Islam in Malawi

Islam is the second largest religion in Malawi after Christianity. Nearly all of Malawi's Muslims adhere to Sunni Islam.[1] Though difficult to assess,[2] according to the CIA Factbook, in 2008 about 12.8% of the country's population was Muslim;[3] such a lower figure is rejected by Muslim organisations in the country,[4] who claim a figure of 30-35% (which is described as "wishful thinking" by Christian missionaries).[5] According to the Malawi Religion Project[6] run by the University of Pennsylvania, in 2010 approximately 26% of the population was Muslim, concentrated mostly in the Southern Region.[7]


Islam arrived in Malawi with the Arab and Swahili traders who traded in ivory, gold and later on slaves beginning from 16th century to the 19th century. It is also argued that Islam first arrived in Malawi through traders from the Kilwa Sultanate.[8] Two Muslim teachers, Shayhks Abdallah Mkwanda and Sabiti Ngaunje, also played an important role in the spread of Islam.[9] According to UNESCO, the first mosque was built by Swahili-Arab ivory traders.[10]

During the colonial era, the authorities in the country feared that Islam posed the greatest threat, as an ideology of resistance, to their rule.[11] This view was shared by Christian missionaries, who greatly feared that Islam could unite Africans in hostilities and uprisings against colonial rule.[12]

The 1970s witnessed the start of an Islamic revival among Muslims in Malawi, as well as among Muslims across the globe.[13] Recently, Muslim groups have engaged in missionary work in Malawi. Much of this is performed by the African Muslim Agency, based in Kuwait. The Kuwait-sponsored AMA has translated the Qur'an into Chichewa (Cinyanja),[14] one of the official languages of Malawi, and has engaged in other missionary work in the country. There are thought to be about 800 jumu'ah mosques in the country, with at least one or two to be found in nearly every town.[15] There are also several Islamic schools[16] and a broadcasting station called Radio Islam.[17] A major Muslim center of learning exists in Mpemba, outside of Blantyre, funded mainly by money from Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.[18]

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