Public Face of Islam in Kumasi

By Gracia Clark

About Methods

The public image of Kumasi's Islamic Community provides an insightful view of Muslims' engagement with global, national and local political contestations. Through news media and tales from returned migrants, they are well aware of the widespread fear and hostility towards themselves and their religion in Europe and North America. As a longstanding minority within Ghana, established in Kumasi well before colonial conquest, Muslims take care to show pride in their own traditions and leadership. Their respect and loyalty to Asante chiefship institutions allows them to claim respect and support for Muslim leaders and community institutions from that indigenous majority, which remains locally and nationally prominent. At the same time, they claim full participation in modern political and economic arenas, which invoke aspirations to development, prosperity, formal education and cultural sophistication. Competing incentives to endorse a reformed, fundamentalist stream of Islam, based in Saudi Arabia, promote non-Western innovations that carry some of the prestige of globalization and modernity.

Public events and celebrations give a particularly sharp picture of the contestations and compromises of these competing ideologies, partly because they are consciously designed to do so. From August to December 2011 and on special occasions in early 2012, Gracia Clark coordinated the recording of many large and small celebrations in the Kumasi area. A particular feature is extensive video and still images of the city-wide parade held each year on Eid al-Fitr, at the end of the Ramadan fast. Muslim ethnic and religious leaders and visiting dignitaries of all kinds process from the Kumasi Central Mosque across town to the palace of the Chief of Zongo. The parade's participants and spectators instantiate the diversity and solidarity of the Islamic community to themselves and to non-Muslims. The gallery also documents a number of smaller events sponsored by neighborhoods, schools and families throughout the metropolitan area.

The existence of identifiable Muslim neighborhoods, occupations and modes of dress reconstitute the public image of Kumasi's Islamic community on a daily basis. Muslims aim to model Islamic values of cleanliness, modesty, honesty and harmony to encourage ethical behavior among their Muslim neighbors and to advertise the virtues of Islam to potential converts. The conceptual focus remains their process of reconciling and balancing competing aspirations toward Western and non-Western ideologies of modernism and likewise toward competing traditions drawn from Asante, from specific ethnic identities based further north, in the savannah, and from the distinctive Zongo experience. Video and still images of workplaces, homes and daily practices show how individuals enact their own various interpretations of these general principles. Commentaries are kept to a minimum in this gallery, leading viewers to realize their own interpretations.