Jon Abbink: Contesting the “Secular” via the Judiciary. Exploring Muslim Criticism of the National Politico-Legal Order in Africa


This article looks at some cases of legal contestation in three African countries (Mali, Senegal, and Nigeria) where Muslim religious authorities/institutions brought challenges to constitutional-legislative proposals in the national arena, seen by religious leaders as unacceptable due to lack of resonance with religious values. These are cases where laws/directives aiming to regulate social/religious life vs. the state are contested on grounds of religious conviction: with objections put forward in the name of an entire faith community despite internal differences within it, and despite the fact that in all countries the religious pluriformity necessitates bridging laws. The article makes the argument that there are limits on the religious contestation of secular state laws, to a point that the effort tends to become counter-productive in securing religious freedom or influencing politics in a positive sense, and instead might endanger a pragmatic modus vivendi of the religious and the political spheres in nominally secularist orders. Some conclusions are drawn on the resulting phenomenon of growing tensions between particularist narratives and state narratives in Africa.

[Secularism, African political culture, judicial activism, Muslim political activism, Islamism, religious politics, legal-constitutional systems]

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