LILONGWE – Despite its minority status, the influence Islam has been widening on Malawi’s cultural and socio–economic aspects over the past years, setting a phenomenon and a model to other religions in the largely Christian dominated Southern African nation.
“Since its introduction, about two hundred years ago, Islam has over the years become so influential,” Sheikh Ahmed Chienda, one of the country’s renowned Shariah scholars, told Onlslam.net.
“Malawians of diverse religious persuasions have been influenced, culturally, socially and economically. We have touched the national hood of Malawi as a religion.”
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“We could be in a minority, but our influence on various aspects of life has been very phenomenal and that needs not to be over emphasized. Islam has emerged as a model to other religions. We are a religion that dictates how life ought to be lived. That’s the reason it’s called the way of life,” Chienda added.
The Islamic effect was reaching out to different aspects of life.
For many years, circumcision was been restricted to Muslims only, but now it’s become a common practice among Malawians of diverse religious beliefs to go for circumcision.
“Over the years, Christians resisted our teachings on circumcision, but today, they have embraced it wholesale as the only sure way to be clean and prevent sexually transmitted diseases, where possible, to us this is a breakthrough,” Chienda said.
The widening phenomenon has even affected the government which, in collaboration with the world Health Organization (WHO), launched a voluntary campaign for male circumcision.
“We have through our teachings advanced for circumcision. Today, every religion has accepted our teachings on this. This shows how much influence Islam has become in Malawi on various aspects of life” said Chienda.
Malawi is a secular nation with diverse religions. Islam is the second largest religion in the southern African country after Christianity.
Official statistics suggest Muslims constitute 12 percent of the country’s 14 million people, but the umbrella Muslim Association of Malawi (MAM) puts the rate at 36.
Circumcision is a confirmed Sunnah in Islam as an act pertaining to fitrah (pure human nature).
The practice is also mandatory for Jewish males according to biblical texts.
The World Health Organization has estimated that nearly one in three males under 15 is circumcised.
Concurring with Chienda, Dr. Imrah Shareef Secretary General of the country’s supreme Muslim Body, Ulama Council of Malawi, said economically Islam has influenced the country’s economic progress throughout the path of its 50 years of independence.
“For over 50 years, the country’s economy has been controlled and driven by the Muslim community, who has invested in various business undertakings,” Shareef told OnIslam.net.
“Through these undertakings, the community has employed people of other faiths.”
According to Shareef, the Arab Muslim traders who introduced Islam to the country have cultivated in Malawians of all religious beliefs and the culture of entrepreneurship.
“This is how far Islam has gone to influence the economic direction of Malawi over the years,” said Shareef.
The country’s National coordinator of the Halal Department of the Muslim Association of Malawi (MAM) Sheikh Salim Chikwatu said that through the halal concept, which advocates for strict hygienic food standards, Islam has become a “huge influence” in the country.
“It’s becoming extremely difficult for business people in food industry who are not adhering to the halal concept to make a mark in their businesses,” Sheikh Chikwatu told OnIslam.net.
“Malawians of all faiths have now embraced fully this concept. This is a clear indication that Islam has become an influential religion in this regard in the country,” he added.
On promotion of decency in dressing Chienda said, Islam has gone far a head of other religions in the country for maintaining a “proper dressing code” especially for women.
Recently, the hijab has become a common form of dressing among Muslim women in the country.
“Muslim women today in Malawi have become role models. They have become symbols of decency, courtesy of the dressing code Islam has promoted for women over the years since its introduction,” Chienda said.
“This dressing code has even compelled women of other faiths to embrace Islam, so that they should dress in Islamic way.”
Despite challenges Islam has experienced over the years, Chienda is very optimistic that the religion will remain a way of life for the majority of Malawians in the country.
“We have gone through numerous challenges since time immemorial, but we remain very optimistic and determined to make Islam become a way of life for Malawi,” said Chienda.
“We will continue to wield much influence to take the country to order religiously or otherwise.”
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