ONE is often inclined to think of missionaries as Christian missionaries, however, Mission Dawah (in Arabic means to ‘invite’ or, literally, ‘calling’) is one of the largest contemporary Islamic missionary organisations.
Islam is currently the second largest religion, with 1,6 billion members.
Initially, the spread of Islam came through the Dawah efforts of Muhammad and his followers. After his death in 632 CE, much of the expansion of the empire came through conquest such as that of North Africa and, later, Spain.
The Islamic conquest of Persia ended the Sassanid Empire and spread the reach of Islam to as far east as Khorasan, which later became the cradle of Islamic civilisation during the Islamic Golden Age (622-1258 CE) and a stepping-stone towards the introduction of Islam to the Turkic tribes living in, and bordering, the area.
The Dawah missionary movement peaked during the Islamic Golden Age with the expansion of foreign trade routes, primarily into the Indo-Pacific and as far south as the island of Zanzibar as well as the south-eastern shores of Africa.
Islamic missionary activities increased considerably with the arrival of the tradition of Sufism. Later, with the conquest of Anatolia by the Seljuk Turk, missionaries found easier passage to the lands formerly belonging to the Byzantine Empire.
In the earlier stages of the Ottoman Empire, a Turkic form of Shamanism was still widely practised in Anatolia, which soon lost ground to Sufism.
In the Balkans, during the Ottoman presence, missionary movements were taken up by people from aristocratic families hailing from the region, who had been educated in Constantinople or the other major cities within the Empire, such as the famed Madrassahs.
Individuals were generally sent back to the place of their origin and appointed to important positions in the local governing body.
This approach often resulted in the building of mosques and local universities for the benefit of future generations, as well as spreading the teachings of Islam.
The spread of Islam into West Africa, beginning with ancient Ghana in the 9th Century, was mainly the result of the commercial activities of North African Muslims.
The empires of both Mali and Songhai that followed ancient Ghana in the Western Sudan adopted the religion.
Islam made its entry into the northern territories of modern Ghana around the 15th Century. Manda speakers (known in Ghana as Wangara), traders and clerics carried the religion into the area.
From the 16th Century onwards, the north-eastern sector of the country was also influenced by an influx of Hausa Muslim traders
Until the early 19th Century, the spread of Islam towards Central and West Africa had been consistent but slow.
Previously, the only connection was through Trans-Saharan trade routes.
The Mali Empire, consisting predominantly of African and Berber tribes, stood as a strong example of the early Islamic conversion of the sub-Saharan region.
The gateways expanded to include the sub-Saharan trade routes through the Eastern shores of the African continent.
With the European colonisation of Africa, Islamic missionaries were almost in competition with the European Christian missionaries operating in the colonies.
There is evidence of Arab Muslim traders entering Indonesia as early as the 8th Century. Indonesia’s early people were animists, Hindus and Buddhists.
However, it was not until the end of the 13th Century that the process of ‘Islamisation’ began to spread throughout the local communities and port towns.
The spread of Islam, although initially introduced through Arab Muslim traders, continued to spread through the Indonesian people as local rulers and royalty began to adopt the religion and subsequently leading the people to mirror their conversion.
Muslim groups have recently, engaged in missionary work in Malawi.
Much of which is performed by the African Muslim Agency (AMA) based in Angola.
The Kuwait-sponsored AMA has translated the Qur’an (Holy book), into Chichewa (Cinyanja), one of Malawi’s official languages, and has engaged in other missionary work in the country.
All of the major cities in the country have mosques and there are several Islamic schools.
Several South African, Kuwaiti and other Muslim agencies are active in Mozambique, with the African Muslim Agency being the most important one.
With the advent of Arab traders, Islamic influence first came to be felt in India in the early 7th Century.
Trade relations have existed between Arabia and the Indian subcontinent from ancient times. Even in the pre-Islamic era, Arab traders used to visit the Malabar region, which linked them to the ports of south-east Asia.
According to historians, the first ship bearing Muslim travellers was seen on the Indian coast as early as 630 CE and the first Arab Muslims settled on the Indian coast in the last part of the 7th Century.
The Arab merchants and traders became the carriers of the new religion and they propagated it wherever they went.
It was with the advent of Islam that the Arabs became a prominent cultural force in the world.
Islam in Bulgaria can be traced back to the mid-9th Century when there were Islamic missionaries in Bulgaria, evidenced by a letter from Pope Nicholas to Boris of Bulgaria calling for the extirpation of Saracens.
Pioneer Muslim missionaries to the Kenyan interior were largely Tanganyikans, who combined their missionary work with trade along the centres began along the railway line such as Kibwezi, Makindu and Nairobi.
Outstanding among them was Maalim Mtondo Islam in Kenya, a Tanganyikan credited with being the first Muslim missionary to Nairobi.
Reaching Nairobi at the close of the 19th Century, he led a group of other Muslims and enthusiastic missionaries from the coast to establish a ‘Swahili village’ in present-day Pumwani. A small mosque was built to serve as a starting point and he began preaching Islam in earnest. He soon attracted several Kikuyus and Wakambas who became his disciples.
In 1380, Karim ul’Makhdum, the first Arabian Islamic missionary, reached the Sulu archipelago and Jolo in the Philippines and established Islam in the country.
In 1390, the Minangjabau’s Prince Rajah Baguinda and his followers preached Islam on the islands.
In the 14th Century, the Sheik Karimal Makdum Mosque was the first mosque established in the Philippines on Simunul in Mindanao.
Subsequent settlements by Arab missionaries travelling to Malaysia and Indonesia helped strengthen Islam in the Philippines and each settlement was governed by a datu, rajah and a sultan.
Islamic provinces founded in the Philippines included the Sultanate of Maguindanao, Sultanate of Sulu and other parts of the southern Philippines.
Missionary work in the US has increased greatly in the last 100 years, with much of the recent demographic growth driven by conversion.
Currently, one-third of American Muslims are African American who have converted to Islam during the last 70 years.
Conversion to Islam in prisons and in large urban areas has also contributed to Islam’s growth over the years.
Dr Michelina Andreucci is a Zimbabwean-Italian researcher, industrial design consultant and is a published author in her field. For comments e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org