Noah Salomon’s For Love of the Prophet: An Ethnography of Sudan’s Islamic State makes a number of important contributions to the literature on political and religious life in Sudan as well as to the broader literature on the current Islamist wave. One of this book’s core strengths is that it is based on many years of in-depth field research—from 2003 to 2015, particularly between 2003 and 2007—and effectively deploys information gleaned from a range of interviews as well as Arabic-language texts produced by various protagonists of the Islamic revival in Sudan. Unlike a number of authors on Islamism in Sudan and elsewhere, Salomon broadens his book’s perspective by conveying the world views of individuals on the fringes of the Islamic movement as well as those of its leadership. The author is keen to make the point that other writers on Islamism have overstressed the impact of Western ideas, and argues instead that Islamist “vernacular politics” in Sudan has its own independent dynamics (175). Therefore, the impact of Western ideologies such as Marxism on the Islamist phenomenon is dealt with only in passing. Chapter 1 historicizes Sudan’s “Civilizational Project” by tracing its origins to the aspirations of the country’s British colonial overlords to “modernize Islam” in the country. It was fascinating to see that Lord Cromer (British consul general in Egypt, 1883–1907) made efforts to ensure that the scholarly establishment in Sudan adhered to the reformist version of ijtihād (independent jurisprudential interpretation) championed by his friend Muhammad ʿAbduh. Salomon shows that under the Anglo-Egyptian Condominium (1899–1956), early on, the British, far from operating in accordance with a purely secular logic, believed that strengthening the “orthodox” yet progressive religious establishment might be a means of civilizing the country and disempowering the Sufi orders that they blamed for the rise of revolutionary Mahdism in the country. However, some significant areas of colonial history are overlooked here. Although the author acknowledges that the British reversed their policy and later started backing the Sufis instead of the ʿulamaʾ, he misses the opportunity to discuss Abdullahi ʿAli Ibrahim’s research on the marginalization of Islamic qāḍīs within the colonial justice system and its impact on Islamists such as Hasan al-Turabi (see Abdullahi ʿAli Ibrahim, Manichaean Delirium: Decolonizing the Judiciary and Islamic Renewal in Sudan, 1898–1985 ). Furthermore, it is perhaps surprising that so much attention is given to the long-term significance of colonial training of the ʿulamaʾ, given that the majority of the Islamists themselves had relatively secular educations in institutions such as Gordon Memorial College and its successors. Chapters 2 and 3 challenge explicitly and effectively the notion of a mutual opposition between Sufism and Islamism. The author demonstrates convincingly that the aim of the Salvation Regime (1989–present) was to integrate Sufism without effacing it, and to mobilize it as a tool of the “Civilizational Project” through institutions such as the National Council for Mindfulness of God and Those Who Are Mindful. At the same time, Salomon demonstrates that Sufis could act as both agents and opponents of the Salvation Revolution, at times even simultaneously. This is where the value of Salomon’s in-depth field research comes to the fore—he demonstrates with impressive clarity how a variety of Sufi shaykhs and their followers responded to the regime’s efforts to generalize religious knowledge by reasserting the validity of their own esoteric practices. Chapter 4 carves out new territory by analyzing the role that music and radio played in the regime’s efforts to disseminate its Islamic ideals, thus going beyond the more predictable emphases on institutions such as the universities and Popular Defence Forces (militias) found in other texts (Ann Mosely Lesch, The Sudan: Contested National Identities ; Abdullahi A. Gallab, The First Islamist Republic: Development and Disintegration of Islamism in the Sudan ). This chapter also pursues one of the book’s core themes—the blurring of the secular and the religious—by exploring how the state-backed radio channels drew on romantic themes prevalent in the more worldly forms of art that preceded the Islamist coup in order to entice listeners toward the divine (149–150). One of the most significant points made by chapter 5 is that the Islamist emphasis on divine sovereignty makes it—perhaps counterintuitively—difficult for the Salvation Regime to establish genuine hegemony, since its authority can easily be challenged by a variety of individuals with access to different forms of Islamic knowledge. The Salvation Regime has remained in power for twenty-eight years by responding to these multiple religious discourses and adapting its concept of the Islamic state accordingly. One criticism might be that the text rather takes it for granted that the Sudanese state was the initial vehicle for religious change—after all, the Islamists had been intervening in Sudanese society through their various charitable offshoots well before the 1989 takeover. The text could also have done more by looking at the role of international Islamic non-governmental organizations in engineering the Islamic revival in Sudan in the 1990s (see, e.g., Alex de Waal and A. H. Abdel Salam, Islamism and Its Enemies in the Horn of Africa ). Nevertheless, this is an excellent work, one that is theoretically stimulating and that engages critically with the most important academic texts on Islamism, consistently advancing new positions. © The Author 2018. Published by Oxford University Press.
The American Historical Review – Oxford University Press
Published: Feb 1, 2018
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