When did Islam come to central africa? What civilization was in central africa? How did islam start in africa? How did muslims play an important role in development of central africa?
This region is called in the books of Arab explorers as “Central Sudan” and consists of Chad, Cameroon and part of Darfur in the current Republic of Sudan. Among the most important Islamic kingdoms established in East Sudan are the Kingdom of Kanem Bornu, the Kingdom of Bakourmy and the Kingdom of the Valley (Wadai).
The Kingdom of Kanem Bornu
The Kingdom of Kanem Bornu is considered the largest Islamic kingdom that emerged at the center of Africa. It was founded around Lake Chad and covered a wide territory in the region between the Nile and the Fezzan region in the north, and stretched in the east to Bahr el Ghazal. It is now divided among Nigeria, Niger, Chad, Cameroon, parts of Sudan, Central Africa, and the part of Libya. This kingdom was established by the Sayfite dynasty, which attributed to Saif bin Dhiyazin, a family whose members left the north after the ninth century to migrate to the south specifically to the “Kanem” area, which is located in the north-east of Lake Chad. They established a kingdom called “Kanem-Bornu” which is one of the oldest Islamic kingdoms founded in the Center of Africa.
Islam began to emerge in that area in early periods and spread in the eleventh century especially after most of its kings embraced Islam. During the reign of king “Donama Dabahlmy” (1221-1259), the Kingdom spread even included most of the land “Chad” and “Fezzan.” It grew until its borders, at some point, reached the Niger in the west and the Valley (Wadai) in the east. Then the kingdom weakened with the advent of the fourteenth century because of internal conflicts and external ambitions. And then in 1396 CE, the tribe Boulala was almost able to expel Saif family and take over the city “Janna” the capital of “Kanem.”
After their loss to “Boulala” Saif family took a tangent, they settled in the city of Bornu, which was located to the west of Lake Chad, (north-east of modern Nigeria). They expelled tribe “Sow” and there founded the kingdom known as the Kingdom “Bornu.” The Saif family then decided to recapture “Kanem,” and declared a battle against the “Boulala” tribe again. They finally came out victorious in the time of Ali Dounama (1472-1504) and recovered “Kanem” which was annexed to the Kingdom Bornu. Finally, they founded a new kingdom that was known as the “Kanem-Bornu” which took place in the early sixteenth century.
The Kingdom of Kanem-Bornu reached its peak in the time of “Idriss Elwana” who was also known as the “Idris III” (1571-1603). He expanded the circle of his contacts with the Islamic world, especially with the countries of North Africa, and strengthened his ties with “Tripoli” and “the Ottoman State”. During his time, the kingdom made significant scientific, economic and military progress, as well as security, tranquility and peace prevailed there.
At the beginning of the seventeenth century, degradation and decline began to set foot in the kingdom. The kingdom faced then a new danger, which is that of the Fulani led by Sheikh Usman Dan Fodio. However, the appearance of Sheikh Mohamed El Amine, from Kanem, in the arena saved the kingdom from falling into the hands of the Fulanis. However, the reins of power transferred from Al-Saif family to Sheikh Mohammed from Kanem and his descendants after him. From that time on the kings of Kanem – Bornu came to be called by the title “Sheikh” instead of the title “Maye”, which they used before. At the end of the nineteenth century, the beginnings of European settlement began to head for Africa. This period coincided with the movement of Amir bin Rabih Fadlallah, who came from eastern Sudan and began to form his own influence to in the area, he then fought the kingdom of Kanem-Bornu in 1893, which prompted the king to establish military alliances with the fighting forces of colonization. In 1884, things ended up with the division of the Kingdom of Kanem-Bornu between France, England and Germany after a period that lasted about a century.
The Kingdom of Bakourmy
The Kingdom of Bakourmy was located in the south-east of Lake Chad. Its capital city was Massena established by the Sultan (Bernie Bessie) around the year 1513 CE. Bernie Bessie was the first known king of this kingdom and he was a pagan. Sultan Abdullah bin Malo (1561-1602 CE) was the first Muslim Sultan, who had a major role in the spread of Islam in this kingdom.
The kingdom consisted of the “Arab,” “Fulani,” and “Kanuri” tribes in addition to its indigenous population. Due to its geographical position between the Kingdom of Kanem-Bornu and the Kingdom of the Valley (Wadai), the kingdom has not experienced any stability or security throughout its history, for it was the victim of assaults repeatedly from its neighbors.
The end of this kingdom was similar to that of the kingdom of Kanem-Bornu, because Amir bin Rabih Fadlallah organized a military expedition over it in 1892. He disrupted the internal security of the kingdom of Kanem-Bornu and conquered it. The kingdom was forced to seek protection from the incoming French colonizing forces that annexed the kingdom among their protectorates.
The Kingdom of the Valley (Wadai)
The Kingdom of the Valley emerged in areas that constitute the eastern regions of Chad today. The family that ruled there until the beginning of the seventeenth century was called “Tunjur.” Then, a scholar called Abdul Karim bin Jami (a Renewer of Islam or Mujaddid al-Islam) managed to usurp the ruling. He came into this Kingdom from eastern Sudan and was from the Abbasid family.
Abdul Karim began to call to Islam his reputation spread and the number of his followers increased. He managed to defeat the Tunjur family and established an Islamic kingdom with the help of Arab tribes that lived in the region of the Mahamid, Mahariyat, Nawabiyat, Al-Ariquat, and Beni Halba. In fulfilling his mission, he received the assistance of alliances that he had signed with some African tribes in the area. This victory encouraged the migration of some Arab tribes to the country. After this victory, Abdul Karim took the capital of the kingdom called “Wa‘ra”, which was distorted to form the word “Waaraa.” He continued to pay taxes to the Kingdom of Darfur during his reign (1635-1655 CE) following the tradition of family Tunjur, but the Sultan Yaqub Arus (1681-1707 CE) managed to remove those taxes during the period of his rule.
In the reign of Sultan Abdul Karim Saboun (1805 – 1813 AD) the Kingdom of Bakourmy invaded the Kingdom of Wadai and repeated its invasion during the reign of Sultan Ali bin Mohammed Al-Sharif in 1871, but could not defeat them.
The Sultan Mohammed Al-Sharif (1835-1858) was one of the most famous kings of the kingdom Wadai. He attacked the kingdom of Kanem- Bornu during the time of Umar bin Mohamed Al-Amine El-Kanimi. He imposed his authority there and signed a treaty with Sheikh Umar promising to leave Bornu in exchange for an annual tax. In the reign of Sultan Mohammed Sharif the capital of the Kingdom was transferred from “Waaraa” to “Abshah” in 1850 for reasons of dangerous state of the city.
The kingdom of Wadai was able to resist the assaults of Amir bin Rabih Fadlallah who attacked in 1892, then pushed them away. However, the kingdom eventually fell under the strikes by French colonial forces that finally managed to occupy the city of Abshah, the capital of the kingdom, on June 2, 1909.
Cultural and Civilizational Traces of Islam in Islamic Kingdoms of Central Africa
Islamic kingdoms in central Africa were in a state of development, mutual influence and symbiosis with the Islamic states of the world in cultural, social and civilizational points. Among the effects of those relationships include:
- Those kingdoms’ adoption of Islamic law as a source in their laws, courts, as well as the main reference to regulate their social affairs.
- The adoption of Arabic as an official language in all kingdoms, and its use in government offices, correspondence, and education.
- Arabic became the popular and common language spoken by the people in their daily lives and in the markets. Among the key factors that contributed to the spread of the Arabic language in the area are:
The first factor was the migrations of Arab tribes to the area. Among those tribes were the tribe of Hassawina and the tribe of Juhayna that migrated to the area during the 13th and 14th centuries.
Second factor was Islam. All these kingdoms had adopted Islam as their religion And way of life. it is also known that Arabic is the language of the Holy Quran and the trustworthy Messenger, as well as the language of the scientific and cultural heritage of the Muslim community, which was one of the major factors that greatly facilitated the spread and expansion of the Arabic language in the area. In those places, the teaching of Arabic sciences, such as grammar, rhetoric and literature became the subject of interest and desire, just like the interest and desire shown to studying Islamic sciences such as tafsir (exegesis of the Holy Qur’an), Hadith and jurisprudence. The two areas were studied in parallel. The scholars of the area ended up giving the Arabic language the name “the instrumental sciences” by considering it a prerequisite for understanding the religious sciences. As we know that most Islamic acts of worship are performed in Arabic. This is what brought the inhabitants of this area estimate that knowledge of Arabic is one of the characteristics of a good Muslim. Thus, the people of the region paid attention to its teaching and learning.
It is thanks to this that Arabic became the language used in the official documents, language of education and culture, communication, understanding, and the language of cultural and civilizational exchange. These kingdoms used Arabic in their correspondence with foreign states to consolidate their political and cultural relations with the Islamic kingdoms and Arab states. The Kingdom of Kanem maintained very good relations with (Hafsiyines) in Tunisia, Libyans in Tripoli, and Egyptians in Cairo, as well as with the kings of the kingdom of Mali in West Africa. Similarly, the kings of the Islamic empires of Central Africa ensured the strengthening of cultural relations with Islamic Arab states, through the construction of Madrasas, mosques and boarding schools, where migrant students from these kingdoms lived for the pursuit of knowledge in these localities. Qalqashandy said in this subject that: (people of Kanem built a school in Fustat for Malikis where their guests stayed). Sultan Donama bin Dabalami (d. 1259), King of Kanem, built the school of ibn Rashiq in Cairo. There, he also built a boarding school for students of his kingdom and for the pilgrims who were staying there while they were in Cairo. As the King Jawda (1747-1795) also built homes in Mecca, Medina, in Palestine as well as boarding schools in Egypt, and then endowed them for the sake of Allah.