Trajectories of Islam in Mali

I’ve written an article (.pdf) for the summer 2013 issue of the Fletcher Forum of World Affairs. The piece is entitled, “Towards an ‘Islamic Republic of Mali’?” I analyze trends in Malian Muslim leaders’ public religiosity and political participation. An excerpt from pp. 46-47:

Islamist rule at gunpoint seems unlikely to return in the short-term. The end of armed Islamist control, however, does not mean that Islam will recede as a political force in Mali. The public roles—plural—of Islam in Mali have expanded and diversified from the time of the French colonial conquest to the present. This expansion has been especially pronounced since 1991, when a military coup set the stage for two decades of multiparty elections and political liberalization. While Islamists hold few elected offices, liberalization facilitated the expression of diverse Muslim identities in Mali. Mass movements and mass media are two powerful channels through which Muslim activists shape values, influence politics, and contest the meaning of Islam. The 2012-2013 crisis occurred in the midst of this ongoing reevaluation of the role of Islam in public life in Mali. The crisis further expanded opportunities for Muslim leaders to expand their participation in politics and intensified debates over what it means to be Malian and Muslim.

Post-war Mali will likely not be an “Islamic state” in the sense of a state where micro-policies are explicitly based on specific references to Islamic scriptures and traditions. But Islam already has a greater public role in Mali than before the war began. As Mali emerges from conflict and re-imagines its political system, Malian politicians and outside partners hoping to restore an idealized “status quo ante,” in which Islam supposedly played no public role in a democratic and “secular” country, may have to acknowledge the increasingly powerful influences Muslim activists and movements wield in Malian society and politics.

If you read the article, please stop back by here and share your thoughts.

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4 thoughts on “Trajectories of Islam in Mali

  1. A really superlative overview Alex, many thanks. Just reading through it, I came across your brief account of Iyad Ag Ghaly’s association with the Tablighi Jama’at. The information I have gathered so far from a number of Touareg who knew Iyad in the 1980s and 1990s, was that it was he who actually invited Tagligh preachers, whom he’d met in Bamako, to come up and preach in Kidal. This apparently happened some time between 1993 and 1995. By the end of the decade he was already a complete convert to the Tabligh’s reformist message and had already spent time at a Tabligh centre in or near Lahore by the turn of the century. He also apparently went on the hajj to Mecca in 1999, a particularly important moment in his spiritual development. I need to verify this information 100% but my sources were mostly reliable. By the time I first visited Kidal, in 2001, I was told that Iyad was already wearing a huge beard and very simple austere white robes. Many thanks again, Andy

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