Lecture 17: Introduction, Hausa, Tiv
Course: Introduction to Islam
Lecture: Introduction, Hausa, Tiv
Folk Islam is a popular expression of Islam which has synthesized indigenous beliefs and customs into the religion. Two expressions of this in Nigeria are the Hausa and Tiv.
A. Great Qur’anic Passage #10: Imrams Surah 3:7
Turn to Surah 3 ayah 7. I think this beautifully illustrates a lot of what we have already been talking about so far in the class. This is in the chapter called “Imram.” By the way, that is an interesting point. Why is it called “Imram?” Do you know who Imram is in the Bible? Exodus chapter 6 verse 20. Moses’ father was known as Imram. Notice that this, though, does not say “Imram” but “Imrams” plural. The Qur’an teaches that Imram is the name of both Moses’ father in the Old Testament as well as Mary’s father in the New Testament.
Muhammed in the Qur’an confuses Miriam, the sister of Moses, with Mariam, or Mary, the mother of Jesus. Because Muhammed gets into a big fix on this, he contradicts himself by confusing Miriam and Mary; so he resolves it by arguing that both Miriam and Mary had a father named Imram, and both had a brother named Aaron. So that is how they deal with that. That is why it is called the Imrams, plural.
This is the chapter that deals with the battles of Badr and Uhud. Remember, we talked about their paradigmatic battles. This chapter opens up, as they all do, but with Surah 9. In many ways, this is a classic passage to look at. It opens with a quotation from the Decalogue, “There is no God but him.” This sounds a lot like, “You shall have no other gods before Me,” the whole continuity thing with Deuteronomy 5:7. It even has the whole confirming the scriptures passage there. He is revealed through the book with the truth, confirming the scriptures which preceded, for he has already revealed the Torah and the Gospels. This is classic stuff about the continuity that we discuss so much.
Look at ayah 6 and 7, it is interesting. Ayah 6: “It is he, Allah, who shapes your body in your mother’s womb as he pleases.” That is interesting, isn’t it? Because this is a passage which talks about Allah shaping the fetus in the womb of the mother. This has been a text used by Muslims in the discussion in the Muslim world about abortion. But that is not why we are looking at this text. We have brought this text actually for ayah 7, that is why I wanted you to look at this. “It is he who has revealed to you the Qur’an. Some of its verses, or ayahs, are precise in meaning, they are the foundation of the book; and others, ambiguous.” Does everyone have the translation, “ambiguous” there? Do some people have “allegorical?” Or maybe even the word, “unclear?” “Not entirely clear, allegorical, ambiguous.” Those are three translations right in this room.
That is exactly the point I want to make. You actually will find that this is the verse that these sectarian groups in Sufism are referring to, saying that Allah is
purposely giving verses in the Qur’an which are allegorical, ambiguous, known only to those who are special saints or whatever. Therefore, they are revealing it through their own meditation. They claim that this was part of Allah’s plan. Those whose hearts are infected with disbelief follow the ambiguous part, so as to create dissension by seeking to explain it. That proves that Muhammed was already fighting against novel interpretations of the Qur’an in his own day, at least it implies that. No-one knows this thing except for Allah. They latch onto this. “Allah has given us the true insight in this text.” You can see right here in ayah 7, there is a battle already going on between orthodox and potential innovation in interpreting the Qur’an.
What we want to look at today is actually more of the African face of Islam, what happens when we begin to go into sub-Saharan Africa and some of the influences we see of Folk Islam around the world.
B. Defining Folk Islam
To define ourselves a little as we go into this, you can see that critical to my whole view of missions is the importance of Christians relocating to parts of the world where people have less access to the Gospel. As you can see in the graphic, the lighter blue is 50-75% of the people who have not heard the Gospel; the darker blue, 75-100% of the people who have not heard the Gospel. That is a dramatic visual sight if you think about someone who lives in North America on the East Coast of the U.S. What are the implications for this kind of difference between here, 0-10%, and in China, 25-100%. So part of missionary work involves relocating to where people do not have access to the Gospel or have less access to the Gospel.
I define a missionary as someone who crosses a cultural, linguistic or social barrier to assist in bringing access to the Gospel to those who otherwise would have insufficient access to the Gospel. So I ask questions like, “Are there national believers that should be doing the job? Is there a viable church? Do we need to help train in discipleship to help the church become viable if it is less than viable?” To me, that is what missionary work is. There is a trend today of course, as you are well aware I’m sure, for churches to define almost everything as mission work. I personally make a big distinction in evangelism and mission work. Both of them are vitally important, just like preaching is important, teaching is important. There are all kinds of tasks the church is involved in; but we don’t confuse the basic issues of what is a missionary.
You are already aware of course of the 10/40 window; but you cannot help but be impressed by the dominance of Islam in the 10/40 window. This is where 97% of the least evangelized countries are located in this particular place, 75% of the world population. If you were to take the 10/40 window and slightly tilt it to the southward to encompass Indonesia, you would virtually encompass the Muslim world. It is unbelievable the significance of the Muslim presence in the 10/40 window.
You take a place like India, which has over one-hundred million Muslims, even though on the chart they are muted by the presence of seven-hundred million Hindus. Don’t forget the presence of Muslims all across this band. This is a particular need, we have to pray that God would raise up Christians to relocate and to target through prayer and missionary activities, Muslims in the 10/40 window.
Another factor that we talk a lot about, but haven’t in this class yet, is the concept of a gateway city. Just in case you are not familiar with the concept, let me explain what a gateway city is. Rather than talk about unreached people groups by the thousands without the Gospel, what some missiologists have done is to instead talk about gateway cities. For example, if you had a major breakthrough of the Gospel in Istanbul, - Instanbul is a gateway city - it would have implications for this entire region. The Turkish people of Central Asia would be dramatically influenced if there was a legitimate movement to Christ by Muslims in Istanbul. So in many ways, by targeting Istanbul you can strategically potentially reach vast numbers of Turkish people. Likewise, a place like Cairo, Cairo is a gateway city. Cairo is extremely influential.
So in the Muslim world in Africa you have gateway cities. In the 10/40 window in Nigeria is the city of Kano. Kano is right in Hausa land, it is a gateway city to West Africa. We do not have time to go into the history of Kano, but much of West Africa has turned upon various conflicts and political movements that have arisen in Kano. Therefore it is considered a very, very important city throughout Islamic Africa, which continues down the East Coast especially. There are other really important, critical cities. There is Mogadishu, obviously very important.
I want you to look at this graph carefully. This graphic says a lot, there is a lot here. Essentially the green color means it is a Muslim majority country. Don’t
worry about the light, less green because that just means it is mainly a desert area, sparsely populated. From our point of view, it is not really a relevant point. The main thing you notice is that you have in the green the whole of North Africa, which is massively Islamic. The whole of South India is predominantly Christian.
I hope you are not color blind because my wife, bless her heart, has many wonderful qualities, but seeing green and yellow is not one of her abilities. To her, these colors are identical. If you will notice, this is why I mentioned that we have Islam, which continues down the whole East Coast of Africa. Again, because of the connections with the Middle East, you can see obviously Muslims came across and evangelized into that part of Africa. The Southern part of Africa, the missionaries John van der Kemp and eventually Robert Moffett and Moffett’s daughter, Mary, David Livingstone and you have this continued push up from the south by Western missions. Without going into the history of African Christianity, essentially the Southern part became Christianized, the Northern part became Muslim. The middle blue band represents predominantly indigenous Africans in primal parts of Africa that are neither predominantly Christian or Muslim.
II. Islam in Nigeria (part 1)
What you should notice for our purposes is Nigeria. Nigeria is really important because it actually mimics the entire continent. Nigeria is actually almost shaped like Africa as a country. More importantly, in the north you have strong Muslims; middle belt, animistic, primal peoples; southern part, more Christian. That is a very important point because it gives you a little microcosm of Africa in Nigeria. Nigeria is a great place to study the interaction of Christianity in Islam. There are many other reasons why it is important, but we will stop at that point. What we want to focus on today is a case study in Islam in Africa, particularly with Nigeria.
To show you another point from our point of view, this is a different graph that shows where Christianity is growing in Africa. What you will see, of course, is that in the extreme north, above the Sahara, Christianity is not growing at all particularly. So when you read about all of these dramatic conversions to Christ in Africa, of course, we’re talking about certain parts of Africa. You can see that in the middle belt part of Africa, especially the dark blue and this lighter blue, this represents significant Christian growth in Africa. So it is happening in the middle heart of Africa, is where most of this evangelical growth is occurring. That is significant.
Of course, Nigeria is a part of this. Nigeria is having rapid Christian growth, which means Nigerian Christians are really having major interactions with the animists in what is called middle belt Nigeria and the more hardcore Muslims to the north, which means it is a great case study for mission work, for bringing the Gospel, especially to Muslims in Nigeria. These are Nigerians bringing the Gospel to other Nigerians. So it is a really important place for us to look at and talk about what is happening because what happens in Nigeria in many ways is reflected throughout the continent.
We are going to be doing a case study on contemporary Islam. Hopefully, you have an idea where Nigeria is in West Africa. By the way, Nigeria is the most populated Black country on the whole continent. In terms of sheer numbers, nobody else even comes close to Nigeria. This is a major country. In fact, 2030 Nigeria will become the third most populated country in the world, behind China and India. That is how fast Nigeria is growing in terms of sheer numbers. In terms of sheer numbers, Nigeria if it continues at its current rate, will be third behind China and India, which means it will surpass the United States and surpass Russia, which are currently ahead of it. That is a lot of growth. So Nigeria is a rapidly growing country.
Also, don’ t forget that you cannot judge population by size. You have vast countries like Greenland and huge countries in Africa where there is sparse
population and places like India. If you look at a map, India is not that large, it is about a third the size of the continental United States, yet there are a billion people.
In this case study we will examine a little more carefully what happened in the various regions of Nigeria. We are going to be looking at four people groups in Nigeria. These are our basic research questions that we want to ask. We are going to ask: What has been the response of these four groups to Islam? What can we learn about how Islam interacts with peoples in Africa?
What you will find is that the conclusions that we come to are widely applicable to Islam all over the world. Therefore, rather than trying to do a survey of so many different places, if we do something in Nigeria, I think we will find ourselves well equipped to talk about what happens with Folk Islam.
Folk Islam I am defining as already spelled out. Folk Islam is a popular expression of Islam which has synthesized indigenous beliefs and customs into the religion. Folk Islam is frequently a result of a process whereby the universal qualities of Islam make an accommodation with the particularistic qualities of local regions and cults. This is our case study.
I have argued in this class that essentially 70% of Muslims around the world are involved in some kind of Folk Islamic practice. If that is true, that represents a tremendous number of people who are influenced by Folk Islam. Those who practice Folk Islam do not necessarily recognize that their kind of practice is in any way aberrant or outside of normative Islamic structure. So we are not necessarily dealing with bizarre Sufi movements. This is a little broader kind of discussion than we had last time. Folk or a popular expression of Islam can occur concurrently with other forms of Islam, which we discussed, Sufism or various tariqas within Sharia, Shia or Sunni Islam.
What I have tried to do is more extensive research of the situation in Nigeria. I spent a year of my life studying Islam in Nigeria, not historically so much as
contemporarily. What does Islam actually look like in Nigeria? I spent time in Nigeria and I did my masters thesis on this topic. I spent a lot of time trying to
understand what Islam actually looks like in a place like Nigeria; and again, how this applies to all over the continent and in fact, indeed in places like India,
Indonesia, China, other parts of the world that have large Muslim communities.
We are going to highlight four people groups, which I hope you can find on the map.
The first are the Tiv. Then we will look at the Maguzawa, which is the extreme northern part. Then the Yoruba on the far western side of the map. Then the
Hausa. We are going to explore how each of these groups responded differently to a process we call Islamization.
Islamization refers to the process whereby a group gradually accepts and eventually embraces Islam as their heart religion. That would be an ideal path of
Islamization. A group gradually accepts and eventually embraces Islam as their heart religion.
We want to try to decide whether or not this process, A. Has it happened in Africa? Are there examples of truly Islamized peoples? B. Secondly and perhaps I think more importantly, is the process a process that one can assume happened among peoples that are influenced by Islam? That really is the more important question. In other words, once Islam gets a foothold in a people group, is Islamization a natural corollary? Is it just a matter of time before this group becomes fully Islamized?
I have some descriptions that I use to label these four people groups. We will see overtime what I mean by these.
Tiv. I am calling the Tiv a “closed traditional religionist group.”
Maguzawa: I am calling the Maguzawa an “open traditionalist religionist group.”
Yoruba: The Yoruba I’m calling an “Islamic veneer.”
Hausa: The Hausa I’m calling an “Islamized core.”
All four of these groups have in some way been influenced by Islam, either historically, culturally, religiously or spiritually. But the first two groups, as we will see, continued to call themselves “traditional religionists.” The latter two groups will call themselves “Muslims.”
We need to describe what has happened with each of these groups. I think in order to go at this in a better way, we will start with the more ideal situation,
starting with the Hausa, the fourth group on this list and work our way through this in a way that gives you the full spectrum of what we’re looking at.
B. Historical Summary/Theological Analysis (part 1)
We are going to begin by looking at the Hausa. The area in the north is what we call “Hausa Land” in the extreme northern part of Nigeria. Because of the connection of Nigeria physically to North Africa, once you cross the Sahara Desert, one of the first places you reach is Nigeria. The contour of the Sahara changed a lot over the years, so it is not necessarily the same today as it was in the thirteenth century. Nevertheless, it is believed that traders that came across the Sahara began to enter in to Nigeria in the second half of the fourteenth century. Merchants, clerics, probably from Mali, came across into Nigeria.
There is a very famous archeological discovery known as the “Kano Chronicle. ”It is in the city of Kano. Why is Kano important? Gateway city. This is one of many examples of what an important role Kano plays in the history of West Africa because this Kano Chronicle was found in Kano and Kano has a long history of being a major center for study and record keeping. I will quote it: “In Yaji’s time, the Wangarawa” – the Wangarawa is a term for these clerics or immigrants, like itinerant preachers we would say – “came from Melle” – that is Mali, we believe – “bringing the Muhammadin religion.” That is an interesting expression, by the way. Muhammadin religion is not a term we use today, but it was widely used in the ancient world. In the Muhammadin religion, about 40 in all, when they came, they commanded the Sarki, that’s the rulers, to observe the times of prayer. A mosque was built with the sacred tree facing East and prayers were made at the five appointed times.
No-one doubts that this record does go back to the fourteenth century. The question is, whether or not this record is describing precisely what happened.
According to this, you have 40 people who come. They command and observe the times of prayer. They build a mosque which has a qibla facing East and everyone starts praying five times a day. It sounds a little romantic to me, but nevertheless, that is the story that is told here. It could be that the Muslims in the area wanted to really picture this in a very beautiful way, the way Islam came, peacefully, quietly and a great response. We do know that by the nineteenth century, the practice of Islam did not at all look like this. The Muslims claim that it degenerated into again, Folk Islam. There was concern among Muslims about the way Islam was being practiced in sub-Saharan Africa.
You have to be privy to the fact that this was a time when essentially it was prior to the time we call the modern missionary movement, in the sense that this was before the days of William Cary. But this is still a time when you have Protestants in missions around the world, in Moravia and others. The Muslims are aware of the pressures already on Christian witness, not to mention Catholics, who already for two centuries have been seriously involved in missionary work around the world in the sense of missions.
The Muslims in the nineteenth century agree to initiate a major reform movement in Hausa Land. That is to say, there were Muslims plotting who say,
“We need to purify the practice of Islam in Northern Nigeria.” This was led by a very famous man, Usman dan Fodio, dan Fodio is probably the most famous Muslim in the history of Nigeria. Even ordinary people in Nigeria, non-Muslims, know about Usman dan Fodio who in 1804 initiated a jihad against Muslims in Hausa Land.
At this point, I think you can appreciate the implications of this kind of thing. This is an 1804 movement where Muslims are declaring war against Muslims. This is a civil act within the Muslim community. This is not the kind of da’wah, jihad distinction we made earlier, about what you do when you encounter non-Muslim people and people of the book versus pagans and all of that. This is a very different kind of thing. This is using the language of jihad to address and to rebuke and to essentially militarily confront other people who already call themselves Muslims.
I will again quote from dan Fodio. The reason he called a jihad as a cause, “They will not abandon the customs which their forefathers practiced and they persist in pagan practices.” dan Fodio is a proud Malakite. He wants the Muslims to practice what will purify some of Islam. They want to create a more pure expression of Islam in Nigeria. The result of this successful jihad by dan Fodio is that this Northern Nigeria becomes what I call “Islamite to the core.” That is, a much more pure, recognizably orthodox expression of Islam emerges in Northern Nigeria, as it is to this day.
In this case we have in Hausa Land a place where Islam not only is a religious reality; that is, people there are following Islam the way you would find other
major Muslim parts of the world; but also culturally they have widespread adoption of Muslim cultural habits and dress and food and everything. I spent
time in Hausa Land, especially after being in the South. I was actually in Port Harcourt teaching. I traveled up to Kano by plane and I traveled throughout
various cities in Hausa Land. It was a different language up there, by the way. They speak Hausa up here. They speak Igbo down here. They speak Urhobo over here. So there are three different major languages. It is like you are going into a whole other culture. Suddenly you are among people who are much more thoroughly Islamized. Right now, one of the interesting things that has been happening in the news, even as we speak, is – they don’t call it jihad - but
essentially military actions in Northern Nigeria to make Sharia law completely consistent throughout the whole of Hausa Land against non-Muslims and
Christians and others who are in Hausa Land.
This is a process which is very profound in Hausa Land. I would say that essentially, if you look at the number of Muslim student groups in Hausa Land,
the Malakite tradition there, the commitment to Sharia law, the cultural and religious and especially orthodox Islam; then I would say that this represents a place where Folk Islam has not been very successful in Africa. Again, obviously Muslims will not accept anything outside of Arabic speaking people. I would say the vast majority of Muslims would be proud of Islam as it looks in Hausa Land. It is not an embarrassment to people who are more fundamentalist in their thinking about Islam.
Notice on the map. The Tiv are located just south of Hausa Land. There is a little space between them and there are Tiv people that go all the way up to the border. This is the very heart of Tiv Land.
These people in modern-day Nigeria number about three million Tiv who live in this area. The problem with the Tiv in Nigeria is that they are sandwiched
between a fairly strong Christian population in the south and this very strong Islamic presence in the north. They are caught, more or less, in between these two factions in Nigeria.
I have called the Tiv closed traditional religionists. This is the absolute opposite extreme of the Hausa in Nigeria. The Hausa Tribe Islamized the Tiv since the fifteenth century. But the Tiv developed a highly developed tribal culture and it fiercely resisted all pressures of Islamization. In fact, several anthropologists have called the Tiv the most ethnocentric people in the world. That says a lot, because there is plenty of ethnocentricity around the world.
I had the experience when I was in Tiv land at a big mining pit in Nigeria where years ago they had dug. They dig these massive holes in the ground to dig out the ore and various precious metals; and Nigeria is full of it. This was an abandoned mine and it had filled with water mostly. I don’t know how much water, but it was a long way down. You go to the edge and look over this cliff, it is a long way down. I went to the edge and looked over the edge. This is really a deep pit. This Tiv came up to me and was talking. I had been interviewing him along with a number of Tiv, they knew who I was. He said to me, “Jump! Jump!” I was like, “You’re crazy, I’m not going to jump.” I really felt scared, I didn’t care how much water was down there. Unless you are on one of these Indian divers or something, I just can’t do that. I said, “What are you talking about?” He immediately leaps off. Luckily he splashed and a few minutes later he comes up and he laughs, like “in your face.” I thought, “Wow, these Tiv are amazing people.”
The story is told in Tiv land that when the first European ever came to the Tiv, one of the Tiv came to the European and said, “Is it true that Europeans are
immortal?” This is widely believed by Africans, that Europeans are like gods, partly myth, partly true, but people believed this. This European foolishly said,
“Yes, true.” He immediately felt an arrow in the heart and fell over dead. The Tiv talked into the air and said, “I didn’t think so” and walked off. This is the kind of people we are talking about. These are tough cookies. This is told by J. R. Gibbs in the book called, “Peoples of Africa.”
The famous anthropologist Paul Bohannan and his wife spent years studying the Tiv and they published this book entitled, “Tribes Without Rulers.” The Tiv is one example of a tribe in Nigeria without rulers. It is a very complicated structure of leadership and how things are done in the society. It is what is called, “segmented opposition.” If you study anthropology, you know what that means. If not, don’t worry about it. It is a form of societal governance that anthropologists find very rarely in the world.
These people break all kinds of molds. These people are like the platypus of the African people. They do no really fit anything. This is why it is so important. The Tiv have decided, culturally speaking, they cannot stand the Hausa. They feel culturally attacked by any Hausa influence. Therefore, they are saying, “We will never be whatever the Hausa are.” If the Hausa were Buddhist, they would not become Buddhist. They might become Muslim, they would not be Buddhist. They will not be whatever the Hausa are. It is not that they have all these objections to Islam per se. It is, they have objections to Hausa, being whatever the Hausa are. In fact, when I interviewed the Tiv about their rejection of Islam, I got this answer more than any other when I asked them, “Why did you not accept Islam as a people?” The number one answer was, “Because we have never been conquered.” That gives you a little insight into how they are thinking. To them, to become Muslim is to be conquered in some way as a people.
There are people in the world who feel the same way about Christianity. That is why it is very important. To them, it is a cultural issue. “I cannot culturally become a Christian because it means I am being defeated in some way.” You could be a Josh McDowell in the flesh, walking around with every apologetic answer, that is not the issue if you convince them in that way.
So to accept Islam for a Tiv is tantamount to renouncing one’s own identity and culture. That means that for an ethnocentric people, if you were to ask me, “What is the likelihood of a Tiv becoming a Muslim?” I would say it would be a near impossibility from a pure human point of view. That is a very important point because this is showing that the peoples of Africa are very different and what motivates them is very different. But in the case of the Tiv there is a cultural objection to Islamization, not a religious one.
The interesting thing about the Tiv, in passing, is that the Tiv have also been resistant to Christianity, but they never really identified Christianity as culturally alien to them, per se. Their objections to Christianity were more what we call standard theological. They have not really been able to grapple with some of the theological issues of Christianity because a lot of the people who brought Christianity into Tiv were actually not westerners. But they still were resistant because they are part of their own national religion.
To this day, Tiv as a rule are adamantly opposed to Islam, generally very widely accepting of their traditional religion. But we are seeing some amazing turning to Christ among the Tiv in pockets. It does show you that the situation that Christianity faces in Tiv land is a lot different than the Muslim faith in Tiv land. In fact, as more Tiv become Christians, then I think the barrier will become less and less for Christians. But you simply don’t find Muslims among the Tiv.