Sunday, 17 April 2016

How Islam Came To Be A Dominant Religion In Nsama District

By Paul Shalala in Nsama
Muslim women clad in hijabs

It may be unusual in some parts of Zambia to see women clad in the Arabic hijab attire but here in Nsama District of Northern Province, this is a common site.

For the men, wearing the japar, a simple head dress is also part of the dressing here.

According to local Muslim leaders, Islam has been a dominant force in Nsama for hundreds of years.

But how did this religion come to this remote area?

How come this small and remote district has managed to have 18 mosques and thousands of members?

These are the questions I posed to local muslim leaders who know something about this topic.

"Islam came with a muslim businessman by the name of Abdullah. He was very kind and taught people the goodness of Islam. This is why you are seeing that hundreds of people are joining the religion here," said Abdallah Bin Sleman the Amir of Nsama Mosque.

But according to locals, Abdullah was actually a slave trader who bought slaves and transported them to the Tanzanian port of Dar es Salaam.

However, non of the muslim leaders here agree that the slave trade in the 1800s brought Islam to Nsama.

"Islam came with good people. These people taught the word of God and brought good to society. It is these good works that have attracted people to Allah and Islam. It is not true that Abdullah bought and sold slaves," said Sheikh Yahya John of Kabuta Mosque.

The history of muslims in this area keeps changing depending on who is narrating it to you.

But according to oral tradition, Islam came with some Tanzanians who were invited to help the local Tabwa people in the 1800s when they were under attack by the Bembas who were trying to conquer Tabwaland and extend the Chitimukulu’s chiefdom.

"We had wars here. The Bembas were fighting to conquer us so that we can become their subjects. They had spears and bows and arrows but we had nothing," said Renwick Musonda, a local historian.

He says because of the abundance fish in the many rivers and lakes in Nsama, the Bembas were interested in snatching the land so that it can be of benefit to their kingdom.

"We were almost defeated and we decided to invite our muslim friends in Tanzania who had guns. They fought with the Bembas and repulsed them."

It is believed that after this victory, the Tabwa people allowed the Tanzanians to settle in Tabwaland and today, two sub-chiefs here have Tanzanian roots.

"As a way of saying thank you, we allowed our muslim friends to stay. Thats how today we have two sub-chiefs with Tanzanian blood. They are now part of us. We freely marry each other and live together," said Jonas Musenge, another historian.

But most young people in Nsama have accepted oral tradition as the best explanation of how Islam came to this region.

They are taught from a tender age that the Bembas wanted to conquer Tabwaland due to its rich fish species found in several lakes, rivers and streams.

"I was born here in Nsama and went to marry in Mporokoso where they used to laugh at us that we were defeated by the Bembas. Actually i explained to them that it was actually the Tabwas who defeated the Bembas with the help of the muslims who were better armed," said Jerian Kasankula, a local youth.

The Muchinga Escarpment
From oral tradition, it is also claimed that the hills that separate Bembaland from Tabwaland came to be known as Muchinga Escarpment because they helped protect the Tabwas from the conquering Bemba warriors.

In Bemba, the word ukuchingilila means protection hence the name Muchinga.

Despite having multiple explanations on the history of Islam in Nsama, one thing is for sure: Islam is here to stay and it has had a huge impact on society.

People's ways of life has changed and their dressing has also been transformed.

Zambia is constitutionally a christian nation but other religions are also allowed to flourish just like Islam is doing in Nsama District.


  1. You have really educated us. I watched the piece on TV.....this is really some piece

    1. Oh thanks alot Brenda. Trying to follow your foot steps

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

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