Universals and Particulars
The past has left signposts in the Dyula villages around Korhogo, and even in Koko itself, for those who know where to find them. Such signposts include the graves of the wali , the saints, those who, through their piety, earned the special love of God. One may visit the graves of a wali with gifts (graciously accepted by the wali's descendants), imploring him (or, exceptionally, her) to intercede with God on one's behalf for one specific reason or another. Some wali are anonymous; it stands to reason in old villages that some of the dead, whose names may have been long forgotten, were once exceptionally pious. Some named wali have only a local reputation; some may be recognized as such only by a handful of individuals, notably their own descendants. Others may be well known throughout the region, or even well beyond, as is the case of Muhammad al-Mustafa Saganogo of Boron, whose grave has long been a site of pilgrimage. The most famous wali are, not surprisingly, the great scholars of past times, those whose names recur again and again in the Suwarian isnads.
The wali are, in more ways than one, embodiments of the Suwarian tradition. Most obviously, many of them were scholars trained in the tradition who transmitted it to subsequent generations. More generally, they represent those of past generations from the region, the village, and the kin group, those whose exemplary piety still constitutes a model, not to mention an additional basis for communicating with God. Predictably, the Wahhabis reject the wali , or at least deny their power to intercede on one's behalf with God. The Wahhabis disapprove, on general principle, of all inter-
mediaries between God and the individual believer. In any case, the Wahhabis visibly reject the past, at least in the form of local religious tradition, specifically by rejecting the Maliki rite of prayer. Opponents of the Wahhabis invoke the past as a vindication. They will pray as their fathers prayed, and before that, their fathers' fathers, and generations before. The graves of the wali , of the holy dead, are, for those who acknowledge their sanctity and their power, testimonials to a Muslim past of which they can be proud.
Lo society groves constitute another kind of testimonial to another kind of past. Not infrequently, the abandoned groves have been left intact. The conviction that initiation societies and their associated activities are improper, if not immoral, does not necessarily entail the belief that lo spirits are powerless. It would be simplistic to assert that the abandoned lo groves represent the "bad" past and that the graves of the wali represent the "good" past. Some older men in Koko, not to mention the villages, speak quite nostalgically about the initiation societies; Dyula masquerading, in its occasional and attenuated manifestations, exerts a powerful fascination among Koko's youth. Even so, there is a general consensus that Islam as practiced in Koko is better, purer, morally superior now that the initiation societies have been abandoned, that Dyula now "know better" than to indulge in such activities. The widely varying—and often frankly ambivalent—attitudes in Koko to the renewal of masquerading in certain other communities demonstrate the extent to which individuals define themselves in terms of, or else in opposition to, specific aspects of the past. But this past, the past of the initiation societies, is over and done with. One may accept it or reject it, but one cannot really turn back.
The abandoned lo groves and the graves of the saints are, in any case, powerful symbols of what individuals reject in the past and of what they cherish and hold sacred. They embody the reality of a religious tradition, a continuity of practice throughout the generations, if not the conviction that the ancestors, those at whose tombs one seeks succor,
were holier, more pious, and altogether better Muslims than people nowadays. Yet they also embody the reality of change, of the conscious abandonment of certain practices and the adoption of others, if not the conviction that Muslims today are more scrupulous, more pious perhaps, than the ancestors.
Muslims of Koko are acutely aware of both the continuity of religious tradition and the reality of changing religious practice. Where they differ is in their attitudes, ranging from a nostalgia for things past to an impatience with practices that seem, if not in error, then simply meaningless. I was struck by this awareness when I first came to Korhogo in 1972, and it was expressly in order to explore more fully the nature of this change that I returned in 1984. At the time, I was inclined to interpret the processes I had come to investigate in terms loosely derived from Robin Horton's (1971, 1975a, 1975b) theory of African conversion. To recapitulate briefly, Horton postulated that the extent to which individuals and communities were concerned with the social "macrocosm" as opposed to the "microcosm" corresponded to the extent of their religious concern with the creator—the monotheistic pole—as opposed to a polytheistic preoccupation with local spirits. Obviously, my concern was not with the conversion of the Dyula to a monotheistic religion. They were, after all, Muslims from their very arrival in the Korhogo region. Rather, I was at first inclined to place religious ideologies, within the broad scope of "Islam," on a scale ranging from particularistic to universalistic.
Interpreting the changes that have taken and are taking place in the practice of Islam in Koko in such terms is an easy enough exercise. What could be more particularistic than a Muslim community divided into two halves: "warriors" who initiated their youths into secret societies, and "scholars" who brought them up to recite, if not read, Arabic? Is not the concern for ritual exactitude, for the "correct" pronunciation of prayers in Arabic and the impeccable performance of ablutions, a manifestation of universalism, of a quest for religious conformity not only within the local community but among all Muslims as a whole? Seen in this light, "neotraditional-
ism," as I have awkwardly and inelegantly characterized Islam as practiced by the majority of Koko's residents, emerges as a "transitional phase," partly particularistic and partly universalistic.
In retrospect, I am now convinced that this kind of explanation, if not entirely on the wrong track, is both inadequate and misleading. In the first place, it is much too patly teleological, implying a clear and unambiguous movement in religious life and thought from particular to universal. If one rejects such a teleological vision, it becomes much more difficult, if not intrinsically absurd, to identify "transitional phases." It is not the notion of "transition," but the notion of "phase," to which I object. Islam, as historically believed in and practiced by specific groups and individuals at specific times and places, is always in transition. It is always possible to call into question what the majority take for granted, and by no means a foregone conclusion that such calls will fall on deaf ears. Beliefs and practices are constantly shifting—subject to reevaluation, if not rejection—though not necessarily in uniform and entirely predictable ways.
But if we reject teleological explanations, must we abandon all reference to universalism and particularism? This need not really be the case. Particularism is the religious idiom in which involvement in the "microcosm," the "local community," is most adequately expressed; universalism stresses the importance of the "macrocosm," the "global community." It is a legacy of nineteenth-century social theory that we tend to see microcosm and macrocosm as polar opposites, as Gemeinschaft versus Gesellschaft; societas versus civitas ; kinship versus territory. By implication, the extent of the individual's involvement in the microcosm is in inverse proportion to his or her involvement in the macrocosm. But microcosm and macrocosm, particularism and universalism, are not necessarily antithetical.
In any case, terms like "particularism" and "universalism," "macrocosm" and "microcosm," and indeed "local community" and "global community," are at best ambiguous and imprecise, at worst misleading reifications of a more
elusive reality. We are dealing, not with pre-constituted entities, but rather with different modes of relationship. On one hand, there are face-to-face, multistranded relationships, based on a multitude of criteria including age, generation, and kin-group membership, but also the specific kin networks of individuals and their personal reputations. Such relationships are only possible within a relatively restricted arena where most individuals are personally known to most others, and consequently where identities are intrinsically complex. On the other hand, there are relatively impersonal relationships, where individuals are identified as representatives of one or another social type rather than in terms of a cluster of features that distinguish them from anyone else in a well-known, if restricted, universe.
The arenas in which these modes of relationship are relevant may, in one way or another, be situated in space: Koko, Côte d'Ivoire, the Muslim world. These "places"—some are admittedly easier than others to situate on a map—should in any case not be taken absolutely literally. Whether or not one belongs in Koko does not literally depend on which side of the stream one happens to reside. Yet the stream is a convenient metaphor separating the "local" from the "global" arena. Every member of the community of Koko is involved, to one extent or another, in both arenas. No one can choose, unambiguously, between particularism and universalism.
In any case, particularism and universalism do not really exist as such, in any meaningful way. There are only particularisms and universalisms. One cannot simply oppose "face-to-face" and "impersonal" types of relationships. The specific nature of the criteria individuals use to evaluate one another, in one arena or the other, are obviously of critical importance. At stake are the principles by which individuals identify and evaluate themselves and one another, principles that are implicitly or explicitly hierarchical: age, generation, and kin-group membership; wealth, education, and political connections; but also piety and the rigor with which one observes the Shari'a as one understands it.
Islam, after all, is intended to govern the whole of one's life, and not simply social interaction—in other words, in re-
ligious terms, morality—in one or the other arena, the global or the local, the universal or the particular. Of course, a purely particularistic Islam is a glaring contradiction in terms, but one can also call into question the unambiguous universalism of apparently universalistic ideologies. In very different ways, both Wahhabis and secularists have had to come to terms with the "local" arena of relationships. On one hand, the Wahhabi insistence on a more completely uniform (i.e., "universal") standard of piety has gone hand in hand with forms of symbolic behavior that set the Wahhabis apart as a separate Muslim community. It is no accident that their detractors accuse them, rightly or wrongly, of exclusivism—precisely the contrary of "universalism"; of establishing their own, newly formed "local" communities in terms of their common observance of supposedly "universal" norms. Individual Wahhabis are faced with the choice of renouncing their membership in one kind of "local" community in favor of another, or else of engaging in systematic and embarrassing hypocrisy, professing one set of beliefs among fellow Wahhabis and practicing another in their home communities. Secularists, in this respect, are at an advantage; they can sometimes have their cake and eat it too. Yet I could not help being struck by the spectacular and ostentatious participation of the rich and powerful in the public ritual life of their home communities. The very wealthy cosmopolitan elite have the luxury of reaping the fruits of success in both spheres, the global and the local, but only a very few individuals command the resources to play at this game. The fact has become painfully apparent to a whole younger generation of Western-educated Dyula, and with this awareness, much of the appeal of secularism has faded. Personal freedom, after all, is sweetest to those who have the means to do as they please, when and where they please. The choices that confront individuals are not between "particularism" and "universalism," but rather between allegiances to different local communities, and between different "global" standards for situating themselves outside the local community and for situating their local community with respect to the world around them. Different ideologies of "universalism" must
either live side by side with particularisms or else generate their own, in terms of new criteria of exclusiveness and inclusiveness, of hierarchy and authority, which regulate the morality of face-to-face interaction.
I have tended, in the course of this book, to present these varying viewpoints as clear-cut alternatives, but this is only sometimes true. My perception of religious differences in Koko was conditioned by the fact that I first arrived in 1972 during what might be labeled the "Wahhabi crisis." The community was very definitely polarized—admittedly with over-whelming support for one pole against the other—and individuals whose loyalties were suspected of wavering were very directly pressured to side against the Wahhabis. Yet in many other respects, and even more emphatically a decade later, religion was not strictly speaking "controversial." Religion mattered very much to a great many people in Koko. It was a frequent, though hardly an obsessive, topic of everyday conversation. As with any topic of conversation, individuals would inevitably disagree openly from time to time, though such disagreements did not always constitute arguments, and neither were all arguments necessarily bitter. In the absence of controversy, of situations where individuals are asked unambiguously to declare their support for one side or the other, people are under decidedly less pressure to keep their stated opinions, or for that matter their behavior, fully consistent.
Such a state of affairs allows individuals to waver, and in some respects to straddle positions that, in other circumstances, might seem irreconcilable: for example, by expressing their intellectual affinity to younger scholars trained in Saudi Arabia without renouncing their close ties to Suwarian-trained scholars who are their friends, kinsmen, and neighbors. If frequently allows individuals to respond, in terms of behavior or stated opinions, to specific circumstances, without worrying about contradicting themselves. They may, for example, laud regimes that enforce strict standards of sexual morality by stoning adulterers, and yet apply very different standards in resolving disputes about the
deeds and misdeeds of their own kin. In short, individuals can uphold a sort of double standard, committing themselves with equal sincerity to a relatively impersonal, "global" moral code of behavior and to a highly personal code governing face-to-face relationships in Koko. It is as if there were a tacit agreement in Koko to avoid confrontation on religious issues, to avoid publicly stating positions that would force individuals to make unambiguous public commitments one way or the other. In fact, such an attitude is fully consistent with one of the basic premises of face-to-face interaction in Koko—namely, that one should defer in public to one's seniors, to those in recognized relations of authority. To challenge scholars and elders openly is to call into question the hierarchy of piety (see chapter 8), the moral underpinnings of authority in Koko. The avoidance of confrontation and the semblance of unity that ensues are testimonials to the reality of Koko's existence as a moral community. But this unity is constantly threatened by the pull of the world across the stream, channeling its various members into different milieux, different sectors of economy and society, as bureaucrats and merchants, craftsmen, workers, or the unemployed, with different "interests" and, what is more to the point, different visions of what a "global" moral community ought ideally resemble.
There is a constant tension between the moral universe of Koko and the moral universe prevailing across the stream, between the kinds of particularistic ethos that can guide face-to-face relationships within a restricted arena and one or another of the universalistic codes on which one must rely when dealing with the world beyond. The principles governing relationships in Koko are clearly inappropriate, and usually simply irrelevant, once one crosses the stream. On the other hand, the consistent application of a global morality, with no concession to local particularisms, would spell the end of Koko as a moral community; it would become just another part of town. Most of the time, these tensions are only latent. Groups and individuals can deal with them on an adhoc basis, or simply pretend they don't exist. From time to
time they erupt in crises, as with the abolition of the lo societies or the outcry over the Wahhabis. In each of these two cases, the outcome has been reaffirmation of the moral unity of the community, but there is no telling what will happen the next time, if there is a next time.
These kinds of tensions are by no means peculiar to Koko. In a very general sense, one might argue that these same problems beset all small, close-knit communities in the modern world. However, I would suggest that these tensions are experienced particularly acutely by Muslim communities. In principle, Christianity is as universalistic a religion as Islam. However, the Christian world has by now come to accept, if sometimes begrudgingly, the reality of sectarianism. This sectarian tradition, most markedly among Protestants, has made possible, for example, the emergence of a whole variety of explicitly African Christian Churches. The Christian believer must adhere to one church or another. This is very definitely the case in Côte d'Ivoire, where Catholics, evangelical Protestants, and, in some parts of the south, Harrists—followers of the Liberian prophet William Wadé Harris—vie with one another for followers. Under the circumstances, individuals cannot only—and perhaps do not even primarily—identify themselves as "Christians," but as members of a particular church. The possibility of joining—and if necessary of forming—a separate religious community provides an avenue for resolving ideological tensions in the religious domain that is not available to Muslims. This is arguably a very "Protestant" vision of Christianity, and seemingly of little or no relevance to regions that are predominantly Catholic. I am not sure this is entirely the case, however. The explicitly ecumenical and consequently "global" orientation of Vatican II was accompanied by the explicit introduction of "local" particularisms—not least of which was the service in the vernacular—in the liturgy. Significantly, there is currently a debate within the Catholic Church concerning the possibility of a specifically African theology. Moreover, the existence of an ecclesiastical hierarchy that determines what is within and what is beyond the pale serves, I would argue, to mediate be-
tween "global" and "local" facets of religion. No such hierarchy exists in Islam.
A Muslim "sect," on the other hand, is a contradiction in terms. The notion of an African Islam, an "Islam noir," is entirely a product of European scholars and administrators. Virtually all Muslims in Africa would deny the very possibility of a specifically "African" Islam, as opposed to the self-proclaimed African Christianity that clearly exists. Rather than a church, there exists the umma , the global, undivided moral community of Muslims. It must be stressed that the umma is real, in the same sense that Koko is real. Both are communities. It means a great deal to individuals that they belong to these communities, and membership in turn implies the existence of concrete rights and obligations. People may disagree about what such communities, global or local, are really like; about who really is or is not a member; but their ideas, their actions and reactions, are predicated on the salience of both kinds of community to everyday life.
The tensions experienced by Muslims in Koko are characteristic of members of small, face-to-face communities everywhere in a world whose horizons are such that interaction beyond a certain pale must inevitably be governed by some sort of relatively impersonal and "universal" code of behavior. These tensions are specifically (but not necessarily exclusively) experienced in religious terms. Questions about Islam are questions about the nature of communities and of their relationship to how individuals define their own identities and those of their neighbors. Of course, similar tensions, and similar questions, beset Dyula "villagers," many of whom are in any case living, temporarily or permanently, in towns. Like their cousins in Koko, villagers live a double existence in (at least) two moral communities, the face-to-face domain of "home" and the impersonal world outside. Yet there is some comfort to a universe where "home" and the "outside world" are separated at the very least by a bus ride. In Koko, these two communities are separated only by a little brook, which trickles under the road near the Friday mosque.