Muslim Societies in Africa: A Historical Anthropology

Muslim Societies in Africa: A Historical Anthropology

Muslim Societies in Africa: A Historical Anthropology

Muslim Societies in Africa: A Historical Anthropology

Synopsis

Muslim Societies in Africa provides a concise overview of Muslim societies in Africa in light of their role in African history and the history of the Islamic world. Roman Loimeier identifies patterns and peculiarities in the historical, social, economic, and political development of Africa, and addresses the impact of Islam over the longue durée. To understand the movements of peoples and how they came into contact, Loimeier considers geography, ecology, and climate as well as religious conversion, trade, and slavery. This comprehensive history offers a balanced view of the complexities of the African Muslim past while looking toward Africa’s future role in the globalized Muslim world.

Excerpt

Africa's different habitats and ecosystems, as well as its surrounding seas and oceans, have been major formative forces in the development of societies on the continent. Before delving into the analysis of the history of Muslims in Africa, it may be helpful to have a look at the anthropo-geographic context in which Africa’s Muslim societies have developed since the mid-seventh century.

Anyone coming from western Asia and entering Africa from the northeast will inevitably encounter the Nile. the “nīl misr” (Egyptian Nile) of the Arab geographers, with its huge delta and densely settled valley, has been a major center of cultural and political development for more than 6,000 years. the Nile was of major formative importance for a whole series of cultures in the Nile valley, not only Egypt but also the countries upstream, in particular Nubia, the land between the first cataract south of Aswan and the sixth cataract north of the confluence of the Blue Nile and the White Nile. Despite these natural obstacles, especially the “batn al-hajar,” the “belly of stones” between the second and the third cataracts, the Nile constituted a major highway of exchange between the Mediterranean and the lands of the Upper Nile valley, with the adjacent steppes and savannahs. Due to their dependence on its waters, the societies on the Nile developed intricate and in many ways unique strategies of calculation, technologies of irrigation and storage, administration of surplus and scarcity, defense and warfare, which subsequently informed the formation of states, principalities, and empires in the Nile valley. the empires on the Nile exerted a major influence on the surrounding regions, attracting people across Africa and Asia to come to Egypt as traders, conquerors, pilgrims, or students.

The development of a distinct, irrigation-based Nile valley civilization has been directly linked with an important ecological process of longue durée, namely the desertification of the Sahara in the Mesolithic period (c. 10,000-4,000), which almost stopped movement across the Sahara entirely. Only the introduction of the camel in the first century bce and the subsequent emergence of a camel-based economy, first in North Africa and later in the Saharan oases, made large-scale transport and movement across the Sahara possible again. the lands north of the Sahara, the Roman provinces of Africa and Numidia, which came to be called “Ifrīqiyya” after the Arab conquest, or simply the “lands of the sunset” (Arab, bilād al-maghrib), were characterized by three major features: they constituted the southern shore of the Mediterranean and thus connected Africa with Europe; at the same time, they constituted the northern . . .

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