How did Islam change when it spread to West Africa? How was Islam in West Africa? How was Islam affected by colonialism? What brought the religion of Islam to West Africa? What are the 5 reasons for the spread of Islam?
Islam and Colonialism in West Africa
Since the beginning of the nineteenth century, the British and French ships began to explore the oceans searching for weak states to take possession of them and exploit their resources. Thus, these forces managed to occupy the West Africa, after Berlin Conference (1884-1885). However, those forces who brought Christianity with them faced in West Africa an obstacle that was manifested in Islam, which was spreading in an expansionist way. Therefore, it was necessary to take a stand vis-à-vis Islam and Muslims. In what way did this stance manifest itself?
During the colonial period, European colonizers saw Islam in two ways: The first one involves seeing Islam as a block before the colonial imposition, and the second one believes that Islam was a civilization against Christianity, that is to say that Islam was an obstacle faced the French invasion in the mainland, and a barrier vis-à-vis the missionary movement. However, what could they do as Islam has already rooted?
The colonial policies in West Africa in the period 1895 and 1920 went through two stages:
The first stage: was from 1895 to 1911. The colonial administration pretended to be interested in Islam and excited from it, because they saw Islam as the only way to reach their goal, which was the unification of the continent and thus control and erase the Arabic language, which was an important element for the Islamic religion. They began to watch the followers of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) whose number was increasing every day. With this policy, they managed to eliminate some Islamic communities.
The colonialists were forced to organize Islamic teaching, for they had found that the Islamic cultural centers swarmed very quickly and opposed the secular schools which were encouraged by the colonialists. Then, the teaching of the Arabic language was introduced in the curriculum of these schools scattered in some countries of the continent, which was done under pressure from Muslims as, for example, occurred in northern Nigeria.
They also took care of the Muslim scholars and kept them intermediaries between them and the community out of the fear that they would not like the Islamic education or the Muslims. Moreover, for this purpose, they established schools whose studies were done in Arabic and the language of the colonizers to entice the parents enroll their children in public education. Among the most famous of these schools were: the St. Louis school in Senegal, which was established in 1907, and Sai School which was founded in Niger by the French government in 1957 before leaving the country. These schools were not only for the children of Muslims but also the children of Christians were attending them.
Through this strategy, the colonialists were slowly replacing the Arabic language with their own. Their language even became the national language until today. This is not to say that the Qur’anic schools took a step back, they rather multiplied in the countryside, but they were monitored by the French administration. Mr. Haroon Mahady MAIGA said, “it was among the key objectives of the colonialists that the fight against the Arabic language and its removal from teaching. They were still able to achieve a lot of these goals by the distance from Arabic at some point the major reference documents and government schools, but remained strong and steadfast among Muslims. They study and learn their religious sciences by its means in mosques and traditional schools memorization of the Holy Qur’an.”
The Second Stage: This step was launched with the beginning of the twentieth century, precisely in the year 1911. During this stage, the French administration intensified the monitoring activities of Muslims, and prompted the local forces against Islamic communities who maintained cultural relations with the Arab-Muslim world.
This the second phase since the beginning of the twentieth century, namely the year 1911, during the French administration has intensified its monitoring activities of Muslims and incited local forces (bio) against Muslim communities which had cultural ties the Arab and Islamic world. Among those communities, it can be mentioned Fulanis, Sarakolés, and Toucouleurs. One of the representatives of the French administration in West Africa said, “In order to achieve our goals, we must incite a powerful force of revivalism (Ihyai) against Islam.” Beyond all that, the teaching of revivalism was in some French institutions for the benefit of the children of the leaders of revivalism. At the same time, the French government set up a committee composed of Muslims working with it for the supervision of Islamic activities. Among the major tasks of this committee were to carry out the statistics of Muslims, monitor their movements, to prevent them from acquiring machines of war and to prepare a list of Muslim suspects. In the period from 1911 to 1913, the French government in Dakar (capital of Senegal) proceeded to the expulsion of some scholars, preachers and beggars outside Senegal. Monitoring Islam, first of all, meant monitoring Islamic personalities.
The French colonial administration did not stop at this, but asked the Egyptian authorities in this period to monitor religious books passing through Cairo across the continent along the path of pilgrims, especially the ones written about Islamic call. However, this did not prevent the Muslims of the region to strengthen their relationship with the Arab and Islamic world. The West African countries established strong ties with the Arab and Islamic countries, which helped to spread Islam in a wide area.
The Role of Arab-Islamic States in Expanding the Circle of Islam in West Africa
In 1953 West African children who were raised by Islamic culture managed to establish an Islamic Union that encompassed the entire continent. For this union, they chose the name “Islamic Cultural Union”, and was based in Dakar (the capital of Senegal). This union tried to improve the conditions of Muslims across the continent. It mainly focused on religion, Arabic and Islamic teaching. It also called for the introduction of Arabic language in public schools of the region. It later branched out other Islamic associations. And since that time, it played an active role in Arab-African relations, especially after the independence of most of the West African countries in 1960, where there have been political agreements between the countries of the Arab and Muslim world in the political, economic and cultural sphere. Those states began to focus on the Arab-Muslim issues, particularly the Palestinian issue. Among the Arab states who had relations with the states of West Africa right after independence, we can cite the following: Libya, Egypt, Algeria, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.
As for Libya, its relations with these states date back to 1970, since then it tried to build political, economic and cultural ties with some sub-Saharan African countries. In 1977, it sent ambassadors in some of these countries including Burkina Faso. Libya has also contributed to the construction of Islamic Arab schools and established cultural centers in many of the countries of West Africa. In those cultural centers, there are sections for teaching where all social groups of all ages learn in times that suit them. It should be noted that these courses are offered free of charge. We also find that there is second section for vocational training of the girls and a third one for a library.
In recent years, the World Islamic Call Association in Libya set up offices in most of the capitals of the West African countries whose role was to oversee the Arabic and Islamic education. In those offices, many Arabic language students have been recruited specifically in the area of preaching and teaching. In addition, the Faculty of Islamic Call hosts African children in its enclosure and employs them in the field of education following their graduation, and this charity work continues even after the fall of the government of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.
With regard to Egypt, it sent embassies to these countries right after their independence, and since that time until now Egypt consistently sends professors graduated from Al-Azhar to the Arab and Islamic schools in many of these African countries, who work as professors in the Arabic language and Islamic sciences. Egypt also attracts a large number of African students in each year to the present day, mostly to University of al-Azhar.
With regard to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, its relations with African states are mainly based on the pilgrimage. It sends scholarships to children of Muslims, who pursue their Islamic studies in the Kingdom. Most of these students access at the Islamic University of Medina, to that of Umm Al Qura of Mecca and a minority is sent to the University of Aal Saud in Riyadh. Lately, Saudi Arabia has sent embassies to most West African states, which facilitates establishing cultural and religious ties. Every year Saudi universities have begun receiving a significant number of African students to these new universities. Likewise, some Saudi benefactors are being encouraged so that they open Islamic schools in West Africa.
As for Kuwait, it has established relations with the countries of West Africa since 1973. Kuwait is distinguished in its relations with those states from other Arab countries with its focus on social and humanitarian aspects rather than that of culture and religion. It may credit for digging a large number of wells in various states of African countries for the benefit of the people. It also has a large number of centers to take care of the orphans.
When the states mentioned above believed that the only way to spread the Islamic culture and prevent the spread of the missionary movement in Africa was the distance from the language of the missions which had become the official language of these states after their independence. That is what cost dearly to Islam and Muslims.
The State of Kuwait felt that the way is to allow Muslim children to involve in education, at least in the official language of the country, even if that was the language of evangelization and Christianization. That is why it started establishing Arab-French schools where courses in Arabic and French are taught equally and the official curriculum of the government is followed. This does not mean that Kuwait has neglected the religious education in these countries. It has established an institution to deliver the message of Islam in Africa. This institution that is called “African Muslims Board” which is responsible for recruiting preachers to fulfill the task of calling people to Islam in the cities, villages and rural areas. In addition to what we have mentioned previously, the Arab and Muslim countries help African countries build mosques and schools, which contribute to the development of Islamic education in the region Teaching has improved by traditional Qur’anic schools along with modern schools, which, in turn, evolved to create schools and universities in many mainland states.
The Evolution of Arabic and Islamic Education in West Africa
After the introduction of Islam in West Africa, Arabic and Islamic education was based on Kuttabs or Qur’anic schools. In the second half of the twentieth century, the West African states witnessed to a new system of Islamic education. This new system was manifested in modern Arab schools. These schools are divided into pure Islamic and Arabic schools, Arabic-French schools and Arabic-English schools.
A) Education at Kuttabs or Qur’anic Schools
Education in traditional Islamic schools (kuttabs) in West Africa goes through two stages:
Stage I: Basic or Primary Education:
This stage is known Qur’anic school. Its main specialty is memorizing the Holy Qur’an and teaching rudimentary principles of Islam, such as ablution, prayer, and the basics of the Arabic language. The child learns at this stage the concepts of reading and writing, as well as certain obligations and desirable supererogatory acts which enable him to perform his prayer. Mohamed GARBY said in this respect: “The child begins these lessons by learning the alphabet and memorizing the Qur’anic verses. Then he moves to reading or embellishing the reading of the Qur’an, and finally he begins to study of texts with his sheikh.” Gates of these schools are open to children from all ages. Among the means for memorization, wooden slates and the Holy Qur’an. On the wooden slate, the child writes with ink which can be cleansed by water to be able to use it again. The pen used for writing is made of reeds or date palms.
The teacher is usually someone who knows the entire Qur’an by heart, who knows to write with the Ottoman script and the Kufi or Maghrebi style. He is usually someone who is knowledgeable in the sciences of jurisprudence and theology (aqaid). He also knows by heart some poems and praises about the Prophet Muhammad.
Stage II: Secondary Education:
The students who completed primary school are accepted at this stage. Students begin to this stage after getting knowledge of the fundamentals of basic education and assimilating a number of lessons they learned. At this level, the student starts to study the texts from famous books of Maliki School and other books about language and Hadith. Mohamed Garby says that “the subjects studied were more complex than before.”
Passing of a stage is not related to age, but it depended on the courage, intelligence, and the speed of perception of the student. The teacher is not required to be a great master, but it is sufficient simply having general knowledge about the books he teaches and knowing them by memory. The master or sheikh may start teaching early morning hours, then he turns to a scholarly session after sunset during which he studies the lesson with a great scholar. Some traditional Qur’anic schools have developed into Islamic universities in Timbuktu which attracts students from everywhere.
Kuttab (traditional Qur’anic school) experienced a huge decline with the arrival of European settler in West Africa. They have narrowed the opportunities of Islamic teaching and closed the future doors in front of it, which keep people in such teaching. MAIGA Haroun Mahady says that “among the objectives (of colonialism) were the fight against the Arabic language and its removal from teaching. It was able to achieve some of these aims by distancing the language at some point in government offices and public schools. However, Arabic has remained strong among Muslims. They knew and taught their children Islamic theology by means of it in the mosques and traditional Qur’anic schools.” Despite the difficulty of the conditions that Islamic education lived under the colonial rule in the continent, it remained spreading self-prevalent on the shoulders of Muslims. Modern Arabic-Islamic schools have emerged especially after the independence of these states.
B) Education at Modern Arab-Islamic Schools
The history of the foundation of the formal Arab-Islamic schools in West Africa dates back to the Islamic Cultural Association, which was founded in Dakar in 1953. This Association worked until the departments of the Ministry of Education started to oversee the Arab Islamic education in the continent. Since that time, the area has experienced two types of schools. One of them: French Arab schools (Les écoles franco-arabes) or English-Arabic School. These are intended to provide education that combine education through methods of Arabic, including teaching Arabic language and religious materials, and education through the method of government curriculum in French or English. The second type is the public schools that are in the study either in French or English, while the Arabic language is optional. That traditional education (kuttab) has not disappeared by emergence of this modern schools, but gradually began to decline.
Arab Islamic schools began to develop in West Africa since the eighties of the twentieth century. There is a demand among people for them growing today. As for the diplomas given by these schools, governments do not recognize most of them. We can exclude from this some countries such as Niger, Nigeria and Mali. These governments regulate private exams for students of Arabic and Islamic Sciences. Some of the graduates of those schools attend Arabic departments of local universities or some others travel to other Arab countries for university education.
With regard to their employment opportunities, it is a very narrow field. The graduates of these schools are employed in teaching of the Arabic language in some government institutions, or in the field of translation among Arab embassies, which is also very rare.
Despite all this, the African Muslims continue to open colleges and local Arab-Islamic universities with their own means or with the help of some of the benefactors’ help in the Arab and Islamic countries. We find, for example, many local Muslim colleges and universities In Nigeria; and in Senegal and in Benin there are branches of the Faculty of Islamic Call in Libya; In Mali, in addition to the Department of Arabic at the University of Bamako, there is the University of Touba and the Sahel; and in Burkina Faso, there is Burkina polyvalent University Centre in Ouaga, 2000, Al-Huda University and the Faculty of Sharia in Bobo Dioulasso. The Organization of the International Conference established an Islamic university in Niger called “The Islamic University of al-Sai” attracts all the children of West African States each year by organizing a special exams for students wishing to attend. These are in addition to many African students studying at Arab-Islamic universities in Arab and Islamic states.
Although the non-recognition of certificates of those universities and colleges by local governments is a big problem for the students of Arabic and Islamic sciences in West Africa, the graduates of these universities find themselves on the margins of society. Haroune Mahady points out: “the problem of lack of employment faced by Arab students occupies the top spot before any other problem, it is the result of the official policies of marginalization of the Arabic language in order to reduce people’s willingness to learn Arabic on the grounds that those who study Arabic consider mastering the French language not required.” This is what we call the impoverishment of holders of diplomas of Islamic universities and institutes. Nevertheless, some have already begun to claim their rights under constitutions that call for literacy in any language, which involves cultural diversity with social cohesion. Some of them have their voices reached to their governments, as happened in Senegal, Nigeria, Guinea and others.