Public Face of Islam in Kumasi
By Gracia Clark
Islamic Community in Kumasi
While not all Northerners are Muslim, the vast majority of Kumasi Muslims trace their families to Northern Ghana or across its northern borders to Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger and Northern Nigeria. Some families have resided in Ghana or even in Kumasi for generations, but converts from the local Akan population remain few. The oldest Zongo, or foreigners’ quarter, among major southern cities started here, and its impressive expansion into the New Zongo and other more distant suburban neighborhoods gives Kumasi’s Muslim community a unique importance in bridging the South and North, a key cultural and political divide in Ghana. Respect for this history gives their leadership a kind of seniority even with respect to the national Islamic organizational leadership, based in the national capital, Accra.
Public celebrations put Islam on display to the non-Muslim majority in Kumasi, but also to Muslims themselves. Observances of religious seasons, especially the fast of Ramadan confirm the unity of the Muslim community with massive parades and prayer gatherings designed to impress its members as well as bystanders. The same occasions enable Muslims to express and honor their diverse identities, showing loyalty to the Asante royalty, to ethnic leaders from Ghana and neighboring nations, and to competing religious authorities or teachers.
The emphasis within Islam on lifelong learning generates many institutions offering increased knowledge of Islam, open to men and women of all ages with or without formal education. These include formal and informal schools and study groups in a variety of venues, all increasing the public visibility of Islamic religious activities.
Finally, the daily family and occupational lives of Muslims are visible to all from the public streets. Being a good Muslim means living the tenets of Islam at home and at work. This not only ensures the person a good reputation within the Muslim community, but demonstrates the merits of Islam to the broader population. This individual virtue serves to bolster the pride and public image of Northerners as a whole and contradicts negative stereotypes still all too prevalent among Asante and other Southerners.