Across the world, Islamic scholars are going back to the texts, peeling off the medieval interpretations that have hardened into truths, and searching for their own answers in the Quran and the Hadith. As every generation of Muslims has done since the 7th century, modern Muslims are seeking to interpret the spirit of the divine text in light of the mundane realities of its followers. The difference today are the effects of large-scale Muslim migration to the West and modern technology. Education, mobility, and access to information have lead to opportunities of new interpretive freedoms, sped up by the breakdown of the stature of the traditional Islamic authorities.
He also found a fatwa from an 8th-century scholar denouncing the practice. In other words, he found ways to change his understanding of his faith from within. How could it be rigid when interpretations range so widely, running the gamut from bans on women driving see Saudi Arabia to giving women the right to lead countries see Pakistan and Bangladesh? Old fault lines, ethnic, cultural and social, have been worsened by a spreading poverty.
Having fallen apart once -- in , when the southeastern Ibo declared the state of Biafra -- Nigeria is haunted by fears of going down Rwanda's path.
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Because of its weight in Africa -- in population, resources, universities, military power, or its vibrant press -- such a road would be a cataclysm. Of all the fissures in this country, which was thrown together on the whim of a British colonial governor in , those based on religion may be the most treacherous. But it is still not clear whether religion will ultimately push Nigerians toward fracture or reconcile them. Of the three main ethnic groups, the northern Hausas are Muslim, the southeastern Ibos are overwhelmingly Christian and the southwestern Yorubas mixed.
But that is only part of the picture: There are more than other groups of various religions; the relaxed, fluid Islam of many Yorubas has nothing to do with that of the Hausas; paganism is strong in some areas; thriving Baptist, Pentecostal, Catholic, Seventh-Day Adventist and other churches compete. Everything there is Allah's work. Well, we do not think it's Allah's work that more and more people are poor.
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Such sentiments reflect a thinly veiled resentment in the south over what is seen as the long domination by northern, devoutly Muslim generals. The most reviled was Gen. Sani Abacha, the dictator who died suddenly in June.
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There is a widespread conviction in Lagos and other southern towns that a northern Islam has held sway too long. General Abacha's predecessor, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida, enraged many Christians with actions that included steering Nigeria into the Organization of the Islamic Conference in In the early 's, riots between Muslims and minority Christians in two northern towns left over 1, people dead.
Muslims from British-ruled India first arrived in Hong Kong in significant numbers in the early 20th century as employees of the British administration. They replied that he was their chief, excellent in judgment, and committed to their best interests. He then informed them that he had embraced Islam, and by nightfall his entire clan had followed him. The Umayyads sought religious legitimacy as a means to justifying their rule, and Syria was the first region in which efforts toward that end took shape.
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Between and , Ho led seven maritime expeditions for the Ming dynasty, which took him to the major ports of the Indian Ocean and as far away as Mombasa Kenya. Having embraced Sunni Islam privately, he gradually reformed the NOI to conform to the orthodox Islamic tradition and called on his followers to do the same. Muhammad into the fold of orthodox Islam. This was the case, for example, in the Lindi and Mtwara regions of southeastern Tanzania in the early 20th century. In the late s, most people in the region were not Muslim, but today Muslims form a large majority of the population.
Lastly, on the topic of the spread of Islam via influencers, it is important to briefly revisit the pioneering thesis of Richard Bulliet in this field of research. Through a quantitative analysis of the names listed in biographical dictionaries from the early centuries of Islamic history, Bulliet showed that Islam spread very slowly as evidenced by the slow rate of the change, for example, from names that were identifiably Christian to those that were clearly Muslim.
Some converts, such as Malcolm X, wrote about their journey to Islam, thus giving us a glimpse into the reasons behind their decision. However, for the overwhelming majority of cases in Islamic history, we can only speculate broadly on three of the motivations that were arguably most prominent.
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These motivations have already been discussed in relation to the examples offered above, but are elaborated on in this section. These castes accepted Islam once they became aware that it was based upon justice, equality and solidarity among human beings. In the context of the early modern Ottoman Empire, many Christian women chose to convert to Islam because it offered them a more favorable situation. Lady Elizabeth Craven d.
They were particularly interested in the relative freedom that Muslim women enjoyed to obtain a divorce to escape an unfulfilling marriage. Another example is found in the context of the Second World War. In the months following the Nazi invasion of Yugoslavia in , many Jews tried to escape persecution by converting to Islam. Even today, this trend can be seen in the rates of conversion to Islam in prisons, particularly in the United States, which has the highest incarceration rate of any country in the world.
He became so famous for freely distributing his wealth that he inspired curiosity about his distant kingdom and thus initiated a steady stream of Muslim traders, travelers, and scholars to Mali. The spread of Islam has been a historic success in large part due to the fact that it generally occurred in ways that were not overtly disruptive of local cultures and lifestyles. Originally compiled in Arabic, it was translated into Malay and Javanese. Perhaps the most remarkable example of the universality of Islam is its ability to absorb even the Mongols after they caused unprecedented destruction in large parts of the Muslim domain.
The details of this process make for too deep a discussion to be dealt with here, but what is important to note is that the Mongol converts were able to fully enter the fold of the Muslim community while holding on to many of their cultural beliefs and practices. As mentioned in the introduction to this article, the examples presented above are not exhaustive, nor has their relation to the spread of Islam been discussed as thoroughly as it could have been.
Lady Evelyn Cobbold d. These, along with a growing body of psychological research on why many people convert to Islam today, offer two important areas of further research on the subject of conversion to Islam in history. I am grateful to Justin Parrott, Dr. Samuel Ross, and Dr.