I am currently completing a book manuscript tentatively entitled “Youth and Women’s Islamic Activism in Côte d’Ivoire and Burkina Faso.” The book is a comparative historical study of the role of Muslims from marginalized social groups in the transformations of Islam in these two countries over the past sixty years. The parallel religious demography of both countries—with Islam as the main religion (60% in Burkina Faso; 43% in Côte d’Ivoire) but with Muslims historically in a subordinate political role—makes the comparison of these two specific cases compelling. My approach is highly interdisciplinary, bringing together history, religion, anthropology, and political science. The research draws from a combination of sources, including twelve months of ethnographic fieldwork in Abidjan and Ouagadougou (2011; 2014–15), along with thousands of archival materials, national newspaper articles, and documents produced by Islamic organizations. I have developed techniques for collecting, organizing, and exploiting a broad array of written sources that scholars of Islam in Africa have often considered too scarce to be meaningfully employed.
The core argument of the book is that intergenerational and gender relations are at the heart of the dynamics (re)structuring the Islamic ﬁeld in recent decades, and that these relations are intricately linked to issues of power and religious authority. I assess the individual and collective capacity of youth and women to both challenge and conform to social constraints through Islamic activism. I demonstrate that generational and gender differences heavily favoring male senior leaders in both countries in the 1970s and ’80s have been tempered over time, even if tensions persist. This is especially salient in Burkina Faso where strong gerontocratic principles still prevail within Islamic organizations, and showing deference to the older generation often remains an important social norm. The recent developments in both countries also echo the diversification in the types and sources of religious authority which can be observed elsewhere in the contemporary Muslim world. More individuals and groups from different segments of society now claim the right to speak in the name of Islam, including youth and women. Francophone “Muslim intellectuals” have been at the forefront of the emergence of a “civil Islam” by devising new forms of civic engagement and entrepreneurship for socio-economic development.
Muslim Minorities in Southern Cities of Benin and Togo
With the support of the Banting Postdoctoral Fellowship (2018–20), I am currently engaged in a second research project on the very understudied Muslim minority communities of southern Benin and Togo. While recent reports on the deteriorating security situation in Burkina Faso have raised fears of jihadism spreading to neighboring states bordering the Gulf of Guinea, including Benin and Togo, Islam in this region remains mostly unknown. This religion—now accounting for 27,7% of the population in Benin and around 15% in Togo—has recently attracted attention for an apparent Islamic “awakening.” In Benin, the imam of the main mosque of Cotonou was elected to the National Assembly in 2019. In Togo, the new opposition figurehead of the unprecedented anti-government protests that spread across the country in 2017 has been regularly accused of links to Islamist radicals by pro-government leaders.
The project aims to move beyond a reductive focus on “radicalization” by interrogating how Muslims’ political location as a minority in Christian-majority settings affects their experiences, self-understandings and political stakes. Special attention will be paid on the struggle of various Muslim groups over access to the dominant public sphere, and the creation of counterpublics by youth and women. Secondly, drawing on the literature on “lived Islam,” the project examine the plurality of ways in which Muslims make their religious identity meaningful in their everyday lives beyond established analytic terms (Sufi, reformist, Salafi) that often fail to apprehend how people live their religion. Specifically, it investigates the influence of interactions with Christians and African “traditional” religions on their religiosity through processes of appropriation and drawing boundaries with religious Others.