Mali’s religious leaders aspire to a stronger role for Islam

While Mali is a majority Muslim country that inherited the principle of a secular state from the French colonial period, some religious leaders are going as far as calling for an end to secularism and a transition to an Islamic state, write Boubacar Haidara (French Institute of Political Studies, Bordeaux) and Bokar Sangaré in an analysis published by the online magazine Afrique XXI (Feb. 15). At a press conference held by the Confederation of Islamic Associations of Mali in November in the city of Segou, the gathered imams held up a sign proclaiming “No to secularism.” By the 1990s, Mali had seen the emergence of movements supporting religious-based politics. At the same time, newspapers with a Muslim orientation were launched. From that time on, protest movements tried to combine social protests with an Islamic dimension, and Islam remains an effective tool of protest in Mali. The current movement critical of secularism is taking place against the backdrop of authorities’ plan to adopt a new constitution and a controversy last November over a video blaspheming Islam, the producer of which claimed a non-Islamic African identity and trampled on the Koran. Some religious leaders have called for the removal of the reference to secularism in the new constitution.

Imam of the Djingareyber mosque, Timbuktu, Mali. Photo: MINUSMA/Sophie Ravier, 2013. Source: Flickr.

Haidara and Sangaré write that religious leaders’ “mobilization in the name of Islam—which is becoming more and more demanding and direct—seems to reflect a desire to influence the political scene” by holding speeches that resonate with a part of the population that is not convinced by the model of liberal democracy and that is defiant of the power of the political elite. Other Muslim organizations, such as the High Islamic Council of Mali, do not wish to enter into a confrontation with the state and prefer to cooperate with it to ensure the presence of Islam in the political sphere. Due to its capacity to mobilize, the influence of Islam in the political arena is real, but it remains to be seen whether the Islamic character of the Republic of Mali could be written into the future constitution.

(Original article in French: