100 Years Ago… – West African chiefs’ interest in Islam, and similarities in Indian and West African beliefs

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Al Fazl, 22 December 1921

Hazrat Maulvi Abdur Rahim Nayyarra (1883-1948) 

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A chief’s message

I have mentioned in the last letter that four days of my [tabligh] tour were very significant. I have already mentioned two of them. Now, I will give the details of the third day, which are as follows:

On the morning of 2 October [1921], I had to leave the village where I had to fight bedbugs all night. The representative of the landlord, or the village’s chief came [to me] and said, “The landlord and several other chiefs of villages wanted to hear your sermon.” The request was fulfilled and the message of Islam was conveyed. The humble villagers listened to it attentively. After the sermon, guiding a group of unclothed boys and girls, and walking for two miles through the ups and down of the route, I finally reached Omahene, i.e. the headquarters of the paramount king of Gomoha.

Inviting paramount king of Gomoha nation to Islam

The name of this town is Ogwan and the chief is called Omahene, i.e. paramount king. His house is magnificent. In his procession, there is an army of gunmen and a band of trumpets and drums. He is considered a very influential man in the Fante region. He is highly respected on the governmental level. The governors personally visit him to seek advice regarding their successorship. It has been 39 years since the said chief took the throne. Arriving at this place, I prayed to Allah the Almighty to bless my words so that they may influence his heart. I, along with my associates, reached that special place that was prepared for the occasion. The tables were laid out on both sides. The elders and the chief sat on one side and the servant of the Promised Messiah [Nayyar Sahib] and members of the Ahmadiyya Jamaat took a seat on the other side. The chief walked to my seat and paid respect with the help of an interpreter. Thereafter, […] the true message of the Promised Messiahas was conveyed to him. The said chief listened to it with love and attention. After [the sermon], a meeting was held in private and the misunderstanding between an Ahmadi chief and the paramount chief was removed. There were some problems in the construction of the mosque in Asham that were resolved.

Thereafter, the chief requested for another sermon to be delivered to his elders and that the Islamic injunctions be presented to them in detail. The request was gladly accepted.

The said chief attended that gathering with great respect while wearing an Islamic dress […], which is usually worn by Muslims here. He expressed admiration for Islam in every way. He took a part of the Holy Quran and [the book, The Philosophy of theTeachings of Islam from me and ordered his clerk to regularly read them to him. From the apparent character of that old man, I have come to the conclusion that he is reluctant to convert to Islam because of his habit of drinking; otherwise, he is a Muslim by heart and his leaders are also ready [to convert to Islam].

Up Ma Ji

Observing the Fante language and Fante rituals, a sketch of the idolatry of India comes to mind. Hence, when I take bai‘at and say, “O my Lord”, the interpreter says “O Mehuraje”. When I leave, shouts of “Pood” are heard. When I ask their names, they say the name of the day of the week on which that man or woman was born. I have continuously pondered over these accounts and words. I think “Mehuraje” is from “Maharaj” and “Pood” is for “Jee O”. Naming people on the names of the days of the week is a popular custom in India. Surprisingly, in India, except for Tuesday, other names are seldom used. However, this is not the case over here. Kofi (Friday), Komi (Saturday), Kosi (Sunday), Kojo (Monday), etc., are common names. Moreover, if you look at the rituals of the idolaters here, they are similar to the religion of India.

Consequently, when I left Ogwan and passed through tallgrass, which was nearly the height of a man, with one Adam in front and the other Adam behind me (i.e. two Ahmadis whose names were Adam), along with the associates of a long caravan which were passing one by one through the narrow path of the forest, I saw an arched doorway made of tree branches. I stopped there and asked the interpreter who the Adam was behind me. “What is that place?” I then asked the other Adam in front of me as to what it was. 

The Adam in front was not from that area, so another person answered from behind in Fante, “Up Ma Ji”, which was translated to me as […], “This is the deity who always stays in its place and sits by the water and protects the people. This god is the protector of the idolaters.” In the said [phrase], Up and Ji [appears to be] from Hindi and Ma [seems to be] from Arabic. 

Considering the said similarities between the Brahmanical religion and the aforementioned deity, our friend Mahasha Krishanji, the editor of Prakash would have concluded (if he had the courage to propagate the Vedic religion in these countries), that some sages must have come here to propagate the Vedic religion and people later made an idol.

However, looking at the entire situation and the shapes of the idols, I have come to the conclusion that this is the ancient idolatry of the country of Egypt, which came to India through Misr or Mishar, i.e. the Brahmins who became disciples of the Egyptians, and they still retain this memory. Idolatry was spread in these countries through the Egyptians in the past as well.

Caravan on the road

After walking through the forest for three miles in the sun, when we reached the royal road, everyone was tired and hungry. At that point, on the side of the road, like an army camp, we all lay down to straighten our backs. The number of associates was counted there and it was 60. I could see the signs of companionship on their faces. Then, the provisions’ box was used as a table and [baking] soda biscuits were served, alhamdulillah.

(Translated by Al Hakam from the original Urdu in the 22 December 1921 issue of Al Fazl)

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