The African continent was described as primitive for centuries, which saw many varied groups of people from the European and Asian continents flow there with different ventures. The groups of people who went to Africa included explorers, missionaries, and Islam religionists who used different techniques to lure the Africans into accepting and adopting their ways. The arrival of these foreigners resulted in rifts among African communities with indigenous people being divided by the new religions of Christianity and Arabism, which was primarily bound to Islam. In most European countries, the existence of the two religions had not sparked any hatred or diversions, as was seen in Africa. Many people were hurriedly moving away from the traditional practices, such as the use of medicinal herbs and witch doctors, divine power for nurturing the community and decided to embrace the new Christian and Islamic laws. Therefore, this paper analyses how Africans became Christians and Muslims.
According to the records of the development of Christianity on the African continent, it began as early as in the first century. Christianity is said to have started from Egypt. Later on, in the second century, many important clericals are said to have facilitated the spread of Christianity to Carthage. Those people included: Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria, Origen of Alexandria, Cyprian, and Augustine of Hippo. The first church, located in Alexandria, was managed by a bishop by the name of Mark the Evangelist, and the church services were mainly conducted in Greek. To facilitate understanding and acceptance of these new beliefs, the divine scriptures were translated into local languages. Among them were Sudanese, Egyptian, and Nubian. The translation of the scripture saw many locals get an understanding of what the visitors preached, and this helped to convert many Africans (Gerhart & Johnson, 2003).
Since Christianity was becoming popular, many people of the African origin wanted to try new things and, thus, they got lured into the practices of the foreigners, while a larger part of the population still held on to the traditional beliefs (The Reunion Black Family, 2014). The converts became outcasts and were mostly excommunicated from communal activities. The societies that relied on the council of elders who set the communal norms to be followed were very harsh in order to discourage people from joining the new religion. Many locals developed a fear of joining Christianity as they would be banished from their communities. The threats were associated with many African prophesies about the cross that would be followed by guns and land grabbing. Africans did not want to lose their land to the visitors, but the missionaries were very generous and even had summons hosted in their homes. They spearheaded the association with the whites and the Asians who went to Africa (Phiri & Maxwell, 2007).
Monotheism existed at this time since there were no other churches established apart from Christianity, which led to coercion and violence being directed at the adamant Africans who refused to accept Christianity. The population of converts kept changing, as many locals were focused on submitting to the colonial rule. This way the new rule began developing rapidly and missionaries got larger crowds. As prophesized by African foreseers, the power followed the cross. It was then that many African people understood this, but the rule that had taken place was that of foreign authorities (The Reunion Black Family, 2014). The introduction of schools and hospital completely carried away Africans, since their children would not be allowed in schools if they were not converts. Sick Africans who became ill would not accept medical care from the hospitals, but since they saw that many of the converts got healed from the same ailments, they submitted to the new rule.
Some authors argue that early Christianity in Africa was not a “True Spirit of the Gospel” since it neglected the values of the church and took all the advantages of the benefits due to monotheism. It is revealed that unknowingly Africans were kept in the dark about the existing correlations between the missionaries, slave-traders, and colonialists (Pouwels, 2000). A report says Christianity made many Africans surrender their sovereignty to church leaders and the governments they served. Christianity in Africa is said to have been a way of submission and not conversion, with Africans being lied to about the security of eternal existence, while the colonialists took advantage of every opportunity to utilize the precious land, produce raw materials, and mine ore to get back to their native countries. Africans were coaxed into joining the Christian church with promises of democracy from the existing authorities, but all they were after was capitalism (Bunn, 2015).
Some writers say that Africans were already Christians before the Europeans claimed Christianity. An author argues that African soldiers who were taken as slaves used to fight under the banner of the lion, the shield, and half-moon to bring true faith. She adds that the whites were merely heathens and that Christianity had existed in the Horn of Africa long before the colonialists found their way to this continent. The inhuman regime kept seeking laborers and finding slaves to go and work in their native countries. Many slaves carried their norms and beliefs to their new places as slaves, but they faced much pain which resulted in many of them turning to Christianity (Bunn, 2015).
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As seen earlier, many Africans were forced to become Christians in order to enjoy the privileges that were presented by the authorities. Africans who joined the schools and churches later was not as conversant and literate as those who accepted the church earlier. The first converts became the staunch followers of the preaching of the white man and they earned posts in churches and schools to teach (The Reunion Black Family, 2014). It reveals that many Africans become Christians due to African evangelism and not European missionaries. Many Africans would believe their fellows more than the white people, and this made them accept being under the white rule. However, not many felt converted to Christianity. They stuck to their traditional practices. Parents encouraged their children to join the converts but still underwent initiations, such as circumcision of both males and females as it was the norm.
In the current world, the population of Christians has grown so fast that in the year two thousand it was estimated at three hundred and eighty million. There is a predicted increase, approximated to come in the year 2025 with a projected number to be around six hundred million Christians (Gerhart & Johnson, 2003). The figures are just proof that Christianity has not been spread by the whites, but rather by Africans themselves.
Despite the negative reasons given by most authors, Christianity is said to have been brought to Africa as a way to fight slavery that the whites had oppressed the African people with. Thus, the missionaries are believed to have headed the antislavery campaign in the nineteenth century. The colonial flag was always trailing a little behind the cross and, therefore, others hail Christianity as an agent of change in the African continent (Bunn, 2015). Some say it brought change through destabilizing the status quo, bringing new opportunities, and undermining the power of others, which is a negative description. However, it was a source of literacy among Africans, and it also paved the way for economic diversities, which facilitated trade activities among the African nations and the native colonialists’ mother countries.
As mentioned earlier, since the start of the Christian churches in Africa no other religion competed with it, leading to monotheism. The introduction of Islam in the African continent is linked to a group of flag bearers who were Arabs, believed to be on the run from the persecution on the Arab peninsula. The persecution started, following the death of their prophet Mohammed. Islam spread in northern Africa from Alexandria in Egypt and areas of the north, which was a way to counter Christianity, which had completely taken over the area earlier (Hassan, 2008).
Islam came in with objections against what Christianity had pronounced as wrong. For instance, Islam was seen as a modernizing influence and allowed people to marry more than one wife. Islam was open to tolerating all or many of the African traditions, despite the fact that one was a Muslim convert. This prompted more Africans to convert to Islam than to Christianity. The Islamic rule in Egypt conquered Libya and later came to modern Tunisia, where they established themselves firmly and started spreading to the south and the west of Africa.
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Since the indigenous inhabitants found it easier to join Islam, Muslims were well known for their good trade networks that benefited many Africans. Thus, they quickly settled in western and northern Africa, luring many people into their religious and social practices (The Reunion Black Family, 2014). They were able to identify dynasties, such as the Mali Empire, and influenced many other senior leaders to embrace their religion. Many authorities, such as the Kingdom of Kano and the Ouddai Empire, decided to follow the Islamic faith. This made it easier to turn followers to Islamic laws and beliefs. They developed learning places called Madrasah where the delivery of education was done. The willingness of locals to join the Muslim religion was not by any coercion, as earlier in Christian churches. Identification of such empires under Muslim heads gave a hard time to the colonialists to overthrow the local authorities. It was easier where missionaries were spread (Pouwels, 2000).
Local mixes of Islamic and African aesthetics was a greater influence on how many Africans accepted and embraced this religion openly. The Islamic beliefs were thought to fight strongly for the representation of its people and even animals. The visual representation through the use of arts and geometric designs, which were used to draw away the medicinal packets and also helped to jot down the Qur’an scriptures, was a gift gained by association and acceptance of Muslim cultures. Many Africans saw it as a very positive and transformative advantage. Thus, many resorted to turning away from Christianity to embrace the new dogmas (Bunn, 2015).
Another reason believed to have turned local Africans to believe in Islam is the economic existence and strength that most of them had. The intensification of the Trans-Saharan trade and the Mediterranean involved an exchange of valuables between the royal families and the general population. So, to gain the strength many leaders of the kingdoms found themselves as Muslim converts (Robinson, 2004). This was aiming at ensuring a stronger collaboration between them and it leads to the adoption of the Islamic religion to the Africans who were occupants of these regions. Many of them were completely satisfied. Their unification was a two-way thing which by all means benefited them and the foreigners who were mainly Arabs. Similarly, the trading activities helped them embrace Islam through the support of Merchant-scholars, who propelled its delivery within the forests, which then served as homes for smaller groups of Muslims.
Mixing phases is the way through which many African leaders embraced the Islamic beliefs and dispensed power over a wider group with diversified religious feelings and interests. Since the Islamic religion was not ridiculing those who still embraced traditional beliefs at the same time with Muslim vows, many leaders were encouraged to cooperate with them and even asked their followers to embrace this religion. This was evident in the Ghanaian and Mali Empires. A record of merchant scholars was assembled for Ali, a ruler who was not pleased by the opinions displayed by these individuals on pagans. He would not want to prevent people from practicing in whatever faith they wanted at the same time as the Islamic one (Pouwels, 2000).
The slave industry had taken root on the African mainland as European nations were seeking laborers to propel their heavy machinery and primary industries, such as mining and agriculture. The desire to find labor among the African people had an influence on the spread of Christianity and Islam on the black continent. Some of the leaders who were willing to collaborate with the whites had acceptance of the white man’s culture and deeds. The collaboration paved the way for easier breakthroughs by the missionaries who used the loophole to ensure that the indigenous people accepted and embraced Christianity (Bunn, 2015).
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Similarly, in northern Africa, many Arabs who were the pioneers of the religion in the areas faced heavy persecution and slavery in the land of the Peninsula. The torment from their masters made them leave the lands to seek a less hostile place to leave. Their exodus saw them get to the horn of Africa where they met native Africans and cultivated a good relationship with them. Later, that resulted in the adoption of new cultures and religions, among them the trade unions.
Similarly, the African Americans who were taken as slaves resorted to changing the traditional practices they had carried with them. They embraced Christianity and the Bible after they found hostility in the practice of their domestic virtues. They listened to their masters read the Bible to them and sneaked to look at how the word was interpreted. Afterward, they found themselves believing in the Christian faith. Privileges, such as protection to converted families, and acquaintance with individual posts, such as clericals and catechists in the Catholic Church, saw many Africans turn to submission and conversion. Many feared for their families being taken to captivity due to disloyalty to the government and, thus, followed the church as a way of avoiding such punishments (Phiri & Maxwell, 2007). Through such activities, the missionaries converted many locals into Christianity.
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Today, some authors have come to critique the Islamic religion as being slavery for its believers. They argue that Mohammed is a name that came in only during his time, but the Islamic religion is thought to have been in existence long before his era. Some philosophers suggest that Islam is none other than the absorption of the Arabian and Cushitic cultures by the African one. Therefore, it is said to hold Africans in captivity.
In conclusion, the embracing of the two named faiths had no clear route on how well it took ground. All the same, it is not depicted as being a singularly positive or negative change within the African society, since after independence it was renounced in many nations. They went back to their traditional cultural beliefs, at the same time practicing either Christianity or Islam. Many differences by denominations and diverse faiths all over the globe have appeared. Thus, its unifying power seems to have lost direction immediately after the colonial rule was broken. Africans enjoy the practice of their traditional cultures. It has existed for many generations through many facets of culture apart from religion, like medicine and even education.
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