Regions of the world that have only recently converted to Islam?
May 26, 2008 3:56 PM   Subscribe

IslamFilter: I'm looking for examples of regional cultures/ethnic groups within the present-day Ummah that were bypassed by the expansion of Islam. For example, most of the people of the mountainous and hard to access Nuristan province of Afghanistan only converted to Islam ca. 1890. Prior to that it was known to everyone outside Nuristan as "Kaffirstan" (land of the unbelievers/infidels).

This could be due to geographic reasons, like Nuristan, a pre-existing particularly strong local animistic religion, or other factors. Can anyone offer links to research papers or other analysis of regions where this phenomena has occurred?

Does anyone have information on how the practice of the faith differs in regions that have only recently converted to Islam en masse?

I've read that some local customs and cultures have been incorporated into South American / Upper Amazonian Catholic rites. There's murals of Jesus eating a dinner of roast Guinea Pig at some churches in Peru. Is there a parallel phenomena at work in other parts of the world?
posted by thewalrus to Religion & Philosophy (11 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Morocco has lots of this kind of stuff, particularly among the Amazigh tribes - like the shrines to marabouts, etc... when I mentioned this to Arabs in the North, they would sniff and say it was un-Islamic.
posted by Liosliath at 4:21 PM on May 26, 2008

My (ex) Kyrgyz father-in-law had a bag of special stones, each one different. We could pose a topic, and then he would pour the stones out into a pile. He then went through a complex grouping / sorting / counting process, divining the future as he did so.

He explained to me that this was an "Islamic tradition".

For Kyrgyz, it is lucky to steal a knife or a dog.

Bride kidnapping is a very big thing.

The Kyrgyz were mostly sword muslims, and fairly recent converts. They do all kinds of funky animist and obviously not Islamic stuff that they consider Islamic tradition. These are the ones off the top of my head.

Things are changing, at least in Bishkek, as Saudi funded mosques and madrassas train young Kyrgyz in the True Faith. It is absolutely depressing for me seeing young Kyrgyz women in chador and men in long white robes and beards, but it is happening more and more.
posted by Meatbomb at 4:28 PM on May 26, 2008

If you mean the wider Muslim world, and not just the Arab states, then Indonesia and Malaysia would be a good place to begin. There are forest tribes in both that have retained their indigenous spiritual traditions while communities around them have converted. And of course Bali is an example of a much larger area that was bypassed altogether by Islam.
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese at 4:55 PM on May 26, 2008

Mazdaism and Yezidi adherents in Iraq and Iran would qualify.
posted by zaelic at 5:01 PM on May 26, 2008

Response by poster: Mazdaism = worship of Ahura Mazda, sun god of the Zoroastrians?

I'm assuming the Iranians haven't suddenly decided to worship a Japanese car manufacturer.
posted by thewalrus at 5:09 PM on May 26, 2008

Clarification: is the OP interested in groups within the range of Islam that haven't converted at all, or only in groups that converted relatively recently?
posted by jaed at 6:09 PM on May 26, 2008

Yes, Mazdaism is separate from the worship of small automobiles. Think of it as a precursor to Islam. Zoarastrianism had a strong influence on sufi thought in Shia Iran as well. Sufism in general can be seen as an adaption to Sunni canon: heterodox Islam in an orthodox sea. While almost all sufism can be classed as "shia" ("twelvers", followers of Ali) some sects (Nashqabandi) are quite close to Sunni. Turkish sufism (Alevi, in particular) rides the border between acceptable sufism and heresy in orthodox eyes. Traditional Anatolian and Kurd Alevis are simulataneously tribal (have to be descended from Ali!) and universal (Alevism has grown to become modern Turkey's version of a civil Reformed Islam in some sense, mixed with Bektashi precepts.)

Druze are similar: their religion reflects some trends in sufism, but is definately not Islam. Nobody considers the Druze "bad muslims"... but in Iran Ba'hai followers are considered to be apostates.

The Balkans provides a different perspective: It should be considered as within the Islamic world (under the Ottomans) but is usually not. Ottomans, for example, considered Albanans and Bosnians to be muslim, but they still had to pay a special tax. Islam In the Balkans is a good book if you have access to a good library.

There isn't a lot out there written about the Gagauzi (Bulgaria, Moldova, a few villages in Greece) who are Turkish speaking Balkan Greek Orthodox.
posted by zaelic at 2:44 AM on May 27, 2008

Don't forget Christians in Syria and Lebanon. Syrian Christianity goes way back before Islam, and includes Syriacs who still speak Aramaic (Turoyo.) Chaldean Catholics and Assyrians are also local non-muslim groups in the former Ottoman empire. As "people of the Book" their staus would have been better than that of "kaffirs/pagans."
posted by zaelic at 3:03 AM on May 27, 2008

The Syrian constitution requires that the president be a Muslim, therefore Assad (an Alawite) declared the Alawites to be unquestionably Muslims. The threat of immenent death prevents anyone from arguing the point in Syria, but the Alawites aren't exactly the strictest of Islamists (Of course if you talk to Alawites, the rest of the Muslim world isn't doing it right).

Some of the biggest holidays in the Islamic Republic of Iran are not Islamic holidays at all. Noruz and Nature day are huge and harken back to Iran's pre-Islamic past.

The Hui Chinese throw in a little Taoism mixed with Sufism and a dash of Nestorian Christianity for their own brand of Islam.
posted by Pollomacho at 5:00 AM on May 27, 2008

There are several Indian dalit ("backward caste" in the Hindu religion & culture) communities that are converting to Islam (and Buddhism & Christianity) in India. See this for some more information.
posted by raheel at 7:30 AM on May 27, 2008

I can give you an answer to your quesiton
"I've read that some local customs and cultures have been incorporated into South American / Upper Amazonian Catholic rites. There's murals of Jesus eating a dinner of roast Guinea Pig at some churches in Peru. Is there a parallel phenomena at work in other parts of the world?"

See the syncretic religion involving Maximon in guatemala, where people have converted to a 'christianity', but it ain't your pappys christianity.
posted by lalochezia at 7:56 PM on May 27, 2008

« Older help managing my money   |   Looking for fiction about horrifying and unusual... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.