AS early as the 8th century, Islam was introduced into West Africa by Arab merchants, who travelled through the trans-Saharan salt and gold trade routes.
Later, Muslim scholars would accompany them, and were instrumental in constructing mosques and centers of learning along the routes. Besides, the traditionally nomadic Hausa and the Fulani moved around all over West Africa, taking their Muslim beliefs to places such as present-day Ghana as also Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Cote d’Ivoire, Togo, Benin, southern Nigeria and Cameroon. Embracing Islam by local inhabitants was however a late happening probably by 11th century. It was a gradual process. The empires of both Mali and Songhai that followed ancient Ghana in the Western Sudan adopted the religion.
Islam made its entry into the northern territories of modern Ghana around the 15th century. Traders and scholars from Mande or Wangara tribes carried the religion into the area. Some local scholars believe that Islam reached Ghana through daawa workers who came from the neighboring African countries. They observe that many of Ghana’s daawa workers got their Islamic education in mosques, adding that the mosque in Ghana was playing a prominent role in the lives of Muslims. According to Sheikh Hassan Khalid, a prominent Ghanaian Islamic Daawa activist, Islam reached through Daawa activists who visited the country from the neighboring African countries, whose sole aim was to spread Islam to their neighbors.
Despite the spread of Islam in the Middle East, North Africa, and even in Nigeria, Ghanaian Muslims and Christians have enjoyed very good relations.
Under the guidance of several organizations like the Muslim Representative Council, matters pertaining to religious, social, and economic issues affecting Muslims were often redressed through negotiations. The Muslim Council has also been responsible for arranging pilgrimages to Makkah for believers who can afford the journey.
The Daawa activists of Ghana are now focusing their attention on the Muslim youths, so as to prevent them from going astray, and lead them toward the proper path and the correct Islamic practices.
Dawa activists face the problem of lack of resources, and this has made it impossible to acquire new and modern methods and equipment to spread the message of Islam. These include printing presses and other communication equipment.
There is another organization, the Islamic Bureau for the Disabled and Service to Islamic Institutions, based in Accra, Ghana, that provides services and help in the area to anyone, regardless of race, religion, or ethnicity. In the true spirit of Islam they provide immediate aid to the disabled, financing their schooling and pressing needs. It provides wheel chairs and monthly support. It also lends assisting hands in building new mosques, hospitals, schools, wells, educational complexes for both Muslims and non-Muslims communities in Ghana and organizes events to present the true message of Islam.
Out of its population of 20 million, Ghana’s Muslims account for 45 percent. However, according to the census figures, out of Ghana’s 18.8 million people, Muslims constitute 2.9 million, representing a mere 15.6 percent.
According to Sheikh Seebaway Zakaria, a spokesperson for the Coalition of Muslim Organizations, the final figures contained serious flaws and as a result could not be used as reliable data for planning and projecting the country’s development agenda. The Coalition once protested the government statistics. In 2002 too, the group rejected the final figures of the 2000 Population and Housing Census released by the Statistical Service of Ghana, saying that the figures for the number of Muslims in Ghana was under-reported. It cited CIA statistics, according to which, the population of Muslims in Ghana is 30 percent of the population, while Christians comprise 34 percent, and followers of traditional African religion, 38 percent.
In all metropolitan areas and in many other cities in Ghana, especially in areas with a large Muslim population, there are now Islamic or Arabic schools offering primary, junior secondary and senior secondary education. However, most Muslim parents still send their children to state schools or private Christian schools. The more liberal of these schools show respect for the Muslim students among their ranks, for example by allowing Muslim prayers in their boarding houses or by opening or closing PTA meetings with a Muslim prayer. These developments are quite recent; this may explain the economic and technological gap between Muslims and non-Muslims.
— Dr. Hashim M. Ali Mahdi is author of An Islamic Odyssey.