Egypt is umbilical cord of global civilisation and religions

By Ali A. Mazrui

Muslims regard their religion as being partly a refinement and elaboration of the messages of Moses and Jesus. The religion is also regarded as being solidly based on the principle of the singularity of God. Where does Africa feature in this initial configuration?

It is arguable that Africa is not only the cradle of monotheism in world history; it also provides asylum to the three Abrahamic religions in their infancy.

While sub-Saharan Africa is the mother of the earliest forms of religion in human experience, North Africa later became the mother of monotheism. Since Eastern Africa was the origin of the human species, it must also have been the birthplace of such basic elements of human culture as language, religion, and family.

Gods of thunder and War

Early humans adopted gods of thunder, of floods, of earthquakes, and of war and fertility. Ancestral Africa was preparing for worship, awe and belief in the supernatural. It took millennia before another North Africa singularised the deity.

The Pharaoh Akhenaton is widely regarded as the father of monotheism, and monotheism later became the most globalising of all religious principles. Was the Pharaoh Akhenaton an apostle, a prophet or neither? The Qur'an tells us that to each people, God sends an apostle. Was Akhenaton the apostle to ancient Egypt?

Egypt was also where Moses was born. So Egypt was, in that sense, also the cradle of Judaism. Judaism became another monotheistic tradition born in Egypt.

If Egypt was the country from which Moses later fled, Egypt subsequently became the country to which the infant Jesus later found asylum from the deadly machinations of King Herod.

Behind the biblical story is that without the asylum in North Africa, there would have been no Christianity; the infant Jesus would have been 'crucified' in the cradle. Was North Africa, therefore, the saviour of Christianity?

If North Africa was the birthplace of historical monotheism, and the birthplace of Moses, and if North Africa was also the asylum of the infant Jesus, what is Egypt's historic destiny for Islam?

Islam had a humble arrival in Africa before its triumphant arrival in Egypt. Just as North Africa had played a part as the cradle of the gospel of Moses, and Egypt also played its part as a political refuge of the infant Jesus, Ethiopia played a part as a place of refuge for persecuted Muslims on the run from pre-Islamic Arabia.

Asylum seekers

The Prophet Muhammad had just begun to preach his own new gospel. Muhammad was protected for a while by his tribe. But when in desperation and anger, Muhammad's tribe withdrew their protection, it became open season to hunt down Muslims.

That was when Muhammad authorised some of his followers to cross the Red Sea and seek asylum in Christian Ethiopia.

Muslim asylum-seekers

These Muslim asylum-seekers in Ethiopia were led by Uthman bin Affam, who subsequently became the third Caliph of Islam and a major preserver of a single version of the Qur'an.

The subsequent Arab conquest of Egypt and the Maghreb also fertilised the flowering of an Islamic civilisation on African soil, one of whose institutions is Al-Azhar University, a centre of learning that has lasted a thousand years.

Technology is an engine of globalisation across time. Were ancient Egyptians the first to use technology for grand constructions of eternal durability? Ancient Egypt was arguably among the first grand civilisations. Technology and empire were linked in anticipation of new worlds to conquer.

More recently was a different kind of construction in Egypt: the building of the Suez Canal in the 19 century, led by the French engineer Ferdinand de Lesseps.

Hundreds of lives of Egyptians and other African workers were lost in the construction of the canal. The canal was a product not just of Western expertise and capital, but also of the sweat, blood and lives of Nile Valley workers.

The Suez Canal was a major contribution to globalisation since it helped to connect Europe, Africa and Asia in new ways. But the canal was also a monument to technology and economy as engines of globalisation.

Gamal Abdul Nasser saw Egypt as a centre of three circles: Arab, Islamic and African. Egypt had indeed become a bridge across three continents: Africa, Asia and Europe. Egypt had also nursed four different traditions of monotheism: Akhenaton, Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

Article Source: