Asante Nkramo, Asante Nkramo. When I first heard the words, they rapidly sizzled and disintegrated in the ether like unintelligible jargon. It was only after a few rings in my ear that it developed into a concept, and then later came to indicate a term, an appellation of a social group. Currently in my adulthood the phrase, whenever expressed, evokes a designated socio-cultural group whose habits, mannerism and bearing straddles across two distinctive cultures. 

On a research trip to Ghana, whilst boarding a trotro one of the passengers painstakingly argued with his fellow interlocutor that the Ashanti Nkramo was different in temperament and bearing than the so called original Nkramofo (Muslim), often assumed to be from the northern part of the country. Apparently, the Asante Nkramo are not as devout as their northern brothers; they pick and choose which aspects of Islam marry well with their Ashanti traditions. He strongly protested that some even drink alcohol, pour libation to the ancestors and do not observe Jummah, except for during Ramadan. Here also there was an exception, that their commitment to Ramadan lies in the hereafter and of course the jubilant atmosphere of communal exchanges of kindness and generosity. His opponent seated in front of me, dismissed the argument as complete humbug. In his view, all Muslims were the same, and even the Ashanti becomes corrupt under the influence of religion. He stressed that the African is ruined by either the white man’s or brown man’s religion, which has rendered him a ‘bustard to reason’ by entrusting his care and wellbeing to a divine (non) existence instead of his labour and intellect. 

To emphasise his point, he pointed to the pile of filth and scattered heaps of soiled bottles and polythene bags nestling along the pavements. He wryly observed that Ghana is one of the most peaceful and religious countries in the world. Yet godliness is clearly not next to cleanliness. A passenger next to my left chuckled, struggling to hold off his laughter. He continued, that the quick-tempered Muslim is nurtured on rage, through the rallying cry of the Qu’ran and hadiths, to pursue Jihad, even for very trivial matters. But they say Islam is a religion of peace. Clearly, he was no expert on either Islam, the Qur’an or Christianity but his speech was redolent of the Marxist logic ‘religion is the opiate of the masses’. With the slight exception of his apparent lack of formal education, I would have taken him for a socialist. On second thought, he was probably a living praxis and embodiment of Marxism. At certain points in the conversation, it was difficult to tell which tradition of thought influenced his incisive exposition, be it phrenology, anthropology or flat out eugenics. One can’t possibly say. 

As the conversation waged on, almost teetering on the brink of an unholy war, the passengers interjected in annoyance, shouting both men down as ignorant and tribalist, non-believers. One elderly gentleman reprimanded the two contenders in a raspy drawl indicative of his seniority, ‘religion is not independent of kulture, the two influence and shape each other in complex ways’. I later found out that the seventy-something gentlemen coiffed in a traditional Akan cloth that majestically hung from his right shoulder to the left casting an imperial mien, used to be a religious education teacher in a secondary school before his retirement. Emblazoned in colourful flames at the rear of the trotro was the axiom ‘knowledge is power’. For my part, I was glad to witness that tribalism – the singular most common stereotype sinisterly attributed to Africans by the West – was given no room to breathe. 

Alighting at Kejetia, one of the busiest commercial districts in Kumasi, the capital town of the Ashanti empire, I was overwhelmed by the surge of people briskly passing one another with haste and purpose. A far cry from Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuscinski’s lethargic Africa of docile bodies under acacia trees, lodging in the stillness of time. The atmosphere was saturated with noises from all corners of the earth. The cry of the street vendors and market women, the howl of porters ushering people out of their way as they haul heavy loads of wholesale goods. Dishevelled Sudanese and Somalian child refugees with broken smiles, a tender five years of age, aggressively harassing pedestrians for money. Both motorists and pedestrians flood onto the main highway competing for space to travel. The horns never stop hooting in anger, the cursing and kisses of teeth fought back. Charismatic proselytisers blast their message from hi-tech base speakers, courtesy of China. Chorused by the call to afternoon prayers echoed in the far distance. The view, where the Imam’s voice could be heard, showed crowded settlements of wooden makeshift structures and corrugated buildings stacked onto each other. I am told by the plump lady at the small Vodafone stand selling mobile top ups and vouchers, that, that part of the city is called Zongo.

The presence of Islam in Ashanti reads like a ‘Once upon a time’ legend. The story, as passed down generations, begins in the hinterlands of Ashanti, somewhere yonder in the brushes of the sun-baked northern Savannah lands. So be still as we follow the caravan trail of the trans Saharan trade, that runs through the awe-inspiring city of Timbuktu along the jungle routes of present Ghana. Islamic presence in Ghana took two major forms, beginning with the early waves of Dyula or Wangara, Berber and Arabic traders from the Sahel region to the northern parts of present Ghana between the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries. The downward spread of Islam from the Sahel to the Savannah engendered a hybrid practice that combined existing traditions with Sufi elements. Followed by the formation of Hausa communities along the southern regions of West Africa, spurred by the Islamist movement of Uthman Dan Fodio, which emphasised Sunni orthodox traditions, culminating in the foundation of the Sokoto Caliphate in the nineteenth century. 

These migrations into Ghana, brought with it distinct brands of Islam, specific to the interactions between the Muslim community and existing political and social traditions. During the height of the Asante empire, roughly in the 1700s, Sahelian caravans moved southward along the Black volta from Jenne through transitional zones like Bonduku in present day Côte d’Ivoire to Begho, north west of Ashanti in the Brong Ahafo region to trade in salt, beads, clothes, brassware, and much more. Meanwhile, gold and highly valued red kola-nuts passed northward through Nkoranza to Begho from the forest kingdom of Ashanti. 

This was not the only route where caravans from the Islamic regions travelled to Ghana. The slave market of Salaga, also brought Asante traders in regular contact with Mande and Fulani traders from the Futa Jallon highlands of present-day Guinea, who embraced Islam around the thirteen and sixteenth century.  The movement of goods was also accompanied by the dissemination of knowledge by Muslim clerics. Muslim presence was more felt within local political structures, rather than society as a whole, a fact richly dramatised in the 2018 historical novel by Ghanaian writer Ayesha Haruna Attah The Hundred Wells of Salaga. Set against the backdrop of civil wars in Yendi (1868 and 1898), she paints an evocative portrait of Salaga, where concerns around trade overshadowed the desire for religious conversion. 

European accounts and records from Muslim scholars show that, by the nineteenth century, Muslim influence on indigenous populations was mostly confined to clothing and popular fashion. And though Muslim leaders did wield considerable political influence in the courts of native rulers, the population at large remained rooted in their traditional beliefs and customs. Thus, conversion into Islam along the Sahelian expanse contrasts slightly from the Savannah regions of northern Ghana. Popular wisdom holds that in the case of the former, Islamisation came about through the process of accommodation as opposed to conquest. The spread of Islam across the regions of Mali, Guinea, Gambia, Senegal and Sierra Leone, is depicted through the ruler’s recognition of Islam as the religion of the state, followed by a gradual or in some cases radical introduction of Islam to the rest of the population, such as in the case of the Muslim empires of Mansa Musa (Mali) and Samori Ture (Wassoulou Empire). However, this does not rule out the use of state coercion through the introduction of sharia law and Islamic jurisprudence to engender conformity. In regions where a more purist and orthodox form of Islamic tradition took hold, under Sunni dominance similar to the Uthman Don Fodio Sokoto caliphate, jihadist movements were commonplace.

Spreading across the Sahel to the Voltaic basin of Ghana, adherents to Sufi Islam are believed to have encouraged rather less friction between the minority Muslim community and the dar al-kufr (un-believing) majority. Sheikh Hajj Suwara, Sufi scholar, marabout and saint from the Muslim town of Dioala in Mali, is reported to have formulated a theological basis for the peaceful coexistence between Muslims and the non-Muslim ruling classes, with the aim to promote trade between Dyula merchants and the native population. The exact period of Hajj Suwari’s existence is highly contested amongst historians. Some claim that he lived around the thirteenth century whilst others maintain that he was active in the fifteen century. Notwithstanding the facts of birth and life, the Suwarian tradition as it latterly came to be known took a real politik approach to Islam, by adapting its practices to the conditions and needs of a small Muslim migrant group living amongst a predominant ‘pagan’ host community. His teachings were spread by disciples in the Sahel to the voltaic stretch of Northern Ghana, roughly around the sixteenth and seventeenth century. Historians describes Sheikh Al-Hajj Salim Suwari as ‘pacifistic and quietist in content’, alluding to the establishment of an Islamic tradition based on a culture of tolerance and respect towards non- Muslims. 

As trade relations deepened between the northern areas of West Africa and the South, so did the influence of Islam. By the eighteenth to nineteenth century, Islam had gained a strong foothold in the north of present-day Ghana, in places such as Mossi, Dagomba, Dagara, Mamprusi, Gonja, interacting and shaping indigenous cultural structures in substantive ways. This resulted in the widespread perception of the north as a Muslim country. In the south the impact of Islam remained marginal, nonetheless, during crucial historic moments Muslims enjoyed considerable political influence in the administration of the state. 

The Ashanti Kingdom founded by King (Asantehene) Osei Tutu and his demiurgic priest Okomfo Anokye around 1670 and 1690, expanded its reach through conquest, assisted by the creation of a sophisticated political machinery. The formation of decentralised political structures under a confederation of chiefs connected outlying chiefdoms to the central administration. The confederacy allowed for democratic decision-making processes and a united body of representation expressed through the office of the King as the inter pares primus.  Emissaries were stationed across captured states as the organ of central government, representing the very authority of the King. By 1750 the Asante empire was the largest and most powerful state in the region. It had defeated the states of Gonja and Dagbon, placing considerable lands and populations in the north at the disposal of the Asantehene. The Ashanti sphere of influence extended beyond the whole of present-day Ghana, covering parts of Ivory Coast to the west and Togo to the East. During the reign of Asantehene Osei Kwadwo Kwoawia (1764–1777), also referred to as the ‘lion of the Savannah’ the Ashanti witnessed the first Muslim travellers to the Kings Palace. He is reported to be the principal Ashanti King to have associated with Muslims. 

Ashanti incursion to the north, brought to the King’s attention the knowledge of Islamic charms and cures. As his interest in the potency of Islamic ‘magic’ grew, he immediately recruited several Muslim clerics and scribes into his administration to provide auxiliary services to the military wing through the office of the Gyaseehene (head of central administration). Muslims were called upon to provide advice to the ruler and record important events in the capacity of councillors and scribes. Unlike the northern and voltaic states, Ashanti state formation did not include residential Muslims in political roles. State policy stopped short of creating a permanent Muslim resident, and mainly treated them as guests living and enjoying the privileges of the court at the pleasure of his majesty. As such they were keenly aware of their precarious position. That they could be easily expelled from the land once they fell out of favour or grace with the King. The state was constructed around the absolute control of the monarch over the forces of economic production, whilst the political spheres conform to democratic dispensation, through a two-tier system of jural corporateness: aman mu (immemorial customs not subject to legislative changes) and aman bre (jural custom subjected to legislative acts). The Ashanti King acted as the guarantor of all lands and wealth controlling economic production and distribution of wealth.  As a result, the Asantehene was able to fend off social revolutions, by constraining the rise of an indigenous commercial class through favouring non-resident Muslim merchants over Ashanti traders. 

The ascension of Nana Osei Tutu Kwame to the golden stool ushered in from 1777 to 1803 dramatic shifts in state policy towards Muslims. Osei Kwame’s liberal economic policies encouraged an influx of Muslims into the capital of Ashanti, Kumasi, establishing a Muslim residence close to the Kings Palace, Manhyia. Whilst there are no definite records of the size of the Muslim population during this period, it is fair to assume that their numbers were within the thousands. Muslim clerics exercised important state functions as ambassadors and emissaries of the King and there is considerable evidence that shows that state correspondence between Ashanti, European and foreign states was conducted in Arabic. The King also permitted religious proselytisation, which oversaw a modest number of converts, since Muslim relations with Ashanti remained confined to court politics, war and trade. In this regard Muslim traders due to their knowledge of the geography gained dominance of the cross-country caravan trade, rendering them an asset to the state. 

Asantehene Osei Kwame has been described as a ‘Muslim at heart’, who showed great interest in the Qur’an. His patronage towards the followers of the faith in Kumasi has caused commentators to claim that he was the first Muslim King. This may not be far from the truth, given that the underlying premise of Asante grund norms was predicated on a system of conformity and accommodation, allowing for the instrumental incorporation of other belief systems into the pre-existing framework of indigenous structures. Islam was therefore acceptable provided that its adherents conformed to the State’s demands and interests. In the words of the distinguished Africanist historian on Ashanti, Tom McCaskie, the public lives of Muslims in Ashanti ‘extended along a spectrum from compromise to apostasy’. 

Ashanti reverence for Muslim talisman, charms and amulets along with the belief that the Qur’an and Islamic inscriptions held great power, helped maintain and deepen cordial relations between the state and the Muslim community. Successive regimes stuck to this pro-Muslim policy, with Osei Kwame Asibe Bonsu, who reigned from 1804-1823, opening up new vistas of opportunities for Muslims to ascend to high positions in government. In particular, Sheikh Muhamma al-Ghamba, commonly known as Baba, from Wangara became the first officially recognised head of the Muslim community. He settled in Kumasi in 1807 and adhered to the Suwarain tradition, integrating Islam and indigenous belief while firmly rejecting the propagation of Islam through force or violence. He considered himself to be a favoured servant of the King, and perhaps he was right, as he enjoyed high rank at court. In the war against Gyaman and its northern borders in 1818, he commanded a force of 7000 strong Muslim soldiers on behalf of the Ashanti Kingdom. In preparation for the war the King invoked both pagan gods and Allah to intercede on his behalf. 

Ultimately, though, Sheikh Baba’s allegiances would disappoint the King, when he refused to face the Kong and Gonja people in the Gyaman war, declaring that he could not fight against fellow Muslims. Despite his bitterness at the perceived betrayal, the King would pardon his life on the account of him being a holy man. Such largesse and kindness of heart from the Commander in Chief of the Ashanti army was rare and perhaps a testament to the genuine affection between the men. Had he been an Ashanti General, Baba would have certainly paid with his life. Baba’s influence was such that it is thought that the term kramo was coined during this period in reference to him. The word is of a Wangara derivation instead of the language of the Ashanti, twi, and is commonly used to denote a knowledgeable person. 

Sheikh Baba was not the only Muslim cleric who enjoyed nobility and high rank. One Uthman Kamaghatay who founded the first Immamate in Kumasi in 1844 served the King as a close confidant and highly valued councillor, playing an important role in negotiations over the Anglo-Ashanti treaty of 1820. Both Kamaghatay and Baba sat in the Kings close senate, or privy council and advised on matters regarding the state’s relations with its northern subjects, as well as vetted European visitors. The French and English travellers Jean Dupuis and Thomas Edward Bowdich, respectively recount that during their visit to Ashanti they came across many Muslims of influence, rank and repute in the capital, who they identified as either Turks or Moors. They also described having to swear on the Qur’an to avow their goodwill towards the King. Several other high-profile Muslims from that period such as Kramo Ali and Kramo Suleyman are celebrated in oral tradition for their service to the King as spiritual mentors. According to folklore they are believed to have helped the King defeat his enemies through their knowledge of the supernatural and practice of magic. 

Not all Muslims dabbled in the mystic and esoteric, or even approved of fraternisation with pagan customs and practices. Sharif Ibrahim left the Niger for Kumasi, in or around 1815, and after sojourning for two years he quickly left for Mecca, incensed by the interaction between Kumasi Muslims and pagan customs. He belonged to a strict Sunni order and advocated a clear distinction between Dar-al-Islam and Dar-al-Harb. In his view ‘the Government of the country is the Government of its King without question. If the King is a Muslim, his land is Muslim: If he is an unbeliever his land is a land of unbelievers’. Sharif harshly condemned Kumasi Muslims as apostates and strongly disagreed with the making of amulets or use of magic to support the pagan objectives of Ashanti. He renounced all forms of interaction between Muslims and pagans in every area of public life, even including trade. 

Whatever tensions emerged within the Muslim community, the Islamisation of Ashanti as a whole seemed unlikely. First the Ashanti state policy kept Muslims closely attached to the Kings court, providing them limited access to the population at large. Trade with Ashanti was largely conducted by the state as opposed to ordinary citizens. The state also allocated spaces for Muslim settlement, which further allowed for close surveillance of Muslim migrants. In this context, the Muslim population had very little choice but to adopt a more pragmatic approach that emphasised peaceful coexistence and accommodation rather than risk conflict with the majority population.  

Between 1874 and 1896 marked the beginning of the end of a golden era. The British army, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Willcocks sacked the city of Kumasi with the support of 1000 Hausa troops from Nigeria and Sierra Leone. Subsequent to the arrest and exile of the Asantehene Prempeh I, Kumasi was set ablaze along with the Asantehene’s palace. Yaa Asantewaa, the intrepid and fierce queen mother of Ejisu staged a historic uprising, which for a brief moment turned the tide in favour of the Ashanti forces. Sadly, the British repelled the Ashanti advantage, finally bringing the empire to its knees. Yaa Asantewaa and her rebellious rabble were shipped off to the Seychelles to join their exiled King, as prisoners of war. These were truly dark days for the residents of Kumasi. The whole town was covered in a mournful smog of smoke punctuated by the stench of blood and corpses. That said, trouble had been long brewing. Prior to the final defeat of the Ashanti in the 1900s, the capital experienced protracted conflicts and antagonism between the power holders in Kumasi. These conflicts developed largely around succession disputes, which found state officials in a maelstrom of violent skirmishes as emerging factions vied to install their candidate of choice in office. The civil war created a hostile environment which saw a massive deterioration of trade relations between the state and Muslim traders. The Ashanti state put an embargo on foreign citizens to Ashanti resulting in a rapid decline of the presence of Muslims in court and state affairs. The brutal crackdown on Ashanti dissent at the hands of the British, resulted in a new political dispensation and configuration of the public space. 

Amidst this backdrop, the British seized their opportunity and, in 1902, declared Ashanti a British protectorate with a resident district commissioner tasked with the daily administration of the region. 700 Hausa troops out of the 1000 stayed behind, buoyed by the British removal of the embargo on the influx of foreign nationals. Colonial policies sought to boost commerce and economic growth in Ashanti, driving large numbers of Muslim traders and other ethnic groups from the Northern territories, Burkina Faso, Mali, Nigeria and Niger to the capital. However, the Hausa residents remained the largest single group and the first foreign occupants to enjoy British protection. The British administration reconfigured the colonial space along ethnic and racial lines, establishing the precedent for urban segregation through zoning. This reinforced Ashanti antipathy towards foreign subjects as interlopers or illegitimate tenants. The foreign quarter came to be known as Hausa Zongo, given the predominance of Hausa groups. The tenets of Ummah played a prominent role in altering the social and cultural complexion of these quarters. It attracted Muslims of different theological strands and cultural influences to the Zongos and this unofficially established the Islamic faith as a prerequisite for occupancy in the Zongos. Muslim landlords were accused of preferring to rent out or lease their properties only to Muslim tenants. Meanwhile, Ashanti residents considered the Zongos to be a Muslim neighbourhood, an illegitimate dwelling of squatters kept on their land through colonial subjugation, rather than a peaceful accommodation of popular consent. 

During my recent visit to the Zongos at Aboabo and Yenyawoso, in Kumasi, as I spoke to tenants it became clear to me that these quarters, though with a large Muslim population, also housed Ashantis and residents from other ethnic divisions. Whilst the term Asante Nkramo reflects a long and fruitful relationship that Ashanti has had with Muslim societies, the colonial spatial ordering has had a fundamental impact on the perception of Muslims in Ashanti, eventually engendering and hardening xenophobic attitudes towards them. As we chat, an Ashanti respondent and resident of the Zongo furiously gesticulates his arms in the air delivering an angry tirade against the appalling and squalid conditions in which he is forced to live, noticeable through the lack of infrastructure and basic sanitation. He condemned the government for the systemic marginalisation of Zongo residents but in an unexpected turn, seizes upon Muslim residents as the reason behind the government’s apathy. Poverty often provokes the marginalised and disaffected to scapegoat easy targets, and this is no exception. He claims that Zongos are a cesspool of illicit foreigners, whose cultural way of life is antithetical to Ashanti values and customs. Interestingly, prejudice towards Zongo residents is often passed off as cultural difference and not religious antipathy. Yet in recent times, the rise of groups like Boko Haram has perpetuated the othering of Muslims or in the case of Zongo residents a patina of religious prejudice. As another Ashanti resident living just off the fringes told me, ‘they are all recruits for boko haram in the waiting’, pointing in the direction of the mosque. 

Islamophobia is on the rise in this part of West Africa, intensifying existing tensions as it finds new forms of expression. Yet underlying such sentiment is the legacy of colonial residential segregation that has found Muslims living separate but parallel lives alongside Ashanti citizens. This has deeply altered the relationship between the Ashanti traditional state and Islam, conjuring up negative images of Muslims within the Ashanti historic imagination, from one of invited guests and friends of the state to that of illegitimate squatters. The situation has not been helped by the preservation of the architecture of colonial urban policies under post-colonial regimes. Within Muslim circles in Ghana, Asante Nkramo is either a muted expression or emblematic of the Islamic presence in precolonial Asante. When invoked, strong emphasis is placed on the cultural difference of Asante Nkramo from other Islamic groups. Consequently, Islam, as a binding force is subjected to reinterpretation, where secular norms are celebrated and extolled. This marks a dramatic shift in the negotiation of Muslim identity as practiced by the former Asante Nkramo attached to the Kings court. The former adopted a pragmatic response to the material circumstances surrounding their presence in Asante, and thus sought to integrate into the superstructure of Ashanti polity as a unitary body bound by the concept of Ummah. The latter, as a result of colonial spatial ordering of identity that designated groups to a fixed physical location, is deracinated from its historic genealogy and socially displaced. Compelled to refashion novel forms of identity formation by evoking new symbolic sites of self-expression, in accordance with prevailing norms. 

Asante Nkramo, once reminiscent of the fluid and social mixing between Ashantis and Muslim communities reconstructs Islam in a secular idiom that mobilises Suwarian principles towards a syncretised ethic, albeit, within a hostile environment. In practice, must the Asante Nkramo temporarily opt out of the Ummah to insist on his cultural difference from the other Muslims – the foreigners? He must also allow his faith an air of malleability and worldly aura. It is not surprising to encounter individuals in Ghana who identify as Asante Nkramo and possess an Islamic name but do not practice the faith, raising questions around the popular view of peaceful coexistence between Muslims and the rest of society. Colonialism has undoubtedly played its role in shaping Africa’s social geography and cultural demographic, but it cannot be held responsible for all the ills of contemporary West Africa. We all remember the scramble for Africa, where African lands and its people were carved out and served on a political smorgasbord to satisfy the appetite and greed of European nations. Who can forget the haunted ghost of decapitated Congolese children that trails the horrors of King Leopold’s cotton industry. Sadly, not much has changed. Children are still sent to their death by the thousands in the production of coltan within the postcolonial estate. Just as the precolonial Asante state and colonial state fashioned different sets of arrangements with the Muslim population, to meet their specific interest, so has the postcolonial state in Ghana. The postcolonial state promotes the idea of coexistence on the national theatres through the incorporation of Muslim cultural aesthetics and strategic presence in the representation of the nation state. The celebration of Ramadan as a national holiday, the presence of high state officials such as the president or his vice at Muslim durbars, which is often televised and the intimate courtship between the state and dominant Muslim territories as fundamental to the maintenance and consolidation of the nation state. The star-crossed romance between the Ghanaian state and Muslim population is more pronounced in political party affiliation with supposed Muslim territories in the north as important voting blocs, expressed through the tradition of reserving important seats in government for a Muslim candidate. The current ruling party in Ghana, the New Patriotic Party (NPP), has gone to great lengths to give vice presidency to a northern Muslim – Mahamudu Bawumia – partly to repair its image as a party of southern Ashanti elites. 

Ironically in the 1940s the NPP in its evolution was known as the Northern Peoples Party, and largely represented the interest of the Northern region. In the presidential address to the nation in 2019, for the first time in history, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo announced that the celebration of Independence Day commemoration on 6 March 2019, is held in the northern capitals. Clearly, the theme of peaceful coexistence advanced by the state assumes a singular coherent narrative that repackages Muslim identities within the appeal of the nation state. A deliberate political manoeuvre that seeks to conceal discontinuous and divergent narratives like the Asante Nkramo,by overemphasising syncretisation as a unique cultural ethics and value, specific to a singular rendition of Islamisation in Ghana and to some extent Africa in general. Asante Nkramo is reinterpreted and (re)produced out of the tensions and conflicts over the invocation of Muslim identities as a homogenous community against contested narratives of Muslim identities as historic categories subjected to change. 

Waiting for a taxi to convey me from the silence of hostility normalised as part of the flow of life in the Zongo, an elderly lady asks me for the time. She stares pensively into my face, giving me a surreal feeling of my fate being read out loud. She shuffles closer, casts a doubtful smile and asks, my son do you live here? No mama I answered, I was just passing through. Be careful, this place is not safe, and may God be with you. She did not have to spell it out, since we both understood her meaning: the Muslims are no longer a friend of the Ashanti.

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