Senegal: More on Macky Sall’s (and Marième Faye’s) Visit to Touba

Earlier this week I posted about the upcoming Magal celebration in Senegal. The Magal is a mass gathering of the Mouridiyya, one of the country’s two major Sufi orders; the event commemorates the return of founding Shaykh Ahmadou Bamba (1853-1927) from exile in Gabon during French colonial rule. The Magal takes place in the Mouridiyya’s hub, the city of Touba.

The event attracts courtesy calls from various politicians, including President Macky Sall – who, as one specialist pointed out to me, is not particularly popular in Touba. In the first round of the 2012 elections, then-incumbent President Abdoulaye Wade won an outright majority in the Mbacké Department, where Touba is located (and then went on to lose the overall election to Sall in the second round). As I discussed in my last post, this year the Mouride hierarchy had to publicly intervene to stop a junior shaykh from “sabotaging” Sall’s visit to Touba this year. Although it is partly, as mentioned above, a simple courtesy call, this visit is possibly more important than the average such call, as this is the last Magal before the February 2019 presidential elections.

Some press reports indicate that Sall’s visit went well. And reporters are calling attention not just to Sall but also to the First Lady, Marième Faye. One headline reads, “Macky in Touba: This Gesture by Marième Faye, Calculated or Not, Reinforces His Popularity.” From the article:

Having arrived late to the great room of Khadim al-Rasul [servant of the Prophet, a common title for Ahmadou Bamba among the Mouridiyya] residence at the moment when her husband, President Macky Sall, was going to begin his speech beside the Khalife General of the Mourides, the First Lady, Marième Faye, suddenly crouched down in the middle of the audience, a few steps from the doorway she had just crossed. Like a simple disciple.

Photos here.

Such images and moments have a longer history, as articles like this one spell out. From the Catholic President Leopold Senghor to the somewhat reservedly Tijani President Abdou Diouf to the overtly Mouride President Abdoulaye Wade and the openly Mouride President Macky Sall, the relationship between the Senegalese presidency and the Sufi orders – and we might say the Mouridiyya in particular – has been dynamic, even if certain deep continuities persist. Wade’s public displays of Mouride affiliation were controversial, particularly among intellectuals in the capital, one of whom coined the now-famous descriptor of “the Republic on its knees” in reference to Wade’s prostration to the Mouride Khalife General in 2000. Has something changed since 2000, in terms of how these moments play out in Senegalese public life? It’s beyond my expertise to say – but the parallels are interesting. I’m also reminded of something several young Mourides said to me when I lived in Senegal in 2006-2007, namely that it was divinely ordained that Senegal would first have a Christian president, then a Tijani president, and then all the rest would be Mourides thenceforth. Wa-Allahu a’lam.

Here, finally, is the president’s speech (in Wolof):

 

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Notes on Nigeria, Borno, and Qur’an Recitation Competitions

The other day a Facebook post from outgoing Borno State Governor Kashim Shettima caught my eye. In the post, Shettima’s office discusses the governor’s substantial gifts to Borno men and women who had won state, national, and international rankings at Qur’an recitation competitions. Such competitions can be major events in Nigeria and throughout the Muslim world – as you can see in the documentary “Koran By Heart,” which I show in some of my classes. The competitions often center on (a) thoroughness of memorization, e.g. the judges/moderators will begin a verse and then ask competitors to complete it, and (b) beauty/technical perfection of recitation.

Qur’an memorization and Qur’an schools in West Africa are an increasingly prominent topic of academic study, with recent books on the topic by Butch Ware (2014, on Senegal) and Hannah Hoechner (2018, on northern Nigeria).

Within Nigeria, Borno in particular has high repute as a center for the memorization of the Qur’an, and so it is no surprise to see the governor recognizing high-performing competitors from the state. Nevertheless, the gifts are notable, both the ones that competitors won outside the state and the ones that Shettima added:

The Governor announced the rewards on Monday [October 15] in Maiduguri when he received the participants, accompanied by members of the Qur’anic Competition Committee led by the Chief Imam of Borno, Imam Laisu Ibrahim Ahmed.

Beneficiaries of the scholarship award include; Al-Bashir Goni Usman who was last year’s 1st Position at the Kwara State Qur’anic Recitation Competition. He got 2nd Position at the International Competition held in Saudi Arabia where he was awarded SR100,000 (equivalent to N10,000,000), Amina Ali Mohammed who was this year’s overall winner in the female 1st category in Katsina State. She won a car (G.M.) costing about N4,900,000 and a cash prize of N500,000 by the Katsina State Government.

Others are Sale Abubakar Sale (1st position in male 4th category) who won a Hyundai car worth N3,600,000 and awarded N500,000 cash prize, Idris Abubakar Mohammed (2nd in the 3rd category recitation), who won one tricycle worth N600,000, a deep freezer, and N250,000 cash, and Aisha Hamidu (4th in 2nd category) who won a motorcycle worth N190,000 and a cash prize of N150,000.

The remaining six participants were given N50,000 each by the Katsina State Government.

Impressed with their performance, Governor Kashim Shettima directed the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Education to process their scholarships immediately, adding that six of the remaining participants will get One Hundred Thousand Naira each.

Some quick comments, in no particular order:

  • The imam-ship is essentially hereditary in Borno. A eulogy for the current imam’s father, who may have been the longest-serving imam in Borno history, can be found here. In a way, an event like this showcases a kind of “government Islam” in Borno, where elected politicians and hereditary, largely traditionalist figures cooperate in an attempt to define and shape Islam for the public.
  • I really enjoyed Obi Anyadike’s recent African Arguments piece on a decline of Islamic religiosity in Maiduguri, but the attention Borno authorities are showing to this competition – and the strong performances Borno-ans are delivering in competitions in Nigeria and around the world – would be data points against that narrative.
  • Qur’an competitions attract participants from diverse backgrounds, including Sufis and Salafis. During my dissertation research in Kano I met two prominent brothers from the Tijaniyya Sufi order who organized Qur’an competitions through their schools.
  • Ja’far Mahmud Adam (1961/2-2007), the most prominent northern Nigerian Salafi of his generation, won a national competition and then placed third at a Qur’an recitation competition in Saudi Arabia in 1988 (see here, p. 5). These performances helped him secure admission to the Islamic University of Medina and helped accelerate his preaching career back home. So competitors who perform well are (a) sometimes positioned for success in religious leadership generally and (b) not just automatons with good memories; they can also have broader religious profiles and knowledge.

Oath-Swearing and Laïcité in Chad

In May, Chad embarked on its Fourth Republic. Its new constitution, approved by parliament in April, effectively allows the president (Idriss Deby) to serve two more, six-year terms past his current term – i.e., to remain in office until 2033.

The constitution also contains a new article (105) requiring new cabinet ministers to swear an oath in front of the President and “following the confessional formula sanctioned by the law.” I haven’t been able to track down the precise wording that the Supreme Court requires, but essentially it seems that ministers at the swearing-in ceremony on 10 May had to swear either on a Qur’an or a Bible, and had to invoke the name of God (using the word Allah, although apparently Deby intervened in one case to allow one minister to use the French word “Dieu” or “God”).*

A bigger deal was the situation of Rosine Amane Djibergui, the minister-designate for civil aviation. She refused to swear to God under any name, stating that she felt the demand contradicted the secularity (laïcité) of the Chadian state. She was effectively fired on the spot and replaced by a general. You can watch video of the incident here. Several other sub-cabinet officials were also fired for refusing to swear, in their case because they were Christians who hold that swearing contradicts their faith (a position some Christians took in early America, which is why you sometimes see the phrase “swear or affirm,” for example in the presidential oath of office).

Several Christian pastors have since publicly taken up the issue, arguing that the oath-swearing violates principles of laïcité.

It’s possible that all this bespeaks a nefarious intention on Deby’s part to undermine laïcité or even to “Islamize” Chad, but I actually wonder whether it’s not just about a certain sloppiness and aversion to dissent – in other words, perhaps the authorities didn’t really think through the idea of a new swearing-in formula, or perhaps they adopted it under pressure from one particular lobby group. In either case, the authorities likely didn’t expect any dissent and were probably caught off guard by Djibergui’s stance. In the moment, their reflexive urge was to shut her down, so they just followed that instinct. Deby’s people, I think, are not used to being challenged, especially to their faces.

This is not to say that there was no consultation on the formula. The day before the incident with Djibergui, Deby met with the head of the Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs, the vicar-general of the diocese of N’Djamena, and the deputy secretary-general of the Coalition of Evangelical Churches and Missions in Chad. Presumably they signed off on the new formula, which may also help explain why authorities may have felt caught off guard (and been instinctively defensive) when they started getting objections to the oaths.

On a related note, the head of the Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs died in January, but the succession involved almost pure continuity: his deputy took over, preserving the power of the Tijaniyya Sufi order within the Council, and two other major religious figures associated with the Council basically moved up one level in the hierarchy.

*Practitioners of other religions also apparently have an option to swear on their “ancestral rite.”

Nigeria and the Islamic University of Medina’s Dawra: An Interesting Anecdote

Last week, while doing a quick Google search to confirm the life dates of Umar Fallata (see below, I came across this obituary for the Nigerian Muslim religious leader Isa Waziri (1925-2013). The obituary contains an interesting anecdote about the dawra (tour), a kind of educational and recruitment initiative by Saudi Arabia’s Islamic University of Medina. The dawra, as I discuss in my book, was a key mechanism for recruiting Nigerian students to Medina; worldwide, Nigeria was one of the countries where the University conducted the most tours. The dawra was a key early step in the careers of several prominent Nigerian Salafis.

But as the anecdote makes clear, the Saudi and African scholars who ran the dawra took pains to make sure that it was not just a Salafi affair:

I saw one great quality with Shaikh Isa Waziri around 1994 during the annual Dawra, which is a course for Arabic teachers organized by the Islamic University of Madina under the leadership of Shaikh Abdalla Zarban Al-Ghamidi.  A dinner was organized at Da’awah Group of Nigeria in which almost all the Islamic Scholars in Kano were present. Equally present at the dinner was late Shaikh Umar Fallata, a highly respected Islamic scholar who teaches in the Mosque of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).

It was an interesting event, because despite all the differences between Izala and Tariqa, many prominent Islamic scholars from Tijjaniyya, Qadiriyya, and Izala were present. But one thing you cannot miss during the dinner was that Shaikh Isa Waziri was the rallying point among these scholars, some of whom do not get along publically. On that day, I saw some wonders, because some of the scholars that members of the public thought would look away when they meet each other were so respectful of one another. You wouldn’t be completely wrong if you suggest that sometimes our scholars dribble the followership.

Not only was Waziri a prominent shaykh from the Tijaniyya Sufi order, but the dinner included figures from both the Tijaniyya and the Qadiriyya, the two most prominent Sufi orders in northern Nigeria. This is not to say that there are no tensions between Salafis, who are often vehemently anti-Sufi, and Sufis – it would have been quite fascinating to attend that dinner! – but it is to say that sometimes stereotypes don’t hold true. Moreover, as the author of the obituary points out, sometimes public hostility can give way to private cordiality.

The anecdote raises two other points:

  1. African scholars who took up residence in Saudi Arabia and became part of the Saudi Arabian religious establishment also, often, became key links between Saudi Arabia and Africa. One can see that in the case of this anecdote and Umar Fallata. The best English-language source on Fallata is Chanfi Ahmed’s 2015 book on West African scholars in the Hijaz. See also here (Arabic) for an official Saudi Arabian biography.
  2. I think a lot about the idea of a “fragmentation of sacred authority” in the Muslim world (see here and here). That’s on display in this anecdote too, as the author of the obituary argues that no scholar in northern Nigeria today can play the unifying role of someone such as Waziri. No one wants to fall prey to a distorting nostalgia about the past – it’s not like there were no intra-Muslim conflicts during the twentieth century! – but it does seem like the Muslim world, and various Muslim communities, are much more internally fragmented than they were even a generation ago.

Senegal: A New Khalifa for the Tijaniyya of Tivaouane

Within Senegal’s Sufi orders, the Sy family of Tivaouane is one of the most important (usually observers consider the Tijaniyya of Tivaouane, the Mouridiyya of Touba, and the Tijaniyya of Kaolack to be the most important Sufi communities in the country). The family recently had a change of leadership with the passing of Cheikh Ahmed Tidiane Sy Al Maktoum and the succession of Abdoul Aziz Sy Al Amine. The position is known as Khalifa, but means “successor” rather than “caliph,” or at least it means something different from the connotation that “caliph” has taken on in English.

A brief biography of the new khalifa, who was born in 1928, can be found here (French). He is the sixth khalifa of the Sy family, and is the son of Serigne Babacar Sy (1885-1957), the first khalifa, and is the grandson of Al-Hajj Malik Sy (1855-1922), the founder of the family and of this branch of the Tijaniyya. The new khalifa has been a longtime counselor to past leaders of the community.

A Case of Alleged Blasphemy in Kano, Nigeria

Around May 15, a Muslim preacher named Abdul Nyass gave a controversial sermon in Kano, the most populous city in northern Nigeria. Nyass belongs to the Tijaniyya Sufi order. He allegedly stated that Shaykh Ibrahim Niasse (1900-1975), a Senegalese Muslim who revived and popularized the Tijaniyya across West Africa in the mid-twentieth century, was greater than the Prophet Muhammad. The remarks were made at a celebration of Ibrahim Niasse’s birthday. The incident set off an extended and ongoing intra-Muslim controversy in Kano.

Here is a timeline of events:

  • Circa May 15: Abdul Nyass’ alleged sermon glorifying Ibrahim Niasse over the Prophet. Conflict breaks out and Nyass, together with some of his followers, is arrested.
  • May 20: Two major Nigerian leaders of the Tijaniyya, Shaykhs Dahiru Usman Bauchi and Isyaku Rabiu, dissociate themselves and the Tijaniyya from Abdul Nyass and his statements.
  • May 22: “Thousands of youth” burn down the court in the Rijiyar Lemo neighborhood of Kano where Abdul Nyass and his followers are set to appear; other youth burn down Nyass’ house in Kano; other youths attempt to storm Government House and Emir Muhammadu Sanusi II’s palace.
  • May 29: Inauguration of Kano State’s new governor Abdullahi Umar Ganduje
  • June 25: The Upper Shari’a Court in Kano sentences Abdul Nyass and eight of his followers to death for blasphemy; four others were acquitted.
  • June 29: Governor Ganduje announces his support for the court’s verdict.

Some context and reflections:

  • Kano is a significant site of inter-religious and intra-Muslim disputes. Such incidents do not happen on a monthly or even yearly basis, but this case is not the first: one example of Muslim-Christian conflict is the October 1991 riot that occurred in response to plans for a visit to Kano by the controversial Christian preacher Reinhard Bonnke, and one example of intra-Muslim conflict is the 2007 arson at Freedom Radio station.
  • The Tijaniyya is one of the largest Sufi orders in the world and one of the most important Muslim constituencies in Nigeria as a whole and Kano in particular. Emir Ado Bayero (1930-2014, ruled 1963-2014) belonged to the Tijaniyya, as did several Emirs before him. The order as a whole is mainstream in the Nigerian context. If Abdul Nyass did utter the remarks attributed to him, that would make him a fringe voice in the order. Many of his opponents have referred to his group as “yan hakika” (people of the truth, i.e. people who aspire to reach a mystical state), a Tijaniyya offshoot with some fringe beliefs. The mainstream Tijaniyya leaders are taking the case very seriously. Shaykh Dahiru Usman Bauchi essentially called Abdul Nyass an unbeliever (Hausa), and took pains to say that Tijanis are mainstream Muslims.
  • Even though the Tijaniyya as a whole is mainstream, there is a long history in Nigeria of opposition to the order, particularly among high-placed scholars. Shaykh Abubakar Gumi (1924-1992), who was Grand Qadi of Northern Nigeria (an administrative unit at the time of colonialism and decolonization) from 1962-1967, authored a harshly anti-Tijani book in 1972. Critics of the Tijaniyya have long accused the order of elevating its own texts and leaders over the central texts and leaders of Islam. The blasphemy case this year, then, activates long-standing suspicions of the Tijaniyya among some Nigerian Muslims, particularly Salafis.
  • Given this anti-Tijani precedent, the current case may allow some public officeholders to impose their views about what constitutes Islamic orthodoxy. For example, a major figure in this case is the Salafi leader Shaykh Aminu Daurawa, head of Kano’s Hisba, a governmental law enforcement body charged with upholding public Islamic morality. Daurawa has commented frequently on the case, including in terms that go beyond Abdul Nyass himself. In one Facebook post (Hausa), Daurawa wrote, “This is the truth of the [Sufi] order. There is a need to get rid of all [Sufi] orders, because the Prophet (Peace and Blessings Upon Him) is being insulted among them.” One important question about the case, then, is whether it and its aftermath will further empower the opponents of Sufism in Kano.
  • Many analysts in the West have come to believe Sufis are good and their opponents are bad. It’s never that simple. To my mind the analyst should neither caricature Sufis nor demonize their opponents. I don’t see this case as a sign of some “creeping radicalization” in northern Nigeria: I see it as the latest incident in a long-running intra-Muslim struggle to define doctrine and practice in Kano.
  • The case is also important because it will test the limits of what punishments shari’a courts can impose. As AFP writes, since the new shari’a penal codes were implemented starting in 1999, shari’a courts have sentenced various people to death – “but to date, no executions have been carried out.” Federal authorities may pressure Kano’s authorities to overturn the sentences. However, given that both Kano’s new Governor Ganduje and Nigeria’s new President Muhammadu Buhari are very new to their offices, they may decide to either drag their feet or even let the sentences stand. The sensitivity of the questions involved (blasphemy, intra-Muslim relations, public order, etc.), combined with the overall tense atmosphere (including because of Boko Haram’s violence), puts both state and federal authorities in a tricky position. That makes this case one to watch.

Varieties of Selecting Muslim Leaders in West Africa

When it comes to Sahelian countries such as Mali and Niger, I tend to think of strong national-level, top-down Muslim clerical bodies as a phenomenon of the period before liberalization, and especially as a phenomenon of the 1970s and 1980s. There are still bodies like the Islamic Council of Niger, but they don’t seem to have the monopoly over religious decision-making that their predecessor organizations enjoyed.

That’s why this link from Ghana caught my eye, especially the role of the National Chief Imam:

Sheikh Abdul Wadud Haruna, a Kumasi-based Islamic cleric, has been appointed the President or Zaeem of the Tijaniyya Sufi sect in Ghana.

The conferment of the title and the presentation of a certificate of honour were performed by the National Chief Imam, Sheikh Osman Nuhu Sharubutu, during the 47th annual birthday of Prophet Mohammed held in Kumasi last weekend.

Until the elevation, the appointee was the regional head of the Tijaniyya sect in the Ashanti Region.

The appointment was done with the consent of clerics responsible for such decisions and based in Madina Kaolak, Senegal, according to a release.

President John Dramani Mahama, who was the guest of honour at the activity, promised to promote religious tolerance in the country after making a presentation of GH¢12,000, 50 bags of rice and 10 bags of cooking oil to the organisers.

Also present were Sheikh Tijani Aliyu Cise, the Grand Imam of the Tijaniyya sect worldwide, who is also the Imam of Madina Kaolak.

The Tijaniyya is one of the most important Sufi orders in West Africa. Although founded in North Africa in the early nineteenth century, the Senegalese Shaykh Ibrahim Niasse (1900-1975) was responsible for much of the order’s spread in places like Ghana. Kaolack was Niasse’s home and is the seat of his successors. Worth mentioning is that Ghana’s Chief Imam is himself a member of the Tijaniyya. So it’s interesting that the selection of a new representative of the Tijaniyya in Ghana is a decision made jointly by the National Chief Imam and the shaykhs in Kaolack (presumably with some input from other Tijanis, but nevertheless presented as a top-down selection).

I’ve been strongly influenced by Dale Eickelman and James Piscatori‘s notion of a “fragmentation of sacred authority” in the Muslim world, a concept Ousmane Kane uses quite effectively in his book on Nigeria. But this Ghanaian example reminded me that top-down selections of new Muslim leaders are not always a thing of the past. On the other hand, some Ghanaians are worried that when the current National Chief Imam passes (he is over ninety years old, and has served since 1993, when he succeeded his cousin), the Ghanaian Muslim community will divide bitterly over the question of succession – not all Ghanaian Muslims are Tijanis, to say the least. So perhaps further fragmentation is in store.