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Instrumentalizing the Qur'an in Niger's Public Life

A Sounaye


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

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