Islamic Studies Islamic Trends and Movements in Contemporary Sub-Saharan Africa
by
Marloes Janson
  • LAST MODIFIED: 23 March 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195390155-0292

Introduction

Sub-Saharan Africa—that is, Africa south of the Sahara—is frequently, but unjustly, seen as the periphery of the Muslim world, in terms of both geography and religious influence. By contrast, North Africa is considered to be directly linked to the alleged center of the Muslim world: the Arab Middle East. The underrepresentation of sub-Saharan Africa in Islamic studies is remarkable given that the region is home to one of the largest agglomerations of Muslims in the world today. Scholars have long written about an “African Islam,” reflecting the Sufi bias typical of scholarship on Islam in sub-Saharan Africa. The recurrent idea of an “African Islam” hampers a better understanding of the emergence of Islamic reform movements. The religious landscape in sub-Saharan Africa is marked by a wide variety of Sufi orders, reformist-oriented movements, and Islamist movements. These movements have been the subject of various studies in diverse disciplines, including anthropology, Islamic studies, religious studies, history, and political science. These various disciplines have examined trends, such as the role of traders and traveling scholars in the expansion of Islam, the emergence of the early jihadist movements, the role of the Sufi orders in popularizing Islam, varieties of Islamic reform, and Islamic militancy. Moreover, various studies have explored developments in specific areas, including gender and Muslim youth culture. These developments gave rise to new movements, demonstrating that Islam in sub-Saharan Africa is not a monolithic religion but is subject to change. Highlighting the heterogeneity of Islam in the region, we should distinguish between regions and countries that have a long tradition of Islamization (such as northern Nigeria, Senegal, and Zanzibar), and regions and countries that have become Muslim (at least partly) more recently (such as Burkina Faso, Ghana, and up-country Kenya). A distinction should also be drawn between regions and countries where Muslims form a majority of the population and areas where Muslims represent a minority. But where Muslims are a minority, such as in South Africa, they may still be in a strong position with respect to national politics.

General Overviews

Hiskett 1994 provides a concise historical overview of the development of Islam in Africa from the 7th century to the 1990s. More detailed sources that survey Islam in Africa from a broad historical perspective are Levtzion and Pouwels 1999 and Loimeier 2013. Levtzion and Pouwels 2000 looks at the history of Islam in Africa, spanning fourteen centuries. The authors consider how Islam has changed life in African communities and how these communities have, in their turn, affected Islam. Loimeier 2013 provides a concise overview of Muslim societies in Africa and studies Africa as a part of the wider Muslim world. Robinson 2004 is indispensable in providing a historical background to understanding contemporary Islamic movements and trends in Africa.

  • Hiskett, Mervyn. The Course of Islam in Africa. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1994.

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    Considering a geographic stretch from North Africa to East Africa, the Horn, and southern Africa, Hiskett pays particular attention to the development of Sufism across the continent. The book includes a short bibliography with key works on Islam in Africa.

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  • Levtzion, Nehemia, and Randall L. Pouwels, eds. The History of Islam in Africa. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 1999.

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    This is the first comprehensive history of Islam in Africa. Whereas the focus is on sub-Saharan Africa, the volume includes references to Egypt and North Africa.

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  • Loimeier, Roman. Muslim Societies in Africa: A Historical Anthropology. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2013.

    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt16gz74bSave Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    A concise, but comprehensive, study of Islam and Muslim societies in Africa, covering the entire continent including North Africa. This is a useful research tool in that the appendix includes sources for further reading.

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  • Robinson, David. Muslim Societies in African History. New Approaches to African History. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511811746Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Examining case studies from North, West, and East Africa, this book gives rich snapshots of Muslim societies in Africa over the last millennium. The distinction that Robinson draws between the “Islamization of Africa” (chapter 3) and the “Africanization of Islam” (chapter 4) gives a somewhat distorted image of a divide between an “African Islam” and an “Arab Islam.”

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Reference Works: Bibliographies, Research Guides, and Journals

Africa Bibliography is a large guide to works in African studies that is published under the auspices of the International African Institute. It includes a wide range of material, including monographs, chapters in edited volumes, journal articles, and pamphlets. It covers all regions of Africa, including North Africa. It can be browsed by region, country, and subject. Africa-Wide Information is a collection of fifty Africa-related databases. Schrijver 2006 has compiled an extensive Bibliography on Islam in Contemporary Sub-Saharan Africa. Africa South of the Sahara: Selected Internet Resources is an annotated directory of online resources about Africa, available on Stanford University’s website. Journal of Religion in Africa, Islam et Sociétés au Sud du Sahara, and Islamic Africa are among the journals that students of Islam in sub-Saharan Africa will find interesting. Although not concentrating solely on Islam, Africa: Journal of the International African Institute is the premier journal devoted to the study of African societies and culture. Other journals focusing on Africa that include much material about Islam are Journal of African History, International Journal of African Historical Studies, and Cahiers d’Études Africaines.

Bibliographies and Research Guides

Journals

The Expansion of Islam

Although this article focuses on contemporary trends and movements in Islam in sub-Saharan Africa, a historical overview of the Islamization of sub-Saharan Africa is needed to provide the backdrop against which to study these trends and movements. The Muslim penetration of sub-Saharan Africa has traditionally been associated with conquest, trade, migration, and missionary activities, occurring in four main phases. The first phase dates back to the 7th and 8th centuries, with the military conquest of much of North Africa. Converted Berber-speaking nomads were well positioned to mediate Islamic influences between the Maghreb and the western Sudan (Clarke 1982). During the second phase, Islam spread across the Sahara into West Africa along the trans-Saharan trade routes (Lydon 2009). From the 10th century onward, North African Muslim merchants settled in the main towns along the trade routes. In addition to goods, merchants brought Islamic ideas and practices (Levtzion and Pouwels 2000). Due to the central location of East Africa on the rim of the Indian Ocean, trade was also the avenue through which Islam spread to this region (Pouwels 1987). During the third phase, the influence of Muslim traders along with Muslim scholars was instrumental in the formation of states ruled by Muslims. Throughout the third phase, Islam remained a court religion. It remained marginal in sub-Saharan Africa until the time of the early jihadist movements in the 18th and 19th centuries, which were motivated by the desire to establish systems of government based on Islamic principles (Lovejoy 2016). The most prominent was Usman dan Fodio’s jihad in Hausaland (modern northern Nigeria), which resulted in the creation of the Sokoto caliphate in 1809, the largest independent state in West Africa until it was conquered by the British in 1903 (Last 1967). The final phase of the Muslim penetration of sub-Saharan Africa began in the 19th century under the influence of the Sufi orders.

  • Clarke, Peter B. West Africa and Islam: A Study of Religious Development from the 8th to the 20th Century. London: Edward Arnold, 1982.

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    This book traces the making of the West African Muslim community over a period of some twelve hundred years, beginning with West Africa’s first contacts with Islam in the 8th century and concluding with the situation after independence. The first two chapters describe the earliest contacts between West Africans and Muslims coming from North Africa.

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  • Last, Murray. The Sokoto Caliphate. London: Longmans, 1967.

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    This comprehensive study of the Sokoto Caliphate gives a detailed account of the sources (published as well as unpublished) available for a study of the Sokoto Caliphate and reconstructs its development during the 19th century.

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  • Levtzion, Nehemia, and Randall L. Pouwels, eds. The History of Islam in Africa. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2000.

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    Covering gateways to sub-Saharan Africa (Egypt and North Africa, the Indian Ocean, and the Red Sea), this major volume gives a detailed account of the patterns of Islamization.

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  • Lovejoy, Paul E. Jihād in West Africa during the Age of Revolutions. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2016.

    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctv224tvv3Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    This insightful study provides context for the political and cultural role of Islam in sub-Saharan Africa from the 18th century into the present. Understanding that there is a long tradition of jihad in West Africa, Lovejoy argues, is crucial in correcting the one-sided focus on contemporary jihadist movements in the Middle East, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.

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  • Lydon, Ghislaine. On Trans-Saharan Trails: Islamic Law, Trade Networks, and Cross-Cultural Exchange in Nineteenth-Century Western Africa. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2009.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511575457Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Lydon examines the history of trans-Saharan trade networks in West Africa using original source material. The book bridges the divide between West African and North African studies and makes an important contribution to scholarship on Muslim Africa.

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  • Pouwels, Randall L. Horn and Crescent: Cultural Change and Traditional Islam on the East African Coast, 800–1900. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1987.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511523885Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    This is the first book-length historical study of Islam among the Swahili on the East African coast. Pouwels shows how Islam and other aspects of the coastal civilization have evolved since about 1000 CE, and it highlights the fundamental importance of Islam to coastal identity.

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Islam and Colonial Rule

Launay and Soares 1999 argue that one of the most unintended consequences of colonial rule in French West Africa was the Islamization of large parts of it. Also, in anglophone Africa, Islam progressed as a result of colonial rule. Unlike the French, the British governed via indirect rule. Still, the consequences of British colonial policy toward Islam were, according to Umar 2005, less “benign” than often thought. Like Umar 2005, who sheds light on the dynamic encounter between colonizer and colonized, Robinson and Triaud 1997 and Robinson 2000 elucidate that Muslim Sufi leaders pursued strategies of accommodation with the French colonial authorities that led to the preservation of considerable independence in the religious sphere. From the French perspective, these Sufi leaders embodied Islam noir, literally “Black Islam” or “African Islam.” The idea that there was a specifically “African Islam,” which differed fundamentally from “Arab” Islam, formed the basis of French colonial policy with regard to Islam. Although the concept of Islam noir has been severely criticized, such as in Triaud 2000, a tendency still exists to depict Islam as practiced in sub-Saharan Africa as less “orthodox” than that practiced in the Arab Middle East. For example, Westerlund and Rosander 1997 describe “African Islam” as more flexible and adaptable than what they portray as “Islam in Africa.”

  • Launay, Robert, and Benjamin F. Soares. “The Formation of an ‘Islamic Sphere’ in French Colonial Africa.” Economy and Society 28.4 (1999): 497–519.

    DOI: 10.1080/03085149900000015Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Islamic movements in West Africa have often been interpreted in specifically political terms, as instances of “collaboration” with or “resistance” to colonial rule. Launay and Soares argue that they can be better understood in terms of the emergence of an “Islamic sphere,” in which the practice of Islam was hotly contested.

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  • Robinson, David. Paths of Accommodation: Muslim Societies and French Colonial Authorities in Senegal and Mauritania, 1880–1920. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2000.

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    Robinson portrays colonial conquest as an interactive process between the French colonial authorities, proposing themselves as a Muslim power, and the Muslim leaders of Senegal and Mauritania. The latter realized that they could benefit from entering into a relation of accommodation with the French colonial regime.

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  • Robinson, David, and Jean-Louis Triaud, eds. Le temps des marabouts: Itinéraires et stratégies islamiques en Afrique occidentale française, v. 1880–1960. Paris: Karthala, 1997.

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    This edited volume is composed of twenty-three chapters published in French or English. The overarching theme is the relation between Muslim society and colonial authority. The authors illustrate how by establishing a good rapport with the colonial administration, Sufi leaders were able to pursue some of their own religious agendas beyond the purview of the colonial state.

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  • Triaud, Jean-Louis. “Islam in Africa under French Colonial Rule.” In The History of Islam in Africa. Edited by Nehemia Levtzion and Randall L. Pouwels, 169–187. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2000.

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    In contrast to British colonialism, French colonialism experienced the Muslim presence in West Africa in the guise of counterrevolutionary conspiracy. The theory of an accommodating “Black Islam” appeased the fear of Islamic danger, but it also had contradictory effects in that it placed Islamic communities under constant surveillance.

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  • Umar, Muhammad S. Islam and Colonialism: Intellectual Responses of Muslims of Northern Nigeria to British Colonial Rule. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2005.

    DOI: 10.1163/9789047416630Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Drawing on a wide variety of different sources, this book provides a detailed overview of northern Nigerian Muslim scholars’ responses to British colonial rule. It departs from the conventional conception of British colonial policy and illustrates that a dynamic encounter between colonizer and colonized took place resulting in unintended consequences.

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  • Westerlund, David, and Eva E. Rosander, eds. African Islam and Islam in Africa: Encounters between Sufis and Islamists. London: Hurst, 1997.

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    This interdisciplinary volume deals with the interaction between different forms of Islam in Africa. The regional focus is on areas where Muslims form the majority of the population, mainly in North and West Africa. By distinguishing between an “African Islam” (i.e., Sufism) and “Islam in Africa” (i.e., Islamism), the volume evokes the problematic Islam noir trope.

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Sufi Orders

Sufi orders (Arabic turuq) have become one of the main organizational forms for the practice of Islam in sub-Saharan Africa. The terms Sufi order and Sufi brotherhood are often used interchangeably in the literature. Given that women play an active role in Sufism, the term Sufi order is more accurate than Sufi brotherhood. For the role of women as Sufi leaders in Senegal, see Coulon and Reveyrand 1990 and Hill 2018. The oldest Sufi order in West Africa is the Qadiriyya, which was founded in the 11th century in Baghdad, Iraq. The Tijaniyya was established in Fez, Morocco, in the last decade of the 18th century. Starting in the mid-19th century, the Tijaniyya, under the leadership of al-Hajj ‘Umar Tal (d. 1864), gradually superseded the Qadiriyya as the largest Sufi order in West Africa. Al-Hajj ‘Umar Tal led a large-scale jihadist movement in the area of present-day Mali, resulting in mass conversion to the Tijaniyya (Robinson 1985). For an anthology of the Tijani order in West Africa, see Triaud and Robinson 2000. Largely because of the prominent position that Sufi orders occupy in the religious-political landscape in West Africa, and most notably in Senegal, they have attracted a great deal of scholarly attention. Examples are Villalón 1995, Mbacké and Hunwick 2005, and Seesemann 2011. Whereas Qadiriyya and Tijaniyya originated from outside sub-Saharan Africa, Muridiyya is a popular local Sufi order in Senegal (Cruise O’Brien 1971, Babou 2007). Popularly based Sufi orders reached East Africa much later; only near the end of the 19th century did the Qadiriyya and Shadhiliyya become active and trigger a movement of conversion to Islam (Vikør 2000). Originating in the South Yemeni region of Hadramawt, the Alawiyya order spread along the coast of the Indian Ocean (Bang 2003). Much less is known about Sufism beyond West and East Africa. According to Haron 2005, Sufi orders have grown in popularity in South Africa since the 1990s. In many parts of sub-Saharan Africa, the Sufi orders have come under attack by Islamic reformists, who see them as a form of “cultural Islam” that they want to replace with “true Islam.” For an example of the complex relations between Sufis and reformists in Mali, see Soares 2005.

  • Babou, Cheikh Anta. Fighting the Greater Jihad: Ahmadu Bamba and the Founding of the Muridiyya of Senegal, 1853–1913. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2007.

    DOI: 10.1353/book.7000Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Drawing on a variety of archival, oral, and iconographic sources in Arabic, French, and Wolof, this book offers an insightful perspective on the establishment of the home-grown Muridiyya order and a biographical study of its founder, Cheikh Ahmadu Bamba Mbacké.

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  • Bang, Anne K. Sufis and Scholars of the Sea: Family Networks in East Africa, 1860–1925. London: Routledge, 2003.

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    In this well-researched book, Bang focuses on the ways in which the Alawiyya order spread. More specifically, she focuses on the scholarly exchange of ideas between Hadramawt and the East African coast. The book portrays the Alawis as cultural mediators in the multiethnic, multireligious Indian Ocean world.

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  • Coulon, Christian, and Odile Reveyrand. L’islam au feminin: Sokhna Magat Diop, Cheikh de la confrérie mouride (Sénégal). Bordeaux, France: Centre d’Étude d’Afrique Noire, 1990.

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    This book describes how the daughter of Ahmad Bamba, Sokhna Magat Diop, took formal leadership of her father’s branch of the Muridiyya order when he died in 1943. It forms a welcome addition to the male-biased scholarship on Islam in sub-Saharan Africa.

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  • Cruise O’Brien, Donal B. The Mourides of Senegal: The Political and Economic Organization of an Islamic Brotherhood. Oxford: Clarendon, 1971.

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    This is a detailed historical study of the foundation and growth of the Mouride order (Muridiyya) and its participation in Senegalese economic and political life, from its beginnings to the late 1960s. The author seeks to understand the followers’ devotion to their sheikh as the surest path to salvation, which distinguishes this order from the Qadiri and Tijani orders.

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  • Haron, Muhammad. “Daʿwah Movements and Sufi Tariqahs: Competing for Spiritual Spaces in Contemporary South(ern) Africa.” Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs 25.2 (2005): 261–285.

    DOI: 10.1080/13602000500114157Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    This article traces the growth of the Sufi orders, and particularly Alawiyya, in southern Africa, and particularly South Africa, since the 1990s. Haron compares the activities in which Sufis engage with those of daʿwa movements, including the Tablighi Jamaʿat (see Islamic Reform Movements).

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  • Hill, Joseph. Wrapping Authority: Women Islamic Leaders in a Sufi Movement in Dakar, Senegal. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2018.

    DOI: 10.3138/9781487517014Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    A highly accessible book dealing with female spiritual leaders in Senegal. Since around 2000, a growing number of women in Senegal’s capital Dakar have come to act openly as Sufi leaders for both women and men. While female Islamic leaders may appear radical in a context where women have rarely exercised Islamic authority, they have provoked surprisingly little controversy.

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  • Mbacké, Khadim, and John Hunwick. Sufism and Religious Brotherhoods in Senegal. Translated by Eric Ross. Princeton, NJ: Markus Wiener, 2005.

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    This concise study demonstrates that Islam in Senegal is characterized by Sufism. The authors trace the origin and evolution of the Sufi orders and the roles they play in Senegal’s cultural, economic, social, and political life.

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  • Robinson, David. The Holy War of Umar Tal: The Western Sudan in the Mid-Nineteenth Century. Oxford: Clarendon, 1985.

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    This book describes the military and political career of al-Hajj ‘Umar Tal. Under the influence of his jihad, the Tijani order spread in West Africa.

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  • Seesemann, Rüdiger. The Divine Flood: Ibrahim Niasse and the Roots of a Twentieth-Century Sufi Revival. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195384321.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    A detailed study revolving around the emergence and spread of the “Community of the Divine Flood,” which was established in 1929 by Ibrahim Niasse, a leader of the Tijani order from Senegal. Based on a wide variety of written sources, mostly in Arabic, and encounters with leaders and members of the movement, Seesemann analyzes the teachings and practices of this community.

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  • Soares, Benjamin F. Islam and the Prayer Economy: History and Authority in a Malian Town. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2005.

    DOI: 10.1515/9781474472753Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    This historical ethnography explores changing Muslim practice in an Islamic religious center in West Africa. Soares provides a detailed discussion of Sufism, Islamic reform, and other contemporary ways of being Muslim in Mali. Its rich ethnographic case studies make this monograph well suited for teaching purposes.

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  • Triaud, Jean-Louis, and David Robinson, eds. La Tijâniyya: Une confrérie musulmane à la conquête de l’Afrique. Paris: Karthala, 2000.

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    This is one of the most comprehensive studies of the Tijani order up to date. Composed of seventeen chapters in French and English, the volume gives a detailed account of how the order spread from the Maghreb into sub-Saharan Africa, including Senegal and Nigeria, during the 19th century, the role of Tijani leaders, and the colonial encounter. Sall and Umar argue in their contributions that under colonial rule Tijaniyya expanded faster than during al-Hajj ‘Umar Tal’s jihad.

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  • Vikør, Knut. “Sufi Brotherhoods in Africa.” In The History of Islam in Africa. Edited by Nehemia Levtzion and Randall L. Pouwels, 440–476. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2000.

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    This chapter offers a succinct overview of the various Sufi orders and branches in North, West, and East Africa. Vikør distinguishes between Sufi “ways,” that is, the methods that Muslims follow to reach a personal religious experience, and what he calls “brotherhoods”: organizational frameworks set up to transmit and practice these methods.

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  • Villalón, Leonardo A. Islamic Society and State Power in Senegal: Disciples and Citizens in Fatick. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1995.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511598647Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Focusing on a regional administrative center, this study examines the ways in which the internal dynamics of the Sufi orders shape the exercise of power by the Senegalese state. It offers an important contribution to the study of the relationship between Islam and politics.

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Islamic Reform Movements

From the 1970s onward, an increasing number of African students received scholarships to study at universities and colleges in Egypt, Sudan, Libya, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait. Upon their return to sub-Saharan Africa, they attempted to reform Islam by purifying it from local traditions (Brenner 2000, Loimeier 2016). Their attempts resulted in local disputes about the “correct” practice of Islam. For instance, conflict broke out in East African Muslim communities over the celebration of the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad, the maulidi. Although maulidi is celebrated by significant parts of the Muslim population on the Kenyan coast (and elsewhere in sub-Saharan Africa), the form of the celebrations is contested, as illustrated in Kresse 2006. The strong influence of Islamic reform movements over the last few decades has largely rejected Sufi practices as undue religious innovation. Whereas doctrinal controversies played out at the local level in many African countries, Islamic reform is a state project in Sudan, as discussed in Salomon 2017. Another intriguing study of political Islam is Salem 2013. Owing to the new Afro-Arab cooperation in the 1970s, a number of international Muslim organizations involved in both daʿwa (mission) and development-oriented activities capitalized on the new interpretation of Islam to make inroads in sub-Saharan Africa. An example is the Africa Muslims Agency from Kuwait, considered in Ahmed 2009. Since the 1990s, media-savvy reformist intellectuals have captured the media. They publicly have called into question the religious authority of the established Muslim scholars, the ulama, leading to a fragmentation of religious authority. Islamic radio and television broadcasts, as well as audiotapes and DVDs of preaching and religious pamphlets, have brought about a public debate on what “true Islam” involves (Tayob 1999, Kresse 2018). A wide variety of Islamic reform movements are found in sub-Saharan Africa: the Wahhabi Movement, Jamaʿat Izalat al-Bidʿa wa-Iqamat as-Sunna (popularly known as Izala), the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, the Tablighi Jamaʿat, the Salafi Movement, and several militant movements, including Jamaat ahl al-sunna liʿl-daʿwa waʿl-jihad (popularly known as Boko Haram), Ansar al Din, Jamaʿat Tawhid Wal Jihad fi Garbi Afriqqiya (MUJWA), and Al-Shabaab. While many of these movements are regional, others are transnational in that they link local communities with communities elsewhere in the Muslim world. For example, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, the Tablighi Jamaʿat, and the Salafi Movement offer their followers the means to surpass local identities and regional modes of belonging and identify instead with the global community of Muslims, the umma.

  • Ahmed, Chanfi. “Networks of Islamic NGOs in Sub-Saharan Africa: Bilal Muslim Mission, African Muslim Agency (Direct Aid), and al-Haramayn.” Journal of Eastern African Studies 3.3 (2009): 426–437.

    DOI: 10.1080/17531050903273727Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    This article considers the activities of three Islamic nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in sub-Saharan Africa. While giving support to those in need, they simultaneously spread their particular version of Islam. Interestingly, Ahmed interprets the widening concept of daʿwa (the call to Islam) linking moral reform with social welfare in East Africa as the “Red Cross Complex.”

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  • Brenner, Louis. Controlling Knowledge: Religion, Power and Schooling in a West African Muslim Society. London: Hurst, 2000.

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    Focusing on the transformation of Muslim institutions in Mali, and especially modernized Muslim schools (médersas), this well-researched book sheds light on the social and political processes that have produced new forms, definitions, and expressions of Islam in West Africa.

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  • Kresse, Kai. “Debating Maulidi: Ambiguities and Transformations of Muslim Identity Along the Kenyan Swahili Coast.” In The Global Worlds of the Swahili: Interfaces of Islam, Identity and Space in 19th and 20th-Century East Africa. Edited by Roman Loimeier and Rüdiger Seesemann, 209–228. Berlin: Lit Verlag, 2006.

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    Although maulidi (the Prophet’s birthday) is celebrated by significant parts of the Muslim population on the Kenyan coast, Kresse illustrates that the form of the celebrations (the use of musical instruments, textual recitation in either Arabic or Kiswahili, etc.) is highly contested and that the strong influence of Islamic reformism has largely rejected maulidi as undue religious innovation in Kenya.

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  • Kresse, Kai. Swahili Muslim Publics and Postcolonial Experience. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2018.

    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctv9hvrkfSave Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Kresse presents the reforms and discursive struggles among Kenya’s coastal Muslim communities through a study of key texts, including pamphlets, newspapers, lectures, speeches, and radio discussions. The book offers an important non-Western way of understanding regional traditions of intellectual practice.

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  • Loimeier, Roman. Islamic Reform in Twentieth-Century Africa. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2016.

    DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9780748695430.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Based on twelve case studies (Senegal, Mali, Nigeria, Niger, Chad, Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya, Tanzania, Zanzibar, and the Comoros), this seminal work by one of the leading scholars in the field looks at patterns and peculiarities of different traditions of Islamic reform. It studies the socioreligious and political impact of Islamic reform movements past and present.

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  • Salem, Zekeria Ould Ahmed. Prêcher dans le desert: Islam politique et changement social en Mauritanie. Paris: Karthala, 2013.

    DOI: 10.3917/kart.ould.2013.01Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Based on long-term field research, Salem demonstrates that in Mauritania—a country straddling the Arab world and sub-Saharan Africa—Islamic reform goes hand in hand with the persistence of ethnic and racial tensions and the rise of Islamic radicalism. He looks at the social struggles and public controversies in which Islam is involved in Mauritania and asks what happens when the issue of social hierarchies takes on a religious dimension.

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  • Salomon, Noah. For Love of the Prophet: An Ethnography of Sudan’s Islamic State. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2017.

    DOI: 10.1515/9781400884292Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    This insightful ethnography looks at the Republic of Sudan’s twenty-five-year experiment with Islamic statehood. It examines the lasting effects of state Islamic reform on Sudanese society through a study of the individuals and organizations working in its midst. Salomon challenges the political categories derived from Western political theory, which are, according to him, not very helpful in gaining a better understanding of how Islamic reform is lived.

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  • Tayob, Abdulkader. Islam in South Africa: Mosques, Imams, and Sermons. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1999.

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    An important study of the sermons of South African imams interpreted as expressions of South Africans’ Muslim faith. The overly politicized dimension of South African Muslim life, Tayob maintains, has not only shaped the country’s Islamic institutions but also has helped to define its Muslim identity.

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The Wahhabi Movement

During the colonial period, French colonial administrators used the term “Wahhabi” to refer to reformist Muslims in West Africa. Unlike Sufi Islam, which was seen as an accommodating, syncretic form of Islam, the French rulers considered Wahhabis to be a threat to their policies (Kaba 1974). Although the term continues to be used today, it is somewhat misleading. Generally speaking, Wahhabiyya refers to the 18th-century Arabian reformist movement named after its founder Muhammad Ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab (b. 1703–d. 1792). The movement accepts the Qur’an and hadith as fundamental texts and advocates a puritanical theology in matters of faith and religious practice. Those the French labeled Wahhabis in West Africa were never simply the advocates of Arabian Wahhabi doctrines. Indeed, they were always a more heterogeneous group of Muslims (Launay 2004, Miran 2006). Given its colonial connotation, many so-called Wahhabis reject the term and refer to themselves as Ahl al-Sunna (the people of the Sunna) or simply Sunnis, that is, those who follow the Sunna or Prophetic traditions (Kobo 2012).

  • Kaba, Lansiné. The Wahhabiyya: Islamic Reform and Politics in French West Africa. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1974.

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    This book explores the diffusion of Wahhabi views in West Africa. The author illustrates that Wahhabis in West Africa share doctrinal similarity, not an actual tie, with the Arabian movement.

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  • Kobo, Ousmane. Unveiling Modernity in Twentieth-Century West African Islamic Reforms. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2012.

    DOI: 10.1163/9789004233133Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    This is a comparative study of the Wahhabi movement in Burkina Faso and Ghana. Whereas most of the literature focuses on the Wahhabi movement in francophone Africa, this book is refreshing because it breaks down barriers between scholarship on francophone and anglophone countries. It adopts a long-term approach to map the rise and decline of the Wahhabis in both settings.

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  • Launay, Robert. Beyond the Stream: Islam & Society in a West African Town. Long Grove, IL: Waveland, 2004.

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    Originally published in 1992. Through an in-depth analysis of the history and culture of the Dyula community—Muslim traders who form a religious and ethnic minority in northern Côte d’Ivoire—Launay evaluates the ways in which Muslims on the frontiers of the Muslim world (re)define their beliefs, practices, and rituals as they face a series of challenges to what it means to “be Muslim.” The book illustrates how conceptions of Islam differed between Sufis and adherents of the so-called Wahhabi movement.

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  • Miran, Marie. Islam, histoire et modernité en Côte d’Ivoire. Paris: Karthala, 2006.

    DOI: 10.3917/kart.miran.2006.01Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    This well-documented monograph analyzes the development of Islam in post-independence Côte d’Ivoire. Miran documents the doctrinal controversy about “true Islam” between “traditional Muslims” and “modern reformists” in the country’s largest city, Abidjan. She refers to reformists as Wahhabis, orthodox Muslims, and Sunnis—terms that she uses interchangeably.

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Jamaʿat Izalat al-Bidʿa wa-Iqamat as-Sunna

A reform movement that has attracted a great deal of attention by scholars in the field of Islam in sub-Saharan Africa is Jamaʿat Izalat al-Bidʿa wa-Iqamat as-Sunna, Hausa for the “Society for the Removal of Innovation and Reinstatement of the Sunna,” or Izala for short. In 1978 the movement rose to prominence in northern Nigeria with a series of attacks against Sufis who up to that point had dominated Islam (Loimeier 1997, Kane 2003). In its efforts to reform the Nigerian Muslim society, Izala fought against a broad range of Sufi practices that it labeled un-Islamic, such as amulets, saint veneration, supererogatory prayers, and conspicuous life-cycle rituals. It rejected these practices as unlawful innovation (bidʿa) and pleaded instead for the preservation of the Sunna, the Prophetic traditions. To maintain a “true” version of Islam, the main concern of Izala’s spiritual leader, Abubakar Gummi, was to unite Muslims politically. Eventually, this concern brought reformists and Sufis closer together in that Izala’s leadership realized that their attacks on Sufis divided the Nigerian Muslim community, while reformists and Sufis needed one another to build a front to the new enemy: the rapid expansion of Christian churches and mission organizations in northern Nigeria in the 1980s (Loimeier 1997).

  • Kane, Ousmane. Muslim Modernity in Postcolonial Nigeria: A Study of the Society for the Renewal of Innovation and Reinstatement of Tradition. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2003.

    DOI: 10.1163/9789047401551Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    This book deals with the emergence and expansion of the Izala movement as a modern reform movement in Nigeria. Kane unpacks the slippery notion of “modernity” by challenging master narratives of Western modernity and investigating alternative Muslim modernities.

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  • Loimeier, Roman. Islamic Reform and Political Change in Northern Nigeria. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1997.

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    The 1970s and 1980s were times of political and religious turmoil in Nigeria, characterized by governmental upheaval and aggressive confrontations between the Sufi orders and the Izala movement. This book, the most comprehensive study of Izala to date, explores the intermeshing of religion in the struggle for political influence and preservation of the interests of Nigerian Muslims.

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The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community

The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community is an Islamic missionary movement that was founded by the reformist Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (b. 1835–d. 1908) in India in 1889. As Fisher 1963 and Hanson 2017 demonstrate, it propagated its own conception of a modern, reformed Islamic society in West Africa. Through translating the Qur’an in the local languages, the Ahmadiyya was able to gain considerable public attention. Although the movement has been crucial in the provision of social services in sub-Saharan Africa (Langewiesche 2020), Ahmadis are rejected by many African Muslims because of their ideas concerning prophethood. They believe that the Prophet Muhammad was not the last prophet and was succeeded by Ghulam Ahmad, who is considered the Mahdi (the prophesied redeemer of Islam). These beliefs aroused violent anti-Ahmadi campaigns all over the Muslim world.

  • Fisher, Humphrey J. Ahmadiyyah: A Study in Contemporary Islam on the West African Coast. London: Oxford University Press, 1963.

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    Very little has been published about the Ahmadiyya in sub-Saharan Africa apart from Fisher’s pioneering study. His book traces the doctrines and teachings of the movement in Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra Leone, the Gambia, and Liberia. Appendix 2 is concerned with the Ahmadiyya in East Africa.

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  • Hanson, John H. The Ahmadiyya in the Gold Coast: Muslim Cosmopolitans in the British Empire. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2017.

    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt2005s3hSave Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    A much-needed sequel to Fisher’s pioneering study. Hanson explores how the Ahmadiyya could grow into a vibrant religious community in the Gold Coast (what is now Ghana). He situates the early history of the Ahmadiyya in the religious and cultural transformations of colonial Ghana and sheds light on the Islamic networks that connected the Ghanaian Ahmadiyya community through London to British India.

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  • Langewiesche, Katrin. “Ahmadiyya and Development Aid in West Africa.” In Does Religion Make a Difference? Religious NGOs in International Development Collaboration. Edited by Andreas Heuser and Jens Koehrsen, 263–286. Baden-Baden, Germany: Nomos Verlag, 2020.

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    Langewiesche studies the missionary activities of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in Burkina Faso. She points out that development cooperation and welfare are essential elements for the movement, as well as for other transnational Muslim minority groups such as the Gülen movement and the Tablighi Jamaʿat, to gain recognition in their host countries.

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Tablighi Jamaʿat

The Tablighi Jamaʿat (Urdu for “organization for proselytization”) is an Islamic missionary movement that originated in India in the mid-19th century and has made inroads in sub-Saharan Africa. It has been deemed one of the most influential Islamic reformist movements of contemporary times. Janson 2013 illustrates how, despite its small size, the Gambia has grown into a center of Tablighi activities in West Africa. Not much has been published on the Tablighi Jamaʿat in East Africa other than Wario and Amara 2013. The Jamaʿat seems more successful in southern Africa (Haron 2005). Moosa 2000 explains its expansion in South Africa by the fact that Indian Muslims make up one of the largest groups within the South African Muslim community.

  • Haron, Muhammad. “Daʿwah Movements and Sufi Tariqahs: Competing for Spiritual Spaces in Contemporary South(ern) Africa.” Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs 25.2 (2005): 261–285.

    DOI: 10.1080/13602000500114157Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Haron traces the establishment of the Tablighi Jamaʿat in South Africa to the 1960s. In the 1970s and 1980s, the Jamaʿat was successful in drawing lapsed Muslims into Islamic practice, before slackening its activities in the 1990s.

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  • Janson, Marloes. Islam, Youth, and Modernity in the Gambia: The Tablighi Jamaʿat. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9781139629133Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    This is the only book-length ethnography of the Tablighi Jamaʿat in sub-Saharan Africa. It addresses the question of what happens when a transnational movement travels and adapts to a local, in this case West African, context. Two local characteristics of the movement in the Gambia are its popularity among youth, and women in particular.

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  • Moosa, Ebrahim. “Worlds ‘Apart’ Tablīghī Jamāʿat in South Africa under Apartheid, 1963–1993.” In Travellers in Faith: Studies of the Tablīghī Jamāʿat as a Transnational Islamic Movement for Faith Renewal. Edited by Muhammad Khalid Masud, 206–221. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2000.

    DOI: 10.1163/9789004453036_015Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Moosa argues that the common group identity that Tablighi converts in South Africa share with the geographical roots of the movement, i.e., India, explains the Jamaʿat’s appeal in the country.

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  • Wario, Halkano Abdi, and Ramzi Ben Amara. “Door to Door Daʿwa in Africa: Dynamics of Proselytization in Yan Izala and Tablīghī Jamāʿat.” In Religion on the Move: New Dynamics of Religious Expansion in a Globalizing World. Edited by Afe Adogame, and Shobana Shankar, 159–177. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2013.

    DOI: 10.1163/9789004243378_010Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Wario and Amara compare the Izala movement and the Tablighi Jamaʿat in Nigeria and Kenya, respectively, through the lens of daʿwa, that is, the call to Islam. The authors conclude that what these distinct Islamic reform movements have in common is that they transmit Islamic ideas in similar ways and include women in building transregional and transnational networks.

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The Salafi Movement

Salafiyya is an Islamic reform movement initiated by Jamal al-Din al-Afghani (b. 1838–d. 1898), an Iranian-born intellectual who called for a return to the true tenets of Islam at the end of the 19th century in Egypt. Salafi is derived from the Arabic al-salaf al-salih, “the pious predecessors,” often taken to be the first three generations of Muslims. Salafi doctrine has been an important influence on Islamic reformists in Africa (Østebø 2011, Thurston 2016). Referring to Salafiyya as a movement suggests that Salafis operate as a homogeneous group. In fact, there are many differences between them (Østebø 2015). What they have in common is that they base themselves on the Islamic scriptures to rule out bidʿa, that is, unlawful innovations or deviations from the Prophet Muhammad’s path, and restore the pristine past of Islam. To understand how the many geographically dispersed groups are connected with one another and with the Arab Muslim world, Thurston 2016 examines the role of core texts read and referenced by Salafis.

Islamic Militancy

With Islam becoming politically salient in sub-Saharan Africa, we see a rise in Islamic militant movements in parts of the Sahel and East Africa. Drawing on Østebø 2012, Islamic militancy is understood here as Muslim movements that seek to enforce religious, social, and political norms through violence. Over the last two decades, the armed capacity of militant movements has expanded (Thurston 2020), terrorist attacks against civilians, including suicide bombings, have escalated, and hundreds of thousands of civilians have been displaced. Here it should be noted that Islamic reformist movements with political aspirations are not necessarily militant and that militant movements form a minority in sub-Saharan Africa. They include Jamaʿat ahl al-sunna liʿl-daʿwa waʿl-jihad, popularly known as “Boko Haram,” Ansar al Din, Jamaʿat Tawhid Wal Jihad fi Garbi Afriqqiya (MUJWA), and Al-Shabaab. These organizations derive their ideologies from the Salafi movement, a usually nonviolent Islamic reform movement devoted to the struggle for religious purity, personal piety, and Islamic morality.

  • Østebø, Terje. Islamic Militancy in Africa. Africa Security Brief 23. Washington, DC: Africa Center for Strategic Studies, 2012.

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    This security brief argues that the rise of Islamic militancy in parts of the Sahel and Horn of Africa poses growing threats to regional stability. Although they are militarily not very powerful, Østebø claims that ill-considered interventions, especially those involving Western forces, can strengthen the militants’ recruitment among local populations.

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  • Thurston, Alexander. Jihadists of North Africa and the Sahel: Local Politics and Rebel Groups. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2020.

    DOI: 10.1017/9781108771160Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Drawing on case studies from North Africa and the Sahel, including Algeria, Libya, Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, and Mauritania, which are informed by extensive field research, this comparative study examines contemporary jihadist movements from the inside, shedding light on how they are immersed in politics and how field commanders build coalitions. Given that there exists so little on these movements, this book is very useful.

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Jamaʿat ahl al-sunna liʿl-daʿwa waʿl-jihad, or “Boko Haram”

The most radical militant group in contemporary Nigeria and its surrounding countries of Niger, Chad, and Cameroon is Jamaat ahl al-sunna liʿl-daʿwa waʿl-jihad, that is, “The Association of the Sunnah People for Proselytization and Armed Struggle,” popularly known as “Boko Haram,” which means something like “Western education is haram (unlawful in Islam)” in Hausa. Anonymous 2012 traces the movement’s origins to Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State in northeastern Nigeria, from where, since its foundation in 2002, it has carried out numerous attacks on police stations, security forces, and other state targets. Boko Haram changed its policy after the execution of its spiritual leader and founder Muhammad Yusuf in police custody in 2009. Under Abubakar Shekau’s leadership, it became more organized and sophisticated in its armed campaign, using guerrilla tactics and terrorism that pose a real challenge to the Nigerian state (Pérouse de Montclos 2014, Thurston 2017). Boko Haram gained worldwide attention with the suicide bombing of the United Nations headquarters building in Nigeria’s capital Abuja in August 2011, which was followed in subsequent years by attacks on police stations and Christian churches and kidnappings (Higazi 2013). In June 2021, Abubakar Shekau reportedly blew himself up during a chase with a rival militant group.

  • Anonymous. “The Popular Discourse of Salafi Radicalism and Salafi Counter-radicalism in Nigeria: A Case Study of Boko Haram.” Journal of Religion in Africa 42.2 (2012): 118–144.

    DOI: 10.1163/15700666-12341224Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    This essay examines the religious discourses articulated by Boko Haram and its opponents through the analysis of sermons and debates recorded on cassettes, CDs, and DVDs. It locates the religious worldviews of Boko Haram and its opponents within the history of the Salafi movement in Nigeria.

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  • Higazi, Adam. “Les origins et la transformation de l’insurrection de Boko Haram dans le nord du Nigeria.” Politique africaine 2.130 (2013): 137–164.

    DOI: 10.3917/polaf.130.0137Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Translated as: “The origins and transformation of the Boko Haram insurgency in northern Nigeria.” Higazi traces the origins of Boko Haram and the stages of its violent campaigns against the Nigerian state, secular and Christian influences, and Muslims who oppose them. Although the movement does not have mass support in northern Nigeria, its militancy and the counterinsurgency tactics of the Nigerian state have generated considerable insecurity in the areas where Boko Haram is active.

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  • Pérouse de Montclos, Marc-Antoine. Boko Haram: Islamism, Politics, Security and the State in Nigeria. Leiden, The Netherlands: African Studies Centre, 2014.

    DOI: 10.4000/books.ifra.1703Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    This is the first book-length attempt to understand Boko Haram in a comprehensive way. It examines the early history of the movement and its transformation into a militant armed group.

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  • Thurston, Alexander. Boko Haram: The History of an African Jihadist Movement. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2017.

    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctvc779gcSave Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Drawing on sources in Arabic and Hausa, propaganda videos, press reports, and interviews with experts, Thurston maps the history of Boko Haram from its emergence in the early 2000s to its kidnapping of 276 Nigerian schoolgirls in 2014. To understand the changes in Boko Haram’s ideology, Thurston studies its violence in the context of the complex religious and political environment of Nigeria and the Lake Chad region.

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Ansar al Din and Jamaʿat Tawhid Wal Jihad fi Garbi Afriqqiya

The two main militant movements operating in northern Mali are Ansar al Din (“Defenders of the Faith”) and Jamaʿat Tawhid Wal Jihad fi Garbi Afriqqiya (“Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa” or MUJWA). Ansar al Din was formed at the end of 2011 by a former Tuareg rebel leader. MUJWA was created around the same time but little is known about the group except for its stated objectives of waging jihad in West Africa (Østebø 2012). Both Ansar al Din and MUJWA surfaced during fighting launched in January 2012 by the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), a nationalist movement struggling for an independent Tuareg homeland. The foreign-led Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) is also active in the area, advocating for a global jihad (Lecocq and Schrijver 2007).

Al-Shabaab

Islamic militancy in Somalia first surfaced in the mid-1980s with the formation of al-Itihad al-Islamia (“Islamic Unity”), which expanded its military operations in the early 1990s (Renders 2007). Al-Itihad disappeared from the scene after 1996, yet its ideas and main actors continued to play roles in the Islamic Courts Union (ICU). In 2006, the ICU managed to secure control over Mogadishu before being removed from power through the efforts of Ethiopian forces. This subsequently gave rise to al-Shabaab, which represented a new generation of Islamic militants ever more determined to use violent action to achieve their goals, leading to the displacement of thousands of Somalis, most of them fleeing to Kenya (Østebø 2012). In 2011, the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) invaded Somalia in an attempt to neutralize al-Shabaab. Still, terrorist attacks in Kenya that are blamed on al-Shabaab have been ongoing (Ndzovu 2014). Other than domestic violence, attention must be given to the political significance of transnational Islamic militancy in East Africa in the form of al-Qaeda and regional affiliates (Haynes 2005).

  • Haynes, Jeffrey. “Islamic Militancy in East Africa.” Third World Quarterly 26.8 (2005): 1321–1339.

    DOI: 10.1080/01436590500336807Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    This article studies the causes of Islamic militancy (regional and transnational) in three East African countries: Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda. Al-Qaeda and its regional affiliates have been active in the region since the late 1990s. Haynes concludes that the appeal of these movements remains limited.

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  • Ndzovu, Hassan J. Muslims in Kenyan Politics: Political Involvement, Marginalization, and Minority Status. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 2014.

    DOI: 10.26530/OAPEN_628770Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    This book explores the changing relationship between Muslims and the state in Kenya from precolonial times to the present, culminating in the radicalization of a section of the Muslim population since the 1990s. Ndzovu refers to the challenge posed by Al-Shabaab to Kenyan security on pp. 122–124 and 144–145.

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  • Østebø, Terje. Islamic Militancy in Africa. Africa Security Brief 23. Washington, DC: Africa Center for Strategic Studies, 2012.

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    This security brief sketches a short history of the surfacing of Islamic militancy in Somalia.

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  • Renders, Marleen. “Global Concerns, Local Realities: Islam and Islamism in a Somali State under Reconstruction.” In Islam and Muslim Politics in Africa. Edited by Benjamin F. Soares and René Otayek, 47–63. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007.

    DOI: 10.1057/9780230607101_3Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Political Islam, or Islamism, is increasingly analyzed as a global movement. Renders argues that in the case of Somalia, local factors, such as clan and state (or the absence thereof), have played a crucial role in the emergence of militant Islam.

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Contemporary Trends in Islam in Sub-Saharan Africa: The Role of Women and Youth

A major feature of recent Islamic reform movements in sub-Saharan Africa is their effort to develop new forms of social organization, especially with respect to the role of Muslim women and youth in society. Several authors have paid attention to what “being young” means in contexts where the neoliberal reforms of the 1990s have made it nearly impossible to achieve adulthood. In such contexts, Islamic reform movements may offer disenfranchised youth the means to bridge the gap between their aspiration and actual possibilities (Masquelier 2010, Janson 2013). Along similar lines, understandings of gender have been molded and transformed through Islamic reform in sub-Saharan Africa (Masquelier 2009). Recent scholarship on Islam in sub-Saharan Africa shows that novel ways of being Muslim promote a renewed moral order and greater social equality, both between the younger and older generations and between men and women (Savadogo, et al. 2009).

  • Janson, Marloes. Islam, Youth, and Modernity in the Gambia: The Tablighi Jamaʿat. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9781139629133Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    This book shows that in a context of neoliberal reform, the Tablighi Jamaʿat offers disenfranchised youth a new sense of Muslim identity and a framework for collective action in the face of growing socioeconomic and political instability.

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  • Masquelier, Adeline. Women and Islamic Revival in a West African Town. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2009.

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    This richly detailed monograph documents the engagement of women in religious debates in a small town in Niger and illustrates how, in the process, they have defined Islam on their own terms, especially as a practice that governs education, participation in prayer, domestic activities, wedding customs, and veiling.

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  • Masquelier, Adeline. “Securing Futures: Youth, Generation, and Muslim Identities in Niger.” In Being Young and Muslim: New Cultural Politics in the Global South and North. Edited by Linda Herrera and Asef Bayat, 225–239. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195369212.003.0014Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Masquelier examines how young men in Niger fashion themselves as Muslims. Through their embrace of hip hop styles and values, they invoke the right to be different from their elders. Masquelier goes so far as to argue that the development of Islam in Niger is connected to the extent to which youths will be able to shape their future.

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  • Savadogo, Mathias, Marie-Nathalie LeBlanc, and Muriel Gomez-Perez. “Young Men and Islam in the 1990s: Rethinking an Intergenerational Perspective.” Journal of Religion in Africa 39.2 (2009): 186–218.

    DOI: 10.1163/157006609X436021Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    The authors examine the sociopolitical role of young men in Islamic reformist movements that have cropped up in urban centers in Côte d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso, and Senegal since the 1980s–1990s. They conclude that while the role of young men in these movements suggests new configurations of authority and charisma, they remain, to some extent, dependent on their elders.

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Islam and Gender

The new possibilities Islamic reform offers for claiming religious authority had the effect of empowering women (Frede and Hill 2014). In some cases, Islamic reform movements have stimulated the development of social emancipation movements (Alidou 2005). Most significantly, political liberalization in African Muslim societies has given a voice to Muslim women’s organizations, which have played an active role in redefining notions of family life and sexuality (Augis 2009, Shaikh 2011, Gomez-Perez 2018). Furthermore, reformist Muslim women nowadays take an active role in movements of popular learning and piety in many parts of Africa (Sounaye 2021). Schulz 2011 and Janson 2016 point out that it is important not to reduce gender to a simple focus on women but to pay attention also to changing relations between women and men, as well as changing intergenerational relationships among women and men.

  • Alidou, Ousseina D. Engaging Modernity: Muslim Women and the Politics of Agency in Postcolonial Niger. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2005.

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    Contrary to Western stereotypes of passive subordination, this book offers a compelling portrait of Muslim women in Niger who are seizing the space opened by the early 1990s democratization process in taking control of their own lives.

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  • Augis, Erin J. “Jambaar or Jumbax-Out? How Sunnite Women Negotiate Power and Belief in Orthodox Islamic Femininity.” In New Perspectives on Islam in Senegal: Conversion, Migration, Wealth, Power, and Femininity. Edited by Mamadou Diouf and Mara A. Leichtman, 211–233. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009.

    DOI: 10.1057/9780230618503_10Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    This chapter looks at young women in Senegal’s Sunnite movement who combine spiritual growth and political critique as they shape discourses, beliefs, and behaviors concordant with their understandings of Islamic requirements for female sexuality and women’s public and domestic duties.

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  • Frede, Britta, and Joseph Hill. “Introduction: En-gendering Islamic Authority in West Africa.” In Special Issue: En-gendering Islamic Authority in West Africa. Edited by Britta Frede and Joseph Hill. Islamic Africa 5.2 (2014): 131–165.

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    Frede and Hill examine the mutually constitutive relationships between Islamic authority and gendered discourses and practices, thereby challenging the conventional assumption that women are categorically defined as marginal in relation to Islam. Their co-edited special issue comprises case studies of female Islamic authority in Côte d’Ivoire, Senegal, and Mauritania.

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  • Gomez-Perez, Muriel, ed. Femmes d’Afrique et Émancipation: Entre normes sociales contraignantes et nouveaux possibles. Paris: Karthala, 2018.

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    This collection of essays documents the heterogeneity of Muslim women’s political activism and the reconfiguration of gender relations across sub-Saharan Africa. The essays explore the advantages and disadvantages of the concepts of “empowerment” and “religious agency.” While not all fourteen essays focus explicitly on Islam, Muslim societies are central in this voluminous work.

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  • Janson, Marloes. “Male Wives and Female Husbands: Reconfiguring Gender in the Tablighi Jamaʻat in the Gambia.” In Special Issue: Religion and Masculinities in Africa. Edited by Marloes Janson and Dorothea E. Schultz. Journal of Religion in Africa 46.2–3 (2016): 187–218.

    DOI: 10.1163/15700666-12340084Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    This ethnographic case study of the Tablighi Jamaʿat puts the accent on the gendered dimensions of Tablighi practice. Through tabligh or missionary work, Gambian Tablighi women have acquired authority and mobility. While they engage in missionary work, their husbands take over their domestic workload. What we see here is a powerful example of the inversion of gender relations under the influence of Islamic reform.

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  • Schulz, Dorothea E. Muslims and New Media in West Africa: Pathways to God. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2011.

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    An excellent study that examines the understandings of religious subjectivity and authority articulated by those Malian women (and men) who favor an Islamic moral reform of society and self. Schulz analyzes the pivotal role that new media technologies play in the reconfiguration of conventional forms of religiosity and gender relations in West Africa.

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  • Shaikh, Sa’diyya. “Embodied Tafsir: South African Muslim Women Confront Gender Violence in Marriage.” In Gender and Islam in Africa: Rights, Sexuality, and Law. Edited by Margot Badran, 89–115. Washington, DC: Woodrow Wilson Center Press, 2011.

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    According to this South African scholar, tafsir (exegesis) through praxis is the way South African Muslim women gain understanding of the Qur’an through their experiences of gender violence in marriage. Their experiences push some women to generate their own alternative understanding of their religion and its scripture.

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  • Sounaye, Abdoulaye. “‘My Religiosity Is Not in My Hijab’: Ethics and Aesthetics among Salafis in Niger.” In Negotiating the Religious in Everyday Life in Islamic Contexts. Edited by Roman Loimeier, 129–145. Göttingen, Germany: Universitätsverlag Göttingen, 2021.

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    While scholars of Islam have the tendency to locate religiosity primarily in religious institutions (scriptures, texts, rituals, etc.), Sounaye draws attention to the processes through which Nigérien Salafi women produce religiosity in daily life via social relations and sartorial practices.

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Islam and Youth

Demographically and religiously speaking, youth is a force to contend with in sub-Saharan Africa. The Muslim Youth Movement (MYM) of South Africa played a pivotal role in disseminating reformist ideas, carving a niche for Muslim youth in politics (Tayob 1995). Music, and especially hip hop, has also mobilized youth, giving rise to a novel Muslim youth culture in sub-Saharan Africa (Hill 2017). By focusing on how African youngsters express their Muslim identity in novel ways through politics and popular culture, recent scholarship rectifies the one-sided image of African youth’s social, economic, and political marginalization. Overall, a tendency exists in African studies to depict youth as a “lost generation” (Cruise O’Brien 1996). To redress the balance, Samson 2005 and Masquelier and Soares 2016 depict young people as religious agents bringing about a socioreligious transformation in Muslim Africa.

  • Cruise O’Brien, Donal. “A Lost Generation? Youth Identity and State Decay in West Africa.” In Postcolonial Identities in Africa. Edited by Richard Werbner and Terence Ranger, 55–74. London: Zed, 1996.

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    This chapter signifies a problematic trend in African studies to focus on “collapsed” states and youth as a “lost generation.” According to Cruise O’Brien, the youth of postcolonial Africa, in general, and Senegal and Mali, in particular, are marginalized and have an unpromising political role. Although not focusing on Islam specifically, the author points to youth’s participation in Sufi orders.

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  • Hill, Joseph. “A Mystical Cosmopolitanism: Sufi Hip Hop and the Aesthetics of Islam in Dakar.” Culture and Religion 18.4 (2017): 388–408.

    DOI: 10.1080/14755610.2017.1376694Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Whereas for many the alliance between Islam and hip hop is an unholy one, Hill illustrates that many of Senegal’s prominent rappers today are committed adherents of the Fayḍa Tijani Sufi order who rap about religious knowledge. In this context, hip hop serves as an effective tool to propagate religious principles and recruit new disciples.

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  • Masquelier, Adeline, and Benjamin F. Soares, eds. Muslim Youth and the 9/11 Generation. Santa Fe, NM: School for Advanced Research Press, 2016.

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    Masquelier and Soares demonstrate how a new, self-aware cohort of Muslim youth has arisen since the attacks of 9/11, facilitated by recent communication technologies and the Internet. Focusing on a variety of settings, including Africa, the contributors to this seminal volume shed light on the processes of civic engagement and political action, forms of self-fashioning, consumption practices, and aspirations in which young Muslims engage in today’s world.

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  • Samson, Fabienne. Les marabouts de l’islam politique: Le Dahiratoul Moustarchidina Wal Moustarchidaty, un movement néo-confrérique sénégalais. Paris: Karthala, 2005.

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    Whereas Sufism has long been studied in terms of a “traditional” Islam, this book pays attention to the emergence of new Sufi orders in Senegal, referred to as “neo-brotherhoods” by Samson, which are inspired by reformist movements and are popular particularly among youth.

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  • Tayob, Abdulkader. Islamic Resurgence in South Africa: The Muslim Youth Movement. Cape Town: University of Cape Town Press, 1995.

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    Tayob studies the present-day South African Muslim community through the lens of the Muslim Youth Movement (MYM), which emerged in 1970 with the aim of calling attention among Muslim youth to the relevance of Islam in the modern world. By taking the MYM as a case study, he sheds light on the religious and political struggles that have gone into creating a South African Islam.

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