the increasing rigour of Sunnism, from the time when the Turks became dominant in Baghdad, which was ultimately triumphant and which tended to impose uniformity, through the law, on the authority of the state and on education, and a single Muslim rite; on the other hand, the reappearance of mystic currents of thought — sufism — which had long been opposed and which sought to express religious feeling through asceticism and rejection of the world. The Maghrib was the first to extend a warm welcome to these mystics . In the seventh/twelfth century sūfī brotherhoods began to appear, the first of which was that of the Kādirīyya, associated with Baghdad; in Morocco, the Shadhiliyya brotherhood was popularized by al-Djazūlī in the ninth/fifteenth century and played both a political and a religious role. Both these fifth/eleventh-century trends had profound repercussions on the relations between Islam and African societies. The first, which was dominated by Mālikism, made the Muslim cornmunity more intransigent in its dealings with African cultural traditions.
The other spread with great success the cult of holy men — the bearers of the blessing (baraka) that was equal to that which the hājjis derive from the Pilgrimage. These took on the role of healers and divines and thus Islamized certain very ancient aspects of the daily life of the Africans. In the eyes of simple people who are always ready to believe in miracles, the saints and marabouts seemed more accessible than the majestic and distant God of Islam. More important still, the cult of local saints sometimes negated the obligation of the Pilgrimage to Mecca and sometimes incorporated an earlier cult. In this way there developed first in the Maghrib and then, particularly after the eleventh/seventeenth century in West Africa, the character of the marabout10, a dominant social figure of western Islam.
Thus the development of Islamic law, its sponsorship of specialists supported by the state, and the rise of mysticism, concern the life of African societies much more intimately than faith or mere observance. In these doctrinal matters the meeting was not to be as easy as earlier meetings had been. The danger here was one of confusion between the norms of the social life of the Near East and the faith of Islam.
There was a risk that a fourth dimension would play a part: that of cultural emulation of the Arab model, thus implying renunciation of African cultural traditions and total endorsement of the values of the Arab world whether they were regarded as desirable and superior or whether they were imposed. In this context there was a possibility of confusion between Arabization and Islamization.
This is something that can be gauged even before one embarks on an analysis of the process whereby Islam became established as a social system in Africa; it was a meeting between peoples, cultures and societies of different traditions, a meeting the results of which depended on the extent to which each side was able to distinguish between what was merely cultural and what was of general religious significance, and this was ultimately a question of the permeability of African societies and cultures, which were in no sense passive, to the new influences that camc from the east 11. This also means that any approach to Islam as a social system implies a study of the phenomena of Islamization and conquest, the meeting of peoples. The fact of geographical co-existence made it inevitable that there would be dialogue between Muslims of diverse origins and between Muslims and non-Muslims through the delineation of Islamic space within which the following problem is posed: is there, or is there not, unity in the monolithic meaning of the term or is there unity in diversity?

A period of easy co-existence: the fifth/eleventh century

The tenacious struggle of the Berbers against certain forms of Islamization 12 has all too often been cited as evidence to support the claim that in black Africa the conquest was violent. In fact, the Arabs often halted in their progress southwards when they encountered resistance which was too difficult to overcome in historical and political contexts that were unknown, little known or difficult to control: hence their very limited incursions towards Nubia, towards the Fezzān and Kawār, towards the Sūs and the western Sahara 13. In these regions, the leaders of the empire applied the same policy as they did north of the Pyrenees or in central Asia: being aware of the risks inherent in massive military defeats, they confined themselves to incursionary expeditions entrusted to small groups. In spite of the triumphal tone in which some of these incursions were later celebrated, they did not have far-reaching effects and their results were in most cases compromises which provided a safe means of supplying the Muslims with slaves 14 but which ensured that the populations of the south enjoyed peace. The Islamization of the north of the continent in Egypt and in the Maghrib’ took, in the long term, forms which are considered in other chapters of this Volume 15
In fact, the penetration of Islam into black Africa had very complex and essentially non-violent aspects during this initial period as is shown by many recent studies 16: the Berbers of the desert, or those of them who embraced Islam, the Ibadlte or Sufrite merchants, and the representatives of Fdtimid interests played roles that were different but were not marked by significant violence. Opinions vary even on the methods employed by the Almoravids in their dealings with the black peoples at the end of this first period. There has no doubt been too great a tendency to rely on historical writings that were of wholly Arab or Arab-Berber origin and were strongly influenced by the victory of the believers over the unbelievers, even if they were ‘people of the Book’ and the glorification of certain heroes, the most popular of whom and the most widely celebrated in mythology was ‘Ukba ibn Nāfi’.
This situation has given rise to a muted and subtle debate in which there are differing ideological assumptions. The debate involves two opposing tendencies in historical explanation, or rather interpretation, of the conversion of Mediterranean Africa to Islam. In general, Eastern and Middle Eastern historians, whether Arabs or otherwise, those from the regions of Africa which have come under the cultural influence of the Middle East (Egypt, the Sudan, Libya and Tunisia) and those of the rest of the Maghrib who are in addition specialists in Islamic studies, have difficulty in accepting — or unequivocally reject — the thesis of the Arab conquest as a preliminary to the conversion of populations. In support of their point of view they argue that Islam does not allow conversions by force. The other specialists in African history, almost all of them, like the former, specialists in Muslim matters and the expansion of Islam, are divided between those who support their analyses by referring to the phenomenon of the conquest and those who accept the conquest as a fact but view it in its correct historical proportions as a long-term phenomenon. The latter include Westerners, sub-Saharan Africans and, to a very limited extent, historians of the Maghrib (particularly Morocco) specializing in Berber studies. Is this no more than an academic dispute? We do not think so and we believe that this debate is important for the understanding of the entire range of human and cultural factors which brought the Arabs into contact with the peoples of Africa. In short, we think that the encounter between these peoples was initially more a political and economic matter than a religious one.
In fact, in the early centuries, the Muslim world had preoccupations which were very different north of the Sahara on the one hand, and south of the Sahara and in East Africa on the other.
In the first case the strategic considerations were of immense importance both as a springboard for further expansion towards Spain, the Mediterranean islands and Italy and for the defence of a bastion against any return of the warring Christians who remained a constant threat.
Seen from this twofold standpoint, Egypt occupied a position of worldwide importance of which the Byzantines were well aware. It was vital to keep Egypt within the House of Islam — Dār al-Islām — and its inhabitants had to be induced, by the most varied means, not to break the agreement obtained from them at the time when the Arab troops established themselves. Here the highly structured organization of the Islamic community predominated; Christians and Jews were obliged to take their part in it as dhimmī
In a few centuries, the Berbers occupied vast areas from the Atlantic to the Nile; they travelled through them and controlled them by means of the camel. They led highly varied forms of life ranging from the completely sedentary to the fully nomadic 17. To the north of the African continent they were also obliged to conform to the warlike and therefore political demands of the Dār al-Islām; although efforts were made by the orthodoxy to eliminate the dangerous — and persistent — traces of religious syncretism, the Berbers were allowed to retain for a long time a degree oforiginality within Islam and a certain linguistic autonomy. Moreover, for a long time a tolerant view was taken of their respect for traditions which did not affect the essential features of Muslim life. A striking example concerning Ibn Tūmart is given by Ibn Khaldūn:

He took pleasure in frequenting the mosques and, in his youth, he was given the nickname of Asafu, that is to say, Brightness, because of the large number of candles that he was in the habit of lighting 18

Ibn Tumārt was thus showing a traditional Berber fondness for lights to which Saint Augustine had also referred 19. Other and more far-reaching examples of the survival of these practices may be cited. In certain tribes of the Awrās, of Kabylia, of the Nile and the Atlas, the Berbers preserved their language and their customs, the sources of their originality. For instance, customary law and non-Quranic judicial organization are characteristic features of Berber law as exemplified by the collective oath as a means of proof, as are the regulations and scale of penalties known by the name of lkānūn (kānūn), and justice administered by judge-arbiters or village assemblies. Such customs did not come into conflict with Quranic law, but they may have constituted an element of resistance to the standardizing progress of Mālikite Sunnism in the Almoravid period 20; in any case, we find these features reflected in the organization of the Almohad empire. In return for this relative liberty 21, the Berbers of the north allowed themselves to be integrated, and granted their military assistance even though the latter was sometimes the subject of bargaining between rival princes, in particular in the fourth/tenth and fifth/eleventh centuries. After the major confrontations of the second/eighth century, the territorial and political integration of the Berbers of the north was more or less an accomplished fact; it was vital for the Muslim world 22
South of the Atlas and on the East African coast there was no imminent danger that required comparable policies. The mass of the nomadic Berbers to the west joined Islam fairly quickly. Arabic sources remain vague on this point. Even Ibn Khaldfin contradicts himself: he says, on the one hand that the Lamtuna “embraced Islam some time after the conquest of Spain by the Arab” 23 and on the other, that they were converted “in the third century of the hidjra” 24. As T. Lewicki shows, it appears from the present stage of research that the Islamization of the Berbers in contact with the black populations began during the years 117/735-122/74o. This was a beginning, for during the same decade the Massūfa Berbers resisted Islam 25. Thus, there was no haste and no pressure to achieve integration: as late as the eighth/fourteenth century, Ibn Battūta noted that, in more than one respect, the social traditions of the desert Berbers which he, as a Muslim, found deeply shocking, remained intact: Muslim law was not strictly respected, still less so the rules of marriage and the Arab principles of decency 26
The Muslims, therefore, had strong reasons for showing prudence when they entered regions of the continent inhabited by peoples with a strong cultural and social identity — even if more than one author found this coherent identity surprising — and where, contrary to what was for a long time thought and written, there existed ancient states that were as powerful as those in North Africa or in Western Europe at the same date. The world of the Soninke, to the west, that of the Zaghāwa or the Kānembu in the centre, that of the Bantu-speakers to the east, surprised the Muslims who were not slow in making major ethnographical descriptions of them. They did not seek to convert them and still less to make them abandon their religious, cultural and social practices, before the sixth/twelfth century. For a long time they were content to coexist as merchants, a situation which was of benefit to them and in which they enjoyed for the most part cordial relations with the black princes and merchants. This policy, moreover, was not without benefit even from the religious point of view. We are now gaining a better knowledge of the ways in which the conversion took place, probably in the tenth century, of the princes and merchants in the Senegal Valley 27. We are also well aware of the case of Gao. The historian Ibn al-Saghīr wrote in 290/902-3 a chronicle on the Rustumid imāms of Tāhert. He mentions that between 159/776 and 166/783 there were commercial relations between Tāhert and Gao, the ruler of which claimed to be a Muslim 28
At Kānem, the rulers converted to Islam, probably during the fifth/eleventh century, even before the change of dynasty which brought Hummay (478/1085-490/1097) to power; 29 the latter may have been responsible merely for the introduction of Sunnism, in which case the event was contemporary with what was being done further west by the Almoravids. It is likely that trade in the region of Lake Chad played an important role in Islam’s progress southwards. To some extent, conversion was a means of protecting oneself against being sold into slavery, a flourishing trade on the route between Lake Chad and the Mediterranean according to al-Ya’kūbī 30 as early as the third/ninth century. This is a form of social change for African societies, somewhat unexpected for Islam but undoubtedly important 31. It did not probably play the same role at that time in East Africa as there was a decline in the sale of Zandj slaves after the revolt which bears their name and which ravaged Iraq in the third/ninth century 32. Equally reliable information is not at present available on this period concerning the East African coast and Madagascar as for West and Southern Africa, apart from interesting descriptions such as that of al-Mas’ūdī.

Thus, without wars, without violent proselytism, Islam advanced on African soil prior to the sixth/twelfth century 33. These advances had no decisive bearing on Dar al-Islam; thev were not irreversible; they took far greater account of princes and merchants than of cultivators. At least it can be said that, before the great efforts to extend Dar al-Isldm which developed from the fifth/eleventh century onwards, certain major achievements had been made. Coexistence had had more striking results than may appear even if it was accompanied by major compromises.

Often what took place was no more than a formal conversion of the prince: the anecdote relating to the conversion of a chief of Mallal, which is cited several times by Arab authors, eloquently bears out this point 34; later we shall refer to the somewhat surprising fact that the Mansa of Mall, when in Cairo during the Pilgrimage, showed a very superficial knowledge of the Muslim rules of life 35. If this is true of the princes who were soon to be criticized by pious jurists for their “false Islam”, what is to be said of the “converted” merchants who were loyal associates for short-term commercial purposes but were probably rather superficial Muslims. As for the rural world, there was no question of influencing its beliefs and practices: that would have meant disrupting an entire society and its modes of production. It remains possible, moreover, like a king of the Kongo in relation to Christianity at the end of the fifteenth century, that the rulers who converted to Islam saw a very definite advantage in doing so: they were thereby enabled to shed the numerous obligations inherent in the exercise of power in Africa, with its organized counterbalances that controlled its execution, and not to share the advantages of the new faith with their dependants. Up to a certain point Islam was able, as long as there were no strong religious counterbalances south of the Sahara, to exalt the ancient powers and even the authority of kingship: the question is one that warrants serious study.
Other types of compromise, even more important, emerge from Arab sources. It is an often repeated commonplace to refer to the disappearance of gold when the producers were converted to Islam. This possibility was equally disastrous for the north (as the client) and for the rulers who were the middlemen. Thus the gold producers were not converted, and they were very numerous 36. In the eighth/ fourteenth century thought was given to endowing this exceptional situation with an appearance of legality: al-‘Uman explains that the Mansa of Mall tolerated in his empire “the existence” of populations still practising traditional religions which he exempted from the tax that was imposed on unbelievers but which he employed in gold-mining 37. The situation appears to have remained much the same until quite recent times. The fundamental reason really is that gold prospecting and production were accompanied by a number of magical operations and were bound up with a system of beliefs of which we can still discern traces 38
The same applied to iron which provides perhaps an even clearer example than gold. In many areas, accounts describing power relations indicate the close association between royal authority and the master smelters and smiths. The figure of the “blacksmith” is also associated with magic, with the dangerous power of the ironmasters. With the passage of time, this “type” becomes more and more antithetical to that of the marabout; in 1960 the Soviet scholar D. Olderogge drew attention to this opposition and developed a parallel line of reasoning to the above 39
The marabout — or, more simply, the bearer of Muslim law — was to eliminate the influence of the iron-worker: as A. R. Ba showed in his thesis, “Le Takrūr des Xe-XIe siècles”, Islamization as it was becoming established, even if it remained urban and gregarious, seems to have been accompanied by a break in the earlier alliance between royal power and the iron-workers. The latter were first debarred from all political influence and were feared on account of their magical and economic power and gradually formed an isolated group hemmed about by prohibitions but still feared. They were not excluded from economic life, since their role was essential. Gradually there arose around them the notion of caste: in the twelfth/eighteenth century, their religious and social isolation was considerable: the contempt in which they were held provides an indication of the fear inspired by their magic and their longstanding reputation as men of power. This example probably indicates what a long and slow process was the introduction of the Muslim social system, and how cautious it was when it first came into contact with such deep-rooted habits; it may also provide a different insight into the account of the confrontations between the Sumaoro, surrounded by “bad pagan blacksmiths” and Sundiata who was also an ironmaster but no longer gave in to pressures from adherents of traditional religions.

Erratum. Sundiata was a hunter, not an ironmaster or blacksmith like Soumaoro. See Djibril Tamsir Niane’ Sundjata ou l’épopée mandingue. — T.S. Bah

Hence the importance of the theoretical battle that was joined concerning the personal commitment of the Sundiata to Islam.
The groups of Muslim merchants established south of the desert ultimately agreed to live there in minority communities that were partly Islamized by the Africans but in no way dominant; they accepted, from the autochthonous rulers a treatment comparable to that accorded to Christian or Jewish minorities in Islamic lands but were probably excused the payment of taxes. This explains the success of the Muslim quarters, close to the royal cities and in many cases with their own mosques, which did not however exert any pressure on the population as a whole.
The lbādites 40 clearly played a major role during this period. Their easy relationship with the Sūdān (Negroes) may be noted with some surprise, particularly as they behaved with such acrimony towards other Muslims. This is probably one indication of the excellent relations which, for centuries, the Saharan Berbers maintained with the black populations.
Ibādite sources that have recently emerged from the obscurity in which religious orthodoxy kept them for centuries 41 give a good account of the situation. They provide examples of genuine mutual religious tolerance and of a large measure of understanding — which would probably have been intolerable from the point of view of the Mālikite Sunnis — towards African cultures impregnated with traditional religion designated as “pagan” and their social practices.
After the brilliance of the Fātimid fourth/tenth century, so important for Africa, things changed everywhere with the triumph in the fifth/eleventh century of Sunni orthodoxy and the emergence of religious phenomena that were far less ready to display tolerance, such as the Almoravid movement, at least in its African aspects. Even in East Africa, the sixth/twelfth century saw a hardening of Muslim attitudes towards African cultures and societies. This was the beginning of a second period in which the efforts of Islam were increasingly directed towards the standardization of patterns of life in the lands under its control.

The causes of tensionIf the hadīth which states that “the angels do not enter a house where there is a dog” were to be taken literally, there would have been no future for contact between Islam and the peoples of Africa since, in African societies, dogs are a permanent feature of domestic life. It is also to be noted that Islam resolutely opposed the excessive manifestations of the keeping of dogs, in particular cynophagy.
Everything depended in the last analysis in the social sphere on the permeability of African societies to any changes proposed or imposed by Islam since there were no obstacles in principle to the adoption of Islam’s belief in a single God.
The black African societies which were penetrated by Islam were rural; they had functional links with the land and with all features of their immediate environment (mineral, vegetable, air and water). In these agrarian cultures, based on the oral tradition, it may be possible to see analogies with certain socio-cultural aspects of the pre-Islamic Arab World. That does not mean that the social structures of the Islamic world resembled those of Africa. In African societies the nuclear family — man, wife, children — was unknown as an autonomous unit; the extended family consisting of the descendants of a common ancestor bound together by ties of kinship and land, was the basic component, united by a high degree of economic solidarity. The history of the flourishing of these basic social groups, up to the limits of segmentation, the history of the various ways in which they associated together in larger groups, recognizing a common ancestor — more or less fictive — or working a common stretch of terrain, need not be retold here. The important thing is that these communities, whatever their size, considered that their bonds — even if they were fictive — were religious and were shared by the totality of their ancestors, the living and children as yet unborn, in an unbroken chain of generations, having a sacred bond with the soil, with the bush, and with the waters, which provided food and were objects of worship. These socio-religious structures could not be dissociated without destroying the entire balance of their life; they had a sense of oneness, thanks to a long historical awareness of a common past and the slow pace of the changes to which they were subject. Beside them, other more complex societies existed: those in which favourable geo-economic conditions had made it possible to amass reserves that justified the existence of social categories specializing in distinct tasks. Some categories were socio-economic in nature and ensured an increasing division of labour. Others were socio-religious: they maintained, through the activity of magicians, diviners, healers and intercessors between the visible and the invisible, a social cohesion that would otherwise have been threatened by the division of labour; still others represented a more highly developed political organization than in the purely agrarian societies. In all cases, however, the African man retained his vision of the world as a vast confrontation of forces that were to be exorcised or exploited. As Joseph Ki-Zerbo rightly puts it: “in this ocean of dynamic and conflicting currents [man] made himself into a fish in order to swim”. 42 Within two different frameworks, one more urban and the other always rural, African societies have taken widely divergent forms depending on whether the people were savanna-dwellers or forest-dwellers, sedentary or nomadic, cultivators or stockraisers, hunter-gatherers or members of an urban community. Very often, however, the unity of the religious perception of social relationships prevailed over differences in material detail; very often, the role of the mother and the woman in the transmission of property remained considerable. The forms of life remained very remote from that of the clan and of the patrillneal family of the Arabs with which Islamic law is in almost perfect harmony.
It was, of course, in this field that tensions and conflicts arose, particularly when, above all in West Africa, pressure was exerted by Muslim jurists who would have liked to induce the Africans to commit themselves more fully to a “model of society” which such jurists assumed to be Islamic even though it was perhaps primarily Near Eastern. However, the forms taken by these tensions varied widely from one region to another and at different times, depending also on relationships of strength of every kind, primarily numerical, between Muslims and non-Muslims, and between Muslims from the east and the north and African Muslims. Thus, when we endeavour to appraise the way in which Islam transformed or failed to transform the societies of black Africa, we are dealing with a rich and complex history.
When the scene of events was a town, it was probably permissible in the fourth/tenth century, as it is today in Rwanda 43, to abandon any reference to ancient rural alliances and to change one’s name and merge into a new Islamic community which satisfied all one’s needs, and to establish in that community, when the time came, a new family on new ideological foundations. The change of name permits an elegant and simple transfer, from the social point of view, from the original community to the Muslim community 44. In Sahelian Africa, this transfer seems to have been easy but, rightly, it does not denote a total break: a Muslim name, strongly Africanized — Muhammad sometimes becomes Mamadu, ‘Alī becomes Aliyu 45 — is added to the existing African names: these are only Islamized in the long term and in accordance with very precise codes. The process is one of slow fusion whether in the case of kings, merchants or rural dwellers, even later than the sixth/twelfth century. The same was not the case in other regions of the continent where onomastic breaks were massive and dramatic 46. The Muslims themselves were, of course, divided as to the attitude to be adopted towards the African socio-cultural traditions. The jurists from the north, armed with their learning and proud of the society they represented, tended to see in the “non-conformist” actions of black societies the proof that they belonged to a world that was alien to Islam and must be opposed, the black Muslims who were born in these societies and who wished to live in them, sometimes as small and tolerated minorities, were much more inclined to regard the practices of African religions as not constituting a real obstacle to the acceptance of Islam; their tolerance might be very extensive and their coreligionists from the north readily accused them of permissiveness, of collusion or even of treason to Islam. It was, however, the latter rather than the former who, as we shall see, ensured the most lasting successes of Islam from the sixth/twelfth to the tenth/sixteenth century.
Juridical intransigence, indeed, was a cause of extreme tension over the question of altering the matrilineal rules of succession in favour of the patrilineal practices imposed by the Quran. No comprehensive study has yet been made showing the successive stages of this conflict which undoubtedly arose as early as the fifth/eleventh century and whose most celebrated instance was the consultation of al-Māghilī to which we shall refer later: the author stated that those who rejected Muslim legislation and applied a matrilineal line of inheritance were not Muslims 47. Pressure on this matter was clearly exerted first of all on those who held power: genealogies reveal hesitation between the two forms of succession 48
It was probably in connection with the concept of the ownership of goods that the incompatibility between one society and the other proved the strongest. When al-Bakrī spoke of the “bizarre decisions” of ‘Abdallah ibn Yāsīn 49 he displayed the distaste of an individual and individualistic owner towards “socializing” forms, equality and the redistribution of property which the Almoravid cleric wished to impose. All the more reason, then, that the African community of land, work and harvests was barely comprehensible to Muslims accustomed to individual family and urban wealth. Once more, the consultation of al-Māghilī raises, in different terms, the problem of the ownership of goods and his reply was, once again, a radical one 50
The apparently milder protests against “African immorality” were equally ineffectual: the excessive laxity in the behaviour of women, their failure to wear the veil 51, nudity among adolescents; Arab writers could do no more than record 52 or denounce 53 the “scandals” which offended their sight.
At all these levels underlying their respective and hardly compatible forms of organization, the differences between Arab-Muslim societies and African societies, whether they were Muslim or otherwise, remained unreconciled between the sixth/twelfth and the tenth/sixteenth centuries. They no doubt tended to see these opposing forms of social life as indicating an incompatibility between Islam and African religion.The role played by African rulersWhether friends of Islam or Muslims, from the fourth/tenth century in the Takrūr, or from the sixth/twelfth century in Mali, for example, African rulers in general accepted fairly readily a division of space and labour which ensured that the administrators they required would be available to them in the towns which had been wholly or partly Islamized, while the rural world constituted an inexhaustible source of compliant agricultural manpower whose conversion was not a matter of urgency. Islamic practice seems to have adjusted to this situation: after all, it recognized a privileged territory — Dār al-Islām — side-by-side with the territory inhabited by the infidels and the pagans — Dār al-Kufr, Dār al-harb. Being content with the conversion of the princes who, in the long term, were the guarantors of the conversion of the masses, Islam probably adopted a “pastoral” attitude which was also to be found in Christian Europe at the same periods 54
African rulers, even if they were Muslims, cannot by any stretch of the imagination be said to have been active proselytizers. However, there was no lack of attempts to achieve political and social integration on the Islamic model, both on their part and on that of their Muslim advisers from subSaharan Africa. They are sometimes even accused of cultural imitation. One thinks, for example, of Mansa Kankū Mūsa returning from the east with the architect al-Sāhīlī, or Askiya Muhammad I or the dynast of Kano, Muhammad Rumfa, both of whom called on the services of the pious cleric of Tlemcen, al-Māghalī, or on those of the Egyptian al-Suyūtī, or of the emperor Mansa Sulaymān of Mali (742/1341-761/136o), a friend of the Marinid Sultan Abū Inān, who attracted Mālikite scholars and clerics to his court. Many authors tend to endorse the severe judgement pronounced by al-Idrīsī: “men of learning and distinction are almost unknown among them, and their kings only acquire what they know about government and justice from the instruction of learned visitors from further north” 55. This opinion probably overlooks two essential things; the first is that this judgement does not allow for circumstances and it reinforces the pernicious notion that nothing of importance came from Africa itself, but always from outside. Furthermore, and this is still more serious, to think like al-Idrīsī is to forget that African societies, long before their contact with Islam, invented forms of political organization of which we are today gaining a better knowledge but of which both Muslims and Christians knew nothing for centuries. The ways in which power was exercised, which formed an integral part of the African religious sense, could not be abandoned without the consent of society as a whole and without total submission to Islam: we have already referred to the anecdote which is told differently by al-Bakrī and by al-Dardjīnī 56, concerning the conversion of a king of Mallal in the fifth/eleventh century. He adopted Islam in highly dramatic circumstances after a drought in order to obtain from the God of the Muslims the rain that was necessary for the survival of his people: in so doing, he was acting in accordance with an African model of power. The price of the conversion was a heavy one: the destruction of all the instruments of the ancestral religion, the hounding of sorcerers, the devastation of age-old traditions. The response of the people was unexpected: “we are your servants, do not change our religion!”. We are thus entitled to wonder whether the black rulers did not take from Muslim society, with its belief in a single God, what was convenient and effective for the administration of their empire and whether these attempts at “modernization” did not constitute a series of attempts to establish a balance between the “weight” of pre-Islamic African traditions and the “requirements of the new religion”.
Using a few specific examples, we can examine the real scope of the royal policy of integration with Islam.
The eighth/fourteenth century is often regarded in the historiography of Africa south of the Sahara as being the age which saw the high point of the empire of Mali, characterized by remarkable economic development, political influence on an international scale involving diplomatic relations with Morocco and Egypt, and, above all, by the decisive establishment of Islam. It was thus a triumph of the Muslim religion which is powerfully underlined by jean-Luc Moreau when he writes: “With the empire of Mali, Islam embarked on yet another phase in the Western Sudan: it was, at least in part, the initiator of a new society” 57. Joseph Ki-Zerbo represents Mansa Mūsā as “a fervent Muslim [who] gave new impetus to the expansion of Islam” 58
Although there is no doubt of the Islamic piety of Mansa Milsd, the pilgrim king, and without denying that, mainly in the towns, Islam was to some extent established, we think that these two authors who are, moreover, not the only ones, have been misled both by the relatively large mass of documents on Mali in the eighth/fourteenth century 59 and by the triumphant euphoria of the Arab and Sudano-Berber sources of the eleventh/ seventeenth century. Moreover, Ki-Zerbo himself acknowledges that: “… the peasant masses (who formed the overwhelming majority of the populations of Mali) retained their animistic faith and this was tolerated by the Mansa in exchange for their obedience and their taxes” 60. Furthermore, we cannot see how Mansa Mūsā would have managed to give fresh impetus to the “expansion of Islam” as, in common with all the other rulers of Mali, he did not launch a holy war (jihād).
Let us look one and a half centuries ahead: the end of the ninth/fifteenth century and the tenth/sixteenth century provide other examples of the desire expressed by certain Muslim clerics to bring about a profound transformation of African habits, and of the indecisive response of rulers to such pressure.
Askiya Muhammad, who seized power by means of a coup d’état, made considerable efforts to achieve political and social integration in, line with the ethic of the Quran. In order to legitimize his coup d’état he resorted to every means afforded by the Muslim religion. With the support of the “Muslim party” of the scholars of Timbuktu, he made the Pilgrimage to Mecca at the end of the ninth/fifteenth century. The title of caliph (khalīfa) invested him with spiritual authority in the Sudan. In the interior, he sought the advice almost exclusively of Muslim scholars. Faced with the difficulty of resolving the social problems raised by part of the inheritance he had received from Sonni ‘Alī the Great, he requested four consultations from three outstanding jurists: ‘Abdullāh al-Ansammānī of Takedda, al-Suyūtī, and al-Māghilī. The latter appears to have taken the greatest trouble. At the request of the askiya he wrote a kind of handbook of the perfect Muslim prince, the Answers to the Questions of the Emir al-Hajj ‘Abdullāh ibn Abū Bakr61. At the request of another black ruler, al-Māghilī wrote a book in the same style: The Obligations of Princes (Risālat al-Mulūk), intended for the king of Kano, Muhammad Rumfa (870/1465905/1499).
Askiya Muhammad, wishing to conform to the model of what was required of a caliph, adopted the oriental insignia of power: a seal, a sword, a Quran; he declared Friday to be the day of the weekly audience, he undertook holy wars — though without success — against the “infidels”. He was no more successful however, than the emperors of Mali who had preceded him in distancing himself from the African traditions which enjoined him to retain the ancestral attributes inherited from the time of the Shi: a drum, sacred fire, precise regulations concerning dress, hairstyle, regalia, the catching of the ruler’s spittle, the existence in the higher administration of the Hori farima, in other words the high priest of the worship of ancestors and genies.
Ultimately, he did not put into practice the unbending advice given by al-Maghih against the “false Muslims” by whom, according to the jurist, the askiya was surrounded. The teachings of al-Māghilī remained dormant in West Africa until ‘Uthman Dan Fodio turned them into a doctrine and a weapon to use against the princes who were then of no further use to the expansion of Islam.[Erratum. Actually, Musim clerics from Fūta-Jalon (1725) and Fūta-Tooro (1775) respectively, were the precursors of Uthman dan Fodio, born Usumani ɓī Fooduyee. See H.A.S. Johnston. The Fulani Empire of Sokoto. Chap. 4. The Start of the Jihad — T.S. Bah].In Bornu, the successor to the state of Kanem, the rulers (mai) who were true living gods, nevertheless filled their courts with learned Muslim Imāms. These tried in the reign of ‘Alī ibn Dūnama (877/1472-9 10/ 1504) to bring the morals of the notables into line with Quranic prescriptions. The “sultan” acquiesced but the notables refused to comply. Similarly, the justice administered by the kādi was confined to the towns and did not replace the law of African groups. Parts of Hausaland, which were converted to Islam in the eighth/fourteenth century by Fulani and Wangara missionaries, rulers and zealots, experienced the same difficulties in inducing rural, or even urban, populations to adopt the Muslim religion. In Katsina, after the visit of al-Māghilī to try and purify the lukewarm Islam of the Hausa, “sacred woods of the animists were razed to the ground and in their place mosques were built”. The Near Eastern form of life was dominant in Muslim society: the harem and the veil for women, the employment of eunuchs, a fiscal system based on the Quran and so forth. But these changes did not last. Ultimately, the apparent inaction of the kings was probably an indication of their awareness that social pressures would lead to the rejection of Islam.
It was outside their control, “at the grass-roots”, that the most substantial advances of Islam were ultimately achieved during these centuries. African merchants, Wangara and later Dyula and Muslim missionaries of all types carried the message of the Prophet out to the countryside and to the towns as far as the forest fringe. This slow expansion did not, for sound reasons, overturn the habits of societies within which small groups of Muslims were coming into existence. Such societies continued, for example, to produce the cultural wares in keeping with their traditions: the remarkable discovery in recent years of an art of statuary in terracotta in the middle of “Muslim” Mali bears witness to this 62.The resultsIn the present state of research, the results are very difficult to assess and their apparent contradictions are disconcerting. There is no doubt that the art of writing and techniques of weighing 63 were introduced by Islam south of the Sahara as early as the fourth/tenth century. To what extent did these two innovations upset earlier habits? What were the earlier habits as regards conservation of traces of the past, counting and mathematical knowledge?
It may justifiably be said that literature in the Arabic language south of the Sahara seems to have paid no regard to African cultures and their languages. In order to be sure of this it would be necessary to ascertain and evaluate the contents of libraries which are now being studied in Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Chad and the Sudan. It would also be necessary to make a scientific study of the development of certain African languages in contact with Arabic. It is probably correct to say that those who were literate “in Arabic” ignored ancient African cultures both because they were “pagan” and, more simply, because they were unaware of their existence; in that regard they showed themselves to be as unperceptive as the majority of Christian missionaries some centuries later. It would probably be unjust to regard such ignorance as denoting preconceived contempt for African societies and cultures.
It may be said that these scholars north of the Sahara who were, in most cases, unacquainted with the region up to the ninth/fifteenth century (although the same is probably not true in East Africa), brought with them their own preoccupations. After the seventh/thirteenth century these seem no longer to have had the brilliance of the great age of Arab-Muslim culture, even though Morocco in the seventh/thirteenth century, for example, seems to have had several great thinkers; it may be that many branches of knowledge withered at that time in the Muslim world, even though some continued to flourish. It may be that authors of the past were copied too much and that legal formalism prevailed over living thought. Here again, in order to reach valid conclusions, it will be necessary to wait until thousands of manuscripts, so far not studied even if they have been catalogued, have been analysed; we shall need, for example, to be aware of the treasures of the Karawiyyīn Library of Fez and the Bibliothèque Royale at Rabat where so many manuscripts from Timbuktu and works on Africa are housed.
At present it seems that it was normal, at the outset, for educated Malinke, Fulani, Soninke, Berbers or Negro-Berbers, such men as Mourimagha Kankoi of Jenne, Baghayogho, Kati, ibn Dansal al-Fulānī, Ahmed Bābā, ibn al-Mukhtār Gombele of Timbuktu, and so forth, who were committed to the letter and spirit of Islam, to think in Arabic, write in Arabic and produce commentaries on books belonging to the Islamic tradition. This Islamo-centrism no doubt made the universities of Timbuktu seem less brilliant than black Africans today would wish, as they can discern in those universities, as far as our present knowledge goes, hardly a trace of their cultural past 64. This being so, there is only one comment to be made: the Muslim scholars belonged to a fairly closed world and were still a minority group facing a mass of adherents of African traditional religion, whom they thought themselves duty bound to convert and perhaps to guide towards other styles of life; thus they were not predisposed to become enlightened historians of the African past or even sympathetic observers of the life of autochthonous societies which they considered to be “pagan”.
It is probably in this area that research is least advanced and where the researcher has the greatest difficulty in maintaining objectivity.Islamization-Arabization

It was probably in Kanem and in East Africa that the last transformation of African society first took place: the “Arabization” of their origins and their past; West Africa was not slow in taking the same path.
When, in the seventh/thirteenth century, the genealogists of the Kānembu dynasty tried to reconstitute the noble lineage of the reigning princes, they did not demur to make one vitally important innovation, namely to seek those origins in the East and even in biblical traditions 65. This was the inception of an idea that was to prove enormously successful and to bring about a profound change in the cultural relationship between African societies and the Muslim world. Any prince of any standing had to come from the East; the only noble origins were those of the East and no past was to be so spoken of except if it were related to the Prophet, his family or his companions. A start was made (not, by any means, for the last time) on the rewriting of African history and the “new history” was to strike a blow at the obsolescence and the absurdity of the cosmic or animal origins with which African societies sometimes endowed themselves.
Genealogical literature was to flourish after the eighth/fourteenth century in East Africa where it became one of the weapons in the ideological conflict between opposing Muslim tendencies and between reigning houses as late as the thirteenth/nineteenth century 66. A great deal of work remains to be done to clarify this literature. In West Africa, the transformation of the stories concerning the origin of the “Mandingo” was spectacular 67; that of the origins of the founders of the Wagadu was equally so. Gradually, every Islamized group of any importance discovered an ancestor from Arabia. This considerably strengthened a theory of biblical origin according to which African populations came from the Middle East, with all the diffusionist consequences that this theory implied. Another aspect was the propensity for discovering “white” origins — in this case Arabic and Persian — for everything of any value in Africa even if that meant totally devaluing the most anciently attested African cultures. Thus began the eclipse of African history which was later to be considerably exacerbated by the Europeans.
No dominant family or group ultimately escaped this logic of “Arabization” 68. In the thirteenth/nineteenth century, the Yarse of Burkina Faso in their turn claimed Arab origins at a time when their commercial supremacy, which dated from two centuries earlier, and the privileged position which had earned them a real historical compromise with the Mosi of Ouagadougou seemed to them to be in jeopardy 69. Even the remote Betsileo of central Madagascar, who had no Muslim tradition, were fascinated by the “civilizing model” of Islam and sought out Arab origins for their princes; they were not, incidentally, the only ones to have done so in Madagascar 70
In the last analysis, there is nothing surprising in the fact that Islam inspired such confidence and infatuation. The phenomenon is one which ought to be studied dispassionately since it is so important and, for several centuries, was so characteristic of an “oriental” temptation for Islamized African societies.
This “genealogical snobbery” provided a guarantee of the age and quality of the Islamic practices of those who traced their origins to Arab ancestors; it also guaranteed the “historic rights” of aristocracies that were becoming established. It finally took on so much importance, particularly in the region between Lake Chad and the Nile, that it became the normal process of the Arabization-Islamization of many groups. The Maba are a good case in point. Islam had been gaining ground in Kānem when the Bulala arrived and helped to extend its influence eastwards through contact with other peoples including the Maba. The latter, until the ninth/fifteenth to tenth/sixteenth century, had not been exposed to any Islamic influence. The actual or mythical arrival among them of an Arab claiming to be of Abbasid origin, called Djāmee at the end of the tenth/sixteenth century, changed the course of events. Djāmee chose a wife belonging to a Maba clan and his entry into the Maba group made things simpler. As the new religion progressively gained more ground, certain Maba clans laid claim to an Arab-Muslim origin. The contact that had existed between the Arabs and the indigenous populations just prior to the penetration of Islam had no religious or cultural implications. Such contacts were based mainly on the black slave trade, and on the trade in gold and ivory. The Arab kabīlas referred to the Maba as “ambāy” (primitives) whereas the indigenous peoples dignified their guests by the name of “aramgo” (savages, barbarians, anarchists). Until that time they had not been brought together by language or by religious outlook. Before long the Arabs married into the great Maba families; they became semi-sedentary and more or less adopted the Islamic traditions of the Maba. The influences were in both directions. The Maba learned the language of the Arabs and thus considered that they had no difficulty in understanding the Quran. Religion commanded the observance of Islamic rites and also the language of the Quran. As the teaching of Islam spread, the Maba “sought not only to imitate the Arab model offered by Islam but also to identify themselves with the Arabs. In each clan, the chief who was installed and maintained by power sought out an origin in the Arab-Muslim world: the line was traced back in most cases to the family of the Prophet or, more modestly, to one of his four direct companions”. Moreover, writes Issa Khayar, “to adopt the religion of the Arabs, the customs of the Arabs, the language of the Arabs, to ally themselves with the other Arab or Muslim peoples, was the irresistible trend of the entire Maba society”. 71
Islamization, together with Arabization, had very important repercussions on the whole of Maba society. The Maba unconsciously tried to rewrite their history by fabricating fictitious genealogies accompanied by a complete change of names.
Such more or less collective changes of name explain the difficulty encountered by present-day historians in studying the sequence of past events. From the point of view with which we are concerned, the example of the Maba, is remarkable in many ways. In their case, as in that of the Waddaians in general, their own system of cultural values underlies and cohabits with the Islamic ethic. But Islam, because of the cultural dynamism conferred on it by a written and oral system of teaching, tended to overshadow and to overthrow these traditional socio-cultural values, which became latent.
The last link in the chain of transformations brought about by Islam in the life of African societies is probably the most significant of all. It leads to a total “deculturation” of the societies in which it gains a complete hold, creates a “black Arabism” which seems like a historical contradiction and which culturally impoverishes the Muslim community. Many African societies did not react like the Maba. They assessed the damage implied by the alternatives offered or imposed. On occasion their reaction was even to reject Islam. Ultimately those most concerned by this problem were those who, having been kept aside from the transformations brought about by Islam, suffered from them because of the contempt for their beliefs and an ideology that viewed them as no more than an inexhaustible source of slaves of which the main beneficiaries were the proponents of Islam and the black states engaged in the slave trade. In many cases, therefore, mistrust arose and induced a certain number of African societies to open rejection and confrontation.

The interrupted dialogue:
the late tenth/sixteenth — early eleventh/seventeenth centuries

The end of the tenth/sixteenth century and the beginning of the eleventh/ seventeenth century mark an important stage in West African history. This period has with some justification been described as a turning point. We would prefer to regard it as an interlude which comes at the end of a long and extremely rich period which saw the emergence and development of the principal black sub-Saharan states and the confrontation of two world views, that of the traditional religions of the African continent and that of Islam. It was also the starting point of another, admittedly shorter, period of serious disturbances and uncertainty during which the Muslim religion apparently paused in its expansion or even, in many regions, retreated. The main impression given is that the majority of the African peoples which had had contacts with Islam returned to their origins. This interlude is seen to have been historically necessary when one analyses the role of Islam as a motivating force in African socio-economic relationships, a role which appeared to offer a greater threat where Islam was less firmly established: sedentary agrarian societies were dominated by African oligarchies when it advanced; under cover of Islam, entire regions of the continent became reserves of slaves.
It was in the Songhay empire, under the leadership of Sonni ‘Alī (868/1464-897/1492) that this anti-Muslim reaction took its most vigorous form; it was directed not against persons but rather against the influence of the ideology they professed which was regarded as incompatible with traditional African values. A number of circumstances favoured the conduct of what really ought to be termed a counter-offensive.
During the last quarter of the eighth/ fourteenth century and during the early years of the following century there was a weakening, followed by the almost total disappearance of the central authority of Mali which had been a source of political cohesion between the various peoples of which the empire was composed. Spurred on by the exactions of certain rulers of Mali, satellite states, regions, country areas and urban centres found it easier, the more remote they were from the capital, to cast off the central authority. The rich, cosmopolitan urban populations, well organized and structured by Islam, began to act as autonomous or even independent merchant republics. This was the case with Jenne, Walata and Timbuktu, for example. In the new Songhay empire, which, by conquest, had inherited the eastern provinces of Mali, the relations between Sonni ‘Alī and these towns, particularly Timbuktu, rapidly deteriorated into serious conflict. Economic and strategic reasons were among the causes of the conflict but the determining factor seems to have been the reason of state rooted in the primacy of the imperial authority. Sonni ‘Alī, the emperor magician, raised in the ethos of the all-powerful African monarch — who was, after all, known as Dāli, in other words the All Highest — could not bear to see his supernatural power, which was recognized by the great mass of his subjects who adhered to African traditional religions, challenged by the Muslim scholars of Timbuktu, who were, moreover, foreigners 72. The Berbers, the Negro-Berber half castes and the Fulani formed, indeed, the overwhelming majority of the population of that town. The city was therefore severely harassed in the person of its scholars much to the discomfiture of the learned authors of the Tārīkhs73. The reign of Sonni Alī was marked by the bringing into line of Timbuktu, by the supremacy of Gao 74, and in a sense by the backlash of African traditional religion against Islam. The coup d’état of 898/1493 organized by Askiya Muhammad and the desire to make the “Islamic option” irreversible can be explained only in this context.
Apart from two interludes — the reigns of the askiyas Muhammad I (898/1493-934/1528) and Dāwūd (956/1549990/1582) — during which a relative revival of interest in Islam was manifested by those two rulers, the end of the tenth/sixteenth century was marked by the Moroccan conquest. The collapse of the political framework and the disorganization of the social fabric led to a definitive decline of the Songhay cities. Resistance to the occupying Moroccan force over the course of some ten years brought about a southwards movement of populations, mainly into Dendi. These populations organized themselves as little independent states with socio-religious structures drawn from the ancestral traditions and kept nothing of Islam except their names.
A pamphlet by Ahmad Baba (963/1556-1038/1628), generally known by the name of Mi’rājd al-Suhūd, written between 1001/593 and 1025/1616, provides an insight into the extent of the social upheavals caused by the Moroccan conquest and by the intensification of slavery at the turn of the eleventh/seventeenth century. Having been called on by the merchants of Tūwāt to give his opinion (fatwā, fatāwā) on the subjugation and sale into slavery of certain populations of the Songhay empire, Ahmad Bāba took the opportunity to describe the social and religious scene in the greater part of the Nigerian Sudan in the early eleventh/seventeenth century. In this description, which aspires to be in conformity with Islamic ethics, the author, wishing to defend populations which had been the victims of lawless capture, shows that the economic activities of the time relied mainly on the trans-Saharan black slave trade. He drew attention to the extent and variations of the Islamization of the peoples of the region, and the retreat of the Muslim religion emerges clearly.
Still more significant than this retreat is the social and religious disarray in the political vacūm created by the disappearance of the Songhay state and the disorders of the Moroccan occupation, the emergence of an “animistic” kingdom ostensibly professing allegiance to African values. This was the Banmana (Bambara) kingdom of Segu during the eleventh/seventeenth century. This was caused both by the destruction of the “imperial Muslim power” and also by the decline in the urban fabric of the empire and the open rejection of Islam which had taken place in rural environments since the seventh/thirteenth century, In spite of the mansas of Mali and the askiyas of Songhay.
Islamic contact with Africa proved one of the most fruitful human ventures in world history. Islam offered what might be termed “a choice of society”. Its implications were variously conceived at different times and in different places in the black continent. The stakes were high: neither more nor less than a change in outlook, in ways of conceiving and representing the world, in behaviour. It was a matter of exchanging one’s own culture for that of another, in short of becoming someone other. In spite of the resistance that was shown between the first/seventh and the start of the eleventh/seventeenth centuries, Mediterranean Africa accepted the Muslim option. It was Islamized and started to become Arabized.
In the rest of Africa, Islam did not find the propitious historical circumstances which explain its success in the east and north of the continent and in Spain. Although it was neither a conqueror nor totally in control of power, which it had to leave in the hands of princes who were still imbued with African traditions — even though they sometimes made themselves “foreigners” to the peoples whom they ruled by their own conversion and often, thanks to the profits earned by such rulers from the sale of slaves — Islam obtained substantial religious results south of the desert and in East Africa. By the tenth/sixteenth century Islam had still not found an overall solution which would enable it to integrate black societies and their cultures without problems in the House of Islam. The subsequent interlude was not any more conducive to the discovery of such a solution.
Lastly, on more than one point, social integration was to occur in the course of revolutionary events in the twelfth/eighteenth and early thirteenth/nineteenth centuries: those events alone, in certain regions, were to make Islam into a comprehensive expression of the social and cultural life of the people.

. In order to form an adequate idea of the consequences of this sublimation of the Arabic language it is necessary to remember the immense effort made in the third/ninth century to translate into Arabic everything in pre-Islamic cultures that was of any significance. This is not without points of similarity with what had been accomplished by Latinspeaking Christians three or four centuries earlier.
. This question is important in that it was one of the most hotly debated problems at the Arab-African Symposium held in Dakar from 9 to 14 April 1984 by the African Cultural Institute (ACI) and the Arab Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ALECSO) on the subject of the “relations between African languages and the Arabic language”. The general conclusions of the Symposium were that no African language suffered any adverse effect at all as a result of its contacts with the Arabic language. This view of the matter is one with which we do not at all agree.
. Sūra 5.
. Jihād means literally: “effort to achieve a certain aim”; cf. Chapter 2 above.
. Al-Bukhārī, 1978, Vol. 2, p. 37.
. Al-Nawāwī, 1951, pp. 2 1, 33, 36, 42, 43.
. R. Blachère, 1966, p. 92.
. The juridical conditions governing the life of the Muslim individual in his community are defined in the Mu’āwalāt of the Quran. These consist mainly of Surās 2, 4 and 5 and of some 500 verses.
. According to H. Massé, 1966, p. 175: “Perhaps in no other Muslim country was the cult of saints taken to greater extremes; it can be said without hesitation that it constitutes the sole religion of rural people, particularly women accompanied by the rites of animism and nature worship”.
10. The word does not have the same sense in the Maghrib and in black Africa. In the former it applies both to the saintly founder of the brotherhood and his tomb; in sub-Saharan Africa it denotes any person more or less versed in knowledge of the Quran and other sacred texts and who uses such knowledge to act as an intermediary between the believer and God, while at the same time drawing on the traditional lore of divination and on the practice of talismans. He is regarded by the public as a scholar, in the religious sense of the term, as a magician and as a healer. [Addendum: See also my previous note in The coming of Islam and the expansion of the Muslim empire. — T.S. Bah
11. Many assumptions and propositions have taken this theme as their foundation. The question whether a black Islam existed has been examined. To do so is perhaps to overlook the monolithic nature of the religion in question and to dwell more on the sociological aspects of its place in the world than on the metaphysical and theological aspect of the matter. The very clear approach which is that adopted in this Volume — the social system — seems, at the present state of knowledge, to accord better with the conclusions that can be drawn today.
12. See Chapter 3 above.
13. See Chapter 3 above.
14. About 500 slaves a year delivered to Aswan by the King of Nubia; 360 — a symbolic figure — delivered by the Fezzan and by Kawar (Ibn’Abd al-Hakam, 1948, p. 63); in other words a total of some 1300 to 1500 slaves a year.
15. See Chapters 3 above, Chapters 7 and 9 below.
16. See Chapter 3 above and T. Lewicki, 1981; D.C. Conrad and H.J. Fisher, 1982, 1983. These authors have tried to show that the Almoravid episode was not as violent as has hitherto been claimed. Cf. Z. Dramani-Issifou, 1983b; “The historical relations between the Arabic language and African languages”, report to the Arab-African symposium in Dakar (cf. note 2 of the present chapter). In that report see principally notes (11) and (26). See also A. R. Ba, 1984.
17. See Chapter 9 below.
18. Ibn Khaldūn, 1925-56, Vol. 2, p. 163.
19. For denunciation of funeral feasts in the cemetery with candles, see J.-P. Migne (ed.), Vol. 33, p. 91.
2o. The Mālikite school considers al-‘amal, the customary usages, as one of the juristic principles. The appeal to a custom is possible if it does not contradict Islam; it was thus thanks to the Mālikism that Berber customs were recognized in North Africa.
21. See Chapter 3 above, Chapter 9 below.
22. See Chapter 3 above, Chapter 9 below.
23. Ibn Khaldūn, 1925-56, V0l. 2, p. 65.
24. Ibid., p. 67.
25. See Chapter 3 above, Chapter II below.
26. J.-L. Moreau, 1982, p. 99.
27. See Chapter 3 above, Chapter 13 below.
28. J. M. Cuoq, 1975, pp. 55-61- Chapter 3 above; T. Lewicki, 1962, p. 515-1 Z Dramani-Issifou, 1982, pp. 162-4.
29. D. Lange, 1977, p. 99.
30. J. M. Cuoq, 1975, pp. 48-9.
31. For the region of Chad, this fact is of great historic interest judging by the persistent references in the source literature, until the modern age, of the sale of slaves from the regions of central Africa.
32. See Chapter 1 above, Chapter 26 below.
33. The range of problems posed in general terms by the relations between the populations of Mediterranean Africa, the Sahara and Sudanic Africa (chronology, nature of these relations, formation of states, etc.) have been raised and discussed with the help of appropriate hypotheses by a considerable number of researchers. Among the most recent, the following may be mentioned: T. Lewicki, 1976; J. Ki-Zerbo, 1978; J. Devisse, 1982; Z. Dramani-Issifou, 1982. There are certainly many others whom we have not mentioned, but we draw the reader’s attention in particular to the constructive scientific quality of the studies by two young Senegalese researchers on Takrur and its associated problems. These are Y. Fall, 1982, pp. 199-216 and A. R. Ba (1984) in his thesis on Takrur.
34. J. M. Cuoq, 1975, pp. 102 and 195-6. See also Chapter 3 above.
35. Al-‘Umarī in J. M. Cuoq, 1975, pp. 273 et seq.
36. See Chapter 14 below.
37. Al-‘Umarī in J. M. Cuoq, 1975, pp. 28o-1
38. J. Devisse, 1974.
39. D. Olderogge, 196o, pp. 17-18.
4o. The founder of this sect was ‘Abdallāh ibn Abād, but as the spelling Ibād (and Ibadites) is traditionally adopted, we continue to use it.
41. V. T. Lewicki, various works (see bibliography), and see Chapter II below.
42. J. Ki-Zerbo, 1978, p. 177.
43. J. Kagabo, 1982.
44. In Somalia this change was total.
45. Ben Achour, 1985. This is not restricted to black Africans only. In Berber languages Muhammad becomes Hammu, Moha, Mūh; Fatima becomes Tamū, Tima, etc.
46. These examples are strictly comparable in the case of the conversion to Christianity, for example after 1930 in Rwanda-Burundi.
47. J. M. Cuoq, 1975, p. 424.
48. J. M. Cuoq, 1975, p. 344, for example.
49. Al-Bakni, 1913, pp. 3 19 et seq.; cf. Chapter 13 below.
50. J. M. Cuoq, 1975, pp. 41o et seq.
51. Veil wearing is not a religious obligation in Islam and the veiling of women as understood in some Muslim countries, is not orthodox.
52. Ibn Battūta in J. M. Cuoq, 1975, p. 311.
53. Al-Māghilī in J. M. Cuoq, 197.5, p. 43 1.
54. Although historical comparisons must not be taken to unreasonabic extremes, it is none the less interesting to note that the methods used by both Christianity and Islam to penetrate and establish themselves in “pagan” societies often display important analogies: the violence of Christianity, however, was incomparably greater, for example against the Slavs and the Scandinavians.
55. B. Lewis, 1982, p. 61.
56. J. M. Cuoq, 1975, pp. 102 and 195-6.
57. J.-L. Moreau, 1982, p. 103.
58. J. Ki-Zerbo, 1978, p. 136.
59. Ibn Battūta, al-‘Umarī, Ibn Khaldūn, etc.
60. J. Ki-Zerbo, 1978, p. 136.
61. Z. Dramani-Issifou, 1982, pp. 34 40. Text of al-Māghilī in J. M. Cuoq, 197.5, pp. 398-432.
62. On the subject of this art: B. de Grunne, 1980. See also (La) rime et la raison, 1984 and Unesco, General History of Africa, Vol. IV, illustrations nos. 6, 11, 12 and 14.
63. J. Devisse, D. Robert-Chaleix et al., 1983, pp. 407-19.
64. Z. Dramami-Issifou, 1982, pp. 196-203.
65. D. Lange, 1977.
66. M. Rozenstroch, 1984.
67. A. Condé, 1974.
68. D. Hamani, 1985.
69. K. Assimi, 1984.
70. E. Flacourt, 1913.
71. L H. Khayar, 1976, pp. 43-4.
72. A. Konaré-Ba, 1977.
73. Ta’rīkh al-Sudan, 1900, pp. 105, 107, 110 and 115; Ta’rīkh al-Fattash, 1913-14, pp. 8o, 84 and 94
74. Z. Dramani-Issifou, 1983a.


Bienvenue dans mon monde d'exploration et de découverte ! Je suis Ingrid Allain, une voyageuse passionnée avec une curiosité insatiable pour la riche tapisserie de la culture africaine. Pour moi, l'Afrique n'est pas juste une destination ; c'est une fascination de toute une vie et une source d'inspiration. Des rythmes vibrants des cercles de tambours d'Afrique de l'Ouest à la perlerie complexe des artisans Maasaï, chaque coin de ce continent détient un trésor de traditions à découvrir. À travers mes écrits, je vise à partager la beauté, la diversité et la résilience des cultures africaines avec le monde. E-mail: [email protected] / Linkedin
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