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CAMEROON. The Republic of Cameroon in West Central Africa is a microcosm of African diversity. Inhabited by some 12 million people in 1993, it has a Muslim population of about 21 percent, most of whom live in the northern part of the country. Islam was introduced in this region earlier than the nineteenth century, although it was only after 1 8o6 that it experienced its greatest success there. Islamic expansion was facilitated by the fact that what later became German Cameroon (1884-1916), then French Cameroon and British Cameroon (1916-196o), was located in the Central Sudan belt that had encountered Islam much earlier. The Islamic revolution initiated by Usuman Dan Fodio in 1804 was the catalyst that made northern Cameroon a stronghold of the faith. [See the biography of Dan Fodio.]

mosque in ngaoundere cameroon

The greatest carriers of Islam in West Central Africa during the nineteenth century were the Fulani, a pastoral nomadic group from Futa Jalon, Futa Toro, and the Senegal Valley in West Africa who swept through the Sahel at the onset of the seventeenth century and spread their faith among the sedentary peoples. Their conversion method was the jihad as well as persuasion (whenever possible) through the work of long-distance merchants, learned men, and, during the nineteenth century and later, the work of organized brotherhoods such as the Qadiriyah and Tijaniyah. The greatest apostle of Islam in northern Cameroon was Modibo Adama (1786-1848), son of Hassan from the Ba family of Gourin on the Faro River, who studied in Bornu. In 18o6, Usuman Dan Fodio gave this fiery scholar the authorization to expand Islam into the areas comprising northern Cameroon and northern Chad.

Adama subsequently brought his zeal and his armies to northern Cameroon and made Yola the capital of his Islamic empire, which he named Adamawa after himself; he subdued or drove to the mountains and valleys the indigenous traditionalist population, whom the Fulani called kirdi (pagans). Some of the traditionalists converted to Islam in substantial numbers, including the Bamun, who established a sultanate in Foumban with which both the Germans and the French had to contend, especially during the reign of Sultan Njoya (1896-1933) Njoya became a threat to the French occupation, who deposed him in 1923 and exiled him to Yaounde, where he died in 1933.

Adama created a series of chiefdoms (lamidats) under his sons; twenty-one of these units survived until the 1980s. A lamidat was run by a political and religious leader known as the lamido, who was elected by a council of twelve. A lamidat had a feudal structure, including an aristocracy (the Fulani, joined by Arab, Hausa, and Bornuan settlers), the converted kirdi locals, and the slaves (matchoube). The matchoube, who could also be sold, were used by the conquering Fulani in agricultural work and even in the production of objects of art and in metallurgy.

Notwithstanding the rivalries among the lamidats, the Adamawa Islamic empire was flourishing when the Germans arrived during the 1 880s. The lamidos declared several jihads against them, and in 1888 the lamido of Tibati assaulted and defeated a German contingent, forcing it to retreat to Nigeria, and repelled another German occupying force under Captains Morgan and Stelten in 1893. On 24 November 1894 the lamido of Rey clashed with German forces under General Passarge. Tibati was finally subdued in 1899, and Rey was occupied in 1901-1902. By 1902 the Germans had finally succeeded in “pacifying” the Islamic country from Ngaoundere to Maroua.

The Fulani lamidats were left almost alone under the system of indirect rule by both the Germans and the French. Until independence Cameroonian Muslims considered Western education as poison to their children. In some cases, for example, Fulani aristocrats would send their slaves’ children rather than their own to Western schools. Resistance to westernization was such that the Germans forbade Christian missionaries from proselytizing in the area. As a result, apart from the few Qur’anic schools, there were no educational institutions in the north before independence. The economic situation was aggravated by the region’s poor soil. Both the Germans and the French concentrated their developmental programs in other parts of the territory. When independence came in 196o the developmental imbalance in the country was obvious, and most political power was centered in the south, with the differences sharpened by the religious factor. Even during the mid1980s, while 9o percent of the school-age children attended primary school in the former Centre-South and Littoral provinces, only 31 percent were in school in the north.

What guaranteed Muslim influence in the new Cameroon(s) was the assumption of power by Ahmadou Ahidjo, half-Fulani and a devout Muslim born in Garoua. Ahidjo founded his Union Camerounaise in 1958, combining five small, predominantly Muslim political groups from the north, and became premier that year and later president of Cameroon (1960-1982). Under Ahidjo northern influence was considerable. Northerners protected the regime and the president by heading the Ministry of Defense and by dominating the elite Republican Guard, which was predominantly Muslim. Moreover, during Ahidjo’s regime several northern politicians became department ministers, party secretariesgeneral, judges, and important businessmen. Ahidjo also initiated a bold “affirmative action program” aimed at the underprivileged areas of the country, with the north as the major beneficiary of government developmental programs. With the sudden departure of Ahidjo in 1982, northern influence in the country diminished, particularly after the attempted coups of February and April 1984, in which Ahidjo himself, some of his former northern supporters, and the Republican Guard were implicated.

Although tensions based on religious, social, economic, and political differences between north and south have subsided recently, there is a degree of uneasiness in the country. The fact that the predominantly Muslim north in neighboring Chad toppled a southernbased and non-Muslim regime makes Cameroonian politicians apprehensive about the future. This fear is heightened by the fact that northern Cameroon straddles the Muslim belt, with strong cosmopolitan ties with Sudan, Chad, Nigeria, North Africa, and the Middle East, where Islamic fundamentalist movements are emerging. The Muslim world, in fact, has noted the strength of Islam in the country: Saudi Arabia, as a gesture to Ahidjo’s birthplace and to the Islamic community, built the most beautiful and spacious mosque in the country during the 1970s in Garoua.

The yearly pilgrimage of Cameroonian Muslims to Mecca has been going on for centuries, but new communication and transportation systems have made the hajj easier. Furthermore, the number of Muslims in the country has steadily grown over the years (from 395,000 in former East Cameroon in 1986, to 700,000 in the 1980s, and to an estimated 2.3 million during the early 1990s). While colonization stopped the forceful conversion of Traditionalists, it accelerated Islamic expansion through improvement in communication and transportation and through the enhancement of Islamic society, since administrators (often out of fear) respected Islamic traditions and structures and employed learned Muslim civil servants rather than Traditionalist Africans. The active brotherhoods, which had tended to be more receptive to africanization (including African leadership, tolerance of African traditions, and considerable nonArab or non-Fulani membership), have been an extremely important vehicle for the spread of Islam both in Cameroon and in other parts of West Central Africa. Active expansion continued after independence, and it appears that, despite the problems, the future of Islam in Cameroon is bright.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Atterbury, Anson P. Islam in Africa. New York, 1889.

Azarya, Victor. Aristocrats Facing Change: The Fulbe in Guinea, Nigeria, and Cameroon. Chicago, 1978.

Fisher, Alan G. B., and Humphrey J. Fisher. Slavery and Muslim Society in Africa. Garden City, N.Y., 1972.

Holt, P. M., et al., eds. The Cambridge History of Iran. Vol. 2. Cambridge, 1970.

Kerekes, Tibor, ed. The Arab Middle East and Muslim Africa. New York, 1961.

Kettani, M. Ali. Muslim Minorities in the World Today. London, 1986. Lapidus, Ira. A History of Islamic Societies. Cambridge, 1989.

Nimtz, August H., Jr. Islam and Politics in East Africa. Minneapolis, 198o.

Nieuma, M. Z. Fulani Hegemony in Yola (Old Adamawa), 1809-1902. Buea, Cameroon, 1978.

Stoddard, Philip H., et al., eds. Change and the Muslim World. Syracuse, N.Y., 1981.

Tikku, Girdhari L., ed. Islam and Its Cultural Divergence: Studies in Honor of Gustave E. Von Grunebaum. Urbana, Ill., 1971. Trimingham, J. Spencer. Islam in West Africa. Oxford, 1959. Trimingham, J. Spencer. A History of Islam in West Africa. London, 1962.

Voll, John Obert. Islam, Continuity, and Change in the Modern World. Boulder, 1982.

MARIO J. AZEVEDO

Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/cameroon/
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  • writerPosted On: November 4, 2012
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