Welcome to Kalamna, the student blog of the Hagop Kevorkian Center for Near Eastern Studies at NYU.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Sharīʿa in Northern Nigeria: Ambiguity and the Boko Haram

My point in this post is as follows: reading for consistency, or assuming that the Boko Haram have a solid intellectual base, is not helpful in understanding the group. Terms like fundamentalist, Islamist, radical, extremist, terrorist, jihādī and Salafist are all used to describe the Boko Haram, however these remain vague. Cook writes, "what can be stated absolutely about Boko Haram is that it represents an element of northern Nigerian Muslim dominationism […] that has not been satisfied with the current state of the imposition of sharīʿa since 2000."

While violent acts perpetrated by the Boko Haram group in Nigeria have continued during the past month, it remains unclear what specifically the group stands for, especially since it does not profess a concrete ideology nor has ever published an official charter or a statement of principles. The Boko Haram are said to want to impose sharīʿa in all of Nigeria, and eliminate Western style education. (sharīʿa was implemented in 12 of 19 states in northern Nigeria in 1999 under the auspices of the federal constitutional system)

It is not even clear if there is a unified Boko Haram group under one leadership, or rather that the attacks in Northern Nigeria have been carried out by disparate individuals with differing goals and sources of funding, spread out among Nigeria's neighbors like Niger and Chad.

The Boko Haram have been called Nigerian Taliban by some and are possibly connected with Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, yet are virtually absent from most jihādī websites, according to Cook. President Jonathan Goodluck (who placed Nigeria in a state of emergency) stated that the Boko Haram have political and financial support among some government officials.

Cook enumerates some possible influences to the group. These include Salafi Wahhabism, based on a statement of the group's leader Muhammad Yusuf against science in a BBC interview -- including evolution, the process of rain and the notion of a round earth -- although they have also expressed opposition to the Yan Izala, a Wahhabi group and assassinated a Wahabbi-influenced cleric. "We believe [rain] is a creation of God rather than an evaporation caused by the sun," said Muhammad Yusuf in an interview with the BBC.

Finally, the Boko Haram are not part of a supposed conflict between tradition and modernity: the Boko Haram reject Western technology and oppose vaccinations, yet have made use of the internet to publish videos and to claim responsibility for bombings. The point here is that everyone embraces aspects of modernity to a certain extent. (or that everyone is modern)

No comments: