The growth of Islam among the Mijikenda of the Kenya coast, 1826-1933
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 Mrican 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 Mijikenda society. 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 fellow Digo. 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.