The Muslim presence and representations of Islam among the Meru of Kenya
The thesis analyzes the Muslim presence and representations of Islam
among the Meru people of Kenya in the 20th century. The circumstances
leading to the establishment of pioneer Muslim communities by the
'Swahili', the Nubians and the Mahaji, in Meru are examined. The rejection
or acceptance of Islam by the people of Meru is linked to theories of
conversion. The main emphasis is on the local manifestations of Islam. Case
material from Meru town and the neighbouring areas is cited.
Local representations of Islam and Muslim identity are analyzed in relation
to the oppositional dyad of Dini / Ushenzi. The thesis argues that the
opposition of Dini to Ushenzi has continuously impinged upon the local
manifestation of Islam in Meru. Examples of how this stereotyped notion
is transposed from its coastal cultural milieu and applied in a 'fossilized'
form by Muslims in Meru are given.
The shift in the early 1960s from the previous emphasis on distinctions
between the three Muslim groups, to the need for a common Muslim
community identity, is linked to the post-independence social-economic
crisis that threatened the presence of Islam in Meru. The mechanics of the
construction and consolidation of an urban Muslim community identity are
examined. The analysis of the internal dynamics of the emergent urban
Muslim community focuses on the notion of the propriety of religious
practice and behaviour.
An examination of the influence of Tabligh during the last decade, (1980-
1990) reveals an increase in the Muslim activities in Meru. Throughout the
1980s Islam spread slowly, almost unobtrusively, in the rural areas in the
northern part of Meru. The analysis of the forces underpinning this process;
and the resultant dilemma of conflicting identities of individual converts
living in the rural areas, is placed within the local social context.