Friday, October 6, 2017

2009 Pdf Excerpt From Stanford University: "The Spread Of Islam In West Africa"

Edited by Azizi Powell

This pancocojams post provides an excerpt of a 2009 Stanford University pdf entitled "The Spread of Islam in West Africa: Containment, Mixing, and Reform from the Eighth to the Twentieth Century".

I share excerpts of online books and articles or difficult to find books as a means of alerting readers to these resources and encouraging people to read the entire article/books, if possible.

Information about Niger is included in this post as a preface to this pdf excerpt along with a YouTube sound file of what I believe is the correct way of pronouncing the West African nation name "Niger".

This post also includes a brief article about how the nation of "Niger" got its name.

The content of this post is presented for historical and socio-cultural purposes.
All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to all those who are quoted in this post.
I was motivated to research this topic because of the news that I read today that four United States service members were killed in the West African, heavily Islamic nation of Niger RIP.

"Niger or the Niger.... officially the Republic of the Niger,.... is a landlocked country in Western Africa, named after the Niger River. Niger is bordered by Libya to the northeast, Chad to the east, Nigeria and Benin to the south, Burkina Faso and Mali to the west, and Algeria to the northwest. Niger covers a land area of almost 1,270,000 km2, making it the largest country in West Africa, with over 80 percent of its land area covered by the Sahara Desert. The country's predominantly Islamic population of about 21 million[12] is mostly clustered in the far south and west of the country. The capital city is Niamey, located in the far-southwest corner of Niger.

Niger is a developing country, and is consistently one of the lowest-ranked in the United Nations' Human Development Index (HDI); it was ranked last at 188th for 2014.[6] Much of the non-desert portions of the country are threatened by periodic drought and desertification. The economy is concentrated around subsistence and some export agriculture clustered in the more fertile south, and the export of raw materials, especially uranium ore. Niger faces serious challenges to development due to its landlocked position, desert terrain, inefficient agriculture, high fertility rates and resulting overpopulation without birth control,[13] poor education and poverty of its people, lack of infrastructure, poor health care, and environmental degradation.

Nigerien society reflects a diversity drawn from the long independent histories of its several ethnic groups and regions and their relatively short period living in a single state. Historically, what is now Niger has been on the fringes of several large states. Since independence, Nigeriens have lived under five constitutions and three periods of military rule. Following a military coup in 2010, Niger has become a democratic, multi-party state. A majority live in rural areas, and have little access to advanced education. 71.3% of the population cannot read as of 2015, one of the lowest literacy rates in the world."...
[This portion revised October 7, 2017]
There are several YouTube sound files that claim to provide the correct pronunciation for the name of the West African nation of "Niger". Most of those sound files gives at least an approximation of an English language pronunciation for the nation name "Niger" that conforms to the pronunciation of the larger and more widely known nearby nation Nigeria. However, the second pronunciation that Wikipedia gives -which is also found on at least one YouTube sound file- is the French pronunciation of the name "Niger".
Since Niger was colonized by the French, and French is one of their national languages, I believe that pronunciation "nee-jer" (or similar forms) is the correct one. That French pronunciation of "Niger" is given in this YouTube sound file

How to Pronounce Niger -

Pronounce Names, Published on Jan 6, 2013

Audio and video pronunciation of Niger brought to you by Pronounce Names (, a website dedicated to helping people pronounce names correctly....

*Needless to say, the discussion threads of those YouTube sound files are full of racist "n word" comments, including stereotypical references to fried chicken...

WRITTEN BY: Finn Fuglestad, Diouldé Laya
LAST UPDATED: 9-15-2017


Niger, officially Republic of Niger, French République du Niger, landlocked western African country. It is bounded on the northwest by Algeria, on the northeast by Libya, on the east by Chad, on the south by Nigeria and Benin, and on the west by Burkina Faso and Mali. The capital is Niamey. The country takes its name from the Niger River, which flows through the southwestern part of its territory. The name Niger derives in turn from the phrase gher n-gheren, meaning “river among rivers,” in the Tamashek language.
It should be noted that the name of the more widely known West African nation of "Nigeria" also comes from the Niger river. However, the first syllable in the nation name "Nigeria" is pronounced "nigh", rhyming the word "high" and not "nee" ("knee") like the first syllable in the French pronunciation of the nation name "Niger".

The Spread of Islam in West Africa: Containment, Mixing, and Reform from the Eighth to the Twentieth Century
"While the presence of Islam in West Africa dates back to eighth century, the spread of the faith in regions that are now the modern states of Senegal, Gambia, Guinea, Burkina Faso, Niger, Mali and Nigeria, was in actuality, a gradual and complex process. Much of what we know about the early history of West Africa comes from medieval accounts written by Arab and North African geographers and historians.

Specialists have used several models to explain why Africans converted to Islam. Some emphasize economic motivations, others highlight the draw of Islam’s spiritual message, and a number stress the prestige
and influence of Arabic literacy in facilitating state building. While the motivations of early
conversions remain unclear, it is apparent that the early presence of Islam in West Africa was linked to trade and commerce with North Africa. Trade between West Africa and the Mediterranean predated Islam, however, North African Muslims intensified the Trans-Saharan trade. North African traders were major actors in introducing Islam into West Africa. Several major trade routes connected Africa below the Sahara with the Mediterranean Middle East, such as Sijilmasa to Awdaghust and Ghadames to Gao. The Sahel, the ecological transition zone between the Sahara desert and forest zone which spans the African continent, was an intense point of contact between North Africa and communities south of the Sahara. In West Africa, the three great medieval empires of Ghana, Mali, and the Songhay developed in Sahel.

The history of Islam in West Africa can be explained in three stages, containment, mixing, and reform. In the first stage, African kings contained Muslim influence by segregating Muslim communities, in the second stage African rulers blended Islam with local traditions as the population selectively appropriated
Islamic practices, and finally in the third stage, African Muslims pressed for reforms in an effort to rid their societies of mixed practices and implement Shariah. This three-phase framework helps sheds light on the historical development of the medieval empires of Ghana, Mali, and Songhay and the 19th century jihads that led to the establishment of the Sokoto Caliphate in Hausaland and the Umarian state in Senegambia.

Containment: Ghana and the Takrur

The early presence of Islam was limited to segregated Muslim communities linked to the trans-Saharan trade. In the 11th century Andalusian geographer, Al-Bakri, reported accounts of Arab and North African Berber settlements in the region. Several factors led to the growth of the Muslim merchant-scholar class in non-Muslim kingdoms. Islam facilitated long distance trade by offering useful sets of tools for merchants including contract law, credit, and information networks. Muslim merchant-scholars also
played an important role in non-Muslim kingdoms as advisors and scribes in Ghana. They had the crucial skill of written script, which helped in the administration of kingdoms.

Many Muslim were also religious specialists whose amulets were prized by non-Muslims. Merchant-scholars also played a large role in the spread of Islam into the forest zones. These included the Jakhanke
merchant-scholars in [name region], the Jula merchants in Mali and the Ivory Coast, and the Hausa merchants during the nineteenth century in Nigeria, Ghana, and Guinea Basau,]. Muslim communities in the forest zones were minority communities often linked to trading diasporas. Many of the traditions in the forest zones still reflect the tradition of Al-Hajj Salim Suwari, a late fifteenth-century Soninke
scholar, who focused on responsibilities of Muslims in a non-Muslim society. His tradition, known as
the Suwarian tradition, discouraged proselytizing, believing that God would bring people around to Islam in his own ways. This tradition worked for centuries in the forest zone including the present day, where there are vibrant Muslim minority communities.


From the eighth to the thirteenth century, contact between Muslims and Africans increased and Muslim states began to emerge in the Sahel. Eventually, African kings began to allow Muslims to integrate. Accounts during the eleventh century reported a Muslim state called Takrur in the middle Senegal valley. Around this time, the Almoravid reform movement began in Western Sahara and expanded throughout modern Mauritania, North Africa and Southern Spain. The Almoravids imposed a fundamentalist version of Islam, in an attempt to purify beliefs and practices from syncretistic or heretical beliefs. The Almoravid movement imposed greater uniformity of practice and Islamic law among West African Muslims. The Almoravids captured trade routes and posts, leading to the weakening of the Takruri state. Over the next hundred years, the empire dissolved into a number of small kingdoms.

Mixing: The Empires of Mali and Songhay

Over the next few decades, African rulers began to adopt Islam while ruling over populations with diverse faiths and cultures. Many of these rulers blended Islam with traditional and local practices in what experts call the mixing phase. Over time, the population began to adopt Islam, often selectively appropriating aspects of the faith.

The Mali Empire (1215-1450) rose out of the region’s feuding kingdoms. At its height, the empire of Mali composed most of modern Mali, Senegal, parts of Mauritania and Guinea. It was a multi-ethnic state with various religious and cultural groups. Muslims played a prominent role in the court as counselors and advisors. While the empire’s founder, Sunjiata Keita, was not himself a Muslim, by 1300 Mali kings became Muslim. The most famous of them was Mansa Musa (1307-32). He made Islam the state religion and in 1324 went on pilgrimage from Mali to Mecca. Musa’s pilgrimage to Mecca showed up in European records because of his display of wealth and lavish spending. Apparently, his spending devalued the price of gold in Egypt for several years. The famed 14th century traveler Ibn Battuta visited Mali shortly after Mansa Musa’s death. By the fifteenth century, however, Mali dissolved largely due to internal dissent and conflicts
with the Saharan Tuareg.


The Songhay state patronized Islamic institutions and sponsored public buildings, mosques and libraries. One notable example is the Great Mosque of Jenne, which was built in the 12th or 13th century. The Great Mosque of Jenne remains the largest earthen building in the world. By the 16th century there were several centers of trade and Islamic learning in the Niger Bend region, most notably the famed Timbuktu. Arab chroniclers tell us that the pastoral nomadic Tuareg founded Timbuktu as a trading outpost. The city’s multicultural population, regional trade, and Islamic scholarship fostered a cosmopolitan environment.
In 1325, the city’s population was around 10,000. At its apex, in the 16th century, the population is estimated to have been between 30,000 and 50,000. Timbuktu attracted scholars from throughout the Muslim world.


The Songhay’s major trading partners were the Merenid dynasty in the Maghrib (north-west Africa) and the
Mamluks in Egypt. The Songhay Empire ended when Morocco conquered the state in 1591. The fall of the
Songhay marked the decline of big empires in West Africa. Merchant scholars in Timbuktu and other major learning centers dispersed, transferring learning institutions from urban-based merchant families to rural pastoralists throughout the Sahara. During this period there was an alliance between scholars, who were also part of the merchant class, and some warriors who provided protection for trade caravans. Around the 12th and 13th century, mystical Sufi brotherhood orders began to spread in the region. Sufi orders played an integral role in the social order of African Muslim societies and the spread of Islam through the
region well into the 20th century.

Reform in the Nineteenth Century: Umarian Jihad in Senegambia and the Sokoto Caliphate in Hausaland

The 19th century jihad movements best exemplify the third phase in the development Islam in West Africa. Specialists have highlighted the ways in which literate Muslims became increasingly aware of Islamic doctrine and began to demand reforms during this period. This period was significant in that it marks a shift in Muslim communities that practiced Islam mixed with “pagan” rituals and practices to societies that completely adopted Islamic values and established Shariah.


In 1802, Uthman Dan Fodio, a Fulani scholar, led a major jihad. With the help of a large Fulani cavalry and Hausa peasants, Uthman Dan Fodio overthrew the region’s Hausa rulers and replaced them with Fulani emirs. The movement led to centralization of power in the Muslim community, education reforms, and transformations of law. Uthman Dan Fodio also sparked a literary revival with a production of religious work that included Arabic texts and vernacular written in Arabic script. His heirs continued the legacy of
literary production and education reform. Uthman Dan Fodio’s movement inspired a number of jihads in the region. A notable example was the jihad of al Hajj Umar Tal, a Tukulor from the Senegambia region. In
the 1850s, Umar Tal returned from pilgrimage claiming to have received spiritual authority over the West African Tijani Sufi order. From the 1850s to 1860s, he conquered three Bambara kingdoms. After Tal’s defeat by the French at Médine in 1857 and the subsequent defeat of his son in the 1880s, his followers fled westward spreading the influence of the Tijani order in Northern Nigeria. Although the French controlled the region, colonial authorities met another formidable enemy. Samori Toure rose up against
the French and gathered a 30,000 strong army. Following his death, French forces defeated Toure’s son in 1901. The French occupation of Senegal forced the final development of Islamic practice where leaders of Sufi orders became allies with colonial administrators.

Although European powers led to the decline of the Umarian state and the Sokoto Caliphate, colonial rule did little to stop the spread of Islam in West Africa. The British used anti-slavery rhetoric as they began their conquest of the Sokoto Caliphate in 1897. The Sokoto Caliphate ended in 1903, when British troops conquered the state. Colonial authorities attempted to maintain the established social order and ruled through Northern Nigerian emirs. Despite the efforts of colonial authorities, colonialism had far
reaching effects on Northern Nigerian Muslim society.

Modern communication and transportation infrastructure facilitated increased exchange between Muslim communities. As a result, Islam began to spread rapidly in new urban centers and regions such as Yoruba land. Similarly in the French Sudan, Islam actually spread in rates far greater than the previous centuries. Although Muslims lost political power, Muslim communities made rapid inroads in the West Africa during the early 20th century.


The legacy of the medieval empires and nineteenth century reform movements continues to have relevance in present day Senegal, Gambia, Mali, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Nigeria*, as well as many neighboring communities. Muslim communities have existed in West Africa for over a millennium, pointing to
the fact that Islam is a significant part of the African landscape.
Notice that "Nigeria" is mistakenly given two times in this sentence. Undoubtedly, one of these references was meant to be "Niger".

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