A brief account: By Suntou Touray
Like other West African tribes that embraced the religion of Islam in the 10th century AD or even well before then, the Mandingos were no passive Muslims. Their conversion into Islam from historical record indicates that of embracing the faith by free will.
In this short historical narrative, I will trace the periods that the Mandingos accepted Islam and their role in its spread in other regions. This short historical piece is necessary as a counter and brief response to the Christian missionary who is active at present in targeting the Mandingo speaking people with effort to convert them into Christianity.
Close observers have come across the active missionary activities geared towards influencing the Mandingo people to abandon Islam and Accept Christ. Their effort is an age old struggle and the missionary is well aware of the difficulty that lies ahead in exposing the Christian faith to the Mandingos.
Mandingos who are monitoring these developments have come across websites that tries to convey the message of the bible in the Mandingo language. Others before them have tried to persuade the Mandingo tribe into accepting Christianity but ended up in failure. The current age is that of technology whereby messages can be embedded in different articles either to inform or mislead.
The Christian Missionary is aware of the difficult task ahead, but since they belief that salvation is only attainable through Jesus Christ and that the bible extol them to pass the good news to every corner of the earth. That task to them is noble and rewarding; therefore, the Mandingo which happens to be stubborn is the face of continuous missionary onslaught wouldn't be let off easily.
The short response to the missionary and their host is therefore to highlight to them, the history of the Mandingo tribe in regards to Islam and why their efforts will continue to be fruitless.
The Home of the Mandingos:
Mali Empire arose after the fall of Ghana Empire. In 1559 Ramusio describe his encounter with the Mandingos in Mali and the general wellbeing was narrated in detail. Windwood Reade (1873) describe of the Islamic nature of the Mandingos in Mali. For detail on his accounts look for the (African sketchbook Vol. 1 Page 303). In the book Reade emphasis the active missionary nature of the Muslim Mandingo. This goes to explain that, Islam reached the Mandingos without force.
The Kano Chronicle confirmed that, Islam reach the Hausa tribe through the Mandingos, the time range according historian Palmer (1908) was between “A.D 1349-1385” the information is contain in ‘the journal of African society Vol. IX P.161’. The Hausas like the Mandingos are identified with Islam mixed with their respective traditions.
The legend of Mansa Musa and his pilgrimage to Mecca instil in Mandingos a pride of glorifying the message of Islam. Mansa Musa whom some oral historians referred to as Kankan Musa Touray commissioned the famous mosque in Timbuktu. That mosque is a source history and pride for Mandingos and early Mali muslims.
The Mandingo culture like other West Africans was full of superstition in many kinds. Preaching a message to them about God having a son will only trigger a straight forward rebuff. It is rather better for them to go back to age old customs of venerating the dead and the ancestor’s spirit than taking the son of God as his co-equal.
The Mandingo language itself although rich with words and phrases has borrowed a lot from the Arabic language in matters of religion. These borrowed words are used in every day conversation to such an extent that, speakers hardly remember the origin of the words use. Words like Jumo, Salo, Allah, Ameen, and many more words or statements with religious connotations are Islamic is reference.
To abandon the Islamic faith means, cutting chunk off the tradition and language, which all proud Mandingos would never contemplate. Also the fact is that, Mandingos have encountered Christian missionaries in the Gambia during the colonial days. The marabout fighters during the Soninke Marabout war did engage the British, that makes them bold and determine to fight even more according to a British colonial governor d’Arcy (1863).
The attempts to offer Christianity to Mandingos will hardly work since the life style and customs have become so intertwine with Islamic ideals, that adopting another faith entails de-linking with the community.
Another issue why recent designs wouldn’t sway the Mandingo to accept Christianity is the fact that, the concept of God in Christianity is less clear than even in paganism. One vital aspect of the classically deep rooted Mandingo society is that; many would swore to restore to their sonninke roots by drinking alcohol in an unlikely event that an undesirable incidence happen that disrupt their faith than find console in Christianity as a source of strength for the misfortune. Islam to a Mandingo is like his culture, his tradition, bits of his language and now his social tool.
Furthermore, the mosque became a source of history and pride where every matter is discussed from the happy occasion to the sad.
May God keep us on Islam. Ameen.