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.

On Tuesday August 22, Hassan Muhammed Kawo gave an Islam in Africa presentation titled, “The Nature of the Islamic Literary Heritage in Ethiopia: Arabic and Ajami Texts.” Hassan Muhammed Kawo is a lecturer at Addis Ababa University and a PhD student at University of Cape Town. His talk discussed literary heritage in Ethiopia, which has one of the richest traditions of classical literature in sub-Saharan Africa. Focusing on Arabic and Ajami texts, Hassan Muhammed Kawo considered three points in analyzing Ethiopian literature—content, container, and context. The content of Ethiopian literature is very diverse—ranging from texts in philosophy, astronomy, math, to government documents, or religious texts. Containers of literature in Ethiopia also vary greatly and can include coins, buildings, paper, leather, and now have evolved to include electronics such as computers or phones. Contexts of literature in Ethiopia differ due to time and place. For example, authors are often divided into two categories—white paper (found in newer books) or red paper (found in older books). Hassan Muhammed Kawo then used photos to provide examples of his research in studying texts in both Arabic and Ajami languages. He hopes to continue his work in finishing his PhD at the University of Cape Town.

CAS News Bulletin: Week of September 1st, 2017

On Monday November 14thDr. Terje Ostebo (Religion), Ibrahim Yahaya Ibrahim(Political Science), and Dr. Sue O’Brien (History) participated in a roundtable titled, “Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) as a Dilemma for African Muslims”. The roundtable was moderated by Dr. Leonardo Villalon (Dean, Center for International Studies). Dr. Ostebo’s presentation covered CVE from a cross-national point of view, while Ibrahim and Dr. O’Brien discussed on-the-ground CVE practices and obstacles in Niger and Nigeria, respectively.

According to Dr. Ostebo, the term CVE gained traction after it was used at a White House Summit in September 2015. Somewhat replacing the US term ‘war on terror’, now the term refers to a wide variety of global programmatic strategies. While U.S. foreign policy implements CVE plans in expansive programs both domestically and in other countries (often via USAID), European countries use the term CVE to primarily refer to domestic programs. General CVE program spheres include those which address good governance, corruption, economic development, youth programs, etc. Not only are CVE programs vague about how they will specifically counter efforts for violent extremist recruitment, leaders in Africa are now trying to use CVE program mechanisms to strengthen their own power. Very few African leaders come from an Islamic background, and increasingly moves are made to use CVE programs to shrink the political space for any kind of antigovernment political movement.

Ibrahim next discussed USAID approaches to CVE on-the-ground in Niger. He points out that while the general goal of CVE is to de-legitimatize terrorists, CVE in West Africa is just beginning and there is very little understanding of the specific factors which make recruitment into a jihadist movement more likely. Further, while USAID intends to effectively implement programs to combat CVE, there are limits on what can be done with U.S. government money including stipulations that programs cannot promote religion. Ibrahim argues that religious programs would be helpful, as evidenced by Mauritania’s success at using religious activities to de-radicalize its population. The mechanism through which this was achieved was holding publicly televised debates between local Imams and Jihadists which effectively demonstrated holes in jihadist religious ideologies.

Finally, Dr. O’Brien discussed the complexities of the Nigerian context which make CVE programs difficult to implement. The most overwhelming factor which works against combatting violent extremism in Nigeria is the military, which routinely carries out war crimes in targeting Boko Haram and the non-violent Islamic Movement. O’Brien argues that the methods used by the Nigerian military to target both of these groups directly contributes to the jihadist recruitment, though the Islamic Movement remains non-violent despite extreme provocations. The latest provocation includes the detainment of the leader of the Islamic Movement, Ibrahim Yaqoub Zakzaky and his wife, in a raid which resulted in the massacre of hundreds of Shiites and Zakzaky’s followers. Between 2014 and 2015, 6 of Zakzaky’s sons have also been killed. Another aspect which complicates the potential for effective CVE programs in Nigeria is that the torture and execution of jihadist individuals without investigation into their adherence to jihadism. Still, the US military continues to train Nigerian military though a questioning of the US-Saudia Arabia alliance, which impacts US involvements in Nigeria, is coming into question.

CAS News Bulletin: Week of November 21st, 2016