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The Era of Overseas Scholarships: Islam, Modernization, and Decolonization in Northern Nigeria, c. 1954-1966

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AbstractIn independence-era Northern Nigeria, different segments of the modernizing elite contended over defining the place of Islam in society. This article argues that the case of Northern Nigeria disrupts scholarly periodizations of twentieth-century Islamic thought and activism that depict the 1950s and 1960s as a time of secularist dominance. The specificity of Muslim communities’ experiences of colonialism and decolonization helped shape the role Islam played in different societies during this period. This article develops this thesis by examining the semiautonomous Northern Nigerian regional government’s program of sending young, Arabophone Muslim scholars to Arab and British universities between 1954 and 1966. The overseas scholarships system was to be the culmination of British colonial efforts to produce ‘modern’ Muslim judges and teachers. However, Arabophones’ experiences overseas, and their ambivalent relationship with the Northern government after their return highlight the unintended consequences of colonial policies and of scholarship winners’ encounters with the broader Muslim world.

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