Emergence of Shiism in Ghana

Emergence of Shiism in Ghana

December 3, 2018

The Republic of Ghana is considered the most peaceful country on the continent despite its multi-culturalism and religious diversity. Religion plays a significant role in the daily dealings of Ghanaians since they see religion as an important component of the community.

Islam came to Ghana in the 16th century through three different ways; through the Muslim merchants who successfully won the trust and acceptance of the local Dagban chiefs in northern Ghana whom later embraced Islam; the Hausa teachers and propagators who played a crucial role in the spread of Islamic teachings and doctrines in Ghana; and the Berbers of Northern Africa’s effort that cannot be underestimated.

These were the ways that facilitated the birth of Islam in Ghana’s history. The northern region of Ghana is highly dominated by Muslims while the central and southern are populated by Christians.

According to the 2010 census; Christians in Ghana cover seventy-one percent of the Ghanaian population consisting of its various denominations (Pentecost 28.3%, Protestant 18.4%, Catholics 13.1%, other 11.4% ) while the Muslims make up 17.6% of the total population, while the rest of the population practice traditional beliefs.

There are a number of sects that sum up the Islamic community in Ghana; such as the Salafiya group, the Ahmadiya, the Tijaniya, and the Shi’a.

Ghana-Iran Relations                                                                               

Ghana-Iran relations started after the revolution of Iran in 1979 under Ruhollah Khomeini’s leadership. Ghana-Iran Joint commission was one of the most important machineries of bilateral cooperation between the two states which lead to the Development Assistance agreement. 

The Islamic Republic of Iran developed several strategies in order to strengthen its relations at its state, diplomatic and religious levels to spread its ideology in Ghana’s Muslim community.

President John Dramani Mahama visits Tehran for “beginning of a new epoch in bilateral ties.”

The Islamic Republic of Iran focused on trade, agriculture, and cultural affairs with Ghana at the state and diplomatic levels through the Agricultural and Rural Development (ARD) initiative to support Ghana’s poor community. It also established the Cultural Consulate Mission to bridge Iranian and Ghanaian culture in the name of cultural exchange. These particular strategies were essential in stemming the Iranian -Ghanaian relation at the state level.

Formation of Shiism in Ghana

Among the elements of Iranian foreign policy was to spread their religious ideology throughout the corners of the globe. One of Iran’s targets was Ghana and they succeeded in penetrating into the Ghanaian Muslim communities thanks to Ghanaian Muslim figures who were known for their piety and western education.

Figures such as Seebaway Zakaria, Armiyau Shuaib, Abdul Salaam Adam, and Abdul Salam Abdul Hamid Bansi were the pioneers of the Shiism movement in Ghana; they themselves were not influenced by the ideology but played a very central role in the spread of the ideology. 

In 1980, the Iranian government founded Ghana’s  Cultural Consulate Mission that mediated between the Iranian government and the Muslim communities of Ghana. The Cultural Consulate used the above-mentioned figures to achieve its goal; to convey the shiism ideology in diverse ways.

The Consulate founded a local journal called the “Revolution Review” which was led by Seebaway Zakaria with Armiyau and Abdul Salam Adam as editors. The journal provided a forum for addressing issues relevant to the consulate’s agenda such as the relevance of Islamic Shari’a, the role of women in Islam, Islam and modern education, bribery and corruption.

The consulate elaborated the journal’s views with lectures and symposiums to study the work of the western-educated Muslims to spread the literature of Shi’a in the Ghanaian settings.

Programs such as Quds day and Maulids were also organized as a tool to attract the Tijaniya scholars and the consulate began sponsoring some events held by the Tijaniya[1] sect. This Muslim denomination was successfully influenced due to their strong affection for the household of the Prophet (PBUH) just like the Shi’a. 

Employment and scholarship opportunities were also used by the consulate to spread Shism in many communities. After the Tijaniya sect rejected the Salafiya group’s offer to study in Saudi Arabia, the Cultural Consulate offered the them and some of their followers to go on scholarship programs in Iran; this led to the proselytization of the Tijaniya followers to Shiism. The beneficiaries of these scholarships later became the drivers of the Shi’a ideology in the Muslim communities. 

The Cultural consulate did not underestimate the secondary and tertiary students as the Salafiya and Tijaniya group did, but rather capitalized on this negligence to draw them towards Shiism through programs such as workshops and seminars. They also utilized and involved the GMSA[2] as a Muslim student body to add their number up.

Components of Shiism in Ghana

There is a reason why Iran place the spread of Shiism and its literature across the globe-especially the African countries-as part of its foreign policy. On the surface the government of Iran focuses more on diplomatic relations and the establishment of institutions and organizations in countries such as Ghana. But their true agenda is the propagation of their so-called foreign policy which is the Shiism. It is this mask that serves as the key of success for Iran.

Numerous institutions and organizations were involved when it comes to the spread of Shiism in Ghana. Institutions such as the Cultural Consulate (1980), Iranian Embassy (1982), Agriculture and Rural Development Initiative, the Iranian Medical Mission, the Ahlul-Bait Foundation and the Islamic University College of Ghana are the known organizations, and there could be other unknown institutions established for this purpose. 

Looking at the situation in Ghana, the factor that led to the strength and widespread of this doctrine can be summarized in two reasons. One is that the government of Ghana is not Islamic-founded so it cannot stand against Shiism even if it sensed the threat that was coming. Two, even though the Salafis group can be said to be the dominant sect among the Muslim population in Ghana, they are very few compared to states such as Sudan, Morocco, and Comoros. In these countries, Shiism was encroached by the majority Muslims and the governments, hence slowing down Shiism’s growth.

Ghana’s political climate also played a crucial rule in the spread of Shiism. Both the Iranian embassy and the Cultural consulate played the role of strengthening the political relations and the diplomatic ties between the two countries and hide behind the propagation of their ideology through cultural exchange initiatives, journal reviews, article publications, seminars and lectures throughout the Muslim societies.

The Agricultural and Rural Development initiative also focused on the financial aspect of the spread of the ideology, particularly in poor communities; events were sponsored and employment was created for potential followers.

The Ahlul-Bait Foundation and the Islamic University College occupied the role of spreading their doctrine and principles through educational programs organized by the Cultural consulate and the Embassy. Ahlul-Bait Foundation itself is a complex consisting of a school, a mosque, and offices, in the center of one Muslim community. 

Furthermore, due to marital difficulties among the youth in Ghana; the Shi’a movement capitalized on this and encouraged the youth to indulge in Mut’a practice among Muslim men and women in societies such as Mamobi, and Conco of Accra.

In short, Shiism movement is a huge threat on the Muslim settings in Ghana which unfortunately is growing rapidly due to factors such as marital difficulties, poverty, government’s ignorance and lack of employment and education. The situation needs the effort and collaboration of local and international Muslims to mitigate the influence of the Shiism ideology in Ghana.

[1] Tijaniya is a sufi sect mostly popular in West African region.
[2] GMSA stands for Ghana Muslim Student Association. It is an association of Ghana Muslim students both in secondary and tertiary institution across Ghana.