When I Visited Mozambique

Muslims around the World
Part 1
By Dr. Magdy ElDaly
Freelance Writer, Egypt

Mosambik is the real official name of the country that we call (Mozambique).
The Republic of Mozambique is located on the eastern shores of the South African continent. It is bordered by Tanzania to the north, Madagascar in the Indian Ocean on the east, South Africa and Swaziland are on the south and on the south-west, Zimbabwe is on the West, Zambia, Malawi and Nyasa Lake are on the north-west.

The total area of Mozambique is 799,380 square kilometers. It has a long coastline on the Indian Ocean with a length of 2400 kilometers. The topography of this country is mostly low-lying coastal land, whereas the other areas are high in the central regions. Its climate ranges between tropical and subtropical.

Mozambique is characterized by multiple rivers that flow from the highlands west of the Mozambique Canal in the east. The largest and most important of these rivers is the Zambezi River. The other rivers are the Rovuma on the border with Tanzania, the Saf, and the Limpopo. This is in addition to the famous Lake of Malawi.

The total population of Mozambique, according to the statistics of 2008, is about 21.2 million people who believe in many religions such as Islam, Christianity and other local beliefs. They also speak many local languages that include: Makhuwa, Bantus, Sena, Ndau, and Shangaan, although the Portuguese language is the official language. Muslims make up a significant proportion may be less than 40%.

Mozambique and the Era of Islam

Islamic religion has a long history in Mozambique, where it was spread by the Arab traders and Asian Muslims who had come to the Mozambican shores and its northern islands during the eighth, ninth, and tenth centuries. The colonial Portuguese, which arrived in the sixteenth century, attested that Muslims had preceded them to that area with no doubt.

The evidence to the Muslims' presence there is the Mozambican currency that is called Metical relative to the Arabic word Mithqal and along with the other multi-monuments. Another evidence is the strong presence of Muslims and the practice of Islamic rites until the present day. Muslims represent more than 90% of the island and in the surrounding villages, the ruins of the oldest mosque on the island (500 years ago), the Arab-Islamic architecture of houses, and other ancient monuments found in the Museum Island.

My Journey

My journey to Mozambique was a business mission which started in 1988. I was an expert dispatched by the Egyptian Government in the framework of the technical cooperation, which the Egyptian Government is keen to present to the African countries. I worked as a doctor in the country's biggest public hospital in the city of Nampula (Nampula Central Hospital) that is the third largest hospitals in Mozambique. The hospital had been established during the Portuguese occupation that extended nearly to 500 years (the independence of Mozambique was declared in 1975).

Living in The City of Nampula is a true discovery. The city  occupies a small area with high-density population of about 300,000 people. It is considered the capital city of the state that is named (the State of Nampula). The city is located in the north and is considered one of the three northern states with high Muslim density (the three provinces are Nampula - Cabo Delgado - Niassa). It is far away from the capital (Maputo) with about 2100 km.

Nampula is full of commercial and industrial activities. A visitor of the city shall notice the Islamic spirit everywhere. One can hear the Adhan to the five daily prayers through the loudspeakers of the mosques that were increased recently. He can also see how people are holding the Muslim customs and traditions. Muslim women are keen to wear modest clothes, rush to attend religious lessons, and regularly visit mosques.

The population of the Island is about 42,000 citizens. About 14,000 of them live on the Island, whereas the rest lives in the surrounding land of the Island. It is noted that the concentration of the population exceeds the small area of the Island.
In The Island of Mosambiki

During my stay there I used to tour this charming country in a try to discover the Black Continent. Once I stopped by The Island of Mosambiki,  a coral island in the Indian Ocean.

The population of the Island is about 42,000 citizens. About 14,000 of them live on the Island, whereas the rest lives in the surrounding land of the Island. It is noted that the concentration of the population exceeds the small area of the Island.

The Island is 175 kilometers far from the City of Nampula. A three-kilometer old bridge connects the Island with the land. That Island was listed on the World legacy top list by the UNESCO Commission in recognition of its excellent historical, cultural, unique architecture, and its African, Arab, and Hindi races mixture.

The Island lacks the clean drinkable water, where the population depends on storing the rainwater and on fetching rainwater that is stored in the private reservoirs in an old military fortresses located in the far north of the Island. Moreover, there is no sewage system for all districts of the Island, where the visitor may note that some of the Island's population had grown accustomed to answer the call of nature on the beaches.

There are three major mosques on the Island where the Friday as well as the Obligatory Five Daily prayers are held, in addition to some small mosques.


 A view of the city of Nampula
A Muslim Sultan's Name

As Muslims, perhaps many of us and of the country citizens do not know that the name of Mosambik was first heard in the sixteenth century after the Portuguese took control over the Island. The current official name of their state was driven from the name of that Island. It is originally due to the name of a Muslim sultans' son (Mousa ibn Beki) who had ruled that Island before the coming of the Portuguese.

However, the Arabic name was distorted when the Portuguese tried to pronounce it with their own language or it has been distorted by the Swahili language that was prevailed among the people of the African eastern coast. That had happened before the coming of the Portuguese fleets in 1498. The Portuguese invaders destroyed the old mosques that were about 300 along the coast and expelled the Muslims from the Island to the surrounded land. Muslims began to return to inhabit the Island in 1898 after the Portuguese had established a new capital of the country in the south that was named (Lawrence Marques) and gave the name of Mosambik to the entire country. After independence, Maputo became the capital of the country instead of Lawrence Marques.

In appreciation and recognition to the implied original name of the country, after the civil war, the Mozambican Muslims established the first private Islamic university under the name of Mousa ibn Beki in 1998. Study has started there ten years ago and it is now located in the City of Nampula.

Portuguese Colonizers and Muslims

A visitor to the Island notes that after enters the Island through the rickety bridge that separates the Island from the land and after crossing half of the southern area, he will see random houses that are not organized either in location or in the building, the terrible accumulation of stones, manifestations of poverty!

A visitor suddenly moves to the northern part and to a different landscape, where there are old palaces that retain their old color, the safety of their buildings, squares, vast gardens, the remains of water fountains, and the streets shaded by trees on both sides as well as big churches that are carefully cultivated. That part of the Island was settled by the Portuguese invaders, where they expelled their Muslims to the southern part that is known as (the Stone-built town). The Portuguese had built those palaces over four centuries from the stones and coral reefs that were found around the Island.

I heard from indigenous people of the country that since the arrival of the Portuguese to Mozambique until the beginning of 1960, they followed a hostile and racist policy against Muslims. Sometimes, the Portuguese governors of the Mozambican provinces closed the schools that teach the Qur'an, confiscated the Islamic books, forced the Muslim children to go to the Catholic missionaries, forced them to change their Islamic and Arab names, deprived them of education, and neglected all walks of life.

Despite all this, the Portuguese found out that they had failed to eliminate Islam and Muslims. When the power of Portugal began to weaken at the beginning of 1960 and with the emergence of the national liberation movements in Mozambique under the leadership of Firmelo Front, the colonists wanted to polarize the Muslim Sheikhs and leaders, hoping that they would not join the resistance. They began to treat them well, give them money, finance their Hajj, and repair some mosques. In addition, the Portuguese general governor of Mozambique paid some visits to Muslims in their main centers and submitted official congratulations to them on religious occasions such as the Month of Ramadan and the Islamic holidays.

To be continued.

This series forms Dr. ElDaly's journals which he wrote during his stay in Mozambique for about 10 years. He based it on the stories which he heard from the indigenous people, his historical readings, and  observations.

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