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Diverse styles of Islamic reform among the Songhay of eastern Mali



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Niezen, Ronald Wesley 


The general aim of the dissertation is to contribute to an understanding of Islamic reform in West Africa. To this end fieldwork was conducted among the Songhay of eastern Mali, a people who experienced a sudden rise in the popularity of Islamic reform in the early 1970's which divided many communities along religious lines. The term 'Wahhabiyya', often used to describe a trend in religious reform in West Africa which is inspired largely by the Saudi Arabian model of puritan Islam, is accepted by most members of this Songhay movement. In the region of Gao, in which this locally-based Wahhabi movement emerged, the situation is one in which Islamic reform among the village population is more 'radical' and uncompromising than among town dwellers. The central concerns of the dissertation are to compare the social backgrounds and religious orientations of 'moderates' and 'radicals' and, in particular, to account for the strong appeal of Islamic reform among the villagers. In order to assess the impact of religious reform attention is paid throughout the dissertation to the social and religious life of the non-reformist population. In tracing the background of the topic it was necessary to explore the history of the Songhay with specific reference to the introduction of Islam and its place in the 'traditional' religious complex as well as changes in the family, the economy and the politicaltostructure which have occurred since the advent of French colonization. These issues are set within a general comparison of the reformist and traditionalist communities which includes consideration of the way Islam is observed, the place of leadership and organization, and the way Islamic education is implemented.






Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge