The growth of Islam among the Mijikenda of the Kenya coast, 1826-1930.
The Mijikenda peoples of the Kenya coast have been in contact with
Muslims at least since the 17th century. The first Mijikenda conversions to Islam
occurred in the 18th century through the influence of neighbouring Swahili peoples.
Early Mijikenda converts migrated to Swahili towns, thereby establishing a pattern
of urban islamization that kept Islam from spreading among the Mijikenda.
Beginning in the 1830s, the East African economy expanded, and Muslim
commercial activity in the coastal hinterland increased. The migration of Muslims to
settle near Mijikenda villages led to closer relations between Muslims and
Mijikenda. By the middle of the 19th century, the cultural influence of Islam was
evident among the Mijikenda, but few Mijikenda had become Muslim. This was due
as much to an absence of proselytising by Muslims as to the strength and integrity of
Differing Mijikenda settlement patterns north and south of Mombasa
influenced the way Islam spread. North of Mombasa, Mijikenda Muslim converts
continued to immigrate to towns and or to separate Mijikenda Muslim villages.
South of Mombasa, beginning in the 1850s, Digo Mijikenda converts remained
resident in their home villages, while centring their social and religious life as
Muslims in town. Under the continuing influence of Swahili and other Muslims,
including immigrants to Digo villages, Islam slowly gathered strength among the
Digo. By the end of the 19th century, the Digo had already built several mosques,
and educated Digo Muslims were teaching and actively proselytising among their
Colonial rule brought changes that affected the growth of Islam among the
Mijikenda. Legal rulings in favour of Islamic law strengthened Islam, which
eventually emerged as the majority religion among the Digo south of Mombasa. The
economic decline of Muslim towns and villages weakened Islam north of Mombasa,
where only a minority of Mijikenda became Muslim.