n Journal for Islamic Studies - Zanzibar's geography of evil : the moral discourse of the Anṣār al-sunna in contemporary Zanzibar

Volume 31, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 0257-7062



In recent decades, politics and public discourses in many North African, West Asian and sub-Saharan African Muslim societies have been informed by religious issues and Muslim religious scholars and thinkers have gained considerable acceptance as moral authorities. Authoritarian, 'secular' and 'socialist' regimes have come under attack from a 'pious opposition' and Muslim activist movements have accused such regimes of violating 'Islamic norms' or 'Islamic morality'. The state's reactions against this kind of religious critique were equally (often, not always) presented in an Islamic (theological) disguise, confirming the eminent role of religion in contemporary politics. Both the state and the pious opposition have tried to instrumentalize religion and notions of piety in order to (for instance) de-legitimize the respective 'other'. Due to these religio-political dynamics, politicians (politics) and religious scholars (religion) have sometimes become prisoners of their own moralistic discourses. Escape from this 'piety trap' is difficult as long as both the state and religious scholars accept the dialectics of a religious argumentation and the norms of Islamic morality as defined by those Muslim religious scholars, politicians and intellectuals who seek hegemony of interpretation () in the public sphere and who have established criteria for 'proper Islamic' morals and piety. In this contribution, I would like to show how Muslim activist groups in Zanzibar have attacked the 'secular state' (and the government of the , CCM, 'the Party of the Revolution') through issues of public morality. I will present an array of themes chosen by Muslim activist groups as a basis for their moralistic discourse. Finally, I will try to fathom the impact of Muslim activists and respond to the question as to why Muslim activists in Zanzibar have so far failed to become a successful religious (and political) mass movement that would have been able to impose its agenda of Islamic moralities on both the government of Zanzibar and its population.

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