Ivory Coast Table of Contents

Islam is a monotheistic religion based on revelations received in seventh-century Arabia by the Prophet Muhammad. His life is recounted as the early history of the religion, beginning with his travels from the Arabian town of Mecca about 610. Muhammad preached a series of divine revelations, denouncing the polytheistic religions of his homeland. He became an outcast from Mecca and in 622 was forced to flee to the town of Yathrib, which became known as Medina (the city) through its association with him. The flight (hijra) marked the beginning of the Islamic Era and of Islam as a powerful force in history, and it marked the year 622 as the beginning of the Islamic calendar. Muhammad ultimately defeated his detractors in battle and consolidated his influence as both temporal and spiritual leader of most Arabs before his death in 632.

After Muhammad's death, his followers compiled those of his words that were regarded as coming directly from God in the Quran, the holy scripture of Islam. Muhammad's teachings and the precedents of his behavior as recalled by those who knew him became the hadith (sayings). From these sources, the faithful constructed the Prophet's customary practice, or sunna which they endeavor to emulate. The Quran, hadith, and sunna form a comprehensive guide to the spiritual, ethical, and social life of the faithful in most Muslim countries.

Islam came to West Africa in three waves. In the ninth century, Berber traders brought the faith from North Africa to the ancient empire of Ghana. Beginning in the thirteenth century, the Malinké rulers of the Mali Empire contributed to its spread throughout much of the savanna, a process that continued into the eighteenth century, when the Juula established a Muslim kingdom in what is now northern Côte d'Ivoire. Finally in the nineteenth century, the Malinké warrior Samori Touré contributed to the southward spread of Islam.

The central requirement of Islam is submission to the will of God (Allah), and, accordingly, a Muslim is a person who has submitted his will to God. The most important demonstration of faith is the shahadah (profession of faith), which states "There is no God but God (Allah), and Muhammad is his prophet." Salat (daily prayer), zakat (almsgiving), sawm (fasting), and hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca) are also required.

In Côte d'Ivoire, only the most devout Muslims pray, fast, and give alms as required by strict tenets of Islam, and only the most wealthy perform the hajj. Most Ivoirian Muslims are Sunni, following the Maliki version of Islamic law. Sufism, involving the organization of mystical brotherhoods (tariqa) for the purification and spread of Islam, is also widespread, laced with indigenous beliefs and practices. The four major Sufi brotherhoods are all represented in Côte d'Ivoire, although the Qadiriya, founded in the eleventh century, and the Tidjaniya, founded in the eighteenth century, are most popular. The Qadiriya is prevalent in the west, and the Tidjaniya, in the east. The other two major Islamic brotherhoods have few adherents in Côte d'Ivoire. The Senoussiya is identified with Libya, where its influence is substantial. The Ahmadiya, a Shiite sect originating in nineteenthcentury India, is the only non-Sunni order in Côte d'Ivoire.

The significant religious authority is the marabout. He is believed to be a miracle worker, a physician, and a mystic, who exercises both magical and moral authority. He is also respected as a dispenser of amulets, which protect the wearer--Muslim or non-Muslim--against evil. The influence of marabouts has produced a number of reactions in Ivoirian society, among them a series of reformist movements inspired by Wahabist puritanism, which originated in nineteenth-century Saudi Arabia. These reform movements often condemn Sufism and marabouts as un-Islamic, but the poor see that marabouts often speak out on behalf of the downtrodden and that reform movements appear to support the interests of wealthier Muslims.

Hamallism began as an Islamic reform movement in the French Sudan early in the twentieth century and has provided a channel for expressing political and religious discontent. Its founder, Hamallah, was exiled from the French Sudan to Côte d'Ivoire during the 1930s. He preached Islamic reform tempered by tolerance of many local practices, but he condemned many aspects of Sufism. Orthodox brotherhoods were able to convince the French authorities in Côte d'Ivoire that Hamallah had been responsible for earlier political uprisings in the French Sudan. Authorities then expelled Hamallah from Côte d'Ivoire and banned his teachings.

The relative success of Islam may be related to its compatibility with many aspects of African culture--for example, plural marriage for men, which was opposed by Christian missionaries. Nonetheless, Islam was also embraced because it provided symbolic identification with successful traders and travelers throughout the world, and it was seen as an alternative to European religion. Its agents were black, and it preached on behalf of those who lacked the trappings of Western civilization. In the 1980s, about one-fourth of all Ivoirians, including most Juula and Malinké people, called themselves Muslims.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress