The spread of Islam in Asia and Africa

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The expansion of Islam into Asia was solidified with the formation of the Ottoman Empire in the 13th century. This vast empire helped the spread of Islam throughout the world. The Ottomans were extremely tolerant of most religions at the time. Also, much like the Mongols, the Ottoman Empire was dedicated to a jihad against the enemies of Islam. This fueled the Ottomans’ murderous expansion, which led to the conquest of many states and drove the expansion of Islam.

Although Islam was not native to the continent of Africa, just like most religions during that time, it spread rapidly once introduced. But this was not the case throughout Africa: Islam didn’t initially have a hold on the Berbers, for example. It was only when Ibn Yasin instructed them that their commitment to the faith, and the cleric’s interpretation of the faith, began to grow. The growth came in the practice of Jihad. In the course of about one generation, these Lamtuna (nomadic Berber tribe) reconstructed the division formulated by Muhammad between the two worlds and the two times. This lead to the formation of Dar al-Islam in the northwestern parts of Africa.

Different variations of Islam existed even within cities. For example, the Swahili cities of Mombasa (Kenya), Kilwa Kisiwani (Tanzania), and Mogadishu (Somalia)) all implemented the practices of Islam differently throughout their various communities and classes.

Today, about half of the people living in the continent are Muslim, and almost 25 percent of the Muslims of the world live in Africa. Today, the Northern African countries are approximately 94 percent Muslim. Islam spread in three phases throughout Sub-Saharan Africa. The three stages were: minority or quarantine; court; and majority phase.

The impact of Islam seems to have been positive in Africa. Teachers had translated the faith of Islam, the Quran, and the prayers into the many African dialects throughout the continent. On the Eastern coast and the Swahili Gateway, Muslims started sailing the waterways looking to trade and acquire ivory, gold and other metals, leather goods, and slaves. With wealth in these regions came Islamic elements in the architecture of their homes and their mosques. Scholars and writers adopted the Arabic alphabet and subsequently started producing written literature for the Muslim community in Arabic.

Africans rarely made the pilgrimage to Mecca before the twentieth century. The wealthier Swahili community was able to instead build local sanctuaries to celebrate their faith. These places of worship were an important substitute, some argue even as important as the pilgrimage to Mecca.

Ultimately it is apparent that the African communities tailored Islam and Muslim life to meet their needs.

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