Apart from Côte d’Ivoire, Muslim minority communities in the Christian-majority areas of the Gulf of Guinea such as in Benin and Togo remain 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. My new ongoing research project, “Muslim Minorities in Southern Cities of Benin and Togo,” interrogates the ways in which these Muslim minority communities have engaged with politics in secular states. I analyze how perceptions of marginalization have shaped their participation in the public sphere. 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 “living 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.
Youth and Women’s Islamic Activism in Côte d’Ivoire and Burkina Faso
My book manuscript, Youth and Women’s Islamic Activism in Côte d’Ivoire and Burkina Faso, is a comparative historical study of the role of Muslims from marginalized social categories in the transformations of Islam in these two countries over the past sixty years. Using an interdisciplinary approach, I conducted twelve months of ethnographic fieldwork in Abidjan and Ouagadougou (2011; 2014–2015) and draw on national newspapers and documents produced by Islamic organizations to examine the plurality of ways in which Muslim youth and women engage in Islamic activism. The analysis highlights the changing terrain of Muslim leadership over the past sixty years from an intergenerational and gendered perspective. 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 obligation. I conclude that youth and women 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 based on their reading of Islam.
The recent rise of jihadi attacks in West Africa—especially in Burkina Faso—and the resulting increasing scholarly focus on Islamic radicalization are deflecting attention from the religious practice of ordinary Muslims in their everyday lives, which my research highlights. While most historical studies on sub-Saharan Islam have relied on single case studies, the comparative dimension of my research underscores the broader structural dynamics driving religious change in the region over the last decades. The parallel religious demography of both countries—with Islam as a majority religion but with Muslims historically in a subordinate political role—makes the comparison of these two specific cases compelling.
Frédérick Madore, Ph.D. Banting Postdoctoral Fellow Center for African Studies University of Florida 494 Grinter Hall PO Box 115560 Gainesville, FL 32611 United States Email: email@example.com