By Mahmud, Sakah Saidu | African Studies Review, September 2004 | Go to article overview
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Mahmud, Sakah Saidu, African Studies Review


The recent (2000) reenactment of the Shari'a legal code in twelve states of Northern Nigeria and the other expressions of Islam in public affairs in the region have been preceded by a long history that should also be understood as determined by the social and political conditions of specific stages in the evolution of the Nigerian social formation. This article attempts to explain Islamism in the region through such factors as Islamic identity for many Muslims, the competition over interpretation and representation of Islam, the nature of the Nigerian state and society, Muslim organizations and leadership, as well as the activities of other religious organizations (especially Christian evangelicals). In this regard, Islamism is driven essentially by internal (Nigerian) forces, even though external forces may have had an effect. The article argues that while Islamism poses major challenges to the Nigerian state and society, it has also exposed itself to challenges from both Muslims and Nigerian society as a whole.

Résumé: L'adoption récente (en 2000) du code légal de la Shari'a dans les douze états du nord du Nigeria et les différentes facettes de l'intégration de l'Islam aux affaires publiques de la région représentent un parcours à longue haleine dont il faut comprendre qu'il a été déterminé par les conditions sociales et politiques des étapes spécifiques de l'évolution de la société du Nigeria. Cet article essaie d'expliquer l'islamisme dans la région par le biais de facteurs tels que l'identité islamique pour de nombreux musulmans, la compétition existant pour l'interprétation et la représentation de l'Islam, la nature de l'état et de la société du Nigeria, les organisations et les dirigeants musulmans, ainsi que les activités des autres organisations religieuses, notamment le mouvement évangélique chrétien. À ce niveau, l'islamisme serait plutôt entraîné par des forces internes (originaires du Nigeria), même si des forces externes ont une certaine influence. L'article discute du fait que même si l'islamisme pose des défis importants à l'état et la société du Nigeria, il s'est aussi exposé à des challenges émanant à la fois des musulmans et de la société nigérienne dans son ensemble.


Islamism in Northern Nigeria entered a new phase in January 2000 with the enactment of the Shari'a Penal Code in Zamfara State. Eleven other Northern states followed suit, and by the end of 2002 a total of twelve states had adopted Shari'a criminal codes (henceforth referred to as full Shari'a).1 These developments produced widespread violent demonstrations by Christians in Kaduna state opposed to Shari'a, during which thousands of people were killed and property was damaged in millions of naira. In the other Shari'a states there was heightened sectarian tension, prompting the governors to assure Christians that the law would apply only to Muslims. Scholars regard the demand for and implementation of Shari'a as a key goal of Islamism (Kjeilen 1994-2000).

My purpose in this article is not only to describe Islamism in Northern Nigeria but also to explain how and why it occurs. I do so by posing a series of interrelated questions: What are the characteristics, the determinants, and the dynamics of Islamism in Northern Nigeria? Who are the main actors and what are their aims? Does Islamism represent a unified agenda, and if so, what are the implications for the future of the region and for the Nigerian polity? Before proceeding further, and by way of introduction, I will provide a definition of Islamism as used in this essay and also present a brief description of what full Shari'a (Shari'a criminal law) entails.

Islamism refers to "an effort [by Muslims] to draw meaning out of Islam applicable to problems of contemporary governance, society, and politics" (Fuller 1999). This definition captures some aspects of other related concepts such as political Islam, fundamentalism, revivalism, and renewal.

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