In a bid to preserve the history of Islam in the southern African country, one of Malawi’s accomplished Muslim scholars has published a book to clear misconceptions about Muslims in the secular, but diverse religious nation.
"Footprints of Islam in Malawi the result of extensive research I have carried [out] over the years on the introduction of Islam in Malawi, which has to a larger extent, [cleared] some misconceptions believed by some quarters of the religious community in the country and elsewhere," Abdul Razzaq Fattani, a Malawian of Indian descent, told OnIslam.net.
"This noble effort aims at preserving the Islamic historical account in Malawi, keeping in mind that the old generation is facing extinction, paving [the] way for a new generation who will not be aware of our past. It is, therefore, our duty to inform them about our history and [set] the record straight on issues which are often misunderstood," Fattani added.
"During my research, I found a lot of information [inaccurately] recorded by previous writers, neither had they portrayed a true picture of Islam and [Malawian] Muslims. By the grace of Allah (SWT), I have corrected this distortion."
In the book, which is the first of its kind, Fattani outlines factors preempting many Muslims from seizing the opportunity to attain a secular education during the period when Malawi had just become a British protectorate.
"Many people have given reasons which are not true as to why Muslims couldn’t attain secular education in large numbers as compared to their Christian counterparts. When Malawi became a protectorate, the colonial government did all it could to wipe the presence of Islam from the land," he said.
"Muslims were forced to adopt Christian names and Muslim youths who had attempted to enroll in missionary schools throughout the country were forced to renounce their religion and become Christians. This led many Muslim parents to keep their children from attending school."
As a result, many within the Muslim community were deprived of an opportunity to access secular education.
"This desperate attempt to preserve our religion worked to our disadvantage. But nobody regretted. We had looked at secular education as a ploy by the missionaries to kill Islam by enticing us to attain secular education in their schools."
Fattani explained that due to the stand taken by Muslim communities to shun secular education offered by the missionaries, Muslims were completely sidelined in administrative activities of the day-to-day running of the colonial government.
"This treatment continued even after [Malawi was granted] independence as a nation in 1964; [from that time] we have been outside [the] government. We are always at the receiving end," he told OnIslam.
"It [was] fear of complete alienation of Muslims from the nation that prompted some Muslim leaders to set up the Muslim Central Body of Education, which provided a plethora of opportunities for Muslims to access both Islamic and secular education.
"The body awarded bursaries to needy Muslims to pursue education. This marked the turning point in an attempt to keep away the influence of missionaries from the Muslim children attending secular education."
"It is thus, in appreciation and recognition of these efforts," Fattani said, "that our Muslim scholars and leaders played in the formative days of Islam in Malawi, who, with little resources at their disposal and under very difficult conditions, had defended Islam and preserved it for upcoming generations. This book also aims to pay tribute to all individual Muslims and organizations who strived and suffered for the sake of Islam in the country."
A graduate of Karachi University in Pakistan, Fattani has, among other things, taught Islam in Mozambique for many years.
Islam [was] the first religion to be introduced in Malawi around the 15th century by Arab and Swahili traders.
"These people were not preachers. They were just traders. But to their exemplary behaviors, a lot of people joined Islam. They managed to introduce many people to Islam because they were of good standing and sociable. They never used force or any form of inducements," Fattani added.
Malawi is a secular, but diverse religious nation. Islam is the second largest religion after Christianity. Muslims account for 36 percent of the country’s now 16 million population.
"As Malawians we should endeavor to put on record every development which unfolds in our religion. We are fighting against Islamophobia, where every attempt is being made to wipe our Islam from the face of the world, therefore, recorded history will stand the test of time and no amount of effort [can] distort it," Fattani concluded.
Scores of historians, Muslim scholars and academicians have lauded Fattani's book describing it as a "fine piece of literature."
Muslim scholar and academician, Dr. Imran Shareef Mohammad said the footprint of Islam in Malawi has turned a fresh page in the history of the religion.
"It is good material; [an exemplary] piece of literature which pools together what various players have done towards the growth of Islam in the country. This is material which has to be treasured within the Muslim community as it brings [to] light [many of the] misconceptions," Shareef told OnIslam.net.
"This book endeavors to bring to [document] issues which were kept away from the knowledge of many. It tells us where we have come from, [how we arrived], and where we are today."
Concurring with Shareef, renowned academician and historian, Dr. Desmond Dundwa Phiri highly praised the book claiming, "it has [revealed] hidden facts."
"This is a valuable piece of historical material. It has provided some facts which were hidden. We are now able to know what led to what through this book," Phiri told OnIslam.net.
"My appeal to Muslim scholars is that there is [a] need to intensify efforts to publish as many books as possible. History can be deliberately distorted if it is not recorded. It is very hard to erase what has been written for years.
"Some religions have managed to sell people half-truths which have been believed. They have managed to do this through various publications. Muslim scholars ought to do the same to preserve history and tell the truth."
Fattani confirmed that additional efforts will be intensified to enable Muslim scholars to publish as many books as possible in order to tell the true story of Islam in Malawi.
He added: "There is need to put our history in a book and scholars have a daunting task to do this. A published work will accord generations to come, an opportunity to follow how Islam has progressed in our time and how much effort [has] been applied towards its growth.
"It is my prayer that this book becomes a textbook to be used in schools[throughout] the country. Those learning [the] history of this country should know and appreciate how Islam came into being in Malawi and how much Muslims have contributed towards its growth.
"This is my humble gift to the nation and it is my hope that [it receives] national recognition."