Religion in Transition

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Islam was introduced to East Africa by Arab, Indian and Persian traders and merchants in the 8th century AD onwards. The early expansion was limited to Sawahili coast which spans from todaya??s Malindi region in north Kenya down to Tanzanian coasts and parts of Zimbabwe. One significant feature of Islam in East Africa was its indigenization; Instead of imposing their lifestyle and doctrine upon local people and forcing them to convert, the newcomers merged with the local communities and affected them gradually as they were influenced by them too. The result was a new synthesis of Islam and Bantu culture which though in doctrine was primarily Islamic yet it had serious Bantu elements in its cultural expressions. Sawihilli language, heavily influenced by Arabic Language and based on local Bantu, was an example of this cultural syncretism. By the time and by gradual passage to inner lands, came two spontaneous phenomenons: the diversification of the ritual and doctrine as it passed through different regions and geographical areas; and its accommodation to the local lifestyle. Lack of effective communication tools with original Arab Muslims who were to correct supposed erroneous doctrines and rituals and existence of just occasional written dogmas were important factor not to impede this process of localization. Detached from its motherland and adapted to aboriginal peoplea??s lifestyle, this new African Islam, like other religious expressions in everywhere else, was merely a a??partiala?? a??and at times a faint- defining element in peoplea??s identity along with other elements of cultural and social expressions like language, customs, economy, indigenous rituals, family structure and the else. With colonization and modernization later on, came a??religious awarenessa?? which were to define new boundaries between people and to shape their social interactions. By advancements in modern communications and ease of travel, contacts with original Arab stereotype Islam
increased and purist tendencies grew. In recent decades more organized Islamic propagation by Saudi Arabian aided institutions affected everywhere in Islamic world. This led to gradual homogenization of the religion both in its doctrine and practices and had profound impact upon religious life both in individual and society level: domination of the a??religiousa?? as opposed to other elements of identity like language, customs and the like; endeavors to restore the pure original Islam and detachment of its localized adjustments and by which making it again an align newcomer which is not accustomed to local culture and lifestyle; formation of a completely new boundaries with other contaminated indigenous versions of Islam and the else. Another significant area in which the new trend had remarkable impact was the role and status of women; while previously women were indispensable part of social life contributing actively to family economy both in agriculture and trade, the new Salafi influences were to return her home again and deprive her from social life. Even the customs of dressing changed and the long dark Arab gown replaced the traditional colorful dress. Men too have to prove their commitment to faith by wearing Arab a??Ghamisa?? and using more Arabic expressions in their every day conversations. Even in appearance the distinction between a Muslim and a non-Muslim is becoming sharper and sharper. When applied to a society at large, this results in a segregated city with sharp boundaries between Muslim and a non-Muslim neighborhood which in turn dramatically increases the probability of conflicts between these distinguished realms, as it proved to be the case in myriads of a??newa?? conflict zones which has been created out of a previously integrated societies and led to thousands of deaths.
This research aims to explore the different ways Modern Salafi influences have changed the traditional Islam in East Africa including its doctrine, ritual and lifestyle.

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Supervisors supervising this project

Dr Naser Ghobadzadeh Co-Supervisor

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