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By unknown | May 27, 2009 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

Your article "Lectures to headline Africa"- Sowetan, Thursday May 21 refers. Having attended a lecture, within that programme, titled "The Islamisation and Arabisation of Sudan - a Threat to Africa" on the evening of the same day by the Sudanese researcher Dr. Mohammed Jalal Hashim, I would like to comment on some of the points Hashim raised.

Your article "Lectures to headline Africa"- Sowetan, Thursday May 21 refers. Having attended a lecture, within that programme, titled "The Islamisation and Arabisation of Sudan - a Threat to Africa" on the evening of the same day by the Sudanese researcher Dr. Mohammed Jalal Hashim, I would like to comment on some of the points Hashim raised.

Firstly, the use of the terms Islamisation and Arabisation, let alone suggesting that these presumed processes pose a threat to Africa, is by itself indicative of prejudice and bias against both Islam and Arabic language and culture. Hashim defined these terms as the ideological awareness and orientations based on the Islamic and Arabic culture. But, throughout the lecture the said terms increasingly became equated with just having an Islamic and Arab identity.

As a part of a globalised world, Africa is currently a scene of complex cultural interaction and dynamics that are reshaping African societies and their value systems. Within this process, Western ideologies and cultures like capitalism, liberalism, materialism and individualism among others, seem to have the greater impact. Why then single out Islamic and Arabic cultures, which do not seem to fare very well compared to Western cultures, and portray them as a threat to Africa?

Furthermore, the majority of African countries are active members in either of the two international political-linguistic associations; the Commonwealth and the Francophone Group. Similarly, different Western Churches are very active and influential in a large number of African countries. Hence, one would wonder why we do not hear terms like Englishisation and Frenchisation or Catholicisation and Anglicanisation of these countries?

The major European languages, which are the official or semi-official languages in most African countries, were introduced there through colonisation in the 18th and 19th centuries. Conversely, there have been linguistic and cultural links between Africa and the Arabian Peninsula across the Red Sea long before Islam. In fact, the renowned African scholar Ali Mazrui believes that the Arabian Peninsula should be regarded as part of Africa because it was actually part of it until torn off by a colossal earthquake that created the Rift Valley. This centuries-old interactions are manifested by the fact that Arabic has much in common with many African languages. For example Arabic, Amharic and Tigrinya, two main languages in Ethiopia and the former is probably the oldest written African language, belong to the same linguistic family; Semitic languages. Moreover, the Qua-Swahili, that is widely spoken and Eastern and Central Africa, borrowed much of its vocabulary from Arabic, while several African languages in Western Africa have been influenced by the latter. Arabic or "African" dialects of it are also widely used in African countries that are not members in the Arab League, like Chad, Eritrea, Cameroon, Nigeria, Niger and Mali. Arabic is, therefore, no stranger in Africa.

Islam was also introduced in Africa since the 7th century by Muslim refugees in Abyssinia, current Ethiopia, and later on by Muslim traders and immigrants. In most cases there has been no well-organized efforts to propagate that faith in the continent that could be compared to the missionary activities by Western Churches, which Africans knew only after they had been colonized by Europeans.

In several parts of Africa Islam has been interwoven with local cultures to produce unique African Islamic civilizations. An example of centres of this civilization is the city of Timbuktu which was founded in AD1100. With its invaluable wealth of books and manuscripts, Timbuktu is regarded by the UNESCO as a world cultural heritage, and was in 2007 one of entries in an international survey to name the world new wonders. Sowetan enthusiastically invited its readers to vote it as it was the only African entry that made it to the finals.

Contrary to the underlying assumption by the lecturer, Arabism is a cultural rather than an ethnic identity. Prophet Mohamed says: "Arabism is not a race. It is a tongue. Thos who speak Arabic are the Arabs". It is generally agreed among Arabs themselves today that they Arabised rater than ethnically native Arabs, as the latter were extinct long ago. This explained by Arabic terms of Arab Aariba (native) and Arab Mustariba (Arabised). Nobody today questions the Arab identity of Arab countries that are inhabited by whites or people with fair colour, often as a result of migration and intermarriages with Europeans or Asians. Why should it become an issue when some of the Sudanese regard themselves Arabs? This is actually a racist view because it implies that blacks can not be Arab.

The lecturer claimed that black colour has been stigmatized with the advent of Islam. However, he offered no evidence to support this claim. On the contrary, the Holy Quran and the teachings of Prophet Mohamed stress the equality of humankind regardless of their colour, tongue or social status. For example the Quran addresses the following call to all humanity: "O mankind! We have created you from male and female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know one another. Verily the most honourable of you with Allah is who is the most pious" (13 of Sura No. 49, Part 26).

The diversity in colours of mankind is presented in Quran as a manifest of the richness of the nature and the globe we live in, that should be a subject for reflection and scientific research: "See you not that Allah sends down water (rain) from the sky, and we produce there fruits of various colours, and among mountains are streaks whites and red, of varying colours and very black. Likewise of men and Addawab (animals), and cattle are of various colours. It is those who have knowledge among His slaves (mankind) that fear Allah" (27-28, Surah 35, Part22)

The word "Sudan" literally means "black people" or "land of black people". This name was chosen by the first Constituent Assembly of the country on the eve of independence. This suffices to refute the claim that the Sudanese scorn or disrespect black colour and to prove that Sudanese are proud of being black Africans. There are a lot of Sudanese poems and songs (in Arabic) to that effect.

B Elamin, Pretoria


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