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Islam and Politics in East Africa

Islam and Politics in East Africa: The Sufi Order in Tanzania

August H. Nimtz,
Copyright Date: 1980
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 256
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5749/j.ctttt8b3
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  • Book Info
    Islam and Politics in East Africa
    Book Description:

    Focusing on the interplay of religion, society, and politics, August Nimtz examines the role of sufi tariqas (brotherhoods) in Tanzania, where he observed an African Muslim society at first hand. Nimtz opens this book with a historical account of Islam in East Africa, and in subsequent chapters analyzes the role of tariqas in Tanzania and, more specifically, in the coastal city of Bagamoyo. Using a conceptual framework derived from contemporary political theories on social cleavages and individual interests. Nimtz explains why the tariqa is important in the process of political change. The fundamental cleavage in Muslim East Africa, he notes, is that of “whites” versus blacks. Nimtz contends that the tariqus, in serving the interest of blacks (that is, Africans), became in turn vehicles for the mass mobilization of African Muslims during the anti-colonial struggle. In Bagamoyo he finds a similar process and, in addition, reveals that the tariqas have served African interests in opposition to those of “whites” because of the individual benefits they provide. At the same time, Nimtz concludes, the social structure of East African Muslim society has ensured that Africans would be particularly attracted to these benefits. This work will interest both observers of African political development and specialists in the Islamic studies.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-6383-5
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-xii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  3. Part I Islam in East Africa

    • CHAPTER 1 The History of Islam in East Africa
      (pp. 3-15)

      One version of the oldest African source on East African history, the Kilwa Chronicle, relates that a group of Arabs left the Arabian peninsula in the middle of the eighth century and settled in southern Somalia.¹ Though they were probably not the first Arabs to settle on the East African coast, they had for centuries traded with various coastal peoples. These were the first immigrants who came to Africa as adherents of Islam. Thus, these settlers, the supporters of the heterodox great grandson of the Prophet Muhammad (or the people of Zayd, as they were known) were allegedly the first...

    • CHAPTER 2 Religious Authority in East African Islam
      (pp. 16-28)

      Within any religious system, just as within political systems, there is an unequal distribution of authority in that there are those who command and those who obey—the rulers and the ruled. Though the distinction between the two groups may be less precise than is the case for some other religions, Islam is no exception. Since religion seldom operates in a political vacuum, the authority of the state frequently establishes the parameters in which religious authority is exercised. Furthermore, changes in the political system have repercussions throughout a society, including its religious organzations.

      Although the description of the roles and...

    • CHAPTER 3 Cleavages and Conflicts
      (pp. 29-52)

      The long-standing divisions in a society, often referred to as cleavages, are the framework for its politics. Cleavages, which reveal themselves in the “us versus them” view of the world, determine who will be on which side of the everyday issues that arise in a community. These divisions take on added importance when they reinforce one another, when the same individuals (for the most part) meet each other as opponents in different contexts. Within the coastal, the hinterland, and a few far-inland areas (where approximately three-fourths of East Africa’s Sunni Muslims live), the most important cleavages are those between ethnic...

  4. Part II The Tariqa in East Africa

    • CHAPTER 4 The Tariqa and the Expansion of Islam
      (pp. 55-71)

      In the aftermath of the British victory over the German East African forces during the First World War, Islam made its greatest gains in East Africa. The reason, in the opinion of some, is that the disruption of the war and the slowness with which the British institutionalized their authority undermined European cultural influence and Christian missionary activities.

      Clearly, the disruption of the war is important in explaining the growth of Islam in Tanzania. At best, however, this was a necessary prerequisite but not a sufficient cause of its unprecedented expansion. What is often overlooked or not understood is that...

    • CHAPTER 5 The Sociopolitical Role of the Tariqa
      (pp. 72-92)

      The role of the tariqa in disseminating Islam made it one of the most widespread institutions in the world. The social and political importance of sufi orders, widely recognized, derives from its popularity and influence among the Muslim masses. In East Africa, Tanzania was the country where brotherhoods were most active and where, as a result, Islam made its greatest gains. And in Tanzania the tariqa, almost immediately after its arrival, became a key political institution in the Muslim community.

      In 1884, Shaykh Uways b. Muhammad, later to become the most famous Qadiriyya leader in East Africa, arrived in Zanzibar...

  5. Part III Islam and Politics in Bagamoyo

    • CHAPTER 6 Social Structure in a Swahili Community
      (pp. 95-117)

      My focus until this chapter has been Muslim East Africa as a whole. To adequately explain the relationship between Islam and politics, however, it is necessary to get a more intimate view of Swahili society. This can best be done by looking at a particular community. Bagamoyo, a small coastal town north of Dar es Salaam, recognized since the nineteenth century as a leading center of Islam in East Africa, is particularly suited for undertaking this kind of inquiry. Over 95 percent of its ethnically heterogeneous population (there are more than 100 ethnic groups, according to the 1957 census) are...

    • CHAPTER 7 The Tariqa in Bagamoyo
      (pp. 118-134)

      Early in the twentieth century, Shaykh Muhammad b. Husayn al-Lughani, a religious figure from the Middle East about whom very little is known, visited Bagamoyo and met with some of the local Muslim leaders. During his apparently brief stay, for reasons that will probably never be clear, he conferred on an African Muslim teacher known then as Mu’allim Ramiya an ijaza of khalifa of the tariqa al-Qadiriyya. Mu’allim Ramiya, a Manyema and a former slave, set out almost immediately to attract a following. Within a few years, the Qadiriyya emerged as a leading institution in Bagamoyo. By the time of...

    • CHAPTER 8 The Tariqa and Prenationalist Politics
      (pp. 135-152)

      The sufi brotherhood can be viewed as an interest group, and one of the main activities of its leaders is to lobby in the religious community of which it is a part and/or in the wider public arena. Such activities can obtain benefits for the membership itself (selective benefits) and benefits for the wider community (collective benefits). Given an interest group that was overwhelmingly African in composition and a social stratification system in which Africans occupied the lowest positions, the question is to what degree did the activities of the Qadiriyya’s leadership advance African interests in Bagamoyo’s Sunni community and...

    • CHAPTER 9 The Nationalist Struggle and Political Change
      (pp. 153-168)

      In a letter dated January 31, 1955, the Bagamoyo branch of what had been called the Tanganyika African Association wrote to the district commissioner to inform him that the “party has now changed its name [and] is called the Tanganyika African National Union, for short TANU.”¹ This matter-of-fact report on the change in names signaled a more profound change in the political orientation of the African nationalist leadership. It realized by this time that no significant redistribution of authority in favor of Bagamoyo’s African community could be accomplished under colonialism. A movement had to be forged that would unite Africans...

  6. Part IV Conclusions

    • CHAPTER 10 Discussion and Conclusions
      (pp. 171-190)

      Bagamoyo provided setting for a detailed look at the tariqas in East Africa. The facts about Bagamoyo coupled with the data from elsewhere in East Africa, mainly Tanzania, in parts 1 and 2, make it possible to answer the question posed at the outset of this study—why the tariqa can play an important role in political change. As a first step toward this goal, I begin with a number of descriptive propositions about brotherhoods that refer only to their politically relevant attributes. These propositions summarize the information on brotherhoods in Bagamoyo in part 3 as well as that on...

  7. Notes
    (pp. 193-212)
  8. Map of East Africa
    (pp. 213-216)
  9. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 219-226)
  10. Index
    (pp. 229-234)