Citation for West Africa, Ahmadiyya in
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Hanson, John H. . “West Africa, Ahmadiyya in.” In Oxford Islamic Studies Online. Oxford Islamic Studies Online. Jan 16, 2022. <http://www.oxfordislamicstudies.com/article/opr/t343/e0062>.
Hanson, John H. . “West Africa, Ahmadiyya in.” In Oxford Islamic Studies Online. Oxford Islamic Studies Online, http://www.oxfordislamicstudies.com/article/opr/t343/e0062 (accessed Jan 16, 2022).
West Africa, Ahmadiyya in
The Ahmadiyya is an Islamic messianic movement with origins in late nineteenth century India and a contemporary global presence, including perhaps a million West African members. The Muslim scholar Ghulam Ahmad (c. 1835–1908) of Qadian, Punjab, founded the Ahmadiyya in 1889 to reform Islam through a distinctive theology and a modern organization. Ghulam Ahmad claimed to be the mujaddid or Renewer of Islam, and later added that he ushered in a peaceful era before Judgment Day as both the mahdi and masih (Messiah), the latter not as a physical embodiment of Jesus (whom he argued died in India after surviving crucifixion) but as a spiritual incarnation. Controversially Ghulam Ahmad also asserted that he received prophesy, not as a law-giving prophet supplanting Muhammad’s role as recipient of the Qurʾan but as one urging the faithful to follow God’s will. After Ghulam Ahmad’s death the religious authority of the Khalifatul Masih (Successor of the Messiah) divided the movement: in 1914 followers based in Lahore ceased recognizing leadership from the second successor, stressed Ghulam Ahmad’s status as Renewer and formed the Ahmadiyya Society for the Propagation of Islam (Ahmadiyya Anjuman Ishaʾat-i Islam). The majority accepted Bashiruddin Mahmud Ahmad (1889–1965), the founder’s son, as the second Khalifatul Masih and embraced Ghulam Ahmad’s claims about receiving prophesy. The Ahmadiyya Community (Jama’at-i Ahmadiyya), currently led by a fifth Successor of the Messiah, is a hierarchical organization with a headquarters that moved from Qadian to Rabwah during the Partition of India and to London in the 1984; non-Ahmadi Muslims often refer to the Ahmadiyya Community as the Qadianiyya, even though Qadian no longer is its headquarters. The Muslim World League declared at its 1974 conference that the Ahmadiyya is not an Islamic movement, and Pakistan’s parliament also acted against the Ahmadiyya, first with a constitutional amendment in 1974 excluding the Ahmadiyya from the Muslim fold and then with an ordinance in 1984 making performance of Muslim ritual prayer a criminal offense for Ahmadi Muslims. Even with the exodus of Ahmadi Muslims from Pakistan beginning in the 1980s, South Asians still constitute the majority in both branches, and the Ahmadiyya Community is active in West Africa through its networks of missions, schools and medical facilities in several nations.
Introduction to the Ahmadiyya of West Africa.
The messianic message of the Ahmadiyya, elaborated by Ghulam Ahmad in response to Christian proselytism in India, and its emphasis on running English-language schools, had an appeal in West African coastal regions where Christian preaching and mission schools defined the religious landscape. Ahmadiyya Islamic reformism also provided a clean break from the esoteric practices of West African Muslim scholars and Sufi seekers, and a younger generation was attracted to its rituals, which allowed for the use of local languages, were inclusive of women, and were shorn of elaborate life-cycle rites that had developed in West African Muslim communities. The Ahmadiyya Community’s controversial assertions about prophesy nonetheless presented obstacles in West Africa as they did elsewhere in the Muslim world.
West African Muslims learned of the Ahmadiyya in the 1910s from its English-language publications circulating along the coast. Among those interested were Lawal Basil Agusto and Adoagyir Appah, founders of English-language Muslim schools in Lagos, Nigeria, and Ekrawfo, Gold Coast, respectively; their schools had closed shortly after their opening, and Ahmadiyya educational initiatives commanded attention. Agusto, an Afro-Brazilian Muslim in histwenties, was a founding member of the Muslim Literary Society in Lagos, a colonial capital city with numerous Christian congregations and diverse Muslim communities including local Yoruba converts, Muslim scholars from Muslim-majority towns such as Ilorin and Kano, and Sierra Leonean and Brazilian Muslim families that had migrated to Lagos over the course of the nineteenth century. Agusto and twenty other young Muslim Literary Society members formed a local Ahmadiyya community and sent membership forms to Qadian. Appah, a member of Fante royalty and a wealthy cocoa entrepreneur in his seventies, headed a community of recent converts to Islam in a rural context where Islam was not prominent and Christian missions had an entrenched position. Appah, influenced by a Fante Muslim’s dream of performing Muslim prayers with a foreigner (oburuni), learned of the Ahmadiyya from an Afro-Brazilian Muslim merchant in the Gold Coast port town of Saltpond.
These West African developments occurred at a time of increased proselytism on the part of the Ahmadiyya Community. Ghulam Ahmad had established a council overseeing publication of religious materials and management of a few missionaries in South Asia. These efforts were expanded after his death; notably, Khwaja Kamaluddin, a Lahori lawyer residing in London during the 1910s, disseminated Ahmadiyya publications from his Woking Muslim Mission in southwest London. After the Lahori group split, the second Khalifatul Masih established another mission in London, subordinate to the Ahmadiyya Community, from which he sent missionaries to Europe, North America, and Africa. In response to correspondence from Agusto and Appah, Bashiruddin Mahmud dispatched Abdurrahim Nayyar to West Africa in 1921.
Nayyar remained in West Africa for nearly twenty months in 1921–1922. In the Gold Coast, Nayyar convinced Adoagyir Appah and hundreds of Fante Muslims to swear an oath to the Ahmadiyya; thereafter they provided financial assistance to support a residential missionary at Saltpond (beginning in 1922). Lawal Basil Agusto had left Lagos in 1920 for legal studies in Britain, so Nayyar met the others and helped them open an English-language Ahmadiyya school. Aided by an interpreter Nayyar also preached in open-air venues and at local mosques, converting the Qurʾanic People, a Yoruba Muslim community, but not Lagos’s largest Yoruba Muslim groups. Immediately after Nayyar’s departure, however, some of the Qurʾanic People renounced the Ahmadiyya. Defections also occurred in 1924 when Agusto returned from Britain, announced his withdrawal from the Ahmadiyya and founded a new Muslim association that attracted former members of the Muslim Literary Society and others. A small group nevertheless remained in the Ahmadiyya Community and continued without a residential missionary at their head for fourteen years.
The First Fifty Years of Ahmadiyya Expansion in West Africa.
Gold Coast/Independent Ghana.
Relatives of Adoagyir Appah and others in the Fante Muslim community aided Fazlurrahman Hakim, the first residential Ahmadiyya missionary in the Gold Coast, as he established several English-language schools in rural villages and proselytized the Ahmadiyya message in the 1920s. Significantly a member of the Asante royal family in the Adanse region, Ahmad Abubakar Sadick Boateng, was an early convert and used his wealth, connections and encouragement to expand the Ahmadiyya among rural Asante Muslims, who were similar to fellow Akan-speaking Fante Muslims in being recent converts to Islam. By the 1930s the Ahmadiyya was established in a series of communities in the Akan culture sphere from Saltpond to villages south of Kumase, all in a region where Christian missions also were extending their influence.
The northern town of Wa, home to Muslim scholarly families tracing their origins to the Mali empire, was proselytized by Salih bin Hassan, one of its younger Muslim scholars. Salih encountered Akan Ahmadi Muslims when he accompanied Wala labor migrants to work in the southern Gold Coast and accepted the Ahmadiyya after lengthy discussions in Saltpond with Hakim’s successor, Nazir Ahmad Ali. Salih and several young migrants returned to Wa to proselytize the Ahmadiyya, but Wa’s elders were unmoved and threatened their expulsion. Salih’s perseverance led to a riot, resulting in kin support and acceptance of the Ahmadiyya in those households. Years of tense relations between the majority Muslim community and the Ahmadiyya community did not dissuade the latter from their views, even during periods of heightened conflict, and Salih consolidated the Ahmadiyya in Wa and surrounding regions.
The missions in these two regions were integrated into an organization by Nazir Ahmad Mubashir, the Ahmadiyya missionary for most of the 1940s and 50s, who also expanded the number of Ahmadiyya primary schools and added a secondary school in 1950. These institutions produced a generation of students who pursued diverse professional careers in an independent Ghana. A few pursued religious studies, including Salih bin Hassan’s son Muhammad, currently a deputy head of the Ahmadiyya Community in Ghana, and Abdul Wahab Adam, son of pioneering converts in the Akan cultural region, who since 1974 is serving as the head (Amir and Missionary-in-Charge) of the Ahmadiyya Community in Ghana.
The Ahmadiyya Community in Nigeria, under local leadership until 1935, added members in Lagos and expanded to Zaria, a northern town at the railhead from Lagos, but the rise of the Ansar-ud-Din constrained Ahmadiyya expansion. The Ansar-ud-Din, a Yoruba-based Muslim religious association founded in 1923, drew on Ahmadiyya practices, such as establishing English-language Muslim schools, preaching in local languages and allowing women access to education and ritual life, but it had close ties to Muslim scholars in Ilorin and emerged as the most influential reformist Muslim movement of the era. The Ahmadiyya Community also suffered another internal crisis when Fazlurrahman Hakim, posted to Lagos in 1935 as its first residential missionary after his second term in the Gold Coast, came into conflict with local leaders, leading most of the founding generation of Ahmadi Muslims to start an independent movement in 1939. The Ahmadiyya Community survived this internal challenge, and by the 1950s the younger generation of loyalists began to bring new members to the organization.
Freetown was an overnight stop during Abdurrahim Nayyar’s exploratory trip in 1921, but no additional efforts occurred in Sierra Leone until 1937. Nazir Ahmad Ali, after his second tour in the Gold Coast, established missions and schools at the southern port town of Rokupr and the upland gold-mining center of Baomahun, near Bo, in the late 1930s. Ali eventually was aided by two Temne political elites, Boajibu paramount leader Kalil Gamanga and Fala leader Kasim, who joined, encouraged others to do so and provided financial assistance. By the mid-1940s Bo became the main Ahmadiyya administrative center as its presence expanded in rural areas, and eventually Freetown gained a mission in the late 1940s.
Other West African Nations.
The Ahmadiyya Community founded missions in the capitals of the Gambia and Liberia in the mid-1950s. In Côte d’Ivoire Akan Ahmadi Muslims from Ghana spread the message to fellow Akan-speakers, and the first Ahmadiyya mission was established in Abidjan in the early 1960s: it social services and openness were especially attractive to Muslim women from immigrant communities from the north. New national communities have been established in the 1970s in Burkina Faso, proselytized from Ghana, and Benin, Cameroon, and Niger, proselytized from Nigeria. More recently Senegal added a mission, proselytized initially from the Gambia.
The Ahmadiyya Community’s involvement in West Africa expanded in 1970 with the Service for Humanity Scheme launched by the third Khalifatul Masih, Nasir Ahmad (1909–1982). This initiative increased educational and health services in Africa through development projects funded by donations from Ahmadi Muslims worldwide and led by Ahmadi Muslim volunteers who committed to terms of service in Africa. Working in partnership with West African states, the Ahmadiyya founded new schools, hospitals and health clinics throughout the region, serving rural areas and admitting students and patients from any religious tradition. The Service to Humanity Scheme has been expanded over the decades and remains a major aspect of the Ahmadiyya presence in West Africa.
Opposition to the Ahmadiyya increased in West Africa during the 1970s and 80s. Some West African Muslims had opposed the Ahmadiyya from the 1920s, but in the 1970s these concerns were amplified after the Muslim World League declaration regarding Ahmadi Muslims. Since the 1990s relations between West African Ahmadi Muslims and other Muslims have improved, but controversies still arise occasionally, as they do from time to time with evangelical Christian congregations and missionary organizations.
The Ahmadiyya Community in Ghana remains the largest Ahmadiyya group in West Africa. Its commitment to education remains strong, with the organization managing over eighty pre-schools, over one hundred primary schools, over fifty junior secondary schools, and a teacher training college, all government recognized institutions that are open to all. Ghana also is home to an Ahmadiyya theological college where missionaries from Africa and elsewhere receive training before embarking on missionary activities throughout the world. These efforts, as well as an active presence in various media, new and old, has expanded the numbers of members and made Ghana the nation with the largest percentage of Ahmadiyya Muslims in the world.
The Ahmadiyya Community grew in West Africa from two small missions in the 1920s to become an influential religious movement in several nations today. While its eschatological theology still raises concerns among some Muslim and Christian communities, it engages constructively in the pluralist religious context of West Africa and offers numerous initiatives in education and health care to the nations in which it operates.
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