More from RELS 348: Empire, Colonialism, and Religion

A response to Anthony Egan’s story “Why faith is on the rise in Africa”, Mail & Guardian, 5 April 2012

In this article, Anthony Egan is trying to understand the role of religion in the social and political contexts in contemporary Africa. He explains the existence of Christianity as one of the legacies of colonisation and converting Africans from their traditional religion to Christianity. According to him, this was due mainly to the political parameters associated with traditional African religion while, on the other hand, Christianity promised equality when one is praying to one God. Controversy emerges as those educated in ‘mission schools’ helped to eradicate colonialism. Christianity stays rooted in Africa as at date and is still expanding as compared to its decline in Europe. Pope Benedict VI is quoted as seeing Africa securing the fate of Christianity, a fact reflected in recent surveys showing the increasing number of Christians in specific parts of the said continent. But again, the author questions the decreasing number of Christian adherents in Africa and wants to impart the notion of Christianity not being the only ‘colonial’ religion.

As far as Islam is concerned, Egan is of opinion that it should be considered as a ‘colonial’ religion and pinpoints how some Christians converted to Islam. He questions whether the latter can be considered as one of the ‘first religious colonisation of Africa’, even if Muslims had not been implied in colonisation. According to this article, trade practised by Muslims also involved slave trade and was subsequently taken over by Europeans. Islam offered what Christianity did not: no Western imprint. Furthermore, Egan’s article brings about how Islam tolerated some aspects of ‘African culture’ and modernism as long as they did not clash with the religion’s ideology. As a conclusion to his article, Egan sees these two religions through the eyes of Africans as not offering the solution to the problems faced in the African society. However, although they do not free from ‘corrupted’ political imperialism and ‘social equality’, Christianity and Islam ‘provide education and social services’, which are not always dispensed by the state.

This article brings to the forefront many past events involving Arabs and Christians roles and coexistence in the history of Africa. For instance, Arabs’ implications in the slave trade is taken into account here, adding to what Robert Irwin’s wrote in his book For Lust of Knowing The Orientalists and their Ennemies: “More specifically, Islam was a religion that arose to serve the interests of the slave-owning mercantile bourgeoisie of Mecca and Medina” (Irwin, p. 232). Moreover, Christians ‘characterized Islam as a sensual cult’ that ‘owed its success to force of arms’ (Irwin, p. 21). On the other hand, Muslims viewed the Christians as ‘not true monotheists’ (Irwin, p. 20). So, even the two religions had conflicting opinions on each other, they co-existed in Africa. But what is most important of all is that both religions contributed to the betterment of the lifestyles of Africans.

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