The Crown and the Turban: Muslims and West African Pluralism

The Crown and the Turban: Muslims and West African Pluralism

The Crown and the Turban: Muslims and West African Pluralism

The Crown and the Turban: Muslims and West African Pluralism


This fascinating study explores the "clash of civilizations" between the secular government and Muslim traditions in West Africa, appraising the challenge of separating the administration of the state from the deeply held beliefs of the Islamic peoples of the region. Lamin Sanneh, awarded Senegal's highest national honor for his scholarly work, places Islam within the context of Africa's receptive and pluralist environment, explores the religious and historical background of present-day conflicts, and shows that achieving solutions will depend equally upon Christian and Muslim theological resources. As Sanneh explains, Muslims took advantage of Africa's religious tolerance to begin a process of change that culminated in a unified Islamic view of religion, state, and society. European colonialism and missionary efforts both bolstered and complicated the development of this faith as a result of the pressures secularism brought to bear on Islamic tradition. Sanneh points out that perhaps ironically, due to the same tolerance of differences, Christianity was able to flourish in parts of Africa, and its followers more readily supported the Western secular idea of the separation of church and state. Offering a comprehensive evaluation of the key points of colonial and interreligious friction, Sanneh explores the effects of conflict of belief on religious, educational, and political institutions in the region. The book will be essential reading for students of comparative religion, African, missions, and Islam.


The perspectives offered in this book arise from a relatively simple theme, namely, the Muslim encounter with the peoples and societies of West Africa, and especially with their religious traditions and political institutions. Islam is both religion and state, and in that combination it has penetrated several societies in Africa, advancing on both fronts where possible, typically with the religious yogi preceding the state commissar. in that combination, too, Islam has encountered Europe in its African empire, an encounter fraught with the tension between Western secularism and Islamic "politicalism." the Muslim encounter may in this sense be set within four broad contexts: (1) the quasi-quiescent traditional African communities and their laissez-faire practice of toleration and inclusiveness; (2) the Muslim West African tradition of clerical pacifism running parallel to Muslim militant theocratic activism; (3) the European colonial dispensation and its momentous legacy in the virile national secular state; and (4), not insignificantly, the emergence of an African Christianity shorn of any doctrinaire political blueprints but now set to engage Muslim "politicalism" on rules alien to its life and self-understanding.

I use "Islam" here in three interrelated senses: as a religion prescribed in Scripture, law, and tradition; as a "territorial" civilization with its own historical development, much like "Christendom"; and, finally, as the faith practice of persons and communities.

Muslim Africans demonstrate political confidence based on classical Islamic sources and reinforced from the tradition of Muslim rule in precolonial Africa, whereas, for their part, modern Christian Africans have no comparable political experience to draw on and consequently, they feel on the defensive. This disequilibrium constitutes a major factor in the tone and weight of the religious subjects treated in this book, divided into four parts: Islam and the African context: social and religious synthesis; Islam, Africa, and colonialism: religion in history; Muslim education and African society: religious formation and the public order; and finally, Muslims, Christians, and the national secular state: public policy issues. This last section develops the major theme of the book, which concerns contemporary projects affecting religion and politics, with the public sphere as the setting. the effects of Western political and missionary influence are considered in all these themes.

In the encounter with non-Muslim societies, to take a historical theme, Muslims possess the advantage of being African, although as new converts such Muslims . . .

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