Islamism in Africa: Understanding Its Evolution and Impact on the Continent

Islam’s arrival on the African continent dates back to the 7th century, initially spreading in northern Africa before reaching other regions. As the second most widely professed faith in Africa, Islam’s history on the continent is marked by distinct stages, including containment, blending, and reform.

Among the earliest encounters in African history between Islam and Africa

was the Hijra to Abyssinia, a pivotal event that would lay the foundation for the spread of Islam in East Africa.

The Hijra to Abyssinia: A Starting Point for Africa’s Islamic History

The Hijra to Abyssinia marked the first contact between Islam and Africa when early Muslims, including Umar Ibn Afnan and a group of the Prophet’s first followers, sought refuge in Abyssinia (modern-day Ethiopia). Facing persecution in Mecca, the early Muslims fled to Abyssinia due to the benevolent reputation of its Christian king, Najashi, who provided protection and allowed them to practice Islam freely.


The Hijra to Abyssinia signified the introduction of Islam to East Africa and the commencement of freedom for the early Muslim community beyond the Arabian Peninsula.

Trade and Faith: How Muslim Merchants Brought Islam to Africa

Muslim merchants were instrumental in bringing Islam to different African regions via trade networks. The spread of Islam was facilitated by local West African rulers who were the primary proponents of Islam, initiating the process of Islamization. The growing Muslim population adhered to the Suwarian tradition – a belief that discouraged active conversion and entrusted the growth of Islam to divine intervention. This principle led to the existence of dynamic Muslim minority communities that persist to this day.

Interaction between Arab traders and Africans in the early years