Islam Throughout the World: Mozambique

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© Tomas Hajek | Dreamstime.com

The Republic of Mozambique is a state in Southeast Africa, on the coast of the Indian Ocean, its capital is Maputo. In the south and east, Mozambique is surrounded by the Christian countries of southern Africa – Eswatini (formerly Swaziland), South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia. In the north, Mozambique borders the Muslim countries of Malawi and Tanzania. According to some estimates, the percentage of Muslims in Mozambique is up to 45% of the religious population (according to the latest census, 25% of Mozambicans identified themselves as atheists). Muslims in Mozambique practice the Sunni Islam of the Shafi’i madhhab. Ethnically, the Muslim population is made up from Mozambique natives and Pakistanis. Mozambique is a former Portuguese colony that gained independence in 1975. From the 10th to the 16th century, the Muslim Sultanate of Kilwa existed in Mozambique (and neighbouring Tanzania and Kenya), which had a tremendous influence on the consolidation of Islam along the entire Swahili Coast.

The southeast coast of Africa has become one of the most fertile grounds for the spread of Islam. Since ancient times, representatives of the Bantu people, who spoke the Swahili language, have lived in these territories. Therefore, the states of the east coast of Africa are usually called the “Swahili Coast”. Kenya, Tanzania and Zanzibar (an island off the coast of Tanzania), Mozambique, the Comoros, Madagascar are located on the coast of the Indian Ocean. Three weeks of sea voyage separated them from India and Ceylon, located on the opposite side of the ocean. In two weeks it was possible to reach Yemen and the Arabian Peninsula by sea. By medieval standards, this was an incredible travel speed. It is not surprising that Arab and Indian merchants have established a brisk trade with Africa through Zanzibar and other parts of the Swahili Coast since ancient times. Already in the 9th century CE, the Bantu people, who inhabited the Swahili Coast, converted to Islam under the influence of merchants and dervishes who came to Zanzibar from Arabia and India. On the basis of these tribes, the modern Swahili nation was formed. The name Swahili (“coastal inhabitants”) has been used since about the 12th century CE.

One of the features of Islam along the Swahili Coast is the widespread integration of local pre-Islamic traditions into the practice of Muslim ritual. These are the initiation rites “jando”, the cult art “ngoma”, the ritual of the wind “pepo” and others. Swahili fear the jinn and many of them wear protective amulets with verses from the Holy Quran. The practice of “divination” (mystic enlightening at prayer) through the reading of the Holy Quran is widespread. There is a widespread belief among the Swahili people that only prophets or great experts in Islam can be doctors.

The Swahili themselves name as their ancestors the Persian settlers from Shiraz, who, starting from the 13th century CE, settled on the eastern coast of Africa and founded their cities here. Hence the deeply rooted Islamic culture and Swahili Muslim faith. In the 19th century, at a time when the Swahili Coast came under the influence of the Sultanate of Oman, “Persian origin” was an important instrument of the Swahili people in defending their national identity in the face of Arab expansion.

In the colonial period (up to the contemporary times), Islam experienced significant pressure from the Christianity imposed by the Portuguese. Also in the 1970s and 1980s, when the government of Mozambique chose a course of rapprochement with the Soviet Union, Islam was in a dire situation. Since the start of democratic reforms in 1989, Islam has experienced a period of revival in Mozambique and a rise in interest in Islamic values.