Sociology and Anthropology

The Emerging of Islam in an African Township

While Islam is a fairly dominant religion in Africa, it is very small and has been treated as insignificant in southern Africa. For example Trimingham, in his survey of the phases of Islamic expansion in Africa, makes the dismissive comment: “Islam’s penetration into central and south Africa is so slight that it may be ignored.”

The presence of Muslims in South Africa, albeit a small percentage of the total population, cannot easily be ignored in terms of their social, economic, and political contribution to the country as individuals, as members of an ethnic group, or as a religious minority.

Apartheid has not only prompted a diverse set of responses from Muslim organizations,s but the political and social events of the last twenty years have influenced conversion rates among the nominally Christian African majority. Although there have been academic attempts to analyze the implications of some of these phenomena, there has been no ethnographic research at a local level to understand how events in the sociopolitical arena shaped proselytizing work, the conversion process, and the interethnic relationships of the Muslims.

This paper, based on ethnographic research in the townships of KwaMashu-Ntuzuma-Inanda, located near Durban, is a contribution toward understanding the position of African Muslims. The paper is limited to data collected during the latter half of 1992 and early 1993 and to the following areas: a) a brief statistical outline of the Muslim population with reference to the above-mentioned research area, b) the beginning of systematic da'wah in these areas focusing on conversion strategies and problems, c) some of the reasons why local Africans convert, and d) the emergence of relationships between African ,Muslims and Indian-dominated Muslim organizations.

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