Islam in Africa Dr Abdullah Hakim Quick



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Islam in Africa

Dr Abdullah Hakim Quick




It is our duty to proceed from what is near to what is distant, from what is known to that which is less known, to gather the traditions from those who have reported them, to correct them as much as possible and to leave the rest as it is, in order to make our work help anyone who seeks truth and loves wisdom.
Abu’l-Rayhan Muhammad al-Biruni , 973-1050 AD




Table of Contents
Chapter 1

Locating Africa in History and Geography 3


Chapter 2

Africa in Early History 5


Chapter 3

Tawheed (Monotheism) in Early Africa 11
Other chapters to come
Chapter 4

The World before Muhammad


Chapter 5

The First Hijra to Al-Habasha


Chapter 6

Islam in North Africa


Chapter 7

African/Muslim influence in Europe


Chapter 8

Islamic Revival in Al-Andalus and North Africa


Chapter 9

Islam in the Sahara and Early West Africa


Chapter 10

Islam in Mali


Chapter 11

Timbuktu, its Rise and Importance


Chapter 12

Islam in Hausaland and Kanem-Bornu


Chapter 13

Islamic Revival in 18-19th Century West Africa


Chapter 14

Islam in East Africa


Chapter 15

Islam in Southern Africa


Chapter 16

African /Muslim Presence in America before Columbus


Chapter 17

African/Muslim Presence in Early America


Chapter 18

African Muslims in American Slavery


Chapter 19

Lessons from Islam in Africa




Locating Africa in History and Geography


  • History is usually regarded as a record of past events that are arranged in some semblance of order so as to be capable of interpretation.




  • Historians select information and arrange it according to their understanding or their mandate. History is, therefore, never objective.




  • In many instances, History is used to maintain the status quo or tell the story of the conqueror.




  • Napoleon Bonaparte once said, “History is a myth that is agreed upon.”




  • Europe and Euro-Centric thinking has had a profound impact on our perception of ourselves as Humanity in the 21st century.




  • Africans have been especially affected by the role and history of Europe and the African continent.




  • Europe is always depicted as “up” or north and civilized and developed. Greenwich Mean Time is universally accepted as the base of all time zones.




  • Based on a different vantage point in the cosmos, Cape Town could be the top of the Northern hemisphere and Timbuktu could be the basis of time. Muslims and non-European people need deconstruct His-Story (history) and relate events from their own perspective.




  • Even the size of Africa was distorted on the maps as in the case of the maps of Gerhard Mercator, the 16th century European cartographer.




  • The modern map (based on the Mercator Projection) shows North America as one and a half times the size of Africa. In reality Africa is three and a half times the size of the United States. Greenland, for Mercator, was almost as large as Africa but in reality Africa is 30 million square kilometers compared to Greenland’s two million.




  • Africa is larger than India and China put together and capable of absorbing many times over the acreage of all of the colonial powers that have ravished its land over the centuries.




  • In 1967, another German, Arno Peters, produced the Peters Projection Map which is a more accurate representation of the size of the continents. He still, however, put Europe at the top of the world. The maps drawn by the famous Muslim cartographers of the past placed Europe at the bottom of the world. Future mapmakers may want to return to the original format.




  • The name Africa can be traced back to ancient Berber, Roman, Greek and Arabic sources. It referred to a sunny place and was used by the Muslims to refer to their western base in present Tunisia, Ifriqiyya. So Africa in a modern sense was derived from an Islamic/Arabic word!




  • European conquerors used the term Africa to mean a dark, backward place. Some historians tried to separate Ancient Egypt from Black Africa because of the technological achievements.




  • What is Africa and who are Africans? These may be two of the most important questions of the new century.




  • Definitions of Africa have been numerous. Here are a few.




  • The racial definition: This understanding restricts Africa to the Black populated parts of the continent.




  • The continental definition: This is the basis of the African Union and tries to restrict Africa as a continent.




  • The power definition: This definition excluded parts of Africa that were under “non-African” control.




  • A fourth definition connects Africa with Arabia and does not stop at the colonial borders. (See Mazrui- The Africans, A Triple Heritage).




  • African people regardless of their color, hair texture or origin will have to come up with broad, all inclusive definitions to facilitate a rebirth of culture and technology.

Africa in Early History
Ancient Egypt
Egypt was the first ancient country to be unified under one government. This occurred at a time when people in other parts of the world were still in small villages and at best, city states. Uniquely self sufficient, the inhabited areas of Egypt were confined to the Nile Delta. The great river provided an annual flood laden with fertile silt and served as a waterway linking the settlements on its banks.

From at least 17,000 BC, the Nile Valley was capable of sustaining a thriving culture. By 10,000 BC, the inhabitants of the Nile valley who had come from the South were organized and cultivating regular crops. By 3,500 BC they had formed themselves into states like Ta Seti in Upper Egypt.

3200 BC witnessed the unification of the two lands by the legendary Pharaoh, Menes or Namar. He is known through the early dynastic lists and his great achievement brought Egypt or Kemet to a pinnacle in glory.

…He divided the Dynasties into thirty and gave a list of Kings. In the list reported by Julius Africanus, Manetho listed 561 Kings who ruled for 5,524 years but in the list reported by Eusebius, Mantheo listed 361 Kings who ruled for 4,780 years. Mantheo’s date for the beginning of Kemet was over 17,000 BC while modern historians as mentioned above list 3,200 BC as the founding of Kemet. Cheikh Anta Diop the well known historian, scientist of Senegal chose 10,000 years as a possible cycle for Kemet since it is admitted by all historians that the early Kemites had their calendar in place by 424 BC. It was based on the cycle of the star Sirius whose rise coincided with the sun every 1461 years. Astronomers confirm that it would take thousands of years to study the stellar movement of celestial bodies in order to develop a calendar. (See Diop, ‘African origin of Civilization, Myth or Reality’) What is important to remember is that the culture of Kemet was older that the political nation. There was obviously a long period of development in order to reach the heights that Kemet reached by 3000 BC (Sphinx, Pyramids built shortly after this time). Religion, astronomy, writing philosophy etc, were already in place. There is also proof of a dynasty of 12 Kings at Ta Seti in Nubia, south up the Nile. They were said to be Black and the oldest monarchy yet found. (See Bruce William’s article, ‘The Lost Pharaohs of Nubia’ in Egypt Revisited by Ivan Van Sertima.)

The original Egyptians (Kemites) who developed Kemetic civilization were African people of dark complexion, not Indo-Europeans as has been previously claimed. Diodorus of Sicily informs us that “the Ethiopians say that the Egyptians are one of their colonies which were brought into Egypt by Osiris. They add that from their authors and ancestors, the Egyptians get most of their laws. It is from them that the Egyptians have learned to honour kings and gods and bury them with such pomp; sculpture and writing were invented by the Ethiopians. The Ethiopians cite evidence that they are more ancient than the Egyptians, but it is useless to report that here.” (Histoire Universelle, translated by Abbe Terrasson. Paris, 1758, Bk. 3. p.341)

These ancient Ethiopians referred to themselves as the ‘Anu’. Abbe Emile Amelineau (1850-1916) is credited with the discovery of the Anu and their contribution to Egyptian civilization. Citing evidence uncovered in his excavations. He followed their path along the Nile, and revealed that they built the cities of Esneh, Ermet, Qouch, and Heliopolis. He wrote, “These Anu were agricultural people, raising cattle on a large scale along the Nile, shutting themselves up in walled cities for defensive purposes. To this people we can attribute without fear of error, the most ancient Egyptian books, the Book of the Dead and the Text of the Pyramids, consequently, all the myths or religious teachings. I would add almost all the philosophical systems then known and still called Egyptian. They evidently knew the crafts necessary for any civilization and were familiar with the tools those trades required. They knew how to use metals….they made the earliest attempts at writing…certainly the people knew the principal arts; it left proof of this in the architecture of the tombs at Abydos, especially the tomb of Osiris, and in those sepulchres, objects have been found bearing the unmistakable stamp of their origin-such as carved ivory, or the little head of a Nubian girl found in a tomb near that of Osiris, or the small wooden or ivory receptacles in the form of a feline head…” (Abbe Emile Amelineau, Nouvells Fouilles d’Abydos Paris, Paris Press, 1899, p. 248)

Cheikh Anta Diop at the UNESCO symposium entitled “Peopling of Ancient Egypt” which as held in Cairo in 1974, brought eleven solid proofs of the Blackness or Negroid features and culture of the ancient Egyptians. They are as follows:


  1. Evidence of physical anthropology on the race of the ancient Egyptians. Pre-dynastic and dynastic skulls of the same proportions, etc.

  2. Evidence form Egyptian (Kemetic) human images, pre-dynastic and early dynastic people being Black.

  3. Melanin dosage tests applied to royal and other mummies.

  4. Osteological evidence.

  5. Blood group: group B type of the population of western Africa even today is the blood type of Egypt, not the A2 of the White race.

  6. The testimony of the classical Greeks and Romans: Herodotus (5th century BC); Aristotle (4th century BC); Lucian (2nd century BC); Strabo (1st century BC); Diodorus (1st century AD).

  7. The descriptions the Egyptians provided indicate that they saw themselves as Blacks.

  8. The Divine Epithets.

  9. Witness of the Bible/Genesis 10:6-7.

  10. Cultural Unity with the rest of Africa (See “Origin of the Ancient Egyptians” in Egypt Revisited by Ivan Van Sertima)

Kemetic culture reached it’s zenith in the early dynasties but remained intact until the coming of Islam in the 7th century AD.

The older aspects of Kemetic civilization tend to be the most perfect like

Architecture, morality, art, texts on Walls of tombs (i.e. Book of the Dead, etc.).

The Great Pyramid of Khufu, built in the Pyramid Age: 2635-2450 BC. This pyramid is the greatest structure ever built by man. It contains approximately 2, 300,000 blocks of granite that each weigh between 2.5 to 70 tons, the size of a railroad locomotive. There is enough stone in this structure to build 30 Empire State buildings. It contains more stone than all the cathedrals, chapels, and churches built in England since the time of Christ. When you take its perimeter (3023.13 feet) and divide it by twice its height (480.95, you acquire an engineer’s working approximation of the universal equation: pi (3.1428). The corners are perfect angles. There are no tombs in the Great Pyramid of Zoser, the world’s first massive stone building, the Sphinx of Giza, the medicine of Imhotep are jus some of the fantastic achievements of the Early Dynasties.

Virtually all creative activities were indigenous. The invading people either destroyed or imitated Kemetic culture (See chart of Golden Ages of Kemet).

The majority of artefacts that are displayed in museums and put into books are from the later dynasties. These were characterized by Greco-Roman or Indo-European people who conquered Kemet an imitated the lifestyle, architecture, philosophy, and culture, adding to it their own flavour. This is confusing to people who are studying Ancient Kemet and leads to a distorted, Eurocentric view of this early African civilization, and prevents us from putting proper perspective on the Saga of human life on this planet.


Time Line for Ancient Egypt (Kemet)

  • 10,000 BC– Anu people populate the Nile Valle

(Manetho listed 30 Dynasties, beginning at 17,000 BC. / 4245BC-Calender used)

  • 3500-3300 BC- Ta Seti, First Nation state (Time Magazine)

(3200-2160: The Old Kingdom)

  • 3200-2890- Menes (Namer) unites Upper and Lower Egypt

  • 2890-2686 Second Dynasty

  • 2686-2613 Third Dynasty: Zoser (Step Pyramid), Imhotep-Use of Solar calendar. (2700-2160: First Golden Pyramid Age.)

  • 2613-2494: Sneferu-Bent Pyramid, Khufu- Great Pyramid, Khafre-2nd Pyramid, Menkaure-3rd Pyramid.

  • 2494-2160: Fifth-Eighth Dynasty : Age of classical literature

(Disorder (Hyksos invade): 1730-1560)/ Prophet Ibrahim in Egypt.

(1554-1070- The New Kingdom)/ Prophet Musa in Egypt.



  • Nebpehtyre Ahmose I- Liberator/ Queen Hatshepsut/Thutmose I, II, III/Tiye/ Akhenaton and Nefertiti, etc.

(760-657: Last Golden Age- Late Kingdom): 25th Dynasty: Nubian

656-525 Babylonians defeat Egypt

525-404: Persian invasion and Dynasty (27th)

322: Alexander invades

322-30 BC: Ptolemaic Dynasty

30 BC: Augustus Caesar claims Egypt as part of Rome



Tawheed (Monotheism) in Early Africa

Islam has always played a central role in African spiritual belief and worldly affairs. The concept of a Great Cosmic Spirit, an All-Powerful, All-Knowing God can be found in almost all African traditional religions. In Islamic tradition monotheism was a universal understanding shared by all people. In chapter sixteen of the The Noble Qur’an, (Surah An-Nahl ), verse 16, it is stated:



And verily, We have sent a Messenger to every nation, that they would worship Allah and avoid false deities. (Al Quran-16: 36).

Islam is not a new or foreign religion in Africa but merely an organized expression of divine unity and human commitment. African people have been familiar with monotheistic teachings since the earliest settlements. The primary sources of African people from the earliest times reveal the presence of a strong belief in One God. One of the oldest recorded expressions of an all powerful Creator is found in The Teachings of Ptahotep, first published in the fifth Kemetic (Egyptian Dynasty around 2388 B.C.E. Ptahotep , believed to be a sage, served under the King Assa and was reported to have said:



Do not scheme against people. God will punish accordingly. If a man says, “I shall live by scheming, he will lack bread for his mouth… People’s schemes do not prevail. God’s command is what prevails. Therefore, live in the midst of peace. What God gives comes by itself.1

Later in the Middle Kingdom of Ancient Kemet (Egypt), well known Pharoah of monotheism, Akhenaton (1358-1340 B.C.E) expressed his dedication to the Sole God by singing praises and reorganizing the state religion. He focussed on the power behind the sun instead of the multiplicity of gods. The following is part of one of his Psalms # 9:



How manifold are your works, though hidden from sight, O Sole God, besides whom there is none. You created earth according to your desire, You alone. All people, cattle and all kinds of animals, all on earth that walk on legs and all on high that ply with wings. You set every person in his (her) place and satisfy their needs. All have food and their time of life is determined. Their tongues differ in speech and so do their characters. The colours of their skins are different also. For you distinguished the people. How excellent are your ways, O Lord of eternity.

Among the Barundi people of Burundi, Allah is known as “Imana”, which when articulated in its own dialect, sounds similar to the Arabic word, “Iman”. The attributes, which the Barundi discern in “Imana”, are literally equivalent in many respects to those acknowledged as belonging to Allah in the Qur’an. The following are some examples:



  • “Bisabwe”: He alone is worthy of worship.

  • “Habimana”: Only He truly exists.

  • “Hazikimana”: Only He truly saves.

  • “Habonimana”: Only He does as He wills.

  • “Birori”: Only He watches over everything.

The Akan of West Africa know God as “ He who knows or sees all”. The Yoruba say, “Only God is wise”. They also believe that “Only He is the discerner of hearts”. The Banyawarda like the Zulu of Southern Africa, know Allah as “ The wise One”, while the Bacongo also believe that” He is made by no other and no one beyond Him is”. The Zulu also use the attribute”Umdali” meaning “the Creator”. The Xhosa of Southern Africa use “Qamata” as their traditional name for Allah. To this they add “Katayi” or “Umdali”. Thus in supplication or conversation “Qamata” is spoken as “Qamata Katayi” meaning “Allah is the greatest and over everything”; or “Qamata Umdali” which means “Allah is the greatest and has created everything”. In the Sotho group of languages of Southern Africa, the traditional name of Allah is “Ramasedi” which means, “ He from whom comes light”.2
This ancient understanding of the Tawheed and the importance of the concept of an Almighty Being is a fact that cannot be overlooked in any study of African people. Its basis is part of the “Fitra” (the natural submission to Allah) that African people inherited as children of Adam . The last message of Islam that appeared in the Arabian Peninsula in the 7th century was to have a profound affect on the whole of Africa. Islam from its early days established a deep, everlasting relationship with the people of Africa, a relationship that has not been broken even under the pressure of colonialism or the pain of slavery and Apartheid.



1 Asa G. Hilliard III, Larry Williams (editors), The Teachings of Ptahotep, the Oldest Book in the World, Blackwood Press, Atlanta, U.S.A., 1984, 19-20.

2 Essa Al-Seppe, (rahimahullah), Some Points of Similarity between Islam, Africa and the African, Africa Muslim Agency, Fordsburg, South Africa.




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