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Mali

By:
Ronald Niezen
Source:
The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World What is This? Provides comprehensive scholarly coverage of the full geographical and historical extent of Islam

Mali

The region now within the Republic of Mali has been exposed to Islam for more than nine hundred years. In present-day Mali the Islamic presence has grown to the point where 90 percent of the population of approximately 9 million is Muslim, the most significant minority faiths being so-called “paganism” and Catholic Christianity (1–2 percent). Islam has always been more entrenched in the north, mainly because of its transmission from the Maghrib through trans-Saharan trade and the Moroccan invasion of Songhay in the sixteenth century.

By the early nineteenth century the major centers of learning—Timbuktu, Gao, and Jenne—had long been in decline in terms of Islamic scholarship, largely because of insecurities brought about by conquest and fluctuations in trade. More popular versions of the faith, based on rote recitation of the Qurʿān and adherence to the Qādirīyah brotherhood, were practiced in the northern countryside, especially among the nomadic Tuareg, Fulani, and Moors. The south remained largely resistant to Islam, with the Bambara and Dogon being known for their adherence to local polytheistic religious systems.

As in other parts of the Sahel in the nineteenth century, a social context that combined the expanded popularity of Islam with reduced scholarly rigor and frontier societies resistant to the faith became fertile ground for historically significant reform efforts. The jihād of Usuman Dan Fodio from 1804 to 1810 did not penetrate far into the territory, but it did lead to settlement by a vanguard of Fulani warriors on the eastern portion of the Niger bend near Ansongo. The jihād of ʿUmar Tal in the mid-nineteenth century had a greater effect on the Islamic heritage of Mali, resulting in a widened influence of the Tijānīyah. Through much of the nineteenth century a more peaceful revival of the Qādirīyah was largely inspired by the Kunta jurists Sīdī al-Mukhtār (d. 1811) and Shaykh Sīdīyah al-Kabīr (d. 1868). With their close links to the Berber and Arab traditions of North Africa, Kunta jurists are largely responsible for the dominance of Maghribi influence throughout West Africa, which persists into the early twenty-first century.

Like other parts of French West Africa, this region underwent an Islamic resurgence that increased in momentum through the period of colonial occupation. This was expressed in a number of reform movements, most notably the Hamallīyah and the Wahhābīyah.

The Hamallīyah was an offshoot of the Tijānī brotherhood that developed in the Nyoro region in the early 1940s. Aside from veneration of its founder Shaykh Hamallāh, its main distinguishing characteristic was a revised formula of recitation (wird) that used an eleven-bead rosary. Despite Shaykh Hamallāh's espousal of pacifism, his followers became involved in a massacre directed against a rival nomadic group, resulting in harsh suppression by the French. The scattering of the Hamallīyah resulted in two very different successors to the movement: a quietist Ṣūfī tradition exemplified by Cerno Bokar, and more overtly enthusiastic, short-lived uprisings, including the abortive jihād of Musa Aminu in his natal village of Wani north of Bourem.

In the post–World War II phase of colonization, more lasting reform efforts were initiated by West Africans who had been educated in the Middle East. Particularly noteworthy was a group of students from al-Azhar University in Cairo who established the Muslim youth organization Subbanu al-Muslimīn in the 1950s. One of the central platforms of these reformers was opposition to the perceived excesses of the brotherhoods, including veneration of holy men and dependence on “Islamic magic,” such as the manufacture of amulets for worldly aid; they turned instead to scriptural literacy and a basic understanding by the laity of the original sacred texts. This reformist trend became known as Wahhāīyah, because the French saw a similarity between these reformers and the puritan followers of Muḥammad ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhāb (d. 1787) of the eastern Arabian Peninsula.

Trading groups were central to the development of the Wahhābīyah, particularly in Bamako, a strategically situated trading center. Since independence, however, there has been an expansion of reformed Islam into a wide range of social groups, including students, administrative officials, and peasants. An increase in the popularity of the Wahhābīyah during the later phase of colonialism and the first decades of independence was marked by disputes and occasional violence between adherents of the Ṣūfī orders and the reformers. Such disputes often hinged on the outward symbols of change, such as the fact that the reformers pray with arms folded across the chest rather than hanging at the sides.

The first independent government (1960–1968), led by Modibo Kieta, promoted radical state socialism; although its ideology was moderated by a Pan-African Islamic identification, this regime had a dampening effect on the development of Islam. Islamic reform efforts sponsored by Malian clerics, however, continued, especially in the migrant communities or zongos of West African coastal cities. The military government of Mousa Traore (1968–1991), while remaining nominally secular, was more tolerant of the development of Islam. In 1971, however, the Traore government disbanded the Union Culturelle Musulmane (Muslim Cultural Union), the main organizational body of reformers in Bamako, and in the 1980s it made efforts to bring religious organizations under government control, first in 1981 by creating the Association Malienne pour l’Unité et le Progrès de l’Islam (Malian Association for the Unity and Progress of Islam, AMUPI) to the exclusion of other formal Islamic organizations, and then by regulating Islamic education, sanctioning only officially recognized madrasahs.

In 1991, a military coup d’état and a new constitution ushered in the Malian Third Republic, first led by Alpha Oumar Konaré (1992–2002), then by Amadou Touré (2002–), the principal architect of the new constitution. New political circumstances, marked by multiparty democracy and greater freedoms of expression and association, have encouraged a proliferation of Islamic associations, which differ widely in terms of size, stated objectives, and the extent of their transnational networks. One of the more durable and influential organizations has been the Association Islamique pour le Salut (Islamic Association for Salvation, AISLAM), reputed to be oriented toward Islamic reform. Other Islamic NGOs have been formed around the interests of youth, women, and clerics, and they have sponsored the funding (mainly from international sources) and construction of mosques and madrasahs.

See also DAN FODIO, USUMAN; QāDIRīYAH; TIJāNīYAH; ʿUMAR TAL; and WAHHāBīYAH.

Bibliography

  • Brenner, Louis. Controlling Knowledge: Religion, Power, and Schooling in a West African Muslim Society. Bloomington, Ind., 2001. A detailed history of Muslim schools in Mali in the twentieth century. Find it in your Library
  • Kaba, Lasiné. The Wahhabiyya: Islamic Reform and Politics in French West Africa. Evanston, Ill., 1974. Considers the development and political involvement of Islamic reformers in the postwar colonial period. Find it in your Library
  • Robinson, David. The Holy War of Umar Tal: The Western Sudan in the Mid-Nineteenth Century. Oxford and New York, 1985. The most thorough historical study of ʿUmar Tal's background and career. Find it in your Library
  • Schultz, Dorothea. “Promises of (Im)mediate Salvation: Islam, Broadcast Media, and the Remaking of Religious Experience in Mali.”American Ethnologist33, no. 2 (2006): 210–229. Find it in your Library
  • Soares, Benjamin F.Islam and the Prayer Economy: History and Authority in a Malian Town. Ann Arbor, Mich., 2005. Offers both a first-rate overview of the history of Islam in Mali and a focused study of the Hamallīyah in Nyoro. Find it in your Library
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