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Mordechai Kedar: Radical Islam in Africa

Sudanese women seen walking in Juba, the capital of the Republic of South Sudan.

Sudanese women seen walking in Juba, the capital of the Republic of South Sudan.
Photo Credit: Moshe Shai/Flash90

In Ghana, about one sixth of its population is Muslim, and here too, Saudi propagandists are inciting the Islamist population against the state authorities.

Every few years in the states where there is an Islamist population in Africa, an event recurs with similar characteristics: a television is placed in the road, usually in front of a restaurant, in order to attract customers, and hundreds of people crowd around in order to watch the film or the soccer game. At that same time a murderous attack is carried out, in order to warn the population not to watch the immoral thing called the television. Events of this sort have occurred in Somalia and in Nigeria.

Another African issue that draws fire from the Muslims is the matter of witchcraft. Among the African tribes, many believe in the power of magic, spirits, demons, and ghosts, while the rituals that include components of exorcism by sorcerers are attractive to them. According to Islam, a sorcerer has no right to live, so any time Muslims encounter an event that includes a component of sorcery, some lose control and act violently against the sorcerers and those who believe in them.

The Islamic radicalization that has encompassed African countries over the past twenty years is a direct result of the Islamist preaching that arrives from Saudi Arabia in three main ways: local leaders learn in Saudi madrasas and then return to their countries in order to pass Wahhabi (radical) Islam on to the population; Saudi leaders who move to African countries and convince its people to adopt the radical Wahhabi stream of Islam; and mosques, libraries, radio stations, internet sites, support organizations, and madrassas that Saudi Arabia establishes and underwrites serve as centers of dissemination for Wahhabi Islam. The economic plight that prevails in most of the African countries turns the populations of these countries into easy prey for the “dawa” that is provided by the petro-dollars of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states. Mosques established by Saudi money run loudspeakers in the public space, creating religious tension because of the feeling that the Muslims are taking over the country. Printed and recorded Islamic material that is distributed free of charge to people in the streets creates among the non-Muslims a feeling that they are victims of Muslim propaganda, which usually is foreign in spirit and character to the pluralistic culture of Africa.

An additional problematic characteristic that exists in Africa is the widespread presence of Sufi Islam, which is based on spiritual and mystical concepts, not political or jihadist. Sufi Islam is relaxed and does not concern itself usually with matters of this world. It is suitable to the spiritual atmosphere that exists in various parts of Africa. In Sudan there is the Mahdi movement, which also has spiritual, mystical characteristics. Wahhabi Islam considers the members of Sufi sects to be infidels, and tension between the Wahhabi adherents and the Sufi adherents rises from time to time rises to the level of a struggle between the violent Wahhabi that is imported from Saudi Arabia and the serene and spiritual Sufis whose origin is more local.

The events of the past year, which collectively are called the “Arab Spring”, also added fuel to the Islamist fire of Africa: The battle in Libya between Qadhaffi and his opposition took on an added African quality in the form of mercenaries who arrived from Chad, Niger, and Sudan in order to support Qadhaffi. Many of them were caught, and the color of their skin betrayed the fact that they were not Libyans, but foreigners, and not Muslims, but rather those who came to Libya in order to murder Muslims. In parallel, it became clear that in the dispute within Libya there is also an ethnic element: among Qadhaffi’s opposition there were Berber tribes, who were also citizens of Libya. This involvement of Africans in the events between Arab Muslims does not foster a relaxed climate between Arab Muslims and non-Muslim Africans.

In Morocco there is also great tension between the ruling Arabs, and the Berber Africans who are ruled by them. The Berbers are suspected of being disloyal to the state and to the Islam that was forced upon them, and therefore their status in the state is fairly problematic. A similar phenomenon exists in Algeria, and it is the source of tensions between residents of the cities and the Arab North, and the desert, Bedouin, Berber periphery.

Egypt, an important African state, also his its part in the African crises recently: millions of Africans have fled to Egypt from the wars and famine in Sudan, Eritrea, Somalia and other African states. The deterioration of the economic situation in Egypt as a result of the events of 2011 push many of them into a life of crime and many attempt to emigrate to Israel via Sinai, where the Bedouins exploit them shamefully, extort their money, and even harvest their organs.

About the Author: Dr. Mordechai Kedar (Ph.D. Bar-Ilan U.) Served for 25 years in IDF Military Intelligence specializing in Arab political discourse, Arab mass media, Islamic groups and the Syrian domestic arena. A lecturer in Arabic at Bar-Ilan U., he is also an expert on Israeli Arabs.


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