It would seem that many of the beliefs and practices of popular Islam that have found acceptance in what began – in intention at least – as a revolution to an ideal religion, derive from other sources. Such ‘converts’ have tended to retain many of their previous concepts beneath a veneer of conformity to orthodox Islam.
Some of the practices of Arabian tribesmen which continued, officially or unofficially after their Islamization, included the hajj to the kaba with various attendant ceremonies, rituals in such activities as paring nails or washings after certain kinds of defilement, the use of amulets for protection, the use of hair and fingernails for offensive magic, the protection measures taken against the qarina, the evil eye and jinn, and various kinds of divination. New believers tended to carry into their worldview as Muslims previous ideas about the soul, death, spirit world, blessing and cursing.
In the progressive expansion of Islam, proponents of the faith have often been representatives not of the orthodox, popular religion. As a result, within orthodoxy, it was demonstrated that ideal forms of the faith would be gentle and accommodating host to the more exportable and accessible expressions of popular religion.
Among Africans south of the Sahara, in more recent times, a similar process has occurred. For example, Fulani Muslims in Cameroon use spirit possession and necromancy in a syncretistic mix of traditional and Islamic approaches to healing. In the western Sudan, among the Molsi, Islam’s inclusion of the African’s central concern for ancestor veneration broke the lengthy resistance shown to the new religion. Thus the expansion of the formal faith has often been courtesy of adaptation made at a popular level to accommodate the major beliefs and practices of the convert peoples.