Islam is one of the religions practiced in Africa. But, Shia Muslims are in minority in this area and face violence by their religious identity.
Shia Muslims are around 5-10% of the total Muslim population of Africa. There is a large number of Shia Muslims living in Congo, Nigeria, Tanzania, Egypt, Senegal and Ghana. But, when thinking of the penetration of Shia Islam into Africa, Nigeria and Senegal are two countries that immediately come to mind and both have impressive and growing Shia minorities amidst Sunni majorities, Shia Numbers told. The role of Shia in Eastern Africa is both impressive and interesting. But since it is a part of the major role played by Islam in Africa, it is imperative that we study the history of the first contact of Islam with this very important continent.
History of Islam in Africa
Africa saw the first light of Islam in the days of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) himself, when a group of eleven men and four women took refuge in Abyssinia, escaping the rampant persecution in Mecca. As they explained their faith to the King and the priests, reciting Ayahs from the Surah Maryam, tears rolled down the cheeks of all who listened, shaking their heads in awe and reverence. The description of their first encounter with the Prophet is inspiring and moving. The Holy Quran, in its unique rendering, describes how the delegation from Negasus responded to the message of Allah. In Surah Al-Ma’idah, Verse 83, Allah (SWT) says:
“And when they hear what has been revealed to the Prophet, you will see their eyes overflowing with tears on account of the Truth that they recognize.” (Quran 5:83)
While the people near and around the Prophet rallied against him, a group of people from across the sea, with a different ethnic origin, belief and persuasion, should be so receptive and responsive. This brief encounter of Islam and Africa, in Abyssinia and later in Mecca, is a significant pointer to the African affinity to Islam. The penetration of Islam in African society continued after the Prophet (PBUH).
Islam came to Africa in around the 7th century, and it is believed that it is the first continent to embrace Islam after Southwestern Asia. Over the following centuries until the present day, Islam has continued to grow in numbers in area of Africa, exploringafrica mentioned. Shia Muslims who fled from Mecca in fear of persecution of Umayyad and Abbasid Caliphates in the second Hegira century settled in today’s Morocco and established a kingdom and spread their Shia beliefs.
Shia Islam In African Society
The population of Shia Muslims in Africa is composed of several communities:
First, Shia Muslims in Nigeria: Persecuted Shia adherents in northern Nigeria, particularly the African Shia Islamic Movement headed by Sheikh Ibrahim Zakzaky.
Second, Shia Islam in Senegal: The Shia-Senegalese Community is a very dynamic component of the Senegalese socio-cultural fabric, whose members are scattered throughout the country. Their focal points are Dakar, Thies, Kaolack, Kolda and Ziguinchor. Senegalese Shia Muslims have adopted a form of organization that commands respect and cohabiting harmoniously with other parts of the society.
Third, Shia Muslims in Egypt: The size of the Shia minority in Egypt is unclear. Official statistics do not distinguish Muslims by sects and Shia Egyptians are discreet about their beliefs for fear of persecution. Members of Egypt’s Shia-Muslim community say they continue to face discrimination and persecution.
This year, courts in Egypt ruled in favour of closing down local Shia TV channels and websites. Despite a previous decision to annul the verdict, it was overturned by the state council judiciary. Domestic internet service providers (ISPs) are now ordered to restrict websites affiliated with Shia Islam, including news sites.
Forth, Shia Muslims in Morocco: Shia Muslim citizens stated their fear of government and societal harassment led to their decision to practice their faiths discreetly.
Acts of incitement and hatred against the Shia persists in Morocco to the degree that no Shia Muslim is allowed to be elected as a lawmaker at the parliament. A rights group notes the situation is part of an organized campaign aimed at “preserving Morocco’s religious and spiritual security” against what the state calls “the danger of the Shiism”. According to the group, spreading hatred and violence against the Shia community runs against the Article 23 of the North African country’s Constitution.
Although there is no official data about the number of Shia Moroccans, but the number of people who shift from other Sunni sects to Shia Islam in Morocco is on the rise. According to US State Department reports, the number of Moroccan Shia Muslims is increasing by about a thousand annually, thereference-paris told. African Shia note that anti-Shia sentiment in the area is not new. Postings such as “If you kill a Shia you go straight to heaven” are put on Facebook accounts and aired on local radio talk shows, Shia Rights Watch reported.
The Article was written by Leila Yazdani and first published in Shafaqna.