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DFG - Safeguarding Good Scientific Practice PDFLogo



The Islamic Mission in the Multi-Religious Context of East Africa

Dr. Chanfi Ahmed
Tabea Scharrer (associated)
Dr. Achim v.Oppen

Project period: 2004 to 2006

A variety of efforts to advance a "purified” Islam can be observed in East Africa at the moment, even outside the large urban centres. Offers of conversion and education by new Islamic "mission" (da_wa) activists clash with established proselytizing practices as developed by Sufi brotherhoods in the 20th century, as well as with increased activity by contemporary Christian missionary movements.
The project examines processes of conversion to and within Islam from the perspective of competing religious actors and their target groups, one that is shaped both by translocal connections and by local interactions. These interactive processes are scrutinized with regard to the present and to recent history at selected places in the hinterland of Kenya and Tanzania. At the same time, a contribution to the currently revived debate on religious conversion is intended.

Sub-Project 1

Discourses of Conversion: Local and Translocal Interactions of the Islamic Mission in Contemporary East Africa

Dr. Chanfi Ahmed

This sub-project examines the conversion strategies applied by competing actors of the Islamic mission in East Africa to convert Muslims und non-Muslims to their respective version of Islam. The research focuses, on the one hand, on these actors themselves and, on the other, their different preaching methods and sites. The latter include sermons held at Friday prayers, at traditional festivals and ceremonies, or during welfare meetings, as well as new forms of "open-air preaching" (mihadhara). The sermon is looked at as a form of discursive action emanating from certain religious actors, but influenced in its content, form and meaning by references to various local and translocal contexts. Therefore, the study also addresses the origin and instruction of the preachers as well as their support in East African centres from more distant organizations and personalities as far away as the Middle East and South Asia. Debates and expectations present in the local context are particularly considered. The data base for the study comprises, firstly, the texts and performance of the sermons themselves, secondly biographies of and observations on the preachers, and thirdly, information on their local and translocal networks.

Sub-Project 2

Narratives of Conversion: Islamic Conversion in Contemporary East Africa as Individual Experience and Social Practice

Tabea Scharrer

The focus of this sub-project is on the adherents and converts of contemporary movements of the Islamic mission (da_wa). Their experiences, perceptions and practices are examined through their religious biographies. Contrary to earlier research on processes of conversion to and within Islam in East Africa, which largely concentrated on the perspective of social groups, religious organizations and their leaders, this study takes the individual addressees of current Islamic conversion movements as its starting point. Particular attention is paid to popular perceptions of the competition between the various offers of conversion, as expressed in religious discourses and practices, with reference to selected locations in Central Kenya and Northeast Tanzania. The question pursued here is how and to what extent the competition of religions shapes the conversion histories of individuals. Methodologically, the study is primarily based on a series of narrative and biographical interviews as well as on observations of everyday life. This sub-project (2) is carried out in close connection with sub-project (1), since both examine activists and addressees of the Islamic "Mission", where possible at the same locations.


Sub-Project 3

Practices of conversion: Translations between Islamic and Christian Missions in East Africa in the 20th Century

Dr. Achim von Oppen

Unlike the two other sub-projects, which refer to present-day phenomena, this is a historical study about missionary practice from c. 1920 to 1980. Its point of departure is less the activists than the ritual practices of missionary endeavour, asking mainly for mutual influences of Islamic and Christian missions. The focus is on the phases of expansion and institutionalization of the Sufi brotherhoods in East African Islam that paralleled comparable tendencies in Christian missionary churches and, subsequently, in independent African churches. On both sides, these developments were related to an intensification of translocal connections. The sub-project examines the specific interactions and interdependencies of the practices of these different religious currents at selected locations in Northeast Tanzania. The main question addressed is whether, in the context of interreligious competition, conversion and mutual borrowing tendencies can also be observed with regard to proselytizing practices, and if this has resulted in a cross-cutting arsenal of modern religiosity. The material for this study is drawn partly from earlier projects of the researcher and partly from archival sources and religious journals, complemented by a series of historical interviews and on-site observations.