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Why is Militant Islam a Weak Phenomenon in Senegal?

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This essay asks whether the existence of a viable public sphere hinges upon the banishment of religion to the private realm. While some scholars have suggested that the encounter between "public" Islam and the democratization inevitably produces political collapse (as in the case of Algeria), the author contends that the case of Senegal, a Muslim majority country and functioning democracy, challenges this assumption. Senegal's lack of widespread radical Islamic poltical activity is often attributed to cultural fators--the supposed "peaceful" character of Senegalese Islam and the influence of the Sufi brotherhoods. HE argues that we must look instead at the concrete social, economic, and political factors that have made co-existence of Islam and democracy possible in Senegal. He focuses on two Islamic movements--the AEMUD (Association of Muslim Students of the University of Dakar) and the Moustarchidine--both of which have the potential to develop radical political agendas and challenge the state. But in both cases, the state's willingness to negotiate with and give these groups space (with the exception of a brief period of repression of the Moustarchidine) has prevented their radicalization. He concludes that the Senegalese case demonstrates that Islam's emergence in the public sphere does not automatically undermine democratization; moreover, it suggests that various relationships between Islam and democracy are possible. This calls into question the assumption that Islam must be "privatized" in order to maintain a viable public sphere and viable democracy.

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  • 01/02/2019
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  • 09-005
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