P051 – Muslims and Media Landscapes in Africa: Contestation, Subversion, Revolt
9 July, 14:00 – 15:30

Soares Benjamin / African Studies Centre, Leiden
Seesemann Ruediger / University of Bayreuth


This panel seeks to expand upon previous research on religion and media in Africa by considering how the ways Muslims in Africa use media—as producers, consumers, and distributors—might support or contest given social configurations and established patterns of religious authority. The media revolution with media deregulation and the proliferation of new information and communication technologies (ICTs) in many African countries has opened up unprecedented opportunities for reaching wider audiences with religious messages. At the same time, it has also created spaces where new actors experiment with various media forms – “old” and “new” — and disseminate dissenting views and standpoints. We invite papers that critically examine the changing role of media in the Islamic field. Possible topics include the use of media by members of militant Islamic groups, who have employed the Internet and social media as powerful tools to promote revolt. However, we are not only interested in religious media and militants, but also the ways in which ordinary Muslims, activists, and groups/organizations engage with and consume various non-religious media that can also be sites of contestation and subversion. Papers highlighting women’s and youth’s engagement with media, religious or otherwise, are particularly welcome, as are papers that consider such media use within contexts of religious diversity and tension, competition, and conflict between different religious groups.

Musulmans et paysages médiatiques : Contestation, subversion et révolte
Cet atelier a pour objectif d’approfondir les recherches sur la religion et les médias en Afrique, en se penchant sur les façons dont l’usage des médias par les Musulmans en tant que producteurs, consommateurs, et distributeurs pourraient soutenir ou contester des configurations sociales données ainsi que des schémas d’autorité religieuse. La révolution médiatique, avec la dérégulation des médias et la prolifération des NTIC dans plusieurs pays, a ouvert pour les messages religieux des possibilités inédites d’atteindre un auditoire plus large. Parallèlement, celle-ci a créé des espaces où des acteurs expérimentent avec des formes de médias (« anciennes » et « nouvelles ») et disséminent des points de vue divergents. On sollicite des textes qui font l’analyse critique de l’évolution du rôle des médias parmi les musulmans. Des thématiques incluent l’usage des médias par les groupes militants, qui utilisent l’Internet et les média sociaux comme outils de mobilisation. Toutefois, on est également intéressé par les façons dont les Musulmans ordinaires, les activistes, et les groupes entrent utilisent et consomment divers médias non-religieux qui sont parfois des lieux de contestation et de subversion. Les textes mettant en évidence l’implication des femmes et des jeunes dans les médias sont particulièrement bienvenus, ainsi que les travaux portant à l’usage des médias dans des contextes de diversité religieuse et de tension, de compétition, et de conflit entre groupes religieux.

Paper 1

Amo Kae / EHESS – IMAF

Sufi Scholars and ICTs in Senegal

Since the late 1980s, new types of Sufi leaders and educated young disciples have emerged throughout Senegal. This paper focuses on the various uses of Internet and media by this new generation of Muslim scholars to influence the Senegalese religious and political life. Muslim communities in Senegal have maintained close ties both with the State authorities and the population. A phenomenon referred to as the brotherhood-based Republic (Bayart). So-called marabouts of youth such as Mustapha Sy and Modou Kara Mbacké became popular in the 1990s among the youth who were opposing the traditional collusion between religious leaders and politicians. Media-literate and involved in politics, this new batch of Muslims now challenge the Establishment all the more so since they can navigate through different spheres and values. Two major trends emerge from this observation. On the one hand, ICT has become an essential tool for urban Muslim actors trying to promote their spirituality and political opinion through their TV channels, websites but also utilizing local and international media not to forget social networks to mobilize a specific group of people. On the other hand, it is interesting to notice a certain individualization and rationalization of each believer using their knowledge and relative freedom to seek, choose, use, neglect or share information. Based on case studies, this paper analyses the impact of ICT against a backdrop of religious and political struggles in Senegal.

Paper 2

Zayani Mohamed / Georgetown University, SFS-Q

Media, Youth and Contestation: The Case of North Africa

This paper deals with digital contestation in the context of North Africa. Taking Tunisia—the birthplace of the Arab uprisings—as a case study, it explores the relationship between youth activism, digital resistance and political change. It argues that the Internet provided a distinctive space for contestation, which enabled many young users to enact a gradual silent entry into the world of politics. Yet political socialization is enacted not within the institutional world of formal politics but within the context of everyday life. Using James Scott’s theory of the resistance, this paper explore how digitally connected youth in North Africa contested their reality. By providing a historically grounded analysis of the evolution of digital contestation, this paper attempts to understand how power relations are renegotiated and reconfigured within an authoritarian context. Based on ethnographic work, the paper examines not only how voices of contention reshaped power relations, but also what happens to these voices after the uprisings, as the country attempted to build a democratic system where secular and religious voices contend for power. Taking heed of the mutations and adaptations the voices of contestation have undergone since the revolution, the paper argues that the most effective forms of contention are the ones that learned to adapt to the new reality of the Middle East and North Africa region and sought to combine cyber activism with real life activism.

Paper 3

Bezabeh Samson / African Studies Centre, Leiden

From Radio to Facebook Islam: Protest and Repression in Ethiopia Since the 1950s

Ethiopia, a country that has long tradition of Orthodox Christianity has a considerable Muslim population. Long regarded as second class citizens the Muslims of Ethiopia have historically been marginalized in the politics of the Ethiopian state. However, since the 1950s the political involvement of Muslims in the affairs of the Ethiopian state has grown in importance and in this the Middle East and its dynamics have played key roles. This paper tries to document in a comparative manner the role of the Middle East in the political activites of Ethiopian Muslims since the 1950s. It does so by taking both old and new media in to account. From the radio stations in the 1950s through which Ethiopian Muslims listened to pan-Arab ideology to Facebook in the 21st century where they have organized protests akin to the recent Arab uprisings, media have played a key role in the mobilization of the Muslim community and airing their grievances. Despite its relevance, researchers have largely ign red the role media have played while noting the ongoing protest. This paper tries to fill this gap by showing how media have long been a weapon of Muslim youth in Ethiopia.

Paper 4

Pontzen Benedikt / Freie Universität Berlin

“Caring for the People”: Zuria FM, A Muslim Radio Station in Asante, Ghana

In 2002, ZuriaFM went live as the first and only Muslim radio station in Asante. It quickly established itself as the most popular station among the local Muslims, as it is the only one with programs in the languages of the Islamic community, asserting Islamic moral standards, and discussing questions of interest to the Muslim community, thereby contributing to the “Islamic sphere” (Launay et al. 1999) of its listeners. Aiming at a Muslim audience in a mainly Christian context, ZuriaFM faces several challenges. It is constantly short of cash and has to generate revenues from those who go on air over its waves. The demand for airtime is quite high as upcoming or established Muslim scholars wish to spread their tenets and to establish themselves as religious authorities. By providing airtime for different scholars, ZuriaFM has grown into a forum for ongoing debates fueled by the divergent contributions of these preachers. The local Muslims tune in to learn about their religion and the different tenets of their scholars, pursuing the aired debates in their conversations. Therefore, ZuriaFM is partaking in the ongoing “discursive tradition” (Asad 1986) of Islam in Asante. In my paper, I portray this station and its founder, depict its program and the challenges it faces. I also summarize a prominent case where the station’s program has sparked ardent discussions in the community to depict how it has an impact on ongoing debates and on the local conception of religious authority.

Paper 5

Freire Francisco / CRIA / FCSH-NOVA

Weapons of the Weak and the Strong: High-Tech Preaching and Activism in Mauritania

Mauritania’s peripheral geography and the incipient sedentary character of most of its population notwithstanding, the western Saharan region (and Mauritania in particular) can be included in the worldwide use of broad-spectrum media technologies by Islamic actors. As elsewhere, the adoption of such communication tools confirms the emergence of new readings and new agents associated with Islamic traditions. This paper will explore some recent debates associated with the region’s social hierarchy among the arabophone population. Different agents, from different social groups (all of them holding a tributary status), have publicly questioned this historically established pattern, making use of diverse media technologies in order to spread their messages and, in many cases, calling for a revolutionary revision of “traditional” – and still pervasive – social roles in the western Sahara. The activists associated with these movements have critiqued some notable Muslim scholars and numerous traditionally consecrated written sources defining Islamic practice in Mauritania. This presentation explores this particular context where innovative media technologies are being used as a reformist tool, both for Islamic expression, as well as for social change.

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