Islam in Mozambique: A Not So Silent Presence
Joseph Abraham Levi
George Washington University
[…] the spread of Christianity in the Portuguese colonies
was far less marked than in other African countries where
the colonisers appeared less troubled by religious
considerations and where Islam was even more strongly
In this paper I examine the different ways Islam entered the future sovereign
nation of Mozambique, before, during, and after its independence from Portugal,
occurred on June 25, 1975. Using as a springboard the different time frames and the
obviously different ports of entry of Islam into the geographic area known as the East
African Coast, more specifically the Swahili coast, my analysis will focus on the way
Islam adapted itself to the local milieu, thus creating a Muslim society within a traditional
African context, where the Indian Ocean culture played a decisive role in shaping its
I will often pause to consider the way in which Muslims from Asia, particularly
Arabs and Persians, perceived and dealt with their African coreligionists. The coming of
the Portuguese to these areas (1498) will then be the last part of my analysis; in other
words, I evaluate how the Portuguese dealt with the “Muslim” question in Mozambique.
I frequently question myself if the differences in approach and outcomes could
have been influenced by the ways with which the Portuguese considered and valued this
Arslan Humbaraci, and Nicole Muchnik. Portugal’s African Wars. Angola, Guinea Bissao, Mozambique.
New York: The Third P, 1974. 96.
geographic area/colony, particularly its socioeconomic and historic contributions to
society, from which they benefited significantly.
Islam in East Africa
The dominant theme of the history of eastern Africa, from
the eighteenth century on, is enlargement of scale. This
took many forms—new caravan routes carried ivory and
slaves to the coast; they were pioneered by Africans from
the interior, first the Yao and later the Nyamwezi, and
entrepreneurs from the coast and Zanzibar came to follow
Just like in north-east Africa—particularly in present-day Somalia, Ethiopia,
Eritrea, and the southern Republic of Sudan—also in central and south-east Africa,
religion, in this case, Islam, “has long been a catalyst of identity.” Moreover, just like
elsewhere in the Muslim world (from Africa and the Middle East to Central Asia and
South-East Asia), for reasons of prestige and political/economical power, most local
Muslims like(d) to “trace their ancestry to a putative Arab ancestor,”
indirectly linked to the Quraysh, the Arabian tribe to which the Prophet Muhammad
(570-632) and his cousin/son-in-law ‘Ali (598-661) belonged.
Before and after the (second and last) advent of Islam, Arab and Persian seasonal
traders traveled from the Arabian Peninsula and Shiraz to the East African Coast: from
present-day Mogadishu and Brava, in Somalia, and the Land of Zenj, to the Land of
Sofala and beyond.
As time went by, these seasonal traders turned into sedentary coastal
Elizabeth Isichei. A History of African Societies to 1870. Cambridge: CUP, 1997. 431.
Elizabeth Isichei. A History of African Societies to 1870. Cambridge: CUP, 1997. 196.
Zenj, Farsi for Black. First applied to the coastal area embracing present-day Kenya and Tanzania, the
term was later adapted to denominate the island of Zenjbar, or rather, the island of the black people,
namely, present-day Zanzibar. In Arabic the Land of Zenj was rendered as Bilād Al-Zanj. The Land of
Sofala, instead, encompassed the area between present-day Northern Mozambique and the Sabi River,
settlers interested in fomenting business transactions with their homeland and the local
communities. Additionally, and equally importantly, before and after the (second and
last) advent of Islam, Indian
and Persian traders traveled to East African coast following
the seasonal monsoon winds: Africa-bound during the November-March period of the
North East monsoons, and homebound (India and the Persian Gulf area) during the April-
October interlude of the South West monsoons. These routes were known for quite some
time; in fact they are mentioned in the famous Periplus Maris Erythraei, or rather, the
Periplus of the Eritrean Sea, one of the first written records describing the East African
coast and its peoples.
Islam in Mozambique
The Portuguese landed in Mozambique in the fifteenth
century, and found it much more difficult to penetrate than
Angola. Islam had already taken deep roots. […] Vasco da
Gama, who stopped in Mozambique on one of his voyages
to India (1500), spoke of a people with a culture superior to
that of the Portuguese. A local, mainly Swahili, elite lived
in cities that were administered by Arabs who had passed
on their culture, language, and religion. Arab influence
extended along the Zambezi river.
south of Sofala. The Comoro Islands and Madagascar were also included in commercial routes by these
traders from the Red Sea, the Persian Gulf, and beyond.
Especially from the Gulf of Kutch and the Gulf of Cambay (the area of present-day Gujarat).
Written in the 1
century of the Common Area by a Romanized Greek/Hellenic author from Alexandria,
the Periplus provides the route, always along the coastline, from Berenice Troglodytica, present-day
Medinet-el Haras in south-east Egypt, to India and the East African coast, then known as Azania; whereas,
the ancient Egyptians called the entire area bordering the Gulf of Aden Punt. Ptolemy’s Geography,
written thereafter, “tells of a number of harbours as far south as Rhapta.” J.E.G. Sutton. The East African
Coast. 1966. Dar-es-Salaam: Historical Association of Tanzania, East African Publishing House, 1968. 7.
For further information on the Periplus, please see: Lionel Casson. The Periplus Maris Erythraei: Text with
Introduction, Translation, and Commentary .Princeton: PUP, 1989; F.A. Chami. “The Early Iron Age on
Mafia Island and its Relationship with the Mainland.” Azania Vol. 34 (1999): 1-10; J. Innes Miller. The
Spice Trade of the Roman Empire: 29 B.C. to A.D. 641. Oxford: OUP, 1969.
Eduardo de Sousa Ferreira. Portuguese Colonialism in Africa: the End of an Era. The Effects of
Portuguese Colonialism on Education, Science, Culture, and Information. Paris: UNESCO P, 1974. 52.
As we have seen then, during the first century of the Common Era trading
settlements along the East African Coast were already known to Greek/Hellenic
geographers and later, with the (second and last) advent of Islam, to Muslims—e.g.,
Arabs, Persians, Turkish, Indians, Indonesians—throughout the entire Islamic world. In
fact, according to the Baghdadi writer El-Masoudi Abu Y Hassan Ali (890-947), in 930
Omani sailors were already familiar with Sofala and the rest of the East African Coast,
north and south of this city/province of present-day Mozambique, trading with the native
populations, though most of the Arabic-speaking sailors gravitated around the
Mogadishu-Sofala area. Indeed: “Sofala is the termination of the voyages of the mariners
of Oman and Syraf […]. It is a land abounding in gold, rich in wonderful things, and
El-Masoudi also reports that: “the island of Qanbalu (which some would
identify as Madagascar, others as Pemba or Zanzibar) had a partly Muslim population
and a Muslim ruler.”
Sofala and Monomotapa
were frequently referred to by Muslim writers as
“Lower Ethiopia;” hence, the native inhabitants were called “Ethiopians,” or rather
Habashi, Arabic for “amber-skinned (people).”
Before the arrival of the Portuguese in
1498, Sofala was the main Zambezi port, later superseded by Quelimane and
R. N. Hall, and W. G. Neal. The Ancient Ruins of Rhodesia. (Monomotapae Imperium). London:
Methuen, 1902. 54.
J.E.G. Sutton. The East African Coast. 1966. Dar-es-Salaam: Historical Association of Tanzania, East
African Publishing House, 1968. 9.
Monomotapa: Portuguese rendering of Mwene Mutapa, a Tonga expression for “master of the ravaged
hands,” or “chief of the mountains,” either way a somewhat euphemistic way in which the conquered
Tonga nicknamed the Karanga chief, Mutoto, when, during the first half of the fifteenth century, he and his
men conquered the lands from south of the Umufuli River to the Zambezi. When the Portuguese arrived in
the area the Monomotapa kingdom was already in decline, though its status and splendor still lingered for
quite some time, thus giving the Portuguese the false impression of being in an area dominated and
controlled by the Monomotapa. Incidentally, the name Monomotapa was applied to both the land/kingdom
and the leader who controlled it.
Present-day Ethiopia, Eritrea, and northern Somalia were in fact known to the Arabs as Bilād Al-
Habashah, again, the land of the amber-skinned Africans.
Mozambique Island. The Portuguese, following along African trade routes, founded
feitorias (trading-stations) along the Zambezi, as in the case of Tete, Sena, and Zumbo,
though Swahili presence on the Zambezi is attested in Tete and Sena prior to the arrival
of the Portuguese. These feitorias were fundamental in securing the overall safe
exchange of Indian cloth with the much sought-after gold, ivory, and copper found or
thought to abound in the area.
At the turn of the 10
century, in 900, Abu Zayd Hassan, in describing the East
African coast, particularly present-day Zanzibar, also writes about Sofala, its shoreline
and its people, mainly of Bantu stock, though most of them already had intermarried with
Arab and Persian Muslim traders. This new culture, with roots in Bantu
Islamized cultures and Arab/Persian Muslim civilization—later added by other ethnic and
racial components, as in the case of Indians, Pakistanis, and Indonesians—came to be
known in East Africa as Swahili, from the Arabic word Sawāhil, namely, “people of the
It was indeed the indigenous Swahili, together with the Arab and Persian
traders who lived in the area, who actually built and settled the myriad of coastal towns
and islands from Mogadishu down to north-central, present-day Mozambique, as in the
case of: Chisimayu (Kisimayo), Pate, Manda, Lamu, Malindi, Kilifi, Mombasa, Pemba,
Other commodities were: pearls, ambers, rhino-horns, cowries, tortoise shells, coconut oil, cloth, and,
Most likely these Bantu tribes would have been the northernmost branch of the Eastern Bantu.
Originally a written language of communication, Swahili first appeared as a written language, though in
Arabic script, in 1728. Until the arrival of the British and the Germans in 1884, Swahili literature in Arabic
script flourished particularly in Pate, Lamu, Mombasa, and later in Zanzibar.
Tanga, Zanzibar, Pangani, Mwera, Bagamoyo, Dar-es-Salaam, Mafia, Kilwa, Lindi,
Mtwara, Sudi, and Sofala, to name just a few of the most prominent trading centers.
Since the 9
century of the Common Era then, Islam has been deeply rooted in
East Africa, particularly along the coast: from present-day Mogadishu to south-central
Mozambique. The beginning of the 10
century saw a significant increase of Muslim
population along the East African coast. More than one thousand years of Islamic
presence have thus left an undeniable mark in the African languages, cultures, and
societies living in this area, almost all of Bantu stock. Trade became the vehicle through
which a peaceful process of cultural assimilation to Muslim customs and traditions would
eventually lead to conversion to, or rather, gradual, (un)conscious adoption of Islam,
sincere or perhaps propelled by socioeconomic advantages, as it was common in other
parts of the Islamic world/empire, at least in the beginning or during the early stages of
contact with or dominance of Islam. The marriage of native Bantu and non-Bantu
women to Arab or Persian traders, who happened to be Muslim—though not very
religious, yet possessing the prestige bestowed upon them by their lineage, their religion,
and, most of all, their successful business in the host country/land—accelerated the
general Islamization of the area.
Just like the rest of East Africa, also in Mozambique the expansion of Islam was
thus gradual and endemic: it was stronger along the coast and weaker (though culturally
still present) in the interior, stronger in the north and the central areas, weaker in the
south. In other words, it followed the commercial routes that linked East Africa to the
cultural and trading centers of the societies that flourished along the Indian Ocean area.
Pate and Kilwa were in fact small, independent Swahili sultanates, the latter of Shirazi origins, though
heavily mixed with local Bantu populations.
Non-Muslim, or rather, non-Islamized peoples of the interior—referred to by the Swahili
as washenzi, or rather, “the others”—were also affected by the presence of Islam along
the East African coast. As the centuries went by, these populations were undeniably
influenced by Islamic spirituality, thus ending by assimilating it, either consciously or
unconsciously, though inevitably transforming it in order to conform to local customs and
As a consequence of the 1884-1885 Berlin Conferences, Portugal was officially
forced to occupy the African territories that it vehemently claimed as historically
Portuguese. Though losing some of the areas where it had historical presence since the
Age of Discoveries, officially begun in 1415 with the siege of Ceuta, Portugal was able to
secure five African colonies—Cape Verde, Angola (including the enclave of Cabinda),
Guinea-Bissau, São Tomé and Príncipe, and Mozambique—as well as the enclave of São
João Baptista de Ajudá, along the coast of present-day Benin.
As Mozambique was being occupied by the Portuguese administration, Muslim
clerics succeeded in bringing the word of Allah to the interior of the colony. Being
familiar with some of the tenets of this monotheistic faith, non-Muslims of the interior
were thus easily converted to Islam or at least were willing to gravitate around its
Founded in 1680, the Portuguese Governor of São Tomé and Príncipe, Jacinto de Figueiredo e Abreu
(1680-1683), was authorized to build a feitoria in Hweda—hence the Portuguese rendering Ajudá, the
French Ouidah, and the English Whydah—along the cost of Mina, in present-day Benin, formerly known
as Dahomey. In 1721 the trading-post became a fort and was thus renamed Forte de São João de Ajudá. In
1961 the smallest, present-day enclave was annexed by Dahomey. The two inhabitants of the Fort tried to
set the place on fire rather than surrendering it to the invaders. In 1975 Portugal officially recognized its
annexation and paid for the restoration of the Fort, now a museum.
Just like the case of Christianity (Catholicism as well as Protestantism), those who
converted, or at least who lived a semi-Islamized life, did so more out of
commercial/socioeconomic need than because of a true desire for salvation. As a general
rule, these newly-converted Muslims had no influence over their African nation,
community, tribe, and/or chiefs. Had they been rulers or monarchs the results would
have been different since, generally speaking, when a leader of a community converted to
a new religion, his countrymen soon followed his choice, either for fear or out of
In 1577, the Dominican João dos Santos (d. 1620) attempted at converting the
local population of present-day Mozambique.
Unfortunately, things ended badly,
mainly due to a fierce and unwarranted antagonism towards Islam as well as insincere
conversions to Christianity. More successful were the Jesuits who during the span of
twenty years managed to open quite a few mission-stations in Mozambique (1607-1628).
Dominican and Augustinian friars followed, gaining ground north and south.
Nevertheless, apart from these successes, missionary presence in East Africa
came to an end, particularly along the Zambezi. Among the many reasons for this failure,
João dos Santos. Ethiopia Oriental, e uaria historia de cousas notaueis do Oriente. Évora: Impressa no
Conuento de S. Domingos de Euora, por Manoel de Lira, Anno 1609 Lisbon, 1891; João dos Santos.
Ethiopia Oriental. Ed. Luciano Cordeiro. Lisbon: [Escriptorio da Empreza] 1891.
Father Gonçalo da Silveira was the leader of the Jesuit mission to Zimbabwe. After a brief stay in Goa
(1556), he was assigned to the Kingdom of the Mwene Mutapa since there had been a request for
missionaries by Tonga leaders who wanted to know more about Christianity. The Jesuit mission which,
besides Father Silveira, also included Father André Fernandes and Father Luís Fróis, was able to baptize
almost five hundred people, including the king and his mother, who eventually took the Christian names of
Sebastião (Sebastian) and Maria, in honor of their Portuguese counterparts. Given the superficial and hasty
way in which the local Africans were baptized and introduced to Christianity, the level of comprehension
that Sebastião and Maria had of the new religion was very low since, like most of the newly-converted,
they eventually returned to their traditional tribal religions. For further information, please see: Arthur
Frederic Loveday. Three Stages of History in Rhodesia: Bantu Invasion of Rhodesia and the History of
Zimbabwe, Father Gonçalo da Silveira and the Monomotapas [and] Frederick Courtney Selous, the
Greatest of Hunters. Cape Town: A. A. Balkema, 1960. 64; George McCall Theal. Records of South-East
Africa. 9 vols. [Cape Town]: Government of the Cape Colony. 1898-1903. 2: 93, 2: 120-123.
slavery, economic necessity, and Islam—the latter under the driving force of trade and its
ties with the Swahili coast and the rest of the Indian Ocean basin—were perhaps the most
important factors that contributed to its demise.
The increasing interest in trade brought to these areas, coupled with the fact that
the colonial regime guaranteed the right to choose one’s own religion, contributed to the
gradual, yet ever-increasing expansion of Islam in Mozambique. Though oftentimes
resisted/challenged by the native, animist populations of the interior—particularly those
societies where matriarchy was the norm—as well as by Christianity (Catholicism and
Protestantism), Islam has always shown a constant advance. Proselytism, then, is
responsible for opening the door to Islam in the interior and remote areas of
Mozambique. Despite the political climate, Islam succeeded in remaining rooted in the
area for more than five centuries, well before the arrival of the Portuguese in 1498.
During the 19
century Islam was limited to the coastal centers of Quelimane,
Pebane, Angoche, Sangage, the island of António Enes, Mossuril, Matibane, Lúrio, Porto
Amélia, Quissanga, Mocimboa da Praia, and Palma, including the small Islamic enclave
by Lake Nyasa (Malawi) ruled by King Mataka. During the first half of the 20
instead, particularly after World War I and World War II, Islam entered virtually in all
the regions of the then-Portuguese colony. Each area had its own mosques, madrasas
(Qur’ānic Schools), and Sufi brotherhoods.
In 1995, Mozambicans were thought to round up a total of 17,913.00 inhabitants,
including 7,000 Chinese and 15,000 Indians. The 2007, population estimate refers to
Also known as Tarīqah, plural: turūq, though its original meaning was “method,” “path,” or “way.”
20,366,795 people, of which 25% are Muslim.
In present-day Mozambique, besides the
Swahili (suaíli in Portuguese), there are nine other ethnic groups, namely:
[…] the Marave (15 tribes) found to the North of the
Zambezi in the Tete province, along the East bank of the
Lake Nyassa, as well as in the Zambézia province, in the
the Macua-Lomué (21 tribes), approximately between the
Lugenda river and the Morrubala-Quelimane line; they are
found between Cabo Delgado and Angoche, or rather
between the sea and the Lugenda, along the Lúrio river; the
matambu, to the south of the Rovuma; the mavia, in the
North-Eastern corner of the country and the medo in the
Messalo valley form the most numerous group;
Shona (Chona in Portuguese) (11 tribes), between the Save
and the Zambezi rivers, in the Manica and Sofala
the Shope (Chope in Portuguese) (3 tribes), in the
the Tonga (9 tribes) that constitute the majority of the
population south of the Save river, with small islands in
Manica, Sofala, and Tete;
the Angoni (6 tribes), result of different migrations as well
as Zulu expeditions, mainly in the South (Namacha and
Magude municipalities), divided in small groups in the
Tete, Niassa, and Cabo Delgado provinces;
the Maconde (4 tribes), in the Cabo Delgado province, the
banks of the Rovuma river, as well as the Maconde plateau
(Muenda and Macomia or Serra Mapé);
Ajaua (one tribe), most of the Niassa province;
a loose conglomeration of tribes (10) of the Lower
Zambezi, along the banks of the Zambezi, forming a group
of heterogeneous tribes.
Originally from the Yao hill, between the Lujenda and the Luchilingo rivers, the
Ajaua of the Upper Nyasa, also known as Yao and Ayo,
converted to Islam sometime
<<http://www.ine.gov.mz/populacao/projeccoes/projeccoesanuais>>, information retrieved: February 22,
Pedro Cardoso, ed. Atlas da Lusofonia. Moçambique. Lisboa: Prefácio, 2005. 68-69. [English translation
provided by the author]
Other possible names: Achawa, Adjao, Adsawa, Adsoa, Ayawa, Hiao, Mudsao, Mujoa, Mujanos, Veiao,
Wahaiao, Wahiao, Wahyao, Wajao. Furthermore, and to add even more confusion, the Ajauas refer to
themselves with the names of their local elders.
during the 13
century, thus soon entering the Arabic-Swahili world of trade and
commerce, including slave trade, with Islamized Bantu tribes of the area as well the rest
of the East African coast and beyond. In fact, frequent were the quarrels with the Arab,
Persian, and Swahili merchants over the economic control of the trade routes to the
The Ajaua, like the Macua-Lomué and the Maconde, are matrilineal,
matrilocal, perform circumcision
and, though to a lesser degree, excision,
formed by a cluster of independent tribes, governed by an elder. Islam is also the major
religion of the Achirrimas, the Chuabos, the Muanes, the Mulais, and the Tacuanes
The 1950 census showed 612,355 Muslims living in Mozambique, namely:
Quelimane 2.5%, the Island of Mozambique 10%, Cabo Delgado 50%, and Niassa 70%.
and the Macondes were the tribes with most
adherents to Islam, at least officially. Of the four Sunni law schools, the Hanāfi and
Shāfi’i tend to be the most widely followed Islamic schools of thought (Madhhāb), also
Richard Francis Burton, ed., and trans. The Lands of Cazembe. Lacerda’s Journal to Cazembe in 1798.
London: John Murray, 1874. 72.
Mary Tew. Peoples of the Lake Nyassa Region. London: International African Institute, 1950. 9.
Also known as infibulations, clitoridectomy (partial or full), and Pharaonic circumcision, obviously not
perfect synonymous of one another. For background information on the subject, see: Karim Sadr. The
Development of Nomadism in Ancient Northeast Africa. Philadelphia: U of Philadelphia P, 1991; Alice
Irene Muir Leach. “A Thesis on the Pharaonic and Sunna Forms of Circumcision: As Performed on
Females in the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan.” Thesis (M.D.), Queen's University, Belfast, 1947; Isnino Ahmed
Musse. The Angel Returns. DVD Video. New York: Filmakers Library, 2002; Michelle Cecilia Johnson.
“Becoming Muslim, Becoming a Person: Female ‘Circumcision,’ Religious Identity, and Personhood in
Guinea-Bissau,” in Female Circumcision in Africa. Culture, Controversy, and Change. Eds. Bettina Shell-
Duncan, and Ylva Herlund. Boulder: Lynne Rienner, 2000. 215-233.
Fernando Amaro Monteiro. O Islão, o Poder e a Guerra (Moçambique 1964-1974). Porto: Universidade
Portuense, 1993. 100.
Particularly the Macuas, the Lomués, and the Metos. For more information, please see: Francisco Lerma
Martines. O Povo Macua e a sua Cultura. Lisbon: Ministério da Educação, Instituto de Investigação
Cientifica e Tropical, 1989.
Commonly known as “neo-Muslims,” the Ajauas first passed through a phase of cultural assimilation to
Islam, gradually followed by the conversion of influential members of the tribe, hence the entire ethnic
group. For further information, please see: Manuel Gama Amaral. O povo Yao: subsídios para o estudo de
um povo do noroeste de Moçambique. Lisbon: Instituto de Investigação Cientifica e Tropical, 1989.
known as Islamic (Sunnah) Jurisprudence (Fīqh), whereas the Hanbāli and the Māliki are
usually associated with foreign Muslims living temporarily or who still maintain a tie
with their home country:
Em Moçambique, predomina, assim, a escola Chafita.
Contudo, a Sul do Zambeze, a escola Hanafita predomina,
nomeadamente entre elementos provenientes do Paquistão
ou da Índia e seus descendentes.
Currently, having surpassed almost 20% of the population, Islam ranks third in
percentages of official adherents to a religion in Mozambique, being preceded by a 32%
of believers in traditional African religions, 24% declared Roman Catholics, and 21%
declared Protestants (all denominations). As for Islam, it is usually more predominant in
the north; Catholicism is more active in the central regions; whereas Protestantism is
widely spread in the southern part of the country; though Catholicism is the only
religion/religious denomination represented at the national level.
One of the tenets of Islam is the global surrender to the will of Allah, to turn, once
again, the entire world into Dār Al-Islam, or rather, the Land of Islam, as it was in the
beginning, thus converting or subjugating the Dār Al-Harb, namely, the Land of the
Enemy (of God), to the will of God. Spreading the good news of Islam is thus an
obligation of every believer, since the rewards will come in the afterlife as well as in this
life, always according to the will of God. Just like in any other part of the world where
European or Western forces occupied a Muslim land, the idea of a group of believers
belonging to a “nation” of believers gave Mozambican Muslims the unwavering feeling
of belonging to a specific nation, in this case (a Muslim) Mozambique. Mozambican soil
Pedro Cardoso, ed. Atlas da Lusofonia. Moçambique. Lisboa: Prefácio, 2005. 79.
Pedro Cardoso, ed. Atlas da Lusofonia. Moçambique. Lisboa: Prefácio, 2005. 73.
was holy because of the presence of Muslims, of the ‘ummah, or rather, the Muslim
community and, as such, unlike a child, it could not be a “dependant” of a non-Muslim
power, in this case Portugal, a predominantly Christian (Catholic) country. Mozambican
Muslims could thus not accept Portuguese dominance as definite. The struggles,
especially in northern Mozambique and Mombasa, were frequent, the first episode being
the 1498 skirmish with Vasco da Gama (1469-1524) and his men. Muslims in Angoche,
Sangage, Matibane, and Mossuril, as well as the coastal area facing the islands of
Querimba, have a long history of insubordination towards Portuguese rule. Many were
the disputes of the Muslim clerics questioning the authority of the Portuguese, secular as
well as religious, as in the case of the missionaries working in the area.
Just like what was happening in the rest of the Muslim world, during the 1950s
and the 1960s of the twentieth century, many Mozambican Muslim men, upon
completing their pilgrimage to Mecca, would then spend a few years abroad, particularly
in Egypt, Tanzania, Oman, and/or Saudi Arabia, thus having the chance of receiving a
baccalaureate or completing advanced graduate courses in Arabic and Islamic Studies.
Unfortunately, though, this was their only training and expertise in this area.
As for Islamic literature available to Mozambican Muslims during the colonial
regime, though inspired by and drawing upon the Qur’ān itself,
it can easily be divided
into four categories, namely: textbooks, religious books, doctrinal books for the general
The bulk of these publications were published in Cairo, Bombay, and/or Lahore, some of them were
written solely in Arabic, whereas the majority was usually accompanied by a facing English, Swahili,
Hindi, or Urdu translation and commentary accordingly to the edition and language of interest.
public, and doctrinal books aimed at training imams, khātibs,
muftis, and other Muslim
clerics or officials.
In Porto Amélia, as well as elsewhere, the madrasas, open also to Mozambican
young girls and women, were centers where people could become literate in Arabic as
well as in their native tongue(s), though for the most part written in Arabic script, yet
modified to adjust to the phonetic inventory of the African language(s). Copies of the
Qur’ān could in fact be found in the most humble hut throughout the colony and verses of
the Qur’ān were usually carried by people in their pockets or purses.
Needless to say, Islam was a unifying force for all Mozambican Muslims, uniting
them to the rest of the Islamic community worldwide, the universal ‘Ummah of believers.
It is here that resided and resides today the unity of Islam in Mozambique.
The first two books written in a language other than Arabic published in Lourenço
were Ta-Alimo Din, or rather, “Your Faith,” written in Shironga, and Zado
Sabil ilah Darul-Djalilo/Farnel para a jornada do caminho da casa de Alá, “Provisions
for a Day’s Journey to Allah’s House,” written in Portuguese. Today, the situation has
not changed much. Islamic religious literature in Portuguese as well as the local African
languages is still very scant. Of particular interest is a small (prayer) book published in
Lourenço Marques (Maputo) in 1967. The Kitab-us-Salat, or rather, the Book of the
Prayer, is an interesting publication since it introduces the most important prayers,
extracted from the Qur’ān, that will enable believers to perform well their religious duties
as well as, and more importantly, to seek solace and guidance in the moments of need.
Though usually performed by the prayer leader, the imam, the Friday prayer, the Eid prayer, and the
sermon at the mosque could also be delivered by a different person, in this case the khātib, or rather, he
who delivers the khutbah, i.e., the sermon.
After Independence (June 25, 1975), renamed Maputo (1976).
Its intended audience is the believer, young as well as adult. The aim is to “trazer
benefícios para os jovens e adultos.”
The Kitab is written in Portuguese with Qur’ānic
verses in Arabic, most of the time accompanied by their transliteration in Latin characters
as well as their translation into Portuguese. Of particular interest are also the many
commentaries and suggestions given in order to overcome some of our daily difficulties.
During the 1950s and 1960s radio stations from Egypt, Moscow, and New Delhi
began transmitting in Arabic with the specific purpose of spreading Islam in sub-Saharan
Africa. Furthermore, Egypt was also producing records in Arabic teaching the Arabic
language as well as Islamic tenets (Sunnah as well as, though to a lesser degree, Shia’).
All these “new” ideas were thus reaching Mozambican Muslims. We should also add
here the first Qur’āns being translated into the local African languages, as in the case of
Until the early 1960s, Islam, Sunni as well as Shi‘i, did not have an indigenous
representation in Mozambique. For example, the Ajauas living in the Lago district
(Nyasa province) had to report to the grand mufti of Baghdad, via Nairobi. The coastal
towns in Northern Mozambique, instead, had to report to Muscat, in Oman.
As for Sufi orders, the Qādiriyya (locally known as Cadria) appeared/appears to
be the most followed in Mozambique, especially in the northern areas of the former
Portuguese colony, though the Shadhiliyya Yashrutiyyah (locally known as Chadulia)
were/are also numerous.
Both Sufi orders were/are vehemently opposed to Wahhābi
Kitab al-.salah. Lourenço Marques [Maputo]: Ibn Ruschd, 1967. 4.
Kurani Tukufu pamoja na tasfiri na maelezo kwa Kiswahili. Nairobi: E. A. Ahmadiyya Muslim Mission,
1953, and Al-Qur’an Al-Hakim. Qurani takatifu. Nairobi: Islamic Foundation, 1969.
The Qādiriyya is a major Sufi order. It is named after the Hanbāli preacher ‘Abd al-Qādir al-Jilāni
(1077-1166), buried in Baghdad. Though not very popular within the Islamic world, the Qādiriyya is the
first major order in the history of Sufi sects. Nevertheless, it spread throughout the Near and Middle East,
India, Pakistan, and parts of Africa, as in the case of Mozambique. The Shadhiliyya, instead, named after
Just like in other parts of the region, particularly Tanzania and
Kenya, also in Mozambique the introduction of the Sufi orders “was followed by
religious reform. The emergence of the new Sufi Orders was a response to socio-political
changes in northern Mozambique.”
Mozambican Muslims communicated with the
Muslim centers of Cairo, Mecca, Baghdad, Lahore, and New Delhi via Dar-Es-Salaam,
Zanzibar, Nairobi, and/or Mombassa. In other words, Mozambican Islam looked at
Kenya, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and/or Pakistan for religious inspiration
and guidance. At times, though, these Sufi orders, as they were gaining ground within
the younger generations, often “challenged the old Islamic authority linked to chiefly
power, especially of the mainland [and beyond], by establishing the authority of learning,
centered on knowledge of the written Islamic sources.”
However, despite the ever-
increasing power and prestige of the Sufi orders and their charismatic leaders, the Middle
East and Asia in general still played a decisive role in the spiritual life of many
Mozambican Muslims who looked at their Islamic centers as a source of inspiration,
Abu al-Hāsan ‘Ali al-Shadhili (1196-1258), is a major Sufi sect, very popular in North Africa, Saudi
Arabia, and Syria, though divided into many different branches and subgroups. It has a direct or semi-
direct link to Medina. Apparently, it reached Mozambique in the aftermath of Muhammad Ma’roof bin
Shaykh Ahmad ibn Abū Bakr’s visit to the then Portuguese colony. A famous reformer, Sheykh Abū Bakr
(1853-1905), originally from the Comoro Islands, is hailed for having brought the Shadhiliyya order to East
Africa. For further information, please see: Álvaro Pinto de Carvalho. “Notas para a história das confrarias
islâmicas na ilha de Moçambique.” Arquivo: Boletim Semestral do Arquivo Histórico de Moçambique 4.10
(1988): 59-66, and J. Spencer Trimingham. Islam in East Africa. Oxford: Clarendon P, 1964. 98.
Wahhābism: a conservative, reform movement begun by Muhammad ibn Abd-al-Wahhāb (1703–1792),
a Saudi religious scholar and theologian.
For further information, please see: Fernando Amaro Monteiro. O Islão, o poder e a guerra.
(Moçambique 1964-1974). Porto: Universidade Portucalense, 1993. 249.
Liazzat J. K. Bonate. “Dispute over Islamic Funeral Rites in Mozambique. A Demolidora dos Prazeres
by Shaykh Aminuddin Mohamad,” in Le Fait Missionnaire Social Sciences & Missions (2005): 41-59. 43.
Particularly the island of Zanzibar which, on April 27, 1964, united with Tanganyika to form the
Republic of Tanzania.
Liazzat J. K. Bonate. “Dispute over Islamic Funeral Rites in Mozambique. A Demolidora dos Prazeres
by Shaykh Aminuddin Mohamad,” in Le Fait Missionnaire Social Sciences & Missions (2005): 41-59. 44-
spiritually as well as culturally, trying to find a model to follow and to adopt, though, in
order to do that, they had to “dispose of” the colonial subjugation.
For this reason, in 1961 the Portuguese colonial regime began exploring a
possible way of enacting sociopolitical measures against the growth and expansion of
Islam within Mozambique.
However, in order to do so, Portuguese officials and
civilians living in this colony had to be reminded of the “danger” of Islam. According to
some surveys, the Portuguese colonial regime could observe that most Portuguese living
in Mozambique had accepted the fact that Islam was part of the way of life, spiritual as
well as secular, of at least in the northern/north-central half of the colony. It was
therefore necessary to break this “inertia” and call for a more decisive role against the
eradication of Islam/Islamic influence in Mozambique which, since it was Portuguese, it
“had to” be and remain Christian, or rather, Catholic, Portuguese, and Western. There
was also hope that Western culture, technology, and wealth could also aid the Portuguese
in this task. In other words, Portugal was hoping that, with the gradual transformation of
the territory into a more “modern” colony—or rather, westernized—the native population
who gravitated around Islam, either by conviction or because of convenience, would
eventually opt for Christianity (Catholicism), since the latter religion would then be
associated with modernity, culture, and wealth. On the other hand, Islam would then be
linked to backwardness and all sorts of impediments towards the wellbeing of the people
and the colony/nation. It was important to convey this message: Islam wanted that
Mozambique be Dār Al-Islam, (“the land of Islam”), or rather, a Muslim land,
Arab/Arabized, and Oriental, thus not a modern, African, yet Portuguese and Christian
For more information on this matter, please see: Bradford G. Martin. Muslim Brotherhoods in Nineteenth
Century Africa. Cambridge: CUP, 1976.
(Catholic), land. The Portuguese regime also hoped that modernization and the gradual
westernization of the world would inevitably bring to a halt the advancement of Islam in
sub-Saharan Africa. However, there was the fear that Islam could easily adapt itself to
modernity, thus gaining new impetus to face and respond to the new challenges. Hence,
the Portuguese, who carried “na alma, desde a origem, o espírito de Cruzada anti-
had to be “ready” for imminent Muslim attacks:
Por enquanto o Islamismo dos nativos moçambicanos
integrou-os na comunidade islâmica, deu-lhes o orgulho de
serem maometanos [muçulmanos] e a força da resistência
passiva inquebrantável ao domínio português. Já lá vai o
tempo da simples resignação (islam). Não é improvável que
se aproxime a fase da guerra aberta. Os espíritos estão
preparados. Todas as atitudes desfavoráveis dos
portugueses se vêm guardando em compressão de
recalcamento. Resta dar-se a explosão.
In order to “reduce” Islamic presence in the territory then, the Portuguese had to
be educated about Islam: the religion, the history, and its people and way of life. In other
words, how could they fight “the enemy” within their colony if they did not know
it/understand it completely? The Portuguese had to be educated about its origins, its
history, its presence in the Middle East, Asia, and, most of all, in sub-Saharan Africa, as
in the case of the East African coast, including Mozambique. It was believed that a
general apathy towards Islam, coupled with the fact of absolute ignorance about this
subject, made Portugal literally vulnerable and open to cultural as well as physical
“In their souls, since the birth of their nation, the spirit of anti-Islamic Crusades.” -[translation provided
by the author].
Albano Mendes Pedro. Influências político-sociais do islamismo em Moçambique. Lisbon: Centro de
Estudos Políticos e Sociais da Junta de Investigações do Ultramar, 1961. 16. “Up until now Islam of native
Mozambicans has become part of the greater Islamic community, giving them of sense of pride of being
Muslims as well as the strength to resist passively to Portuguese domination. The days of simple
resignation are gone (Islam). It is not improbable that we are thus approaching the open war phase. The
spirits are prepared. All unfavorable attitudes of the Portuguese are harboring sentiments of resistance. All
we have to now is to explode.” [translation provided by the author].
“attacks.” Moreover, the colonial regime believed that the Portuguese living in
Mozambique were only concerned about their own pockets, or rather, they were
completely “indiferentes a tudo o que não sejam lucros materiais”
. The Church,
Portuguese as well as international, despite its invested interest in converting souls, also
invested greatly in expanding the Christian faith in Mozambique. It was thus believed
that there was a need for more and better qualified missionaries who, in a sense, could
back up and enhance the work done by the Portuguese administration. Yet, Mozambique
only had “um punhado de missionários, pobres de recursos de toda a ordem.”
needed, instead, “pessoal missionário bem habilitado”
that could teach and educate
people, religiously as well as culturally, thus setting a more visible and tangible example
for Mozambicans to follow, with the hopes that they would eventually “abandon” or not
“choose” Islam as their way of life, willingly or culturally.
Political independence opened the doors for Mozambican Muslims to establish
the Conselho Islâmico de Moçambique (Islamic Council of Mozambique), known for its
reformist ideas/ideals, and the Congresso Islâmico de Moçambique (Islamic Congress of
Mozambique), with a tendency of fostering Sufism. Obviously, there were also Shi’i
groups, particularly Ismailis, though in small numbers and usually confined to Muslims
with an interest in or who claimed ancestral ties with areas of the world where Shi’ism
“Indifferent to everything that did not carry material gain.” [translation provided by the author].
“A handful of missionaries, who lacked all sorts of resources.” [translation provided by the author].
“Well-qualified missionaries.” [translation provided by the author]. Albano Mendes Pedro. Influências
político-sociais do islamismo em Moçambique. Lisbon: Centro de Estudos Políticos e Sociais da Junta de
Investigações do Ultramar, 1961. 17; 21-22.
and its branches are/were stronger, as in the case of Iran, Afghanistan, as well as parts of
Oman, Iraq, Pakistan, and India, oftentimes via Nairobi.
Given their relatively geographical proximity, the Malay Muslim community of
Mozambique—as in the case of the João Belo, Ressano Garcia, and Maputo areas—
should be considered as a natural continuum of the Malay South African Muslim
communities, particularly from the Durban district.
One of the most important Islamic scholars in Mozambique today is Sheikh
Aminuddin Mohamad who, besides his many books and editions, including a sira
(biography) of the Prophet Muhammad, also writes weekly commentaries in local
Mozambican newspapers, as in the well-known Diário de Moçambique. Schooled in
both Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, Sheikh Aminuddin Mohamad spent a year in Lisbon,
leading the Islamic community of Lisbon, then returning to Mozambique where he began
his outstanding career as leader of the Mozambican Islamic community. Sheikh
Aminuddin Mohamad was also instrumental in establishing an Islamic publishing house
as well as founding Islamic libraries attached to mosques and/or Qur’ānic schools, as in
the case of the Biblioteca Bait al-Hikmah at the Mesquita Anuaril Isslam and the
Biblioteca Fiazul Islam at the local Malhangalene mosque. Known public figure and
leading authority on Islam in Mozambique, currently Sheikh Aminuddin Mohamad is the
president of the Conselho Islâmico de Moçambique as well as the president of the
Conselho dos Alimos de Moçambique (Mozambican Council of ‘Ulama).
The last two decades of the twentieth century have thus been instrumental for
Islam in Mozambique. Though still a minority religion, Islam has shown a constant
Among the Mozambican Muslims of (mixed) Indian and/or Pakistani origin, usually with strong business
ties with the Indian sub-continent and Pakistan, stand out the Monhés. For more information, please see:
Frederico José Peirone. “Correntes islâmicas moçambicanas.” Ultramar 13/14 4.1-2 (1963): 43-53.
increase, in numbers as well as public image, awareness, and acceptance. It has thus
shifted from a coerced religion of the colonial and early independence times to a faith to
which people are proud to belong and fight for its rightful assertion within Mozambican
Nevertheless, despite this enormous progress, especially if we take into
consideration the fact that Christianity and traditional African religions are still leading
the way when it comes to physical numbers of actual believers, Islam has yet not reached
the much sought after status and prestige. Only a few members of the Muslim elite are
actually (well) integrated into modern Mozambican society, whereas the great majority of
Muslim men and women, because of their low socioeconomic status, find themselves still
struggling for the basic day-to-day needs, let alone a rightful recognition of their religious
rights or needs.
As early as 1977, FRELIMO, the Marxist Leninist leading party, instituted an
antireligious policy that tried to curtail religious freedom, regardless of the faith or
denomination. These restrictions hit extremely hard the Muslim population. After three
years of unsuccessful and mainly counterproductive policy, FRELIMO opted, instead, for
a proscribed hence, contained, manifestation of religious freedom within Mozambique.
In 1983, the Ministério de Justiça (Ministry of Justice) was in fact responsible for
overseeing all religions and religious activities within the country. As for Islam, the
Conselho Islâmico (Islamic Council) and the Congresso Islâmico (Islamic Congress)
were thus created.
The relative freedom of worship and, consequently, proselytizing gradually led to
the proliferation of groups interested in incorporating their religious beliefs in other
spheres of their lives. This was particularly true for Islam which by now had a more
permanent and visible voice in all facets of life, including politics. In 1994, and for the
first time in Mozambique, Islam entered the political arena with the birth of the Partido
Independente de Moçambique (Independent Party of Mozambique).
Also in 1994, in the aftermath of the first multiparty elections, José Ibraimo
Abudo was appointed Minister of Justice (1994-1999; reappointed 1999-2004) who also
had to oversee all foreign relations with the Muslim world. A practicing Muslim and an
active member of the local Muslim communities, Ibraimo Abudo was also well known
and respected abroad, particularly in Muslim countries; hence, he was a perfect candidate
for creating a link with the Islamic world and, through this, strengthen the sociopolitical
and economic ties with most of the Muslim world.
Though ideal, this situation did not last long. Through time, FRELIMO tried to
return to its ancient policy, or rather, to limit or drastically reduce the influence of
religion in life, particularly over politics:
[…] Frelimo entered into an alliance with Muslims in
Mozambique in 1994, an alliance which partly collapsed
between 1999 and 2004. Frelimo had incorporated Muslims
of all origins into its lists in the first multiparty and first
municipal elections, but after 1999 and 2003 the party only
integrated secular Muslim political representatives—in other
words, men and women who were not linked to national
Muslim organizations, who obeyed party discipline, and who
did not attempt to introduce aspects of their religion into
This “political discrimination” against all religions, particularly Islam, is in effect
very detrimental to the overall unity of a religious community. In other words, it fosters
Eric Morier-Genoud. “A Prospect of Secularization? Muslims and Political Power in Mozambique
Today.” Journal for Islamic Studies 27 (2007): 233-266. 252.
divisions, tensions, and, in the long run, exacerbates old (religious) rivalries and/or
grudges, as in the case of the Sufi or the Wahhābis.
Though for the first time since independence from Portugal Mozambican Muslims
could count on a more visible and active presence in Mozambican society, because of the
specific political framework established by FRELIMO, apparently inflexible when it
comes to allowing religion into the political arena, Islam in Mozambique has yet to
conquer equal footing and status when compared to Christianity. Perhaps the very fact
that most Muslims today in Mozambique, because of their increased social standing and
projection within the country, do not consider themselves as a minority, will one day help
solve and overcome this social impasse.
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