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'These Young Men Show No Respect for Local Customs'—Globalisation and Islamic Revival in Zanzibar

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image of Journal of Religion in Africa

Like elsewhere in Africa, local forms of Islam are being challenged by a number of new reformist and revivalist forms of Islam, influenced to some degree by a global Islamic revival but shaped by particular local histories and politics. This has caused some friction, especially as the regime in place seeks to manipulate these tensions for political benefit. Central to this struggle are the young men who have studied Islam abroad and who challenge the established truths of the traditional religious authorities; these authorities in turn accuse 'the youth' of bringing foreign, 'Arab' ideas and politics to Zanzibar. However, the kind of Islamic revival taking place in Zanzibar is far from radical or violent, and it is not appropriate to pose the present situation in terms of global Salafism versus local Sufism. In fact, Islamic revivalists often coin their critique of the state in terms of human rights and good governance and provide an alternative modernity that simultaneously challenges and articulates secular, liberal forms of modernity. Islamic revival critiques what is perceived as society's moral disorder and the state's inability to deal with new global challenges. Hence the present paper explores how global trends in Islam—but also global discourses on human rights and good governance—influence the current modes of Islamic revival in Zanzibar. With a heavily restricted political field, Islam can be a means of critiquing society without getting involved in politics. However, the government and the traditional religious authorities perceive this revivalism as a threat to the status quo and attempt therefore to politicise the struggle, accusing Islamic movements of fundamentalism and terrorism. It is within this political environment that Islamic revival must navigate.

Affiliations: 1: Danish Institute for International Studies, Strandgade 56, 1401 Copenhagen, Denmark


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