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Genealogies of a Non-political Islam in the Sahel: the Burkina Case

Abdourahmane Idrissa (Abdou Moumouni U, Niamey, Niger)
Publication Date 2017
Publication SPP Working Paper No. 23
Publisher DFG Priority Programme (SPP 1448): "Adaptation and Creativity in Africa"
Language English
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Burkina Faso is an exception in the Sahel in that no politicisation and ideological radicalisation of Islam has taken shape in the public space. This paper – the first version of a chapter in an upcoming book – analyses both the causes and the implications of this fact. The historical analysis of the formative process of the Burkinabe nation reveals that Islamisation is a recent development in the country as compared to other parts of the Sahel. It came about as a result of the colonial transformation of societies in the area of future Burkina Faso, in the first half of the twentieth century and progressed in competition with Catholicism. While Islam later became the country’s majority religion, the singular aspects of Burkina Faso’s history – again, relative to its neighbours – have created a society marked by religious pluralism, and a very specific form of ‘consensual secularism.’ In this context, an Islamic public space has emerged where various doctrinal currents – modernist reformists, Wahhabis, Sufis – struggle to assert themselves, but which leads to an enduring combination of subordination to and partnership with Burkina’s successive regimes, especially as influential Muslim merchants largely control the all-important trade economy of the country. This result does not imply that Muslims in Burkina are politically quiescent, but that they tend to mobilise politically not as Muslims, but as citizens of Burkina, as is testified by the country’s stormy political history. The case therefore teaches us to avoid essentialising Muslims’ existence in the political arena.


Biographical Note

Abdourahmane Idrissa (Abdou Moumouni U, Niamey, Niger)

Abdourahmane Idrissa currently teaches international cooperation at the University of Niamey and runs a research and training program at a social sciences research center there. His research focuses on the political economy of democratization, political Islam and the problems of the integration processes in the West African region. He has recently published, with Samuel Decalo, a completely new edition of "The Historical Dictionary of Niger".

He obtained his doctorate in Political Science from the University of Florida in 2003. His doctorate examines the relations between the francophone elite in Niger and other social groups (including the West African Muslim community) and their alternative visions of political and social order – and the way alternative notions of legitimacy and social order have gathered force in the context of democratizing efforts within a much-weakened state.