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History of Islam in Nuba

Islam entered Africa shortly after its inception in the seventh century AD. After the death of Muhammad, the rasul, or "messenger," and prophet of Islam, in 632, the first caliph ("deputy of the prophet") of Islam, Abu Bakr, ambitiously undertook a series of military conquests to spread the new faith across the world. Although he died two years later, his nephew, Umar, continued the ambitious program. In 636, the Muslims occupied Jerusalem, Damascus, and Antioch; in 651, they had conquered all of Persia. But they also moved west into Africa, for Arabic culture saw itself as continuous not only with Middle Eastern culture, but with northern African culture as well. In 646, the Muslims conquered Egypt and quickly spread across northern Africa. From northern Africa, they invaded Spain in 711. Look at the dates: Islam is founded in 610 when Muhammed has the first of his revelations in the caves above the city of Qumran. In 711, one hundred years later, the Muslims conquered the Middle East, Persia, the Arabian Peninsula, northern Africa, and had just entered Europe. The initial spread of Islam is the single most dramatic cultural change in the history of the world, and it loomed large in the subsequent history of African civilizations.
   The largest African cities and kingdoms were located in the Sahel, a desert and savannah region south of the Sahara. After 750 AD, these cities and kingdoms arose because they served as waystations and terminus points for the trade routes across northern Africa. The northern Africans, however, were Muslim; one particular people, the Berbers, were a north African people who were fervently Muslim. The Berbers and their wars of conversion figure very large in the history of the Sahelian kingdoms; by the 1300's, these large kingdoms became Islamic and, more importantly, centers of Islamic learning.
Beyond religion, there are several important cultural practices that the Arabic culture of Islam gave to Africa. The first is literacy. Egypt and the Nilotic kingdoms of the Kushites and the Nubians had long traditions of writing, and the Ethiopians had acquired it through their ties to the Semitic peoples of southern Arabia. But these writing systems did not spread throughout Africa. Islam, however, as a religion of the book, spread writing and literacy everywhere it went. Many Africans dealt with two languages: their native language and Arabic, which was the language of texts. However, this gradually changed as Africans began using the Arabic alphabet to write their own languages. To this date, Arabic script is one of the most common scripts for writing African languages. With literacy, the Arabs brought formal educational systems. In north Africa and the Sahel, these systems and institutions would produce a great flowering of African thought and science. In fact, the city of Timbuctu had perhaps the greatest university in the world. Islam also brought social fragmentation. As the faith spread throughout Africa, political authority of established African institutions and kingdoms began to collapse under the burden, when groups of Muslims declared holy war against pagan social groups.
Ayyubids & Mamluks .Their role was not restricted to defending Islam against the Crusaders and Mongols; they also played a great part 11 in spreading it among the Nubians in the Sudan in the south and the Mongols of Kipchak around the Black Sea in the, north. Egypt in general has been concerned with the Kingdom of Nubia in the upper Nile. Nubians were Christians affiliated with the Egyptian orthodox church. They have been loyal to the Sultan of Egypt since the treaty concluded , with the Arab general Abdullah Ibn S'ad Ibn Abi Sarh in 30 A.H. (650 A.O.). However, they quite often raided upper ; Egypt by land and down the Nile, so the governors of Egypt sent forces to Nubia to enforce the Pactum convention. These campaigns encouraged some Arab tribes to settle there and to live among its people especially in the Al : Mrayyes area. Rabi'a Arabs, for instance, married daughters of Nubian chiefs and had material interests as a result of , the inheritance system there. So the Rabi'a became influential in the Aswan region and further south. Good relations developed between the Rabi'a and the Fatimids in Egypt. The Fatimid Caliph Al-Hakem bi Amr ; Allah sought their assistance in recapturing the Moroccan rebel Abi Rakwa when he escaped to Nubia. Abu al-Makarem, the Amir of Rabi'a arrested him and handed him over to the Fatimids who rewarded him with the title 'Kanz al-Oawla' i.e. The Treasure of the State, a title which they have maintained until today. They are the tribes who : were living in High Dam area. At the beginning of Saladin's reign, Nubian attacks on Egyptian territories were resumed and continued during the rule of the First Mamluk State. Punitive expeditions were sent during Saladin's Al-Zaher Baybars and Seif El Din Qalawum reigns. As a result the Nubian Kingdom became more and more Arabized and less Christian. By the mid-8th century A.H. (14th century A.O.) the Nubians embraced Islam; the Bani Kanz became kings and the tribute paid by Nubians was abolished.
In the middle of the seventh century there were two fully established kingdoms existing in the Nile Valley south of Aswan: Makuria in the north and Alodia to the south. The former occupied the territory from the First Cataract to the tributary called Atbara in the south, the latter stretched south of the Fifth Cataract all the way to the Ethiopian uplands. The actual border between the two has yet to be determined. Most likely in the late twenties of the seventh century, at a time when the Sassanids were in retreat from Egypt, Makuria incorporated the kingdom of Nobadia, which had existed independently since the fourth century.
From the mid sixth century the kingdoms of Nobadia, Makuria and Alodia had had strong ties with Byzantium and Egypt. They had accepted Christianity from missionaries sent by Constantinople. At Alodia, where Axum influence was already strong, missionary work was carried out after 580 by the first Monophysite bishop of Nobadia Longinus. In Makuria, the missionaries arrived straight from Constantinople. A bishopric with ties directly to the Byzantium capital was founded at Dongola in the mid 570s. The church of Alodia remained subordinate to the bishop of Alexandria right from the start. Makuria did not accept the superiority of the Monophysite patriarchate in Alexandria until the turn of the seventh century, when Merkurios was king.
The Arab conquest of Egypt changed the geopolitical situation of the two kingdoms dramatically. The raid that the second governor of Egypt, Abdullah abi Sarh, led against Makuria in 651/652 was nothing less than an attempt to subjugate the kingdom. The successful defense of the heavily fortified citadel of Dongola resulted in negotiations that led to the signing of a political and economic treaty between the parties (baqt), stabilizing the peaceful relations of Makuria with the caliphate for the next 520 years. Both Arabs and Makurians respected the border at Aswan, abided by their religious and cultural differences, established rules of travel and settlement, as well as a parity in trade exchange according to which Makuria supplied African slaves and goods, while the caliphate provided food and luxury goods.
The great rulers of eight-century Makuria, Merkurios and Kyriakos foremost, pushed through reforms introducing a new territorial division that granted the eparchy of Nobadia special importance in maintaining good relations with Egypt and the caliphate. The Church was also reorganized at this time. A number of new bishoprics was established: Qurta, Qasr Ibrim, Faras, Sai , Dongola and, finally, Termus and Sciencur. The last two has not been localized yet, but the general location was presumably between the Third and Fourth Cataracts. Kyriakos even cultivated closer contacts with the family of the reigning king of Alodia, which kingdom did not have a stabilized relation with the caliphate.
The seventh and eight centuries are a period of significant development in Makurian art, expressed in particular by a new type of cathedral that replaced the earlier sixth-century five-aisled basilicas. The Dongola Cathedral, the Church of the Granite Columns and the Cathedral of Paulos in Pachoras which was modeled on it, are all built on a central plan, but furnished with a columnar naos and narthex, and numerous side annexes. This type of cathedral, which was a creation of the Dongolan architectural milieu in the late seventh century, exerted a visible effect on the churches A and B in Soba in Alodia. Religious painting known from the churches of Makuria (Abu Oda, Abdallah Nirqi, Wadi es Sebua) but foremost from the Cathedral of Paulos at Pachoras, displayed a high level of artistic achievement combined with features of the local school which had grown under the influence of Egyptian styles and iconography adopted from Egypt and Palestine, if not also likely from Constantinople. This process can be recognized even more clearly in the murals decorating House A in Dongola. Civil architecture and the process of urbanization changing the face of Makurian settlements testify to the economic prosperity of the kingdom, the cultural and social aspirations of its subjects and their civilizational status.
A dynasty established in the thirties of the ninth century by King (Augustus) Zacharias ruled Makuria until the middle of the eleventh century. This period is frequently referred to as the golden age of Makurian culture. Resuming good relations with the caliphate loomed large on the new rulers' task list. The visit of the caliph's envoys to Dongola served this purpose, as did the official delegation to Baghdad in 836 of King Georgios I (Caesar), Zacharias' son and co-ruler. In Baghdad, he renegotiated the treaty (baqt), upholding all the principal tenets of bilateral political and economic relations. A further rapprochement between Makuria and Egypt took place in the Fatimid period in particular (9th-12th centuries). In the reigns of Zacharias I and Georgios I, Georgios II, Zacharias II and Zacharias III, the kingdom experienced rapid growth despite initial strife marring the reign of Georgios I (Nyuti's rebellion, conflict with el Omarim). New inspirations were especially well visible in Dongola. A new royal palace was erected in the capital of the kingdom, incorporating a throne hall situated on the upper floor (later Mosque). Also constructed at this time was the most monumental architectural complex in the kingdom - the Cruciform Church with its central dome. The building was designed in commemoration of Georgios's visit to Baghdad and became a symbol of the kingdom. The cathedrals in Dongola and Pachoras were renovated. The murals preserved from this period in the Pachoras cathedral are among the finest in the entire kingdom. Next to the grand compositions of Christ Enthroned, Nativity and Three Youths in a Fiery Furnace, there are countless representations of the rulers of Makuria, mothers of kings and the eparchs of Nobadia and bishops of Pachoras, the latter playing an exceedingly important role in the kingdom as primates of the Church. Smaller churches, such as the complexes at Abdallach Nirqi, Tamit and Sonqi Tino, provide many other examples of wall painting from this period.
The fall of the Fatimid caliphate in Egypt and the rise to power of the Ayyubids, as well as internal fighting between the Black Sultans and the Turks led to a cooling in Makurian-Egyptian relations. The expedition that Salaheddin's brother led against Makuria, which terminated in the taking of Qasr Ibrim and the garrisoning of troops in the fortress there for a period of several years, resulted in growing animosity. The baqt was forgotten. Despite the efforts of Moise Georgios of Makuria no peace was negotiated. The consequences were serious for the Nubian kingdom. Food imports from Egypt were reduced substantially, forcing Makuria toward greater agricultural self-sufficiency. The granary supervisor became one of the leading officials in the kingdom. Considerable effort was put in building new fortifications or refurbishing existing but neglected defenses. A progressive Nubianization of church and state administration occurred with Greek and Coptic losing preference as the official languages in favor of Old Nubian. All of the literature in the kingdom was translated into the kingdom's vernacular at this time.
Relations with Alodia were also strengthened, apparently by blood ties between the two ruling families. Royal marriages were facilitated with the restoration in the middle of the eleventh century of the principle of the son of the royal sister inheriting the Makurian throne. Strong royal authority diminished in the face of progressing feudalization, leaving the kingdom in the hands of an extensive group of local dignitaries drawn from the royal family and the state administration. The Makurian Church retained its strong economic position. The sons of the ruling king increasingly often became bishops and a number of the rulers spent the remaining years of their lives after abdication in monasteries, sometimes outside the kingdom. This obviously did not favor political stability within the state.
A declining economy did not at first impact Makurian culture, which continued to represent a high level of achievement. This was true of the architecture, even though the new religious structures were on a much more modest scale and the role of civil and military building had grown substantially. No trace of falling standards can be observed in Nubian painting of the period, as evinced by murals preserved in the cathedral at Pachoras, the N-W monastery annex in Dongola and numerous local churches. The twelfth century was hardly a period of decline in the art of Makuria, but there is no denying a spreading stagnation and a drying out of new inspirations. Dongola increasingly dominated the artistic life of the kingdom, one example of this being the intensive development of the monastery of the Great Anthony in this period. Bearing witness to the times is an extensive archive of literary texts, notarial documents and letters uncovered at Qasr Ibrim.
Strained relations between Makuria and the Islamic world marked the beginning of Mamluk rule in Egypt. An ill-advised attack on the port of Aidhab on the Red Sea and on Aswan in the times of King David triggered repressions on the part of Egypt. Open conflict could no longer be avoided in the reigns of the sultans Baybars and Qalawun. Mamluk troops took Dongola, Makurian economy suffered from looting, imposed taxes, and an administration in a state of havoc. Independence was lost with Nubian rulers depending heavily on Mamluk support to wield any kind of influence. All resistance crumbled under the weight of Arab military forays. A new threat appeared from the desert with the incursion of the Bedouin tribes, part of which settled in Makurian territory. Economical collapse was imminent with little chance for meeting imposed levies, anarchy grew. The ruler who inherited the Makurian throne in 1316 was a descendant of King David and a convert to Islam. In 1317 the throne hall of the Makurian kings was turned into a mosque. Further anarchy in the kingdom resulted in the death of the king. Makuria stopped paying tribute and Egypt ceased to meddle in the internal affairs of the kingdom.
In 1364, in the face of a threat from the Jaad and Akarima tribes, the king and his court fled Dongola. With assistance from Egypt the Nubians managed to stop these foraying tribes at the fortress of Gebel Adda, which then became the new royal seat. The territory of Makuria (Nubian Dotawo) shrank to the region between the First and Second Cataracts, originally the southern part of the kingdom with the main centers at Qasr Ibrim and Gebel Adda, and to Batn el Hagar. In the late fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, the territories situated south of the Third Cataract descended into ever deeper anarchy, considerable ethnic changes took place, church administration all but vanished. Alodia collapsed at about the same time, it, too, having been disrupted by foraying Bedouin tribes and subsequently subordinated to the new Funj sultans, whose authority in the sixteenth century extended even as far as the Third Cataract in the south.
To believe the evidence of documents from Qasr Ibrim and Gebel Adda, the kingdom of Dotawo (Makuria) in the region of the Second Cataract still existed in the fifteenth century. Its final collapse presumably followed the invasion of the Ottoman Turks who occupied the Nile Valley all the way to the Third Cataract. They established in this region two provinces with garrisons at Qasr Ibrim and on the island of Sai.
Nubians and Arabs
Contacts between Nubians and Arabs long predated the coming of Islam, but the arabization of the Nile Valley was a gradual process that occurred over a period of nearly 1,000 years. Arab nomads continually wandered into the region in search of fresh pasturage, and Arab seafarers and merchants traded in Red Sea ports for spices and slaves. Intermarriage and assimilation also facilitated arabization. After the initial attempts at military conquest failed, the Arab commander in Egypt, Abd Allah ibn Saad, concluded the first in a series of regularly renewed treaties with the Nubians that, with only brief interruptions, governed relations between the two peoples for more than 600 years. So long as Arabs ruled Egypt, there was peace on the Nubian frontier; however, when non-Arabs acquired control of the Nile Delta, tension arose in Upper Egypt.
The Arabs realized the commercial advantages of peaceful relations with Nubia and used the treaty to ensure that travel and trade proceeded unhindered across the frontier. The treaty also contained security arrangements whereby both parties agreed that neither would come to the defense of the other in the event of an attack by a third party. The treaty obliged both to exchange annual tribute as a goodwill symbol, the Nubians in slaves and the Arabs in grain. This formality was only a token of the trade that developed between the two, not only in these commodities but also in horses and manufactured goods brought to Nubia by the Arabs and in ivory, gold, gems, gum arabic, and cattle carried back by them to Egypt or shipped to Arabia.
Acceptance of the treaty did not indicate Nubian submission to the Arabs, but the treaty did impose conditions for Arab friendship that eventually permitted Arabs to achieve a privileged position in Nubia. For example, provisions of the treaty allowed Arabs to buy land from Nubians south of the frontier at Aswan. Arab merchants established markets in Nubian towns to facilitate the exchange of grain and slaves. Arab engineers supervised the operation of mines east of the Nile in which they used slave labor to extract gold and emeralds. Muslim pilgrims in route to Mecca traveled across the Red Sea on ferries from Aydhab and Sawakin, ports that also received cargoes bound from India to Egypt.
Traditional genealogies trace the ancestry of most of the Nile Valley's mixed population to Arab tribes that migrated into the region during this period. Even many non-Arabic-speaking groups claim descent from Arab forebears. The two most important Arabic-speaking groups to emerge in Nubia were the Jaali and the Juhayna. Both showed physical continuity with the indigenous pre-Islamic population. The former claimed descent from the Quraysh, the Prophet Muhammad's tribe. Historically, the Jaali have been sedentary farmers and herders or townspeople settled along the Nile and in Al Jazirah. The nomadic Juhayna comprised a family of tribes that included the Kababish, Baqqara, and Shukriya. They were descended from Arabs who migrated after the thirteenth century into an area that extended from the savanna and semidesert west of the Nile to the Abyssinian foothills east of the Blue Nile. Both groups formed a series of tribal shaykhdoms that succeeded the crumbling Christian Nubian kingdoms and that were in frequent conflict with one another and with neighboring non-Arabs. In some instances, as among the Beja, the indigenous people absorbed Arab migrants who settled among them. Beja ruling families later derived their legitimacy from their claims of Arab ancestry.
Although not all Muslims in the region were Arabic-speaking, acceptance of Islam facilitated the arabizing process. There was no policy of proselytism, however, and forced conversion was rare. Islam penetrated the area over a long period of time through intermarriage and contacts with Arab merchants and settlers. Exemption from taxation in regions under Muslim rule also proved a powerful incentive to conversion.
 Today, the Nubians are all Muslims. However, their traditional animistic beliefs (belief that non-living objects have spirits) are still mingled in with their Islamic practices.


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