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Sufism in Northern Nigeria: A Force for Counter-Radicalization?

Sufism in Northern Nigeria: A Force for Counter-Radicalization? - Cover

Authored by Dr. Jonathan N. C. Hill.

May 2010

68 Pages

Brief Synopsis

In light of the ongoing threats issued by al-Qaeda (AQ) against the United States and its allies, the need to prevent the radicalization of young Muslim men and women remains as pressing as ever, and perhaps nowhere is this task more urgent than in the countries of West Africa. The global expanse of the ongoing war on terror places these territories in the frontline. With large Muslim populations that have hitherto remained mostly impervious to the advances of Islamism, the challenge now confronting the Nigerian government and the international community is ensuring that this remains the case. But in recent months, Islamist groups have been highly active in the region. The aim of this monograph is to assess the potential of Nigeria’s Sufi Brotherhoods to act, both individually and collectively, as a force for counter-radicalization, to prevent young people from joining Islamist groups.

Summary

In light of the ongoing threats issued by Al Qaeda against the United States and its allies, the need to prevent the radicalization of young Muslim men and women remains as pressing as ever. Perhaps nowhere is this task more urgent than in the countries of West Africa. The global expanse of the ongoing war on terror places these territories in the frontline. With large Muslim populations that have hitherto remained mostly impervious to the advances of Islamism, the challenge now confronting the Nigerian government and the international community is ensuring that this remains the case. But in recent years, Islamist groups have been highly active in the region. The aim of this monograph is to assess the potential of Nigeria’s Sufi Brotherhoods to act, both individually and collectively, as a force for counter-radicalization, to prevent young people from joining Islamist groups.

To achieve this goal, the monograph is divided into four main parts. The first considers U.S. strategic interests in Nigeria. It argues that most of these interests have some sort of security dimension relating to either oil, terrorism, the safety of shipping in the Gulf of Guinea, or the peace and stability of West Africa. In particular, it notes that as the region’s key actor, Nigeria can be a vector of either stability or volatility. As such, it is incumbent upon the United States to try to ensure that the country remains as stable as possible.

Section two then looks at the various groups and organizations involved. It opens with an overview of Sufism before moving on to trace the histories of the two main Brotherhoods in northern Nigeria, the Qadiriyya and Tijaniyya. This includes an explanation of the suspicion and hostility that exists between Sufis and salafists throughout the Islamic world and in Nigeria specifically. This antagonism is driven by both theological and political considerations. Yet the Islamist movement must not be considered a unified front, as it is made up a variety of different groups, each with their own agendas and methods for pursuing them. The section finishes with an examination of the means the Qadiriyya and Tijaniyya use to counter the Islamists’ influence.

The third section examines the political, economic, and social conditions in Nigeria—and the north in particular—today. As past experience in other parts of the Islamic world demonstrate, these circumstances are often critical to an Islamist group’s ability to expand its membership and propagate its message. While the monograph is at pains to show that the spread of these organizations and ideals is not solely the result of high unemployment and political disenfranchisement, they are clearly contributing factors. And the picture that emerges is indeed worrying, for Nigeria seems to suffer from many of the social ills that have so helped Islamist groups elsewhere in the Middle East and Africa. The main conclusion this section draws is that northern Nigeria represents fertile ground for Islamist groups to cultivate.

The last section outlines the monograph’s conclusions before offering up a series of recommendations. Its main suggestion is that the U.S. Government establish a permanent consular presence in the northern city of Kano, Nigeria. Such a mission would act as a focal point through which aid, development assistance, and military training could be channeled. In this way, the United States could extend its influence throughout the entire region and into Niger, Mali, and the southern Sahel. This recommendation, like the others the section makes, is designed to limit the spread of Islamist groups and ideas and gradually counteract the political, economic, and social conditions that allow them to exist and, to some extent, thrive.


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