Muslim Civic Cultures and Conflict Resolution: The Challenge of Democratic Federalism in Nigeria/Islam and Colonialism: Intellectual Responses of Muslims of Northern Nigeria to British Colonial Rule

By Christelow, Allan | African Studies Review, December 2006 | Go to article overview

Muslim Civic Cultures and Conflict Resolution: The Challenge of Democratic Federalism in Nigeria/Islam and Colonialism: Intellectual Responses of Muslims of Northern Nigeria to British Colonial Rule


Christelow, Allan, African Studies Review


John N. Paden. Muslim Civic Cultures and Conflict Resolution: The Challenge of Democratic Federalism in Nigeria. Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press, 2005. xiii + 303 pp. Maps. Tables. Index. $32.95. Paper.

Muhammad S. Umar. Islam and Colonialism: Intellectual Responses of Muslims of Northern Nigeria to British Colonial Rule. Leiden: Brill, 2006. xiv + 295 pp. Glossary. Bibliography. Index. $145.00. Cloth.

With the tumult unfolding in Iraq and Sudan, it is natural to see growing apprehension over Nigeria's prospects for stability, and in particular the possibility of growing Islamic radicalism there. One does not have to search long these days for a Web site such as "World Defense Review" telling us, in very authoritative tones, that "traditional syncretistic Islam" in West Africa is being swept aside by "militant Islamism." In this situation, we are in dire need of well-researched works on Islam in Nigeria that are rooted in long experience and careful analysis rather than ideological opportunism. Two new books take on this challenge. Muhammad Umar's Islam and Colonialism is a study of literary and intellectual expression in Northern Nigeria, and particularly the lands of the former Sokoto Caliphate, during the colonial period. John Paden's Muslim Civic Cultures and Conflict Resolution looks at the role of Islam in politics in the whole of the Nigerian federation since independence.

Umar investigates the response of the Northern Nigerian traditional ruling elite and Islamic scholars to the swift and sudden onslaught of British rule in 1903. He draws on a wide range of sources in Arabic, Hausa, and English, including poetry, narrative, Islamic religious commentary, and administrative documents, working to adapt his methods to these diverse sources. He provides detailed excerpts where suitable, careful consideration of translation problems, and insightful analysis.

For the leaders of the Sokoto Caliphate, the British conquest came as a shock. Its rulers were descendants of those who came to power with the Sokoto jihad led by 'Uthman Dan Fodio in the early nineteenth century. Deeply imbued with the rhetoric and doctrine of the jihad, their initial response, Umar shows, was one of proud defiance. Many of those in positions of power at the time of the conquest (1903) did resist, and when resistance failed, they undertook hijra, flight from the infidel. Yet there were other members of the elite, and of the same extended families as the resisters, who stood ready to work with the British.

Umar effectively demonstrates the literary, legal, and psychological strategies that they used to cope with this situation. Taqiyya, or dissimulation, is the Islamic term used to convey the outward acceptance of collaboration for the sake of survival. "Compartmentalization" is an English term conveying a somewhat different version of this, an approach in which one clearly separates the Islamic aspects of life from the Western ones to avoid contamination of the former. Umar shows that the British authorities were especially wary of any transnational Islamic connections, and occasionally went into panic mode when they intercepted a letter from an Islamic leader in Morocco or Senegal, a pattern emulated by today's neoconservative commentators. Perhaps because his sources are so Nigeria-centered, Umar himself pays limited attention to the wider historical context, for instance the Saudi/Wahhabi takeover of Mecca in 1924. Looking at that wider context can help one understand the emergence of debates over questions such as funeral rituals which cropped up in the 1920s and '3Os, not only in Nigeria but in other Muslim settings as well.

The study ends around 1945, in other words, at the time when all of the convenient compromises of indirect rule were in danger of unraveling as the emirates of Northern Nigeria began to awaken to the fact that, while the British had been kind enough to leave their structures in place, they had quietly made them part of a larger entity, Nigeria. …

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