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  • Souandaou Athoumani Ali

A Nation Born from the Hybridization of Arab and Bantu Cultures: The Spread of Islam in Comoros

"A pearl necklace in a turquoise sea", the Comoros is an archipelago of four main islands, equidistant (300 km) from Madagascar and the African continent and spread on the North, West, South and East axis. Composed of Mayotte (Maore), Moheli (Mwali), Greater Comoros (Ngazidja) and Anjouan (Ndzuani), the Comoros archipelago is located at the entrance to the Mozambique Channel. The Union of the Comoros, a federal republic, is located in the Indian Ocean. On July 6, 1975, the Comoros Islands officially became an independent country after liberation from French occupation. However, the island of Mayotte is still under French rule (ICO-UNESCO, 1997; Idriss, 2017).

Comorian can be said to be a mixture of Swahili and Arabic languages, forming a "world system" specific to the Indian Ocean. The islanders speak Comorian from the Bantu language family, which is heavily influenced by Arabic and Swahili. The widespread use of Swahili is due to the use of this language in the administrative affairs of the sultans until the 20th century (Anonym, 2002). Bantus from the interior of Africa, Arabs from Uman, Hadramawt and Shiraz, Malays from Indonesia, Malagasy Malagasy and Indian Gujarati migrated to these islands at different periods. These waves of migration are the result of humanitarian, commercial and cultural exchanges that began in the Indian Ocean region from the 10th century onwards (Idriss, 2017).

The Indo-Oceanic "world system" has led to an intense mixing of populations and the formation of an original Swahili culture on the east-east coast, of which the Comoros are heirs. The Swahili language is predominantly Arabic and Bantu, meaning that most words are derived from these two languages. Comorian, although derived from Swahili, is distinct from Swahili and is divided into the dialects of each island and the dialects commonly used: Shingazidja (Ngazidja), Shimwali (in Moheli), Shimaore (in Mayotte) and Shindzuanidir (Ndzuwani). Each group is more easily mutually understood within itself (Idriss, 2017). Swahili-speaking countries played an important role in the spread of Islam in East Africa (Anonyme, 2000).

The Spread of Islam in Comoros

Although there are different narratives about the spread of Islam here, according to popular opinion, two Comorian people went to Medina during the caliphate of Prophet Osman and learned about Islam. There is no doubt that Arab sailors also spread Islam in these islands, which they visited from the 8th century onwards. The view that Islam started to spread from the island of Anjouan is also quite common (Anonym, 2002).

In 934, after the Bureauchis captured the Iranian city of Shiraz, some Sunni Arabs migrated to the coast of East Africa and the islands of the Indian Ocean. In the early 9th century, a small Ismaili community from Uman settled there. Migrations from the Persian Gulf and South Arabia continued intermittently until the early 16th century. Ali b. Isa founded the Sultanate of Kilwa in 975 and soon many colonies on the East African coast, including the Comoros, came under his rule. In the 11th century, it is known that one of the leading figures of the Fatimids left Egypt and settled in Anjouan with his family and servants. However, according to the Kitâb-ı Bahriye of the Turkish navigator Pîrî Reis, Sunni and Shafi'i Islam was widespread in the Comoros between the 13th and 16th centuries (Anonym, 2002).

There are hundreds of mosques and many madrasas in Comoros. All children are educated in a madrassa for two or three years from the age of five, learning the Arabic language and the basics of Islam. In Comoros, all Muslim holidays are celebrated by Muslims, including Eid al-Fitr, Eid al-Adha, Muharram, Ashura, Mawlid and the Night of Miraj (Anonym, 2016). However, madrasas are also institutions that provide religious education for adults. Students study Islamic law, Arabic and tafsir (Hecquet, 2012).

Religious Holidays Celebrated in Comoros

Eid al-Fitr

In Comoros, Ramadan is a month of joy and reverence for believers. Religious activities such as Taraweeh, Wajir and Iftar enliven the country and the city. Eid al-Fitr is an important holiday for the Comorian people, especially children. On the day of eve, the youth of the neighborhood clean up the city. In the evening, after iftar, salawat and takbirs are chanted in all mosques to herald Eid. On the day of Eid, new upholstery is laid in the houses and delicious treats are prepared. On the day of Eid, men dressed in their traditional clothes go to Eid prayers, while women stay at home to pray and prepare for the guests who will come to celebrate Eid. From noon until the evening, traditional activities for children are organized in squares and neighborhoods.

Eid al-Adha

Eid al-Adha is one of the most important holidays in our religion. Like all Muslims, the people of Comoros fast from the first day of the month of Dhu al-Fitr until the Eid al-Adha prayer (the first 10 days of Dhu al-Fitr). Food is shared among neighbors and relatives. On the day of 'Arafah, after the afternoon prayer, men go to the graves. They recite prayers for the deceased and pray for the hatims read since Ramadan. After Maghrib, salavat and takbirs are performed in all mosques to herald Eid. On the day of Eid, after the Eid prayer, sacrifices are slaughtered. Food is cooked in all the houses and distributed to the needy and children in the neighborhood. Eid al-Adha lasts for 3 days.


Muharram is the beginning of the Hijri calendar. This month has been recognized as the beginning of the Hijri calendar due to the Prophet Muhammad's (PBUH) migration from Mecca to Medina, which lasted for many days, and which resulted in his safe arrival in Medina, free from polytheists and unbelievers. For this reason, the month of Muharram is celebrated nationwide in Comoros. After the morning prayer, salawat is offered in all mosques. However, everyone goes to the mosque and prays, thanking Allah. Everyone wears white on this holy day. In some areas, especially in coastal cities, people swim and bathe in the sea. According to some mythological narratives, on the first of Muharram, people go into the sea to wash away all their sins and start a new year and a brand new life. On this important day in Islamic history, poems of hijrah are recited and anthems sung in all madrassas, schools and streets. On this important day, the life of the Prophet Muhammad is especially emphasized in the media and in events organized in the city.


In Comoros, Mawlid is a very important religious day. On this day, the birth and life of the Prophet (PBUH) is told through stories, poems and psalms. Mawlid is celebrated in three circles: in the family, in the neighborhood and in the whole city. The family mevlid is organized for reasons such as a pregnant woman approaching childbirth (7th month), the birth of a child, the circumcision of a boy, and when family members intend to go on pilgrimage. The family invites neighbors and religious officials from the neighborhood to the house, and after the mevlid is read, the traditional mevlid meal (pilaf, lamb/veal meat and milk) is eaten and reward (money) is given to those who come. The neighborhood mevlid takes place in the same way, except that a sermon is delivered there. Attendees are also offered dates, coffee and a Comorian biscuit. In city mawlids, however, all social classes gather in the main square and participate in the mawlid. In front of the guests, who are placed in protocol order, the Holy Qur'an is recited and topics such as the life and morals of the Prophet (PBUH) are explained. Various refreshments are served. In addition, in Comoros, mawlid is recited in squares and mosques on every day of the month of Ramadan (Hecquet, 2012). Finally, when the Night of Miraj comes, mawlid is organized in madrasas and mosques.


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