Islam came to Africa with traders and the “religious experts”that travelled with them. Its route was trans-Sahara, running through tropical Africa, North Africa and the Mediterranean to Europe, and across the Red Sea into Arabia and the Middle East. As early as the 8th century, Islam had converted a number of nationalities, for instance the Berbers, who became Muslims and became traders like the Arabs. These new Muslims plied their trade down to Niger and Ghana; a similar role was played by Hausa and Yoruba tribes in West Africa. Arab and Persian traders reached East Africa and settled there as local aristocrats, taking local black wives and giving rise to cultures called variously Shirazi, Zeilawi (Arab plus Somali and Afar) and Swahili (Arab andBantu).
Some thought that Islam was better suited to the African mind because the African mind was not suitable for sophisticated metaphysics; since Islam is sensual and materialistic it is easily accepted by the African mind. Some of us might find that insulting but advocates of Islam in Africa have said it. Be that as it may, Islam didn’t stop slavery that had begun in 200 BC and Islam struggled in vain against it. A companion of the Prophet (pbuh) Abdur Rehman bin Awf freed 30,000 slaves at his death-bed. The Prophet (pbuh) himself set an example when he purchased Abyssinian Bilal ibn Rabah and set him free. Sudan, which means `place of the blacks’ – and applied to a larger region in those days – became the slave-rich region for Muslim traders after the conquest of Egypt in 639 AD. Modern Kenya and Tanzania were trawled by them, the region being called Zanj, which gave rise to the other name for slave: zangi . African slaves abounded in medieval Baghdad and Damascus and their presence was so widespread that it gave rise to a sexually “defensive” male Arab mentality revealed in AThousand and One Nights .
The black slave permeated Muslim life to the extent that kings began siring children on black women and giving rise to “slave dynasties” and an entire Mamluke empire was established by them. In1882 a Muslim Arab slaver in Africa admitted that fifty per cent of his”catch” died while travelling in chains from the interior of Africa to the coast. Dr Livingstone in Africa calculated that each slave that went to the Arab-Islamic world was actually ten slaves to start with. Muslim historian Ibn Khaldun noted that all of North Africa then ruled by Muslims was filled with black slaves, captured mostly by fellow-African Berbers who had converted to Islam. What the entrepôt of Muslim Egypt did to all parts of Africa could be compared in its savagery to what the Belgians did to Congo later on. Egypt exported them to all parts of the world, including Europe. Mecca itself became a market, and if you went for hajj in those days, you brought back a slave or two.