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Jihadist and Salafi Discourses in Sudanic Africa: Boko Haram and the Emerging Terror Network in Muslim West Africa


From the Almoravid’s invasion of Ghana in 1062 until the Moroccan conquest of the Songhay Empire in 1591 that, allegedly, was not “sufficiently Muslim,” Africa south of the Sahara has been exposed to a “purification of Islam” project. This project took two forms, one was the quietist, intellectually driven reformism (for instance, the 15th century Moroccan al- Maghili and 16th century Malian Ahmad Baba al-Timbukti d. 1627). The second was militant Islamism, for which the 19th century, better known as the “Jihadist period,” was particularly significant in Sudanic Africa. Maba Diakhou Ba (1809-1867) was active in the Senegambia, ‘Umar Tall (1795-1864) in Central Mali, and ‘Usman dan Fodio (1754-1817) in mainland Central Sudan (Nigeria, Niger, and Cameroun). Since the second half of the 20th century when the shari'a [Islamic Law] was the rule in ‘Usman dan Fodio’s Sokoto Caliphate (1804-1903), the development became a reference point for Jihadist ideologues in Nigeria. The 1979 Iranian Revolution further served as an impetus for political activism and reformist tendencies in Muslim West Africa, ranging from the moderate to the extremist, even before the September 11, 2001 cataclysm in the U.S. The Yan Izala, a pan-Wahhabi literalist, reformist movement to which Abū Bakr Gumi (1924-1992) served as the patron saint, the spirit auctores, provided a platform for both the quietist intellectual Salafī protagonists of Nigeria on the one hand, and the Jihadi Salafi interlocutors on the other. The most illustrious exponent of the latter category is Boko Haram. This paper gives an overview of the history of Salafi and Jihadist narratives in Sudanic Africa with particular attention to Boko Haram of Nigeria, as it now assumes a wider regional profile in Muslim West Africa.

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