by Hervé Pugi.
Professor Hassan Makki has been head of the research center of African studies at the International University of Africa in Khartoum for several decades. This is where we went to meet him to talk about Islam in Africa and Sudan.
Scribouille: Islam and Africa share a long history. Would you say that Islam is a part of African identity?
Hassan Makki (H. M.): Of course. Historically speaking, Islam was introduced into Africa before being introduced into the Medina, where the Prophet finally set up his headquarters. Islam arrived with the first migration to Abyssinia (editor’s note: in 615), which is now known as Ethiopia; just five years after the beginning of revelation. This means that Islam has been deeply entrenched in Africa for 14 centuries. There is another connection between the Arabian Peninsula and Africa. We know that Abraham, the common ancestor of both Jews and Arabs, was married to Hagar, an African (editor’s note: an Egyptian maid and Ishmael’s mother). So, we can say that Arabs have
some of their origins in Africa.
Scribouille: Is there a specific Islam in Africa? Can we speak of an African Islam?
H. M.: To be honest, several trends have emerged in Africa. From a historical point of view, Africans are Malikis. They follow the case law of Malik Ibn Anas but Islam has also prospered through Sufism. Our Islam is that of Maliki scholars and Sufis, even though today we are facing fundamentalism and an Islamist minority, which ultimately knows very little about religion. The only thing they know is that they are Muslims. So they are trying to learn more, here and there.
Scribouille: Many people have the habit of considering the Arab-Muslim world and the rest of Africa as opposed. What is the reason for this distinction and does it really exist?
H. M.: Because they are ignorant! It is important to observe where Arabs are located in Africa: Egypt, Algeria, Morocco, Mauritania, Tunisia, Libya, but they are also in Sudan, Djibouti and Somalia. According to calculations, there are no less than approximately 300 million Muslim Arabs on the continent. Nevertheless, those who use Arabic to practice their religion are nearly 700 million. There is an interaction between them, connections, an intertwining.
Scribouille: There is significant turmoil in the Muslim world, not only in Africa. What is your explanation?
H. M.:I think it’s a reaction to what the settlers did in Africa. We must also remember what the Americans did in Somalia. In 1991, George Bush, the father, declared he would “restore hope” (editor’s note: reference to the military operation “Restore Hope”). In the end, they destroyed the government and left a void that Al-Shabaab and others are now trying to fill. Indeed, many attacks in this part of the world, carried out by Western governments, were grave errors.
Scribouille: On the other hand, would you say that the Muslim world is facing a crisis of knowledge?
H. M.: We are facing a crisis because we are under siege! I do not understand why the Western powers are only concerned about Arabs when it is a question of oil or Israel’s security. That is the problem; they are not interested in human rights in Arab countries. They do not care about democracy or welfare in the Muslim world. They trade human rights for their strategic aims. They behave as though only Westerners deserve human dignity.
Scribouille: What are your feelings when you hear Washington declare that Sudan supports terrorism?
H. M.: Sudan has not bombed Libya. Sudan has not invaded Iraq. Sudan did not destroy Syria. It is propaganda and it’s exaggerated, of course.
Scribouille: If you had to describe how Islam is practised in Sudan, what would you say?
H. M.: It is Sufi Islam. It aims at nurturing spiritual feelings, getting closer to God, overcoming the difficulties in life. It is both an experience and a spiritual reflection.
Scribouille: In your opinion, what is the place of religion in Sudanese society?
H. M.: It is very important. In my case, for example, I cannot go to sleep if I have not prayed. Once the day is over, I need something to fuel my emotions and to help me overcome my fears and anxieties. I find this relief by connecting myself to the love of God.