Sufism and Salafism, the Deep Religious Divide


Islamists have destroyed instruments and musicians in Gao Kidal and TimbuktuBy: Africa Report

Somalilandsun – The destruction of the Sufi shrines and tombs in northern Mali filled those in the south, whether residents or displaced people, with anger and disgust.

“The violence against men and women, the destruction of the tombs, our prophet Mohammed did nothing like that,” says Makan Kamoute, a 32-year-old taxi driver in Bamako.

Bassekou Kouyaté, the renowned ngoni musician, echoed Kamoute’s thoughts: “These people [the Islamists] are not good Muslims, they have money and power, that’s all.

The prophet said we should not force anyone to be a Muslim but instead explain Islam. Satan has taken hold there.”

Louis Brenner, professor of religions at London’s School of Oriental and African Studies, says: “Today the Salafis condemn Sufism [the form of Islam practised in much of West Africa] as non-Islamic, but all the 19th-century jihads were led by Sufis, who at that time were condemning other local forms of Muslim expression as non-Islamic.

“It seems unlikely the dynamic of this kind of cycle will ever end.”

It is partly the concentration on the Sufi saint, or marabout, that has spurred the birth of religiously linked artistic culture across West Africa.

In neighbouring Senegal, Baye Fall, a branch of Sufism that worships through chanting and drumming, has produced many prominent musicians.

This is at odds with what is happening today in Gao, Kidal and Timbuktu, where Islamists have destroyed instruments and musicians have been forced into economic exile.

Kouyaté has threatened to move his family to Burkina Faso.

Timbuktu singer Khaira Arby has not been able to work since a US tour in March.

She is in Bamako, like many others, waiting for the siege to end●