Public Face of Islam in Kumasi

By Gracia Clark

Alternative Eid

click sub-title for interview segments

Conservative Women at Prayer (00:00:45-00:02:04)
Courtesy of Gracia Clark

Related Essay
Creator: Clark, Gracia
Paz, Carmen
Description: Since the 1970s, a faction has been growing in Kumasi who adhere to more fundamentalist visions of Islam that condemn “unnecessary’’ prayers and rituals added to those prescribed by the Koran. Among those criticized are senior leaders in the Sufi brotherhoods, who offer special blessings and protections to their devout followers. Most of the established families of chiefs and imams in Ghana have historically been affiliated with the Khadiyya brotherhood, and look to North African centers for further education and religious authority.

The Mohammediyya, as they call themselves, consider the Koran itself sufficient instruction and all other practices superstitious if not heretical. They particularly criticize the practice of pilgrimages to the graves of saintly Sufi figures in Senegal and Morocco, since only the pilgrimage to Mecca is mandated in the Koran. Exposure to Saudi authorities and practices has spread through the experience of youth traveling to Arabia on the prized scholarships given for secular university or Islamic study. Recordings of Saudi or other fundamentalist preachers also win many adherents, and Saudi Arabia has built and staffed many mosques within Ghana.

Rivalries between the two camps have grown tense and occasionally trigger violent confrontations. The Mohammediyya, often younger and from less prominent Zongo families, sometimes preach openly against cherished traditional practices and leaders. Even without naming names, the younger relatives and followers of the traditional leaders will defend their reputations with insults and fists. They accuse the Mohammediyya of not respecting their elders, a Koranic mandate, while the more radical new preachers hint of magic charms and interpret as sorcery such practices as writing verses of the Koran on a slate, then washed off and drunk by the petitioner.

The most serious expression of separatism came when the Mohammediyya established their own mosque for Friday Prayers, breaking the most fundamental symbol of unity for Kumasi Muslims. Other Kumasi Muslims who sympathize with their beliefs still attend Friday Prayers at the Central Mosque and lament the split. The dissidents claimed that praying behind the community elders risked weakening or contaminating their prayers, if that particular elder happened to be among those engaging in dubious magical rituals. Holding a separate prayer service to celebrate Eid al-Fitr, suggesting that the Chief Imam even holds his on the wrong day, makes a very conspicuous statement to fellow Muslims and the city at large.
Date: August 2011
Date Range: 2010-2019
Location: Kumasi, Ashanti, Ghana
Format: Video/mp4
Language: Twi
Rights Management: For educational use only.
Contributing Institution: Gracia Clark; MATRIX: Center for Digital Humanities and Social Sciences at Michigan State University
Digitizer: Paz, Carmen