Islam has had an important impact in many different parts of the world. While it remains the religion with the most adherents in the world, Islam’s impact has been different depending on where it has been applied. Looking at the role and impact of Islam in Africa is much different than considering the role and impact of the religion in India, for instance. While there are some similarities that must be taken into account, there are significant differences that render these movements distinct. Those different have both to do with the overall development of the religion through history in those places and the cultures there, where Islam has interacted in certain ways because of other elements of culture in African nations and in India.
One of the ways in which the impact was similar had to do with economics. In India, people adhering to Islam were able to avoid an expensive tax. With their religious status being established, they saved significant money, which incentivized people to join. There was no such tax incentive in Africa, but there were some economic elements that drove people to join Islam. For instance, Islam in Africa provided an important link between the African merchants and the traders from across the world. While Africa was not exactly isolated economically, there were some things that kept African nations from being truly united with other surrounding nations from an economic perspective. The spread of Islam allowed for cultural diffusion and a natural trading relationship that allowed African merchants to do much better than they might have otherwise. One can say that in both countries, the role of economics allowed for the growth of the religion.
A key difference in the two different environments comes in the level of adoption. In India, Hinduism has long been the dominant religion. It is the religion that drives most of the culture and provides the vehicle through which many of the country’s laws are made. While Islam has its role there and it is accepted, it is not the straw that stirs the drink, so to speak. The impact is muted because both Hinduism and Buddhism, along with a handful of other Eastern religions, have an impact on the people. With this in mind, at its height, Islam was able to only claim around a quarter of the population in India. This left it as something other than the dominant religion, and it kept Islam from having the kind of wide societal impact that one might see in other parts of the world, including the Middle East. In Africa, on the other hand, the spread of Islam was quick and comprehensive. Islam became a major dominant force throughout Africa, and many countries saw Islam become the dominant cultural force as well. While there were still some native religions that had a place in African nations, the pervasiveness of Islam was much greater in Africa than it was in India.
Because of this, one can see some clear differences in how much Islam was able to influence government leaders and their decisions. In Africa, Islam gave the leaders a bit of legitimacy that they were looking for. It became a mark of distinction for one to be an adherent to Islam. In India, on the other hand, there was no such mark of distinction for people who were adherents of Islam. The leaders of the country’s government did not much use Islam in their decision making processes. This means that African culture and government has very much been shaped in important ways by the development of Islam, while Indian culture has been influenced more by the role of Hinduism in influencing government.