P049 – Islamic Movements in Africa: New Modes of Adaptation, Resistance and Mobilization
9 July, 09:00-10:30

Sounaye Abdoulaye / Zentrum Moderner Orient
Apard Elodie / IFRA


As they influence their environment, religious reform movements usually have also to cope with the cultural, social, political and economic circumstances of their contexts. Some of these movements would rigidify their views and radicalized their positions; others would succumb and over time disappear; still others would resist, adapt and transform as they resort to cultural, social and economic strategies. Social life, cultural trends and political processes could depend heavily on the agency of and the responses to these movements. In fact, these responses could be cultural, political and theological, and could eventually counter the influence of the movements. This scenario has been part of the social history of religiosity in Africa, particularly within a Muslim context. How do we theorize the modes of mobilization, resistance, adaptation and transformation within these movements? As recent developments in the Sahel remind us, religion is a privileged site for the problematization of life conditions, political processes and cultural trends. This panel focuses on the new modes of adaptation, resistance and mobilization in contemporary Islamic movements in Africa. It consists of case studies that bring to the fore new lines of analysis and interpretations of these processes.

Mouvements islamiques en Afrique: Nouveaux modes d’adaptation, de resistance et de mobilization
S’ils influencent incontestablement leur environnement, les mouvements religieux contemporains sont également tributaires des conditions sociales, culturelles, politiques et économiques propres aux espaces dans lesquels ils interviennent. Face aux difficultés contextuelles, certains de ces mouvements se radicalisent, d’autres finissent par disparaître, d’autres encore résistent, se transforment et s’adaptent. En réponse à ces mouvements, des stratégies d’action peuvent se développer, au niveau culturel, politique ou idéologique, et peuvent même réussir à limiter l’influence de ces mouvements. Ce principe d’adaptation/résistance fait partie de l’histoire sociale de la religion en Afrique, notamment en contexte musulman. Ce panel propose donc une réflexion sur les nouvelles formes de mobilisation, les modes de résistance, d’adaptation et de transformation qu’entrainent les mouvements islamiques réformistes actuels et qu’il advient de théoriser. Il s’agira d’étudier les processus culturels et sociaux d’adaptation et de transformation actuellement à l’œuvre dans les sociétés africaines confrontées au renouveau religieux. Des études de cas permettront de mettre en évidence de nouveaux axes d’analyse et d’interprétation de ces processus.

Paper 1

Dumbe Yunus / Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology

A View from the Inside: Muslim Modernists’ Critique of Salafi Reforms, 1969-1989

This paper analyses Salafi reforms from the perspective of Western educated elites who served in the leadership of the Islamic Research and Reformation Centre (IRRC). Inspired by religious orthodoxy, the IRRC’s platform attracted disgruntled Tijaniyya Muslims. The diverse nature of the IRRC enabled it to propose far-reaching and competing interpretations to Islamic reform. Based on archival data and in-depth interviews, the study argues that while Western educated elements promoted reforms by engaging the secular Ghanaian space; the Ulama, on the other hand, pursued reforms that focused on the eradication of perceived religious unorthodoxy. Furthermore, while the masses favoured the competing reforms of the Ulama; modernists subjected it to scathing criticism which is in contrast to the prevailing scholarship on Salafi-Sufi polemics. The study concludes that the different approaches to reform were a reflection of the influences of Islamic and Western education on adherents.

Paper 2

Langewiesche Katrin / Institut für Ethnologie und Afrikastudien, University of Mainz, Germany

Between Adaptation and Resistance: Practices of Ahmadiyya Missionaries in West Africa

The focus of my research are the Ahmadiyya, an religious movement inspired by the ideas of Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, and their non-governmental organization Humanity First in three West African countries (Burkina Faso, Ghana, Benin). The Ahmadi missionaries found themselves faced by different, religious, political and legal systems, market forces, technology developments, and new forms of cosmopolitanism that required response and adaptation. Neither in the schools of the Ahmadiyya movement nor in the health care centers and development projects of Humanity First religion is explicitly addressed. However, the motivation for founding, funding and supporting them through one’s own work is motivated by the ideas of Ghulam Ahmad which envisioned to combine scientific knowledge, sustainable social development and religious values.
Based on ethnographic fieldwork and the first results of work-in progress, this paper opens perspectives on the modes of adaptation, resistance and mobilization of Ahmadi missionaries in West Africa; it looks at the ways in which the movement’s vision of a modern society, is materializing in the dialectic of coping with the cultural, political and economic circumstances of their contexts and an extremely formalized normative system.

Paper 3

Higazi Adam / Cambridge University

Mobilisation into and against Boko Haram in Northern Nigeria

This paper draws on the author’s anthropological research in north-east Nigeria (in parts of Borno, Bauchi, and Gombe States) and the Jos Plateau in central Nigeria, to analyse the dynamics and escalation of the Boko Haram insurgency, which in 2014 was one of the most deadly in the world. In analysing mobilisation into and against Boko Haram, the paper begins by outlining the doctrinal foundations of the sect’s jihadi ideology and its breaking away from – and subsequent violence against – Salafi groups in northern Nigeria. It then looks at patterns of recruitment, the focus and types of attacks, and the Nigerian state’s responses. The emergence and impacts of resistance from vigilante groups and other forms of resistance is then considered. The paper also touches on the political economy of the insurgency, including the contrasting allegations and discourses about suspected Boko Haram sponsors and funding. The paper asks why the Nigerian state and international actors did not
prevent the deepening of the crisis, which has displaced more than one million people, claimed many thousands of lives, and enabled Boko Haram to gain territorial control over significant parts of north-east Nigeria.

Paper 4

Ibrahim Murtala / Freie Universitat Berlin, Germany

If you cannot beat them, join them: NASFAT and the Challenges of Pentecostals in Nigeria

This paper is a result of an ethnographic study of NASFAT (Nasrullahi Fathi) which is one of the largest Islamic religious movements that emerged in the mega city of Lagos in last decade. The paper has looked into the struggle of NASFAT to adapt and succeed in an environment that is heavily dominated by Pentecostal Christianity which attract and fascinate large number of Muslim youths. NASFAT deploy strategies of imitating some Pentecostal practices, organizational structures and even initiate Islamic Sunday worship service in order to become appealing to the increasing number of modern educated young Muslims and middle class professionals. The logic which NASFAT employed to negotiate and legitimize imitating Pentecostal practices is based on the idea that if we do not do it ‘this way’ our youths will go to the Pentecostal churches. The paper has argued that the strategy of copying competitor’s seemingly attractive practices has helped NASFAT adapt and grow in a highly competitive Ni
gerian religious market place. The paper highlighted different area of Muslims and Christians encounter in Nigeria that is not based on usual narrative of conflicts but one that is based on mutual influence and imitation. Moreover, the paper also argued that NASFAT is a Muslim group whose agenda is not Islamic reform but presenting new face of Islam as modern progessive religion.

Paper 5

Sounaye Abdoulaye / Zentrum Moderner Orient

Apard Elodie / IFRA, Ibadan – Nigeria

Resisting and Adapting to Islamic Reform in Niamey, Niger

This paper discusses some of the modes of adaptation and resistance to the Izala reform in Niamey, Niger. It draws from extensive ethnographic work undertaken among youth in several neighborhoods of Niamey. It examines cultural forms, practices as well as discourses that sought to respond to the Izala reform and in many ways mitigate its impact.
The literature on the development of the Izala reform has extensively shown how the movement has emerged, mobilized and spread across Niger. Additionally, several analysts have described the transformative impact of the Izala on political configurations and social interactions in Niamey. However, little has been written on the modes and forms of resistance and adaptation to the Izala reform. This paper seeks to initiate a conversation on the Izala reform in context, focusing on the ways in which cultural forms, religious discourses and social logics have been mobilized to respond to Izala.

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