In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Islam in Africa

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Bibliographies
  • Islamization, Politics, and Trade

Islamic Studies Islam in Africa
Abdulkader Tayob
  • LAST REVIEWED: 14 December 2009
  • LAST MODIFIED: 14 December 2009
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195390155-0003


The study of Islam in Africa provides some useful insights into the history of Islam as a global and localized religious tradition. Its history and spread in Africa are closely connected with the history of Islam from its very beginning. Overland from North Africa, or by sea route along the East African coast, religious trends like Sufism and reform, or political movements like Islamism (modern reformism) and radicalism are rooted in African religious experiences. Africa was not merely a recipient of these various movements. The long and varied history gave rise to deep cultural interactions that produced syntheses, syncretisms, and also tensions and conflicts between Islamic normative ideas and local cultural traditions. The study of Islam and local cultures in general can hardly be appreciated without an understanding of Islam in Africa. This entry presents a guide to the history of Islam in Africa, with a particular focus on sub-Saharan Africa. It addresses the major historical periods when Muslims played influential roles in African kingdoms through postcolonial developments. Moreover, it guides researchers to thematic issues on the interaction between Islam and local traditions.

General Overviews

Some studies cover the history and diversity of Islam in Africa. Levtzion and Pouwels 2000 is a detailed historical overview of the four different regions. North Africa represents one region closely connected with the Middle East and its Arab and Berber-speaking peoples. Islam in West Africa emerged out of the Saharan trade routes and in East Africa out of the Indian Ocean trade routes. Insoll 2003 provides another perspective from the material, archeological record. Robinson 2004 connects historical origins with more modern developments. The rise of European imperialism and colonialism gave rise to new developments. In some cases, Islam emerged in completely new areas, as in southern Africa, or toward greater penetration into previously uncharted territories in East and West Africa. After the departure of the Europeans, the modern state provided another context for the history of Islam in Africa. Lewis 1986 presents a good introduction to the cultural interaction between Islam and African cultures.

  • Insoll, Timothy. The Archaeology of Islam in Sub-Saharan Africa. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

    A detailed history of Islam through archaeology and material culture, bringing together political history and its cultural impact on and relation with Islam in Africa. Pays close attention to geography, including towns, mosques, and markets.

  • Levtzion, Nehemia, and Randall L. Pouwels, eds. The History of Islam in Africa. Athens: Ohio University Press, 2000.

    The most recent anthology of Islam in Africa, it covers the history of all the regions. In addition, thematic chapters provide in-depth analyses on law, women, education, Sufism, healing, art, literature, and music. A textbook for graduate use.

  • Lewis, I. M. Religion in Context: Cults and Charisma. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1986.

    Provides a functional approach to Islam in Africa, focusing also on the role of Islam as religion and culture in Africa. Presents a good framework for the impact of African culture on widespread practices of Muslims.

  • Robinson, David. Muslim Societies in African History (New Approaches to African History). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

    Excellent introduction to the diversity of Islamic experiences, focusing on the impact of Islam on Africa and Africa on Islam. Case studies on Uganda, the Sudan, Senegal, Nigeria, Ghana, Morocco, and Ethiopia, presenting developments within national boundaries and also on the historical roots extending much earlier.

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