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Introduction: The Geographical and Anthropological Setting

Roman Loimeier Indiana University Press PDF

Introduction

The Geographical and Anthropological Setting

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

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7 Egyptian Colonialism and the Mahdī in the Sudan

Roman Loimeier Indiana University Press PDF

7

Egyptian Colonialism and the Mahdī in the Sudan

Historical Themes and Patterns

After the collapse of the Funj empire in the early nineteenth century, the lands on the two Niles became one of the few regions in Africa not colonized by a European colonial power but by an Arabo-African empire, Egypt. As in pharaonic times, Egypt sought to secure its southern marches, to control the Nile valley, and to gain access to the natural resources of the Sudan. Egyptian power politics were linked with a program of modernization in Egypt as well as in the new Egyptian provinces in the Sudan. While the Egyptian colonial conquest of the Sudan succeeded, Egyptian efforts to modernize the Sudan remained superficial and created unrest and instability. The new administration, often based on a bureaucracy staffed by Copts, turned social structures upside down, and marginalized established authorities while pampering new social and religious movements, especially among the Sufi orders and religious scholars. The extension of the Egyptian administration into the southern and western marches of the

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8 Ethiopia and Islam

Roman Loimeier Indiana University Press PDF

8

Ethiopia and Islam

Historical Themes and Patterns

In Ethiopia, interfaces between Islam, Christianity, African indigenous religions and perhaps even Judaism have been of particular intensity and longevity. However, in contrast to Egypt and Nubia, orthodox Christianity has remained the dominant faith, while Muslims have formed a powerful historical counterforce. In many respects,

Christianity and Islam in Ethiopia have thus come to constitute each other’s flipside and cannot be understood without regarding the respective other. A historical account of Christian Ethiopia consequently has to consider this important Muslim legacy. At the same time, the historical anthropology of Ethiopia has to explain why Christianity has prevailed and why Islam has remained marginal, at least in political terms, in

Ethiopia to this day. The following account starts with an introduction into some features of Ethiopian historical development that have come to inform Ethiopia’s Christian (and later Muslim) history in decisive ways.

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11 Muslims on the Cape: Community and Dispute

Roman Loimeier Indiana University Press PDF

11

Muslims on the Cape

Community and Dispute

Historical Themes and Patterns

In the academic discussion of the history of Muslim societies in Africa, Muslim communities in South Africa are often ignored. They are usually seen as being not old and not African enough. Such a perspective omits the fact that Muslims have formed an integral part of society on the Cape since the mid-seventeenth century and came to be a decisive social force in Cape Town in the nineteenth century. In contrast to other regions of Africa, Cape Muslim history was always intrinsically linked with the colonial history of the Cape. From the very beginnings of the community in the 1660s, the community of Cape Muslims had to come to terms with religious, political, legal, and social structures dictated by a Christian majority population, the Afrikaaner settlers, organized by the Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie (VOC) and the Nederduitse

Gereformeerde Kerk (NGK). Despite the restrictions imposed by the VOC and the

NGK, the Cape Muslim community developed into a growing and thriving community in the eighteenth century. In the nineteenth century, when the restrictions imposed by

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3 The Sahara as Connective Space

Roman Loimeier Indiana University Press PDF

3

The Sahara as Connective Space

Historical Themes and Patterns

In both North African history and the history of sub-Saharan Africa, the Sahara has been seen as a geographical, political, and economic periphery. As a result, the Sahara and its populations have been presented as forming merely an extension of either the bilād al-maghrib or the bilād al-sūdān. This perspective neglects the fact that the

Sahara has been a major connective space and has been as such an intrinsic part of the economic systems of both the bilād al-maghrib and the bilād al-sūdān. Due to these entanglements, the Sahara cannot be seen as an isolated backwater of world history and economics. The economic importance of the Sahara and its trade routes in fact has been so important for the bilād al-maghrib and the bilād al-sūdān that the rulers in the north and the south have repeatedly tried to gain control over the Sahara and trans-Saharan trade routes. Consequently, knowledge of trade and trade routes, wells, oases, and terrain was of paramount importance and collected eagerly. At the same time, knowledge was withheld as far as possible from possible competitors, especially

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