The Ahmadiyya in the Gold Coast: Muslim Cosmopolitans in the British Empire

The Ahmadiyya in the Gold Coast: Muslim Cosmopolitans in the British Empire

The Ahmadiyya in the Gold Coast: Muslim Cosmopolitans in the British Empire

The Ahmadiyya in the Gold Coast: Muslim Cosmopolitans in the British Empire

Synopsis

The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, a global movement with more than half a million Ghanaian members, runs an extensive network of English-language schools and medical facilities in Ghana today. Founded in South Asia in 1889, the Ahmadiyya arrived in Ghana when a small coastal community invited an Ahmadiyya missionary to visit in 1921. Why did this invitation arise and how did the Ahmadiyya become such a vibrant religious community? John H. Hanson places the early history of the Ahmadiyya into the religious and cultural transformations of the British Gold Coast (colonial Ghana). Beginning with accounts of the visions of the African Methodist Binyameen Sam, Hanson reveals how Sam established a Muslim community in a coastal context dominated by indigenous expressions and Christian missions. Hanson also illuminates the Islamic networks that connected this small Muslim community through London to British India. African Ahmadi Muslims, working with a few South Asian Ahmadiyya missionaries, spread the Ahmadiyya's theological message and educational ethos with zeal and effectiveness. This is a global story of religious engagement, modernity, and cultural transformations arising at the dawn of independence.

Excerpt

Visionary experiences and religious conversations brought West Africans and South Asians together into the Ahmadiyya, a Muslim movement with origins in British India. Dreams led to discussions that pointed to new religious horizons: nearly a century ago West Africans invited an Ahmadi missionary to visit, accepted the Ahmadiyya, and supported the founding of an Ahmadi mission and school in Ghana, then known as the Gold Coast. My interest in this past was sparked by my own experiences and conversations in Wa, a town in northwestern Ghana where I was conducting research. Shortly after arriving, I was on the back of Latif Khalid’s motorbike when we hit a goat that darted in front of us. We survived, as did the goat, but Latif had a bloody gash on his leg. As I dressed his wound, Latif, my research assistant, asked about my first-aid kit, something I had not packed on previous outings. I replied that the night before I had dreamed about having an accident; I added, as an explanation, that my malaria prophylaxis caused me, someone who rarely dreamed, to do so vividly. But Latif, an Ahmadi Muslim, engaged me at length about the significance of dreams in the history of the Ahmadiyya. This exchange was the first of many discussions, in the months and years that followed, about visionary experiences and religious conversations involving pioneering Ahmadi Muslims in the Gold Coast. Ghanaians repeat these accounts to others, including Khalifatul Masih Masroor Ahmad, the current leader of the Ahmadiyya, who visited Ghana and heard about dreams in the company of Maulvi Abdul Wahab Adam, then head of the Ghanaian branch of the movement, in the Ahmadi cemetery at Ekrawfo, Ghana. I interpret these oral accounts and others as a historian, placing them in a context and listening in light of what I learn in written materials.

I build on the work of other historians, but the perspectives in Ahmadi accounts leads my analysis in a different direction than the approach taken in Humphrey J. Fishe Contemporary Islam on the West African Coast. My analysis also differs from Ivor Wilks’s chapter on the Ahmadiyya in Wa and the Wala. the Ahmadi narratives inspired me to probe more deeply than others had in archives and libraries, where I discovered texts that illuminated and amplified Ahmadi memories. I argue from this evidence for a long history of African initiative that preceded the arrival of the Ahmadiyya and paved the way for its success. the result is this book. As a historical account, much of the analysis is based on written materials, but the insights came from Ahmadi narratives. I am grateful to those who shared information with me, some listed in . . .

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