"The Mohammedan Negro has felt nothing of the withering power of caste. There is nothing in his colour or race to debar him from the highest privileges, social or political, to which any other Muslim can attain."
-Edward W. Blyden, Liberian writer and thinker.

According to Arab oral tradition, Islam first came to Africa with Muslim refugees fleeing persecution in the Arab peninsula. This was followed by a military invasion, some seven years after the death of the prophet Mohammed in 639, under the command of the Muslim Arab General, Amr ibn al-Asi. It quickly spread West from Alexandria in North Africa (the Maghreb), reducing the Christians to pockets in Egypt, Nubia and Ethiopia.
Islam came to root along the East African coast some time in the 8th century, as part of a continuing dialogue between the people on the East coast and traders from the Persian Gulf and Oman. Like early Christianity, Islam was monotheistic, that is, Muslims worship only one God.

Islam was a modernising influence, imposing a consistent order among different societies, strengthening powers of government and breaking down ethnic loyalties.

Unlike Christianity, Islam tolerated traditional values, allowing a man to have more than one wife. For many, this made conversion to Islam easier and less upsetting than conversion to Christianity.
The Coast of East Africa has had a long history of trade, involving constant exchanges of ideas, style and commodities for well over two thousand years. Marriage between women of Africa and men of the Middle East created and cemented a rich Swahili culture, fusing urban and agricultural communities, rich in architecture, textiles, and food, as well as purchasing power..

In the early centuries of its existence, Islam in Africa had a dynamic and turbulent history, with reforming movements and dynasties clashing and succeeding each other. Gaining power depended on securing trade routes into gold-producing areas in Sub-Saharan Africa. Islamic rulers expanded north as well as south. In the last quarter of the 11th century, Islam dominated the Mediterranean world.

In the 14th century the Black Death came from Europe and seriously undermined the social and economic life of North Africa, or the Maghreb, as it is known. However Islam remained the dominant religion. From the 16th to the 19th century, much of the Maghreb was under Ottoman rule. By the 1880's, Islam had taken root in one third of the continent.

All dates are given according to the western calendar but can be converted online.

Listen to The Coming of Islam, the seventh programme in the BBC landmark radio series The Story of Africa, presented by Hugh Quarshie


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