Muslim Countries of the World: the Comoros

The Comoros are located in East Africa. These are four islands between Mozambique and Madagascar, one of which (Mayotte) has the status of a French “overseas territory”. Islam is the state religion of the Comoros. The Muslims of Comoros are Sunnis of the Shafi’i madhhab. Traditions of religious tolerance and openness have been present on the Comoros since ancient times. The population of Comoros is distinguished by a zealous attitude towards Sharia law, the laws of which form the basis of the justice system of the islands.

According to local legend, two Comorian rulers Mtswa Mwandze visited Mecca during the Prophet’s lifetime where he converted to Islam and, together with the son of the future Rightly Guided Caliph Uthman, Mohammed, returned to his homeland. Their tombs are located in the city of Ntsawene. According to historical science, though, it was Arab merchants and noble Zaidi sheikhs expelled from Persia who brought Islam to the Comoros in the 8th century. In any case, Islam took deep roots in the Comoros and was the expression of the national identity of the Comorians. Even during the French colonization, the European administration recognized all the decisions of the Sharia courts in the country and did not try to replace the Sharia law with civil law.

The name of the islands comes from the Arabic word ‘al-qamar’, which means ‘Moon’. At the time of Ptolemy, it was believed that some ‘Moon Mountains’ were located here, which were invariably painted on all ancient maps. Before the introduction of Islam, the cult of the Moon was also widespread on the islands. Islam has long and firmly entered the life of the Comorians, but the ancient name – Jezair al-Qomra (Moon Islands) – remained. Sometimes the Comoros were called the Lesser Moon Islands, and Madagascar was called the Greater Moon Island. As a tribute to the ancient tradition, the Moon is depicted on the country’s flag.

The country’s population is a mixture of African Bantu with Arabs and people from Iranian Shiraz. Hence the fusion of cultures and multivariance in the confession of Islam. The capital of the state, the city of Moroni (built by the Arabs in the 10th century as an intermediate point on the way to Zanzibar (modern Tanzania) very well reflects this diversity of cultures in a variety of architectural styles from African to Eastern. Another manifestation of this diversity is the belief of the Comorians in the exclusive role of jinns and spirits, veneration of the saints, the holidays of which are celebrated along with the Birthday of the Prophet, Mawlid and Ashura.

The Sufi tariqas of Shaziliya, Qadiriya and Rifaiya are widespread in the Comoros. Sufi mystical traditions are widely practiced among the Muslims of the Comoros. Traditional Comorian celebrations often include music, dance, and the recitation of heroic epics.

The official languages of the country are Comoros (a Swahili variant), Arabic and French (Comoros remained a French colony from 1909 to 1975 until independence was declared). Despite the deep religiosity of the Comorian Muslims, secular customs are widespread on the island, in particular, the majority of the population wears European clothes.

The management of the administrative affairs of Islam falls under the purview of the Ministry of Islamic Affairs. The Ministry includes the Grand Mufti of the Comoros appointed by the President of the country. This post is currently held by Sheikh Said Toihir.