Islamization from Below

Islamization from Below: The Making of Muslim Communities in Rural French Sudan, 1880-1960

Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 448
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Islamization from Below
    Book Description:

    The colonial era in Africa, spanning less than a century, ushered in a more rapid expansion of Islam than at any time during the previous thousand years. In this groundbreaking historical investigation, Brian J. Peterson considers for the first time how and why rural peoples in West Africa "became Muslim" under French colonialism.

    Peterson rejects conventional interpretations that emphasize the roles of states, jihads, and elites in "converting" people, arguing instead that the expansion of Islam owed its success to the mobility of thousands of rural people who gradually, and usually peacefully, adopted the new religion on their own. Based on extensive fieldwork in villages across southern Mali (formerly French Sudan) and on archival research in West Africa and France, the book draws a detailed new portrait of grassroots, multi-generational processes of Islamization in French Sudan while also deepening our understanding of the impact and unintended consequences of colonialism.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-15273-9
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-x)
    (pp. xi-xiii)
    (pp. xiv-xiv)
    (pp. 1-23)

    After the Second World War, a strident Muslim preacher, Bakari Koné, raidedbamanareligious sites around his village of Diaka in rural French Sudan. In a lurid demonstration of Islam’s supremacy, he then publicly burned sacred objects and masks. While most rural holy men took a more quietist approach to proselytization, Koné’s unexpectedly iconoclastic acts represented an open challenge to the village elders. Not since the wars of Samori of the late nineteenth century had anyone desecrated local sites so overtly. It was sheer sacrilege.¹

    According to oral traditions, in response the head of the indigenouskòmòpower society quickly...

    (pp. 24-56)

    “There is a stream in this region named Jaban. Do you know this stream? Jaban? It is located between Soloba and Guélélénkoro. Samori killed, killed and killed the people of Basidibé along the banks of this stream. Even today, the waters of this stream are red.”¹ Suleyman Sidibé, an elder in the village of Solona, was repeating a common motif in local oral traditions on Samori Touré, the founder of an internal West African empire. He continued, “There was such massacre and destruction that the refugees who fled came here saying, ‘It is terrible along the banks of Jaban. The...

  8. CHAPTER 2 Reconstructing a Fragmented World REFUGEES, RELIGION, AND COLONIAL ORDER, 1893–1905
    (pp. 57-86)

    In the village of Koniba-Barila, a blind and elderly Yusuf Sidibé recounted a village foundation narrative. He told how the mythic blacksmith Numu Fayiri had descended from the sky by chain (jòlòko), coming to earth “to shape iron,” and how pastoralists from Futa Jallon later settled in the region. He talked aboutfadenya, or lineage rivalry, internal wars, and invasion by mercenaries from Segu. Then, seemingly appending to his words, he lingered for awhile on stories of refugee return before explaining how the current village was actually created during colonialism. Yusuf’s grandparents, originally from Barila, fled their village in the...

  9. CHAPTER 3 Slave Emancipation and the Expansion of Islam, 1905–1914
    (pp. 87-121)

    Tumani Danyoko has been credited as the first practicing Muslim in the village of Tenemakana. Long before this local beginning of “prayer,” Tumani had been a slave in a Muslim household in northern Ivory Coast, where he came of age in a world punctuated by the daily rhythms of Islamic culture. In time, he learned the basic prayers and was inculcated with new values and beliefs. As a portable way of being Muslim, this new religious habitus constituted a set of practices and manner of bodily comportment that could be adapted to different social milieus. Thus, in the aftermath of...

    (pp. 122-154)

    In 1928, upon the death of the canton chief, a succession dispute erupted in Fulala. With numerous claimants throwing their hats into the ring, the French commandant tried to quiet the row, while steering his handpicked candidate, Wakoro Suntura, into power. As the incumbent canton “representative,” and the chief’s nephew and interpreter, he seemed the ideal choice.¹ But Wakoro had used his position to virtually enslave people, singling out rival villages for harsh treatment, rigorous tax collection, and forced labor.² For some, such chiefly actions and forms of predation were synonymous with slavery. And, indeed, across the district, chiefs and...

  11. CHAPTER 5 Transforming the Village CIRCULAR MIGRATION AND RURAL SOCIAL CHANGE, 1940–1960
    (pp. 155-183)

    As the Second World War raged in Europe, recruitment officials arrived in the village of Massala. Coming from around the canton of Fulala, families gathered in the roadside village’s central meeting place, where, under a large kapok tree, their sons waited for inspection. The colonial officials worked their way down the list of villages, calling forward household heads and selecting the healthiest for service. By this time, there were few left. Already in 1941, the canton had seen a dramatic decline in the number of able-bodied men. Some had been recruited for service. Even more had left on migration. However,...

  12. Chapter 6 Migrants and the Dialectics of Conversion, 1930–1960
    (pp. 184-214)

    In the village of N’Golobala, Fula Musa Suntura has been remembered as the most charismatic Muslim holy man of his generation. Coming to prominence in the postwar period, he was the quintessential rural preacher: he cultivated the land and used his personal comportment to spread the faith. Around the time Fula Musa was emerging as an important leader, migrant workers were turning toward Islam. While on migration, they appropriated Muslim cultural styles and forms of material culture, which served as new markers of social distinction and religious belonging. When they returned home, pressures to convert among young people continued to...

  13. CHAPTER 7 Changes in the Religious Landscape THE MAKING OF MUSLIM COMMUNITIES, C. 1930S–1950S
    (pp. 215-250)

    After returning to Tenemakana, Tumani Danyoko, the former slave who introduced prayer into the village, fathered a son and named him Mamadujan, after the Prophet Muhammad. At the time Mamadujan was born, the village was still dominated by traditionalists. Muslims had yet to begin praying publicly. But within the privacy of his compound, Tumani performed his prayers and raised his children in the Islamic faith. Eventually, he sent his son away to Qur’anic school in Masigi, where he spent a decade studying with a renowned holy man of the Haidara lineage. Then, in 1929, Mamadujan returned home and soon became...

    (pp. 251-257)

    In this narrative of eighty or so years, I have explored the ways in which rural communities became Muslim in one corner of the French empire. Independence did not mark the beginning of an unambiguous Muslim society.¹ Nor did it preclude the possibility of countercurrents and little eddies in the opposite direction.² And as a process, the expansion of Islam was far from smooth, linear, or predictable. Thus, in telling this story I have framed Islamization within multiple local contexts, while emphasizing shifts in colonial power relationships and different social temporalities. But, my main contention in this book is that...

    (pp. 258-260)
  16. NOTES
    (pp. 261-308)
  17. INDEX
    (pp. 309-319)