By Toyin Falola

Islam as a global religion has continued to attract various praises and criticisms and thus engenders conversation in scholarship, driven by an interest in understanding its philosophical and ideological underpinnings, especially in an age shaped by liberal intuitions. I recently intervened in this project in a widely circulated piece, “The Dangers of Islamophobia,” which spins a round of debates. See https://www.premiumtimesng.com/opinion/687652-the-dangers-of-islamophobia-by-toyin-falola.html.

In this first reflection on this major interview, I want to draw from the profound views of Professor Cheikh Anta Babou. While the question around the origin of religion has never been a controversial topic, its generational transformations, most especially its philosophical metamorphosis in places where it is enhanced or domesticated, have always been a topic of heated intellectual debate. In this case, Africa has become an interesting site of Islamic cultural establishment, arrived at through centuries of adoption, modification, and recalibration by individuals who wanted an identity shaped in tune with the demands of global politics. That being the case, it is always considered an act of dishonesty that some voices have always associated retrogressive thinking with the custodians of the religion, not because they have morally deficient activities linkable to some practitioners of the religion themselves but because they have an underlying agenda of giving the dog a bad name just to take its life. Progressive-thinking Islamists have noted this pattern in modern history, and they have discontinued the possibility of entertaining similarly destructive rhetoric that individuals with personal grudges against Islam commonly spearhead.

Professor Cheikh Anta Babou

In Africa, Islam has undergone several processes of kneading and modifications, usually inspired by Islamic scholars and advocates who have a solid grasp of the religion to the level of making generational marks with them. African Islamists who are aware of these modern patterns have begun to write histories of the religion, especially in relation to its development in Africa, by centring the continent as a protagonist in these narratives. The continent is a protagonist illustrated by the numerous changes and efforts that its dwellers have instigated for a very long time, which, among other things, are reflected in infrastructures, as is the case of mosques built centuries ago, the orthography produced by Islam (Ajami), the clothes and other indicators of cultural assimilation, all of which are a telltale of the greatness of the religion, particularly in how the people have made an important impression from and of it. Centring Africa in these narratives, therefore, achieves multivariate ambition, among which is the reorientation of individuals about the inexhaustive contributions that Islam has made to the continent in all dimensions and also how the people have made an identity separate from the globalist view of the religion. When the jihad aspect of the religion, therefore, takes preeminence in the discourse of the religion, that evades those critical contributions of its peaceful members at any point in history.

Dr. Yahya Sseremba

Scholars argue that the promotion of jihad narrative in global Islamic discourse seeks to increase prospects of the agenda against it and use Africa as a canon folder in the process. This is underscored by a general awareness that the history of jihad as associated with Islam is itself a byproduct of elitist controversy that does not capture the reality of the majority. Apart from being a relatively recent history (born from the 19th-century jihad controversies), such a proposition undermines the political outlook of Islam that took flight in the preceding millennium. If anything, African relationships with Islam have never been dotted by negative experiences until the critical moment of the 19th century, which itself has continued to be deconstructed as scholars, in this case, are doing. By ignoring an important segment of practitioners of Islam to focus on elitist Islamists, one, therefore, eclipses the extraordinary contributions of the ordinary and everyday people who made significant differences in the propagation and domestication of the religion. Scholars contend that it is impossible to ignore the culture of these people, especially after the osmosis that occurred when adopting a new ideology, and neither could it be right to understate the progressive prospects which were promised from this relationship between the people and the religion. No religious identity progresses without its dimensions of difficulties. It is believed that the concentration of views on elitist Islamists ignores people’s history and overrides the meaningful contributions of certain Africans who became its frontline advocates.

Professor Fatima Seedat

To, therefore, understand the intricate connection between Islam and Africa, one needs to begin to identify the local cultures and histories, the oral legacies and properties, and, more importantly, the non-textual items of the people’s past. These non-textual materials include especially the infrastructures that have been associated with Islam since the beginning of time. As insignificant as this may appear, it remains true that the mosques built across time and history in Africa essentially reflect the cultural and ideological philosophies of people, and for that reason, they are a very good instrument for revealing their adaptive strategies in all the various places of adoption. The inscriptions on these architectural products, too, would assist in understanding the evolutionary process of the religion in Africa. There is a belief that when the history of Islam in Africa is taken away from its centrality of elite Muslims, it will give way to the emergence of Islamic identity that is propagated by the ulama (the religious scholars of Islam) whose efforts towards the education of the citizenry about Islam has otherwise been eclipsed, the itinerant Muslims whose place to place migration also recorded an imposing contributions they made towards the elevation of the religious status, traders who were Muslims and brought their religion to any and every place where they found themselves. These, therefore, constitute an important body of intellectual discourse that deserves to be accorded maximum intellectual attention so that the necessary and accurate information about the spread of religion can be documented.

Professor M. Oloyede AbdulRahmon

This brings us to the conversation that jihad proponents are themselves an instrument of ill-conceived or ill-motivated agenda whose extreme measures in instilling the affection of Islam into the people’s minds constitute an antithesis to the intentions of the founders of the religion. References are made to the 16th-century scholars of the religion who, for example, believed that the conversion of people into the religion, using very extreme measures, runs contrary to the ambition of Allah. At least there exist scriptural injunctions where the prophet of Islam, Mohammad (May the Peace of Allah be Upon Him), was instructed not to compel people into accepting the religion just because the will to enable people to participate in such a religion and ideology depends exclusively on the wish of the Almighty. This stands to correct the notion that individuals wield the power to force Islamic religion on the people. Apart from being ill-conceived, as some have argued, it also shows that the people have a wrong understanding of what the advocates of the religion stand for. It cannot be negated that there are overzealous ideologues who use the platform of religion as an avenue to launch their ambitions; it stands to be corrected that the scripture does not actually support such a mindset. Much as they are therefore not frustrated by the institutions of the state under which they are, the scholar maintained that Muslims are expected to live peacefully under or with their non-Muslim neighbours, leaders, and friends if their relationship is not exploited for negative intentions.

Dr. Mustapha Abdul-Hamid

All these, therefore, boil down to the understanding that the spread of Islam in Africa should not always be tied to the use of force. In that history, which scholars argue must be considered, it is evident that the adoption of Islam came from the conviction of people about the organization of Muslims and how they carried themselves in the activities of their host societies. Rather than involve themselves directly in the act of violence and force, they used their orderliness to win the people’s hearts. In that case, evidence of how they became navigators of trade routes and agreements exists. They became advisers to powerful kings; they provided their informed knowledge on ways of political administration; they helped to situate governance within the appropriate context of productive and distributive leadership; they identified with the host societies and respected when they held keenly to themselves and with time, they became recognized for their exemplary contributions to the advancement of their engagements. The fact, therefore, remains that the actions and deeds of such Muslims cannot be relegated to the background to amplify the globalist view on Islam, especially when that view seeks to undermine, relegate and, in some cases, ridicule the values of the religion. This way, Islam will escape the trap of death set for it by the community of detractors who see no good in it.

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