The Union of the Comoros is a chain of islands located north of Madagascar, in the middle of the Mozambique Channel in the middle of the Indian Ocean. The country is composed of four islands, Grande Comore, where the capital Moroni is located, the island of Moheli, Anjouan and Mayotte. The latter became a French department in 2011 after several referendums. Due to its geographical location and its maritime trade flows, the state has always benefited from contacts and influence with the Middle East and the Muslim world. The religious context is directly inherited from history.
Islam, the dominant religion since the 13th century
The strategic location of the archipelago, a real gateway to Africa for Arab and Asian powerful states – and vice versa – must be put into perspective to understand that the Comoros has been a land occupied by merchant peoples and colonial powers throughout history, which may explain in part the current religious context.
The origins of the Islamization of the Comoros are uncertain. However, the findings of archaeologist Felix Chami suggest that the Muslim influence dates back to the 7th century. In 2010, the discovery of a mosque dating from the 13th century hid three foundations of distinct period, and the materials found as well as the writings on pottery confirm a practice of Islam in the archipelago. While the first traces of civilization and settlement are estimated to date from the 6th century, it can be deduced that Islam was one of the foundations of the country’s construction, and is as old as the first populations.
Later, the arrival of the Persian peoples, and in particular of the Shirazian dynasties (Shiraz is an Iranian city, cradle of numerous communities of traders and adventurers in antiquity), seems to have influenced the Comorian elites in their relationship to Islam, and more particularly to Shiism, of which Iran is the cradle.
Religious freedom remains for a very small minority
However, the trend was reversed quite late in the 14th century, when the local aristocratic elites were replaced by the Sunni current, which then became the norm and the only Islam practiced in the Comoros: 98% of Comorians are now Muslims.
Gradually, the country’s legal system is impacted by Islamic law, and Islam becomes the state religion in 2009.
Although religious freedom remains, the 2% of non-Muslims (Christians, Hindus) are discreet, as proselytizing and evangelism remain prohibited. The Catholic mission is tolerated because of its charitable commitment, its involvement in education and the health support it provides to the Comorian population. It was founded in the Comoros in the 1930s by Malagasy Capuchins, and its role is purely social and symbolic.
Here is the Mosque of Moroni, also known as the Friday Mosque (in reference to the day of prayer), an essential tourist site in the capital of the Comoros, and a symbol of a tradition rooted in history.