Last Tuesday, Musa Ibrahim (University of Florida) gave a lecture for the Islam in Africa Working Group titled, “Exploring Kannywood as a Driver and Space for Contestations and Negotiations between Sufi and Salafi Muslims.” Musa (Abba) Ibrahim is a postdoctoral research fellow for the “Islam in Africa in Global Context” project, which is funded through a grant from the Henry Luce Foundation’s Initiative on Religion in International Affairs. He is jointly hosted by the UF Center for African Studies and The UF Center for Global Islamic Studies. Ibrahim specializes in Islam and media and writes about Kannywood, northern Nigeria’s film industry, sharia, and censorship, as well about Islam and media in Ghana. He also writes about Boko Haram. Ibrahim acquired his Ph.D. at the University of Bayreuth, Germany, and his MA at the University of Cape Town, South Africa.
His presentation detailed the religious politics of censorship in northern Nigeria’s Kannywood film industry. With the reintroduction of sharia in northern Nigerian states, political and religious leaders pushed for the censorship of Kannywood films to fit values and morals of Islam. However, ideological differences between Sufi and Salafi groups resulted in contestations of power and institutions enacted under sharia censorship. Dr. Ibrahim talked in particular about the Kano State Censorship Board. The board was headed by a Salafi, who was appointed to the position by the Kano State Governor, who was also Salafi.
This distribution of power, and its effect on the rules implemented in film censorship, caused suspicions to arise among Sufis who felt that Salafis were censuring particular film practices (such as dancing) as a covert attack on Sufism. Responses to Salafi hegemony varied—some religious leaders created narratives highlighting the importance of film in Islam. The 2011 elections resulted in the election of Sufi leaders to the censorship board, with the hope that new politicians would restore some Kannywood practices in line with Sufi-accepted beliefs. His presentation sought not only to show how actors differently respond to, adapt, and contest new media-driven changes, but also how ‘Islam’ and Muslims are shaped and reshaped by the media.