Instrumentalizing the Qur'an in Niger's Public Life
Recent developments in Niger have shown a growing presence of Islamic symbols in the public space in civil society organizations, and within government and political circles. The case under consideration here is the reform in 2004 that required magistrates presiding over electoral commissions to take an oath according to their religious conviction. For most of these civil servants the law meant being sworn in on the Qur'an, but the initiative resulted in a controversy between different factions: civil society organizations seeking to preserve the secular nature of state institutions; and state officials and political parties who argued that the law would contribute to free and fair electoral processes. Putting this controversy in a broader context, I suggest looking at the genealogy of the instrumentalization of the Qur'an in Niger's sociopolitical history, and also the identity politics to which state officials are increasingly compelled to respond. I also argue that the provision for religious symbolism in a state system which, until now has claimed its secularity, is dictated by a political utilitarianism focusing on the need for new compulsory rituals, and translates into an accommodationism that plays with the religious identity of the administration. In emphasizing the new functionality, meanings and symbolic value of Islam in general, and the Qur'an in particular, the paper highlights the complexity of the management of the line of demarcation between the religious and the secular in the light of recent constitutional and legal changes in Niger.
Journal for Islamic Studies Vol. 27 2007: pp.211-239