Ibrahim Yahaya Ibrahim is a PhD candidate in political science and a research associate with the Sahel Research Group. His dissertation, “Political Contestation and Islamic Discourses in the Sahel: Global ideologies, local contexts, and individual motivations,” addresses the specific questions of why have Islamic political contestations in the Sahel taken different forms: jihadist insurgencies, violent riots, and peaceful protests? What role do structural and ideological factors play in determining these forms? In an attempt to answer these questions, he explores the processes by which global Islamic political ideologies are being appropriated by Sahelian Muslim activists who use them to frame discourses that tap on local grievances and facilitate mobilization of popular support for their activism. Ibrahim argues that the form that Islamic activism takes is the result of the interrelation between global Islamic political ideologies, the local context in which Muslim activists operate and the varying motivation of individuals who are willing to join the activism. Funding for this research is provided by the Minerva Research Initiative.
The Muslim world has recently witnessed an expansion of Islamic political contestations as Muslim activists, from the Maghreb to the Mashreq and from Southeast Asia to Sub-Saharan Africa have shown increasing willingness to defend Islamic values and promote an Islamic agenda in the public sphere. Islam, as a result, has become a source of inspiration and motive for social and political activism in contemporary Muslim societies. Yet, while the use of Islamic discourse has been a shared characteristic of Islamic political contestations, the form of expression that these contestations have taken has varied greatly, ranging from peaceful protests to violent riots and insurgencies. The expansion of episodes of Islamic political contestation around the world as well as the varied forms that they have taken raise an important question: why and how have political contestations on behalf of Islam proliferated in the contemporary Muslim world? This dissertation focuses more specifically on episodes of Islamic activism in three Muslim majority countries of the Sahel region of West Africa, including the jihadist insurgency by the Movement of Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MOJWA) in Gao/Mali, the anti-Charlie Hebdo riots in Zinder/Niger and the anti-slavery protests in Nouakchott by the Initiative for the Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement (IRA-Mauritania).