African Time, African Space
Within the "anthropology of Islam," the problem of multiplicity tends to pose itself in either the most global or the most localized terms. On one hand, Islamic ideas and practices in geographically and socially disparate localities can be compared and contrasted with one another; or, alternatively, analysis may focus on variability within the confines of a single community. However, any such opposition of "local"
and "global" space is obviously too crude; between a single neighborhood of a single town and the worldwide community of Muslim believers, there are a variety of "middle grounds" to be taken into account. Nations constitute perhaps the most obvious of these middle grounds, and indeed anthropologists have not hesitated to write about Islam in Morocco, Indonesia, and Iran, for example. However, such a national approach is clearly inappropriate to studying of Islam in sub-Saharan Africa in any historical depth. Nations like Côte d'Ivoire are very recent creations. Koko quarter is literally older than Côte d'Ivoire. In an African context, it makes more sense to speak in regional than in national terms. In other words, one can analyze Islam in Koko in the more general framework of Islam in West Africa as a whole.
Curiously, anthropologists have had very little to say about Islam in West Africa in general. By and large, the "anthropology of Islam" has bypassed sub-Saharan Africa, despite the large number of anthropologists who have studied African societies. Indeed, anthropologists have made noteworthy contributions to the study of Islam in specific West African communities, contributions that have exhibited a considerable knowledge of and sensitivity to issues in Islam. Nevertheless, the focus of these studies has been on issues other than the study of Islam per se, and anthropologists have by and large left the field of discourse on Islam in West Africa to specialists in other fields, for the most part Islamicists and historians.
However, in studying Islam within a specific local community such as Koko, it is essential to situate it within the broader context of Islam in West Africa. The way in which this broader context is characterized becomes crucial. In particular, change over time—the conversion of non-Muslims to Islam, the abandonment by Muslim communities of certain conceptions of Islam in favor of others—is hardly a phenomenon peculiar to Koko. The most obvious way of characterizing such changes in West Africa has been in terms of progressive stages of Islamization. Seen in this light, competing conceptions of Islam, locally as well as regionally, can be
identified as representing different stages. The problems with such an approach are legion. At its worst, this kind of developmentalism is easily combined with an explicitly or implicitly racist evolutionary discourse. Islamic civilization is contrasted to the intrinsic savageness of the generic African, who is only capable of assimilating Islam gradually, bit by bit. The following passage (published as late as 1959!) exemplifies this kind of thinking:
The difference between Islam as a developed civilization with a body of religious doctrine and the African religio-social systems with which it is in contact is so profound that the psychological shock of conversion would seem as great as with Christianity. It is not so in practice. The reason is that African Islam in contact with animists is characterized by a series of gradations which act as insulators passing Islamic radiation on, diminuendo, to animist societies. Thus the form in which Islam first makes its impact upon the animist seems little removed from animism. This gives Islam the advantage of rarely finding itself in direct contact with animists in a form whose cultural level is too high to render mutual understanding possible.
(Trimingham 1959: 33)
The author goes on to identify three stages "in the assimilation of Islamic culture": first, "the infiltration of elements of Islamic culture into animist life"; second, "conversion, characterized more by the break with the old order than the adoption of the new"; and, only finally, "the gradual process by which Islam changes the life of the community" (ibid.: 34). Different conceptions of Islam in West Africa are hierarchically evaluated in terms of their degree of Africanness; the less "African," the better. The purity (at least the relative purity) of Islamic civilization is directly contrasted to the essential animism of Africans.
Such crude characterizations, typical of some schools of colonial discourse about Islam in Africa, have fortunately and most justifiably fallen into disrepute.
However, there are still scholars who continue to conceptualize Islam in West Africa in terms of a series of progressive
stages of Islamic development. The leading exponent of such a view is Humphrey Fisher (1973), who, like Trimingham before him, has identified three stages of Islamization: "quarantine," where the presence of minority Muslim communities is tolerated, but these communities remain spatially and socially distinct from the majority; "mixing," where rulers declare themselves to be Muslims, but where religious practices are a syncretic amalgam of Islam and of traditional African religions; and finally "reform" in an attempt to purge Islam of such supposedly syncretic accretions. At one level, Fisher's stages can be taken to represent a chronological sequence that can be applied without much difficulty to West African history. The empire of Ghana, which flourished roughly between the eighth and eleventh centuries, was indeed characterized by what Fisher calls "quarantine." Although the empire was heavily involved in trans-Saharan trade, a trade that remained in Muslim hands, the rulers did not convert to Islam, and Muslims lived in a separate area apart from the neighborhood of the palace. On the other hand, the rulers of later medieval West African empires, notably of Mali and Songhay, but also of Borno and of the Hausa kingdoms, adopted Islam as the official religion of state. Finally, the late eighteenth and the nineteenth centuries saw a series of militant jihads launched by Muslims against these states or their successors, whose rulers were accused of being Muslims in name only, if at all. However, it must be pointed out that, seen in such chronological terms, these stages correspond, not to religious beliefs or practices, but rather to their role in the ideology of specific states. "Quarantine," "mixing," and "reform" are distinguished by the extent to which the legitimacy of rulers is couched in specifically Islamic terms. In Ghana, rulers made no claims to be Muslim. The adoption of Islam as the official religion of the court, in Mali for example, was intended to supplement rather than to replace other principles on which the rulers based their legitimacy. The jihads of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, on the other hand, were justified precisely by the identification of such
courts as fundamentally un-Islamic. However, whatever the ideology of rule, religious practice in any of these states and empires was essentially heterogeneous. Rather obviously, the characterization of a certain polity as in a stage of "quarantine" tells us strictly nothing about the nature of the beliefs and practices of the Muslim minority. Conversely, the leaders of jihads were generally unable to impose their views and practices on important segments of the population, notably much of the peasantry, not to mention dispossessed members of the former ruling class.
In any case, Fisher intends these stages to represent something more than a chronological sequence. The sequence is explicitly teleological; in Fisher's words, "the basic underlying progression has been towards a purer faith" (ibid.:31; emphasis mine). In the first place, such a Whig interpretation of Islamic history matter-of-factly takes an intrinsic tendency to progress for granted, without explaining why this should be so. (In a sense, once one takes such assumptions about progress for granted, only cases of backsliding need to be explained.) More disturbingly, such a teleological sequence implies not only that not all Muslims are equal, but that Western academics can determine which ones are more Muslim than others. In fact, notions akin to "purity" and "mixing" are categories of Muslim discourse, rather than objective categorizations of religious practice. Not infrequently, adherents of rival conceptions of Islam accuse one another of "mixing." In some circumstances, one party definitively gains the upper hand, as was the case in the successful jihads of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, where the adherents of one type of conception took over the apparatus of state power. To accept the "reformist" notions of "purity" and "mixing" at face value is to vindicate the jihadists, ignoring or dismissing the fact, for example, that large numbers of 'ulama' supported the other side. Any teleological approach implies that, in any fundamental debate among Muslims, one side represents a "purer" Islam than the other, and, what is more, that in the long run that side will win out. I must point out that nothing could be further from Fisher's intentions than such an asser-
tion. However, it is the only logical conclusion than can be drawn from an attempt to categorize different conceptions of Islam in terms of any developmental, much less teleological, sequence.
In all fairness, most recent scholarship on Islam in West Africa has avoided teleological assumptions that explicitly privilege one concept of Islam over another. To the extent than one can legitimately speak of bias at all, it emerges not so much in the work of individual scholars but in the choice of subjects that have received the most scholarly attention in the study of West African Islam. One of the principal foci of historical studies have been the eighteenth and nineteenth century jihad movements and the states they established. 'Uthman dan Fodio's jihad in what is now northern Nigeria has undoubtedly attracted the most attention, but jihad movements in Senegal as well as the jihads of 'Umar Tall and Ahmadu Lobbo in the Middle Niger have also been the subjects of considerable study. A second, and often related, area of focus has been the Sufi brotherhoods or orders: their diffusion to West Africa in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, their relationship to jihad movements, and their institutional forms, particularly where these have been highly structured and developed, as, for example, in the case of the Mouride brotherhood in Senegal, which has in and of itself received considerable scholarly attention.
Associated with these topical foci has been a regional focus on Senegal and on northern Nigeria, areas where jihad movements played a very prominent historical role and where Sufi brotherhoods continue to thrive and play a major role in local Islam. It would, of course, be churlish, and in any case unreasonable, to reproach individual scholars for choosing to devote their energies to such topics, which are as valid subjects of study in their own right as any others. Such studies have contributed greatly to the Western scholarly understanding of Islam in West Africa. I feel equally uncomfortable in suggesting that such studies might be the result of some sort of collective bias, as if there could be some conspiracy in the disciplines involved in the absence of conspirators.
However, it is easy to see why such subjects of study are attractive to scholars, for the jihad movements as well as the Sufi brotherhoods have, in the areas where they have flourished, made Islam very "visible" as a subject of study. The implications of this focus are most apparent in recent works surveying West African Islamic history as a whole (Clarke 1982, Hisket 1984), the bulk of whose discussions of West African Islamic history since the eighteenth century are devoted to jihad movements, to the spread of Sufi brotherhoods, and to the reactions of Muslims and Muslim societies to colonial rule (a subject described largely in terms of the continual spread of the Sufi orders and the rise of nonviolent, but militant, Muslim reform movements). A recent edited volume on The Cultivators of Islam (Willis 1979) highlights the same trends; the majority of the essays (if not, in certain respects, all of them) deal with the leaders either of jihad movements or of Sufi orders. Reading these works, one cannot help drawing the conclusion that reform movements of one sort or another on one hand, and highly organized Sufi orders on the other, have been the central features of Islam in West Africa since the beginning of the nineteenth century, and that anything else (except perhaps among recently converted "pagans," who cannot be expected to know better) is peripheral. I must stress, however, that such a bias, if it exists, has never to my knowledge been openly formulated. Indeed, I can perhaps justly be accused of reading it into works where it was never intended. In a sense, therefore, this criticism is distinctly unfair to authors who have attempted broad surveys. They have had to rely, for the most part, on secondary sources, and such sources are far more available about northern Nigeria and Senegal than about other parts of Muslim West Africa. However, one cannot simply assume that northern Nigeria and Senegal are in any sense "typical." More important, "typical" cases (whatever they may be) do not tell us any more (or any less) than atypical ones. The reform movements and the Sufi orders represent certain conceptions of Islam, but so do varieties of so-called "mixed" Islam where they exist and have existed, as well as yet other kinds of conceptions which may not fit neatly into any of these categories.
The fact is that such apparently "atypical" Muslim societies have not only existed in West Africa in the past, but that they continue to exist. The majority of members of these societies have been indifferent to, if they have not actively resisted, Muslim "reform" movements (though they have by no means been unaware of them). While certain members of these societies label themselves Qadiris or Tijanis, Sufi orders have never played a very central role in their conceptions of Islam. A whole belt of such Muslim societies, stretching from parts of Senegal to northern Ghana (including parts of Côte d'Ivoire, Mali, and Burkina Faso), are characterized by what Ivor Wilks (1984) has called the "Suwarian tradition," tracing its intellectual roots to the teachings of al-Hajj Salim Suware. (This is not to say that the Suwarian tradition constituted the only or even the major West African alternative to a stress on Islamic reform and/or highly structured Sufi orders; for example, Charles Stewart's  study of the career of Shaykh Siddiyya al-Kabir in Mauritania does not focus on militant reform and consistently downplays the importance of Sufi orders, despite the fact that the shaykh was a Sufi leader.) If I insist on the existence of such alternate traditions in Islam in West Africa, it is not simply in order to demonstrate that the Muslims of Koko are not a "freak" of West African Islamic history, or that studies of such traditions are essential in the name of some criteria of exhaustiveness or of fairness. Rather, studies of Islam in such societies are theoretically important, not only in their own right, but also as a means of placing studies of Islamic reform and of Sufi orders in perspective. In the first place, a bias in favor of studying Muslim societies where reform movements have taken hold tends, as I have tried to argue, to give credence to the teleological notion (which does not follow) that such movements are historically inevitable, or at least that they represent the logical development of the process of Islamization (and by implication that Muslims who resist these movements are in some intrinsic way "out of step" with history). Secondly, and more important, there are epistemological limits to the kinds of generalizations one can make about phenomena such as reform movements simply by accumulating instances of cases where
they occur and take root. For example, one strategy for explaining such movements is to compare known instances and to attempt to determine the features they have in common. However, it may well be that some features that characterize societies where reform movements have been successful may equally characterize societies where such reforms have failed, or perhaps not even been attempted. To put it another way, one essential (but sometimes overlooked) component of the study of reform movements is to consider cases where reform movements have not met with success. Such cases constitute, if I may be permitted to use the experimental sciences as a metaphor, a kind of "control," a means of circumscribing the conditions under which Islamic reform movements will or will not take hold.