Liberia: Islam is fighting back in this country
Mahfuz has the habit of quizzing at dinner time. He claims that he knows a lot of trivia around the world and I must say, he does! Often, he asks me a number of bizarre questions. I try to reply. But I am never as good as he is. Like tonight, he suddenly popped this question…
‘Do you know which West African country cooks a vegetable called Bitter-ball?’
Thankfully, I knew this answer. So I replied teasingly, ‘Are you saying only one country cooks Bitter-ball? I think other West African countries also love this vegetable.’
‘They do, but I am talking about Liberia. Do you know this country has a controversial history?’
Thus began our discussion for the night, the history of Liberia and the present condition of Islam in that country.
The Republic of Liberia is a coastal country of West Africa with Atlantic lapping on its South West. It covers an area of 43000 sq mi. The capital is Monrovia and the port facility is called the Freeport of Monrovia. The name freeport will lead you to the controversial history of this country.
How Liberia was formed?
The Liberia region was first identified in the late 17th century by the Arab, Dutch and Portuguese traders. They used to call this place ‘Pepper Coast’. The country was basically formed through the efforts of salvation associations and societies, especially the American Colonization Society was the first one to take initiative. Formed in 1816, this society started a movement to settle free people of colour in native Africa. In the year 1822-21, they started to send these formerly enslaved and free-born African people to this Pepper coast to build a colony.
Their aim was to find a homeland to relocate the enslaved Africans. In the year 1821, the capital city of Monrovia was established.
Islam in Liberia
The Arab traders from the middle east brought Islam to this country. Also, Islam came to Liberia in the 16th century when the Songhai Empire of Mali collapsed. The indigenous people, especially the Fulani tribes accepted it gladly. Moreover, they contributed to its spreading to include particularly Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. Presently, the religion is practised by an estimated 12.2% of the population. Most of the Liberian Muslims are Malikite Sunni. Along with Shia and Ahmadiyya minorities. The primary Islamic groups are the Vai and Mandingo.
The Clash between the indigenous people and the colonizers
The problem started to arise after that. The Afro-American colonizers were totally different from the indigenous people of Liberia. So the clash began, and the colonizers decided to grab the largest possible place at the expense of the Islamic state. This Islamic state was established on the Fouta Djallon highlands of modern Guinea which extended to present-day Liberia.
Slowly the colonizers became the authority of the country despite Islamic people having the old lineage. Till now, the authority lies in the hands of the black Americans who relocated to this region. The country witnessed two civil wars between these two groups. One from the year 1989 to 1996, another from 1999 to 2000 AD.
The present condition of Muslims in Liberia
The primary problem is the lesser number of mosques in Monrovia. There are only five mosques to pray for the Muslims. The consequence of the civil war was the destruction of mosques and other religious buildings throughout the country. Along with this comes poverty and illiteracy. The Islamic people have only one school founded by the Muslim World League.
However, in recent times, the condition of Islamic people is improving. The neighbouring Islamic countries are lending their helping hands. Liberian Muslims have established two Islamic Organizations in the capital city. The first one is the Liberian Studies Association, which spreads the call to Islam among non-Islamic people. Another one is the Islamic Organization for Education, which takes pride in teaching Holy Quran and Arabic to Muslims and Converts.
After Mahfuz finished speaking I stared to the floor with a sense of profound sadness and gratefulness. Sadness because I was feeling for my fellow Islamic Brothers and Sisters. Grateful because Allah has shown them the way. And I know they will definitely fight back.