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Justifying War: The Salafi-Jihadi Appropriation of Sufi Jihad in the Sahel-Sahara
Boko Haram’s leader, Abubakar Shekau, appears in a video in which he warns Cameroon it faces the same fate as Nigeria. (Boko Haram video screenshot)
(Boko Haram video screenshot)

Justifying War: The Salafi-Jihadi Appropriation of Sufi Jihad in the Sahel-Sahara

Abdulbasit Kassim & Jacob Zenn

In contemporary Western academic literature on Islam, Sufi movements are conventionally portrayed as peaceful alternatives to the exclusivist, literalist and inherently rigid Wahhabi variant of Salafism.1 Similarly, a number of counter-radicalization initiatives—for example, the Moroccan government’s support of the Boutchichiyya Sufi movement and the British government’s support of the Sufi Muslim Council and British Muslim Forum—are premised on the idea that Sufism is an Islamic alternative and bulwark against Salafism and political Islamism.2 Drawing upon this conventional wisdom, some scholars have further suggested that the legacy of Sufi history and theology in the Sahel-Sahara region constitutes a potential force to counter the rising tide of jihadism in the region.3 The reality, however, can be more complex than this binary distinction suggests. During the jihadist campaigns of the 1800s in the Sahel-Sahara region, the Muslim scholars who led the armed movements identified themselves with the Sufi brotherhoods. In the Sahel-Sahara region today, core ideological concepts that animated the historical jihads of the 19th Century—including ideas about takfīr (excommunication), Dār al-Islām (abode of Islam), Dār al-Kufr (abode of unbelief), ḥijrah (migration) and al-walāʾ wa-l-barāʾ (fealty and disavowal)—can be found in contemporary Salafist ideologies and have also been appropriated by present-day Salafi-Jihadi groups like Boko Haram and Al-Qaeda to justify their campaigns.4

Contemporary Salafis in the Sahel-Sahara region aim to de-legitimize Sufism as a heterodox interpretation of Islam. At the same time, Salafis embrace the legacy of puritan reform of the Sufi scholars of the 1800s by effectively ‘Salafizing’ their narratives without conjuring the Sufi legacies of the past jihadist campaigns.5 Salafi-Jihadis further build upon this process of Salafization by extending it to the jihadization of Sufi history and theology. On the one hand, the Salafi-Jihadis embrace the religious interpretations of the Sufi scholars of the 1800s to justify their present-day jihads. On the other hand, they present themselves as the heirs of the jihadist legacy and resistance against colonial rule that was led by the Sufi scholars of the 1800s—a legacy highly revered by the Muslim population in the region.

This is the case with the two main jihadist nodes in the Sahel-Sahara region today: al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and its ally Ansar Dine in the Sahel; and Boko Haram and Ansaru in Nigeria and the Lake Chad region. The appropriation of the history of pre-colonial jihad, in addition to the attempt to assimilate local conflicts in the region towards the cause of global jihadism, helps to explain the resilience and capacity of Salafi-Jihadi groups in the Sahel-Sahara region to survive longer than anticipated.

Genesis of Salafi-Jihadism in the Sahel-Sahara

There are two predominant nodes of jihadism in the Sahel-Sahara region today: AQIM and Ansar Dine, and Boko Haram and Ansaru. An examination of their relationship follows.

AQIM and Ansar Dine

AQIM evolved out of the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC, per its French acronym), one of the only jihadist factions to survive the Algerian government’s crackdown on Islamist rebels following the government’s nullification of the Islamist victory in the 1992 elections. By 2000, the Algerian army had crushed or reached an amnesty agreement with much of the Islamist opposition. The GSPC, however, survived by distancing itself from more ultra-__takfīri__ factions to maintain a level of support from the population and by shifting south to the Sahel to avoid pressure from the Algerian counter-insurgent forces. There, the GSPC became notorious for large-scale kidnappings-of-foreigners. The GSPC also began receiving returned Algerian fighters who had fought in Afghanistan in the early 2000s and after 2003 the GSPC benefitted greatly from sending and receiving foreign fighters to and from Iraq, which enmeshed the GSPC in the then burgeoning al-Qaeda global network, whose center of gravity was shifting to Iraq. By late 2006, internationally oriented militants exposed to the narratives and fighting in the Iraq war began to supersede the Algerian nationalists in the GSPC. In an effort to bolster its jihadist credentials, the GSPC formally joined al-Qaeda and rebranded itself as AQIM under the leadership of Abu Mus’ab Abd al-Wadud.6

Since 2006, AQIM has carried out several large-scale operations in Algeria. However, much of its activity—per its name—has been in the broader Maghreb region, including supporting new al-Qaeda cells and front groups in Libya and Tunisia, such as Ansar al-Shariah since the start of the Arab Spring in 2011. Former GSPC operatives in the Sahel region have also embedded deeply in clan and tribal networks in northern Mali, further south in Niger and, more recently, in Burkina Faso. AQIM’s focus on the Maghreb region necessitated it establish various local front groups and sub-affiliates in sub-Saharan West Africa to extend AQIM networks in a region where the physical terrain and human networks were relatively unfamiliar to AQIM’s Algerian leadership.

The decisive moment for AQIM in sub-Saharan West Africa came after the overthrow of Muammar Qaddafi. Malian Tuareg mercenaries—who supported Qaddafi in Libya—returned to northern Mali and reignited the Tuareg rebellion, which has been recurring in northern Mali over the course of several decades. AQIM capitalized on this by winning defections from the secular Tuareg militias to AQIM’s new front group in Mali, Ansar Dine, which has since 2012 been led by Iyad Ag Ghaly, Mali’s former consul in Saudi Arabia, a veteran of the 1982 Lebanon War against Israel occupation, and a Tuareg Salaf-Jihadi himself. Ansar Dine for a time occupied Kidal and parts of Timbuktu, while another AQIM offshoot, Movement for Unity [Monotheism] and jihad in West Africa (MUJWA), controlled Gao, which together form northern Mali’s three main cities. Although the French-led military intervention in northern Mali in 2013, code-named Operation Serval, dispersed AQIM, Ansar Dine and MUJWA fighters throughout North Africa and the Sahel-Sahara region, Ansar Dine has remained highly effective operationally in Mali in harassing French and UN troops, as well as Malian security forces. Moreover, Ansar Dine has spawned more “localized” Salafi-Jihadi groups in Mali, such as its Katiba Macina (also known as Macina Liberation Front) in Fulani areas of Central Mali in 2014 and Ansaroul Islam in Fulani areas of northern Burkina Faso in 2016.7 AQIM was also able to attack prominent hotels in Bamako, Mali’s capital, Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso’s capital, and Grand Bassam, near Côte d’Ivoire’s capital of Abidjan, in late 2015 and early 2016 with the support of newly recruited Fulani militants. These attacks signified that from AQIM’s insurgent bases in Mali, it was capable of attacks cities that had previously been considered beyond the range of contemporary jihadist militancy in West Africa. In addition, these three attacks affirmed AQIM’s pre-eminence in West Africa in context of Islamic State’s then increasing efforts to pull recruits from AQIM to Islamic State and establish a foothold in West Africa.

Under Ag Ghaly’s leadership, in March 2017 Ansar Dine, Katiba Macina, AQIM’s Sahara Branch, and al-Mourabitun formed a new united group called Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin (Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims).8 The video announcing this group, which was branded by a new media agency called al-Zaleqa—referring to an eleventh century battle in which black Africans assisted the original al-Mourabitun to conquer parts of Iberian Spain, or Andalusia—featured at one table Ag Ghaly, Katiba Macina leader Muhammad Kufa (in his first ever video appearance), the leader of AQIM’s Sahara Region, Yahya Abu al-Hammam, AQIM Islamic law judge Abou Abderrahman al-Senhadji—who refers to his Berber roots—and Al-Hasan al-Ansari, the deputy leader of al-Mourabitun—presumably Belmokhtar was in hiding, injured or ill, or perhaps dead.9 The multiple ethnicities of these leaders, their merger together under one banner, and the video’s distribution through AQIM media channels represented a culmination of AQIM’s southwards expansion and localization in Mali and sub-Saharan West Africa.10

Boko Haram and Ansaru

Boko Haram, which refers to itself as Jamā`at Ahl al-Sunna li-Da`wa wa-l-Jihād (Sunni Muslim Group for Preaching and Jihad) emerged in the 1990s when a Nigerian student in Khartoum, Sudan, Muhammed Ali, became a disciple of Usama bin Laden, pledged loyalty to bin Laden, and later received a sum of up to 3 million to establish a jihadist movement in Nigeria.11 Ali lost some of this initial seed money when the preacher intended to lead the movement came under government suspicion and fled to Saudi Arabia without returning. Nonetheless, Ali later found a different young Nigerian Salafi preacher with a history of involvement in radical Salafi movements, Muhammed Yusuf, as a suitable leader of the movement. Ali handed over money and the reigns of Ali’s own followership to Yusuf in 2002, who led the movement until 2009.

Ali was killed in clashes with the Nigerian security forces in 2004. Later, in July 2009, Yusuf and over 1,000 of his followers were also killed in a four-day series of clashes with Nigerian security forces. Yusuf’s deputy and successor, Abubakar Shekau, immediately went to work in connecting with AQIM, with whom Yusuf and his followers had quietly been developing relations in the mid-2000s. Shekau sent Khalid al-Barnawi and two other followers to meet with AQIM’s brigade leader in Mali, Abu Zeid, in August 2009 to request training, funding and other financial and strategic communications support from AQIM.12 AQIM’s leader, Abu Mus’ab Abd al-Wadud, accepted the request, issued public statements in support of Boko Haram, and funneled at least $250,000 through Khalid al-Barnawi to Nigeria as an “investment”.13 AQIM also sent Boko Haram’s requests to become an al-Qaeda affiliate to Bin Laden.14 Although a formal affiliation was never established, cooperation occurred clandestinely and al-Qaeda supporters made statements confirming an unofficial relationship between al-Qaeda and Boko Haram and al-Qaeda support to Boko Haram in the years after Yusuf’s death.15

The AQIM relationship with Shekau failed to mature into a more formal relationship because Boko Haram largely followed the same tactics as the ultra-__takfīri__ Islamist rebels that the GSPC distanced itself from during the fighting in Algeria in the 1990s. In addition, Shekau wanted to focus almost exclusively on the “near enemy”—namely Nigerian Christians, government officials, oppositional mosques and preachers, and other places of “sin”, such as beer halls, schools of Western education or sports-watching parlors. Under Khalid al-Barnawi’s lead and the patronage of former GSPC militants from Mali, Mauritanian and Algeria and with AQIM’s “investment”, a new faction, Ansaru, therefore emerged in northwestern Nigeria separate from Boko Haram in 2012. Like AQIM, Ansaru specialized in kidnappings of foreigners, especially engineers in northern Nigeria, and targeted Nigerian troops deploying to Mali at their base in Nigeria before Operation Serval in early 2013.16

Ultimately, however, Ansaru struggled to survive once AQIM was scattered throughout the Sahel region after Operation Serval. Shekau loyalists who saw Ansaru as “apostates” and traitors and the Nigerian security forces, which obtained series of intelligence leads on Ansaru hideouts, also both began killing Ansaru members in 2012.17 While Ansaru has continued to survive until 2017, it has not been operational since 2013. Several key Ansaru leaders—not including Khalid al-Barnawi, however, who was arrested in April 2016—also integrated with Shekau, albeit hesitantly, and ultimately convinced Shekau to join Islamic State, which he did in March 2015. This led to Boko Haram’s re-branding as Islamic State’s West Africa Province.18 West Africa Province fully integrated into Islamic State’s global media system, but there were few other beneficial results for West Africa Province as result of joining Islamic State.

Indeed, by August 2016 the former members of Ansaru in West Africa Province cut off Shekau from communicating with Islamic State and succeeded in deposing him. The Islamic State named Muhammed Yusuf’s son as the new leader of West Africa Province, and Shekau returned to lead Boko Haram.19 Contradictions nonetheless remain in West Africa Province, with its leadership still opposing the ultra-__takfirism__ of Shekau and, although they never mentioned it, they also oppose same ultra-__takfiri__ tactics that are employed by the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. Meanwhile, al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria, Jabhat Fath al-Sham (since re-branded Hayat Tahrir al-Sham in February 2017), recognized Ansaru’s existence in its magazine al-Risalah in January 2017, despite Ansaru’s being in operational dormancy and AQIM still being focused on Mali and North Africa and, at least for the time being, showing disinterest in Nigeria as a result of its past difficulties with Shekau.

Salafizing History

The sustenance of AQIM and Ansar Dine, and Boko Haram and Ansaru, can be attributed to their linkages to al-Qaeda operationally, financially and ideologically as well as their independent successes on the battlefield. However, there are distinct historical narratives that both nodes use to package Sufi jihadist history into “Salafized” local narratives as part of their recruitment and narrative strategy. Their purpose is to legitimize contemporary jihadist campaigns through the appropriation of the legacy of the “Sufi Jihads” of centuries past, which are widely considered to be legitimate by the population of the specific regions where they operate today. The following cases exemplify this.

Ansar Dine

During the course of Operation Serval, Dr Iyad Qunaybi, a prominent Jordanian ideologue sympathetic to Salafi-Jihadism, delivered a video message titled “Mali and the Torch of Freedom”, presumably intended to inspire fighters in Mali and offer a perspective on the situation to the broader membership of jihadist groups.20 In the video message, Qunaybi offered his support for Ansar Dine, but went further to explain Operation Serval in the context of Islamic resistance to French colonialism and the colonial history in Mali. He said:

Mali is one of the ancient capitals of Islam where the Islamic University of Timbuktu was established nine hundred years ago. Thus, it has one of the oldest universities in the world. Mali lived under the light of Muslim countries for centuries, including the Kingdom of Songhai until the Sultan of Maghreb entered an alliance with Elizabeth I of England in Britain followed by the invasion of 1591 which led to the destruction of the Islamic civilization and the enslavement of the Malian people such as Ahmad Baba al-Timbukti.21 What many do not know is the fact that many of the people forcibly enslaved by the Crusader West in Mali and other African countries were graduates of universities and Islamic scholars such as ‘Umar b. Sayyid al-Senegali who died in 1864 AD and whose picture is kept in the American Historical Archive. (Dr Qunaybi showed the picture of Umar b. Sayyid al-Senegali)22

France occupied Mali in the late nineteenth century and they executed heinous crimes. They did not leave the country until they planted their agents to ensure continued control over the country’s finance while at the same time plundering its riches. The successive regimes oppressed the Muslim people, especially the Tuareg Arabs of Northern Mali and neighboring countries. Thereafter, liberal movements emerged demanding autonomy and better living conditions but they did not espouse Islamic agenda which explains why the international communities assimilated them into the call for negotiations with the central government. However, the negotiations always ended with false promises from the puppet central government until the revival of Islam emerged amongst the Tuareg groups. {....} From amongst these groups is Ansar al-Din led by Iyad Ag Ghali, may God protect him, who had previously tried diplomacy by acting as the consul of the State of Mali in Saudi Arabia, but he later retreated from that path and established Jama’at Ansar Dine. While allying with other Islamic groups, they worked together on the application of the sharī`a and the liberation of Mali from the dominance of France and their client governments.23

The appropriation of the histories of pre-colonial armed jihads and of Islamic resistance to colonial rule was also a constant theme in videos produced by Ansar Dine, such as one titled “The Conquest of Azawad”:

Azawad, this remote section of the great Islamic desert has always been under the dominion of the Muslims and the Islamic conquerors who led conquests towards Europe and the South and West of Africa like Ibn Tashfin and Tariq ibn Ziyad. The educational and cultural tradition flourished in the area during the reign of Askia and thereafter. Through the ages, the residents of this pure Islamic area kept a strong hold on their true religion. They were happy with sharī`a and made judgements according to Islamic law in every small and large issue until the beginning of the crusader’s occupation in the last century when they imposed their own laws. The people of the land rebelled. They fought and sacrificed themselves and their money in defense of their religion, decency, honor and land. The occupying crusaders were able to divide them which led to religious wars amongst them. After a long time of oppression and tyranny, Allah gave them relief. The local lions of unification rose to support the religion and to raise the banner of there is no god except Allah.24


Like Ansar Dine, AQIM has also conferred legitimacy for its contemporary jihads by reconstructing the history of pre-colonial jihads and the Islamic resistance to colonial rule in Africa. In his message to the revolutionaries in Libya during the “Arab Spring”, Abu Mus’ab Abd al-Wadud, adopted rhetoric like Qunaybi, where he labeled the contemporary “revolutionaries” as the grandsons of `Umar al-Mukhtār25:

My free brothers in Libya, the battle is heated and the emancipation hour is ticking, and the winds of liberation and martyrdom are blowing in Libya. Shaykh `Umar al-Mukhtār had engaged the first battle for liberation, and it is time for his grandsons today to finish the march of jihad and engage in the second battle of liberation, in order to remove the corrupt and corrupting rulers the Crusaders and the Zionists have enthroned on us to enslave us and steal our wealth and fight our doctrines. `Umar al-Mukhtār said it: ‘we don’t surrender, we win or we die’. So either Libya will be liberated from worshipping the servants to worshipping the Lord of the servants, and move from the narrowness of life to the wideness of life and the afterlife, or martyrdom for the cause of Allah so you win the great victory.26

Boko Haram

The slain leader of Boko Haram in Nigeria also attempted to hybridize the narratives of pre-colonial jihads and the Muslim resistance against colonial rule in Africa with the narratives of contemporary jihadism in Africa. In one of his lectures before his death in 2009, Muhammed Yusuf labeled the Nigerian security forces as a remnant of colonial regiments while narrating an event that took place between the Italians and `Umar al-Mukhtār:

You may hear one of them saying that he is a security or police officer and his main duty is to protect lives and to ensure peace and stability: ‘You see we are Christians who were transferred here to protect your lives.’ It is a lie; you came here to kill us. That was the same way `Umar al-Mukhtār replied the Italians. They invited him to a meeting, but he refused to attend. They invited him again but he refused to go to them. [...] Then they told him that they brought new civilization to this land. They said they are not here to humiliate the people; rather they want them to be civilized, to progress, to learn to understand the world and enjoy it. `Umar al-Mukhtār replied them by asking, “Who owns the land?” They replied him that it belongs to him and his people. Then he said: “We do not want your new civilization.” They told him: “We want to integrate your land to the world so that trade will flourish.” He told them: ‘We have our own system of trade.’ He later gave them a condition that they can go across the water, settle [temporarily] and be permitted to enter the land for trade, but not be permitted to settle there. They (Italians) disagreed with him. What they wanted was to settle in the land while `Umar Mukhtar was to be crowned as the king.

They promised to give him 50,000 Italian lira of that time.27 They also promised to build a house for him but he said: “What about the other people?” They said: “But you are the king.” He said: “I am fighting because you have humiliated the other Muslims. How can I enjoy myself while the other Muslims are being humiliated?”28


Ansaru reiterated this same pattern of hybridization in its call for jihad in West Africa. Specifically, Ansaru sought to revive the jihadist legacy of Shaykh ‘Uthmān Ibn Fūdī:

O descendants of ‘Uthmān Ibn Fūdī and al-Hajj `Umar al- Fūti, rise as one man, as there is no good in us if our honor is violated, our religion and symbols are held in contempt, and the best of our brothers and sons are killed, while we are quiescent, unmoving, since the root of humiliation is only demolished by a shower of lead.29

Notwithstanding his expansion of the Tijaniyya Brotherhood in all the regions he was militarily involved, Shaykh `Umar Tāl al-Fūti was most likely cited by Ansaru because of his marital ties to Shaykh Muḥammad Bello, the son of ‘Uthmān Ibn Fūdī, and because he had argued that recourse to arms would be necessary if an Islamic state was to be established in the Sahel-Sahara region, a position similar to Ansaru. To justify his military project, `Umar Tāl al-Fūti declared that the:

battle against infidels is the task to which I have committed myself – until the power of Islam replaces that of unbelief. As Ulama, it is we who have the responsibility of propagating the religion of god, of restoring the prestige of Islam in Futa Jallon, Segou, Nioro and Karta, because unbelief is rampant there. Once this battle is won, it will be easy to combat the Christians. Surely, the Islam in which we believe does not countenance compromise with infidels. Whoever revels in their company is one of them.30

In the wake of Boko Haram’s territorial expansion and declaration of Islamic caliphate in northeastern Nigeria in 2014, Boko Haram, which by then had incorporated former Ansaru members, also adopted the colonial history of Hausaland as a frame of reference to legitimize its campaign:

The enemies of Islam—the Jews, Christians, polytheists and their hypocrite minions—invaded the Sudanese state of ‘Uthmān Ibn Fūdī until they occupied the Muslims’ lands, defiled Islam’s sacred places, and exchanged Islam’s law for the Crusaders’ constitution and the rule of ignorance [Scene of Ibn Fūdī and fighters riding on horses in battle]. This extended from their trashy ideas, but they were not satisfied, so they conscripted soldiers to protect themselves. This situation spurred revolutionary hearts from the people of faith to strive to return Allah’s law to Allah’s land, so they established small states in many locations, which expanded at times and grew at times. Finally, Allah made it easy for our fighting brothers in the Islamic State to establish the caliphate’s kernel in the Levant [Scene of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s sermon at the great mosque, Mosul]. And in the same way, Allah made it easy for the fighters in the Sudan to establish courts that rule by Allah’s law.31

These above passages are useful for anyone seeking to understand the ideational dimensions that undergird contemporary Salafi-Jihadi groups in the Sahel-Sahara region. While Salafi groups in the region are ‘Salafizing’ the puritan reform of the Sufi scholars of the 1800s by vindicating them from what they consider to be extraneous innovative practices (bida‘), the Salafi-Jihadis are also incorporating in this process of Salafization some of the theological discourses of the Sufi scholars that provide legitimacy to their campaign. At this juncture, it is important to critically examine some of the theological discourses of the Sufi scholars of the 1800s that provide credence to the goals and visions of the contemporary Salafi-Jihadi groups in the Sahel-Sahara region.

A Case Study from Nigeria

Not only do AQIM, Ansar Dine, Boko Haram and Ansaru legitimize their jihads using historical comparison, but they also seek to reinterpret Sufi jihadist religious interpretation from centuries past in terms of contemporary Salafi-Jihadi ideology. This can most precisely be seen in the way Boko Haram and Ansaru leaders have come to portray themselves as the bearers of the legacy of ‘Uthmān Ibn Fūdī, despite distinct theological and methodological differences between Ibn Fūdī’s reform movement and the indiscriminate violence of Boko Haram.The enemies of Islam—the Jews, Christians, polytheists and their hypocrite minions—invaded the Sudanese state of ‘Uthmān Ibn Fūdī until they occupied the Muslims’ lands, defiled Islam’s sacred places, and exchanged Islam’s law for the Crusaders’ constitution and the rule of ignorance [Scene of Ibn Fūdī and fighters riding on horses in battle]. This extended from their trashy ideas, but they were not satisfied, so they conscripted soldiers to protect themselves. This situation spurred revolutionary hearts from the people of faith to strive to return Allah’s law to Allah’s land, so they established small states in many locations, which expanded at times and grew at times. Finally, Allah made it easy for our fighting brothers in the Islamic State to establish the caliphate’s kernel in the Levant [Scene of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s sermon at the great mosque, Mosul]. And in the same way, Allah made it easy for the fighters in the Sudan to establish courts that rule by Allah’s law.32

Despite the differences in their methodology, Ibn Fūdī and Boko Haram employed similar discourses to legitimize their respective pre-colonial jihad against the Hausa rulers and the contemporary jihad against the secular leaders of Nigeria, with particular respect to the theological discourses of ḥijrah, Dār al-Kufr, Dār al-Islām, and al-walāʾ wa-l-barāʾ.

Ḥijrah from Dār al-Kufr to Dār al-Islām

Ibn Fūdī’s Bayān Wujūb al-ḥijrah ‘ala ‘L-‘Ibād wa Bayān Wujūb Naṣb al-Imām wa Iqāmat al-Jihād (The Exposition of the Obligation of Emigration upon the Servants of God and the Exposition of the Obligation of Appointing an Imam and Undertaking Jihad), a famous text of Islamic legal theory of jihad based on the Maliki school of thought, provided an explanation of the theological and jurisprudential arguments to his jamā about the obligation of jihad in Hausaland at the start of what became known as the “Sokoto Jihad”.33

The central theme of Bayān Wujūb al-ḥijrah is the exposition of the obligation of emigration from Dār al-Kufr to Dār al-Islām.34 Ibn Fūdī’s theological judgement on ḥijrah is based on the idea that Muslims must emigrate from the lands where the rulers are non-Muslims or where the sharī`a of Prophet Muḥammad has been rendered ineffective by the rulers who profess Islam to a land where the sharī`a reign supreme. He based this theological position on a principle in Islamic jurisprudence, ‘ḥukm al-bilad ḥukm sulṭānihi, in kāna muslimān, kāna al-bilad bilad al-islām, wa in kāna kāfirān, kāna al-bilad bilad al-kufr yajibu al-firāra minhu ilā ghayrihi‘. This means that the ruling of a land is that of its ruler, if the ruler is a Muslim the land is a land of Islam and if he is a non-Muslim the land is a land of unbelief, and fleeing from it to another land is obligatory.35

There are other classical Islamic jurists before Ibn Fūdī that wrote extensively on the Islamic jurisprudence on Dār al-Kufr and Dār al-Islām. Ibn Fūdī cited some of these jurists in his Bayān Wujūb al-ḥijrah. For example, Alā l-Din Abī Bakr b. Mas‘ūd al-Kāsāni (d. 1191), a Ḥanafi jurist, made the prevailing laws being implemented in a land as a condition to judging the classification of a land into Dār al-Kufr or Dār al-Islām. al-Kāsāni stated that, ‘Verily, every state is attributed, either to Islam or to kufr. And the state is only attributed to Islam if its rulings are implemented in it, and it is attributed to kufr if its rulings are implemented in it.’ According to Abū al-ḥasan ‘Alī Ibn Muḥammad Ibn Ḥabib al-Māwardī (d. 1058), a Shafi’i jurist, ‘ Dār al-Kufr becomes Dār al-Islām if its inhabitants embrace Islam and consequently such land is governed by sharī`a.’ Similarly, al-Qādī Abū Ya’lā al-Hanbalī also stated that, ‘Every Dār wherein the laws of Kufr have mastery over the Laws of Islam, then it is Dār al-Kufr .’ While explaining the ḥadith of prophet Muḥammad, which was also cited by Ibn Fūdī, ‘I am free from every Muslim who resides with the polytheists’, Abū Muḥammad ʿAlī ibn Aḥmad ibn Saʿīd ibn Ḥazm (d. 1064), a Ẓahiri jurist, stated that ‘the ḥadith refers to Dār al-Kufr or Dār al-ḥarb because the Dār is only attributed to the one who is in control of it, the one who rules it and the one who owns it.’39

In his book Ahkām Ahl Adh-Dhimmah (Laws for the People of the Covenant), Muḥammad ibn Abū Bakr (d. 1350), also known as Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyyah, said:

The majority have stated that Dār al-Islām is that which the Muslims have arrived in and upon which the rulings of Islam have been implemented. And that upon which the rulings of Islam have not been implemented is not Dār al-Islām, even if it is attached to it. As this At-Tā’if was very close to Makkah, yet it did not become Dār al-Islām with the Conquest of Makkah.40

Similarly, Muḥammad ibn ʿAlī ibn Abdullah al-Shawkani (d. 1839), the Yemeni jurist, also stated that “If the commands and the prohibitions in the Dār are for the people of Islam, then this Dār is Dār al-Islām {…} And if it were the opposite, then the Dār is the opposite.41

In summary, it is evident from the above passages that two conditions can be deduced as the criteria that these scholars adopted in defining Dār al-Islām or Dār al-Kufr: the authority or ruler governing a land; and the type of law being implemented in a land.42

Based on these criteria, Ibn Fūdī classified the lands of Bilad al-Sudan into three categories: first, the lands where unbelief predominates and Islam is rarely found; second, the lands where Islam predominates and unbelief is rare; and, third, the lands where unbelief either from the rulers or subjects is rare and Islam predominates. According to Ibn Fūdī, the first category of lands in Bilad al-Sudan include the lands of Mossi, Gurma, Bussa, Borgu, Yoruba, Dugumba, Kutukuli, Tabanghu, Ghambi and Bubula. These lands in the first category are all ‘Dār al-kufr al-aslī‘, meaning that it was never Dār al-Islām at any time prior to or during the jihad of Ibn Fūdī. In his discussion of the first category of lands, Ibn Fūdī added that his ‘judgment of these lands is passed with reference to the majority. As for the third category of lands, Ibn Fūdī argued that these lands are unknown in Bilad al-Sudan.

The field of contention in Ibn Fūdī’s classification is the second category of lands where Islam predominates and unbelief is rare, which included Borno, Kano, Katsina, Songhay and Mali. Aḥmad Baba (d. 1627) had classified all these lands as the lands of Islam in his ‘al-Kashf wa’l-bayān‘.43 Ibn Fūdī acknowledged the judgment of Aḥmad Baba, but he argued that during his own era these lands are all Dār al-Kufr since the spread of Islam is only limited to the masses but even though the rulers profess Islam, Ibn Fūdī argued that they are polytheists. He declared takfīr on them on the basis that they do not rule according to the sharī`a and they intermingle Islamic practices with non-Islamic practices and rites which he called ‘takhlīt‘ (mixing).

Ibn Fūdī arrived at this judgment while relying on a previous legal ruling passed by Muḥammad Abd al-Kārim al-Maghīlī (d. 1504). Askia al-Hajj Muhammad (d. 1538) had asked a similar question about Sunni Ali (d. 1492), the king of Songhay in his series of questions to al-Maghīlī.44 In his response to Askia’s questions, al-Maghīlī said “If, then, his behavior is as you have stated (i.e. He professes Islam but engages in acts of polytheism), he is an unbeliever as are also all those who act like him.” John Hunwick speculated that al-Maghīlī derived this ruling from the work of Iyad b. Musa al-Yahsubi (d. 1149), the judge of Ceuta. In his analysis of Ibn Fūdī’s book ‘Ta’līm al-Ikhwān bi l-umūr allatī Kaffarnā bihā mulūk al-Sūdān alladhīna Kānū min ahl hadhihi l-buldān‘ (Instruction for the brethren in those matters in which we have designated the kings of the Sudan as unbelievers, those of them who were from the men of these lands), Bradford G. Martin pointed out how Ibn Fūdī’s ideas on takfīr of the Hausa rulers follow the doctrinal rulings laid down by Muḥammad Abd al-Kārim al-Maghīlī in his two books Miṣbaḥ al-arwāḥ fī usūl al-falāḥ and Ajwibat al-Maghilī `an asilat al-Amin al-Hajj Muhammad Askiya.47 The doctrinal rulings from al-Maghīlī, which gained authority throughout the Western Sudan, played an important role in Ibn Fūdī’s proselytism of the concept of ḥijrah from Dār al-Kufr to Dār al-Islām and his subsequent declaration of jihad in Hausaland.

Today, the Islamic jurisprudence of the classification of lands into Dār al-Kufr and Dār al-Islām is one of the theological focal points that contemporary jihadist groups in the Sahel-Sahara region have adopted to legitimize their campaigns against the governing regimes in the region. In his book ‘Hādhihi ‘Aqīdatunā wa-Manhaj Da‘watinā‘ (This Is Our Creed and the Method of Our Preaching), the slain leader of Boko Haram, Muhammad Yusuf, argued that his “preaching forbids working under the government that rules by some [source] other than what Allah has revealed, according to French, American or British law or any constitution, or system that is contrary to Islam and contradicts the Book and the Sunna.48 Elsewhere, Yusuf argued that the lands in the region that have abandoned ruling with Islamic law are Dār al-Kufr and thus it is obligatory to overthrow the government and install a Muslim leader. Yusuf responded to the question, “What if the Muslims do not have the power [to install a Muslim leader]?”, by saying Muslims must do two things: they must emigrate [to lands of Islam] since they are powerless; or they must explore all means to acquire power to overthrow the unbelieving or apostate leader and install an Islamic caliphate.”49

Although coming into existence almost a century after the decimation of the Sokoto Caliphate by the British colonialists, there seems to be a parallel between the argument put forth by Ibn Fūdī in his declaration of jihad against the Hausa rulers and Boko Haram’s claim that even the Muslim rulers in Nigeria have apostatized from Islam because they do not govern according to the sharī`a. This point can be deduced from Abubakar Shekau’s criticism of the constitution in 2009:

I need you to pay attention to this book (Shekau holds up a book about how the Nigerian constitution is written, followed by thunderous applause and shouts of “Allahu akbar!”). Are you seeing this book? Ok. The title of this book is how our laws are made. That is how the laws of the country [Nigeria] are created. Now look at this again and you will see the constitution. It reads: how powerful the constitution is, that is, it is above all other form of law. What this means is that, it is above all laws, including the law of Allah. If you read what is written in the constitution, you will be surprised. Let’s go through a little. Surprise—“the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is the most powerful law of the land.” It says, “this constitution is meant to guide Nigeria and Nigerians in everyday proceedings.” The truth about this constitution is found in the introductory part of the 1979 constitution, which is still in force. It speaks about the supremacy of the constitution. It states that this constitution is supreme and shall have binding force of all authorities and persons throughout the Federal Republic of Nigeria (shouts from the listeners saying “It’s a lie, lie, lie!”). In another section, it says, if any other law is inconsistent with the provision of this constitution, the constitution shall prevail. (Shekau holds up the book, with the cover picture showing the picture of the mace above the picture of the Qurʼān).50

Because the Salafis in Nigeria have successfully ‘Salafized’ the narratives of Ibn Fūdī while shying away from his affiliation to the Qadiriyya brotherhood, Boko Haram leaders do not pay strict attention to the denunciation of Sufi Brotherhoods, which have now become mostly pacifist. Rather, Boko Haram leaders focus on reviving the memory of the Dār al-Islām established by Ibn Fūdī prior to British colonialism as a means of gaining legitimacy in their competition with their Salafi counterparts. This line of thought is also evident in a statement from 2009 by Mamman Nur, who influenced the formation of Ansaru in 2012 but later re-integrated with Shekau and paved the way for Shekau’s pledge to al-Baghdadi before turning back on Shekau and deposing him from Islamic State’s West Africa Province. Nur said:

The time we went to Sokoto, we saw the original flag with which they waged the jihad of “there is no god but Allah” in the museum. It was our forefathers who waged it at the time when the Europeans came. They fought at that time. They have folded the flag. It is folded and in fact they will not even open it for you to see the inscription “there is no god but Allah.” It has been folded and kept in the museum. At that time, they had honor, pedigree and power. When they heard they [the British] had brought western education, they said: “By Allah we will not accept it!” They waged jihad against this. They waged jihad against this western education yet today you are forcibly enrolling your son into western education?! And seeing it as the epitome of civilization? And saying that your heart is in good condition so you attend western education? Our forefathers, it was against western education that they waged jihad —against the Europeans. It is because of democracy that they killed them. It is because of democracy that they [Europeans] killed [Muhammad] Attahiru I and all of them were fought and killed.53

The binary division of the world into Dār al-Kufr and Dār al-Islām has also been adopted by other groups in the Sahel-Sahara region to provide legitimacy to their violent campaigns. In his exclusive interview with Ansar Mujahideen English Forum, Sandah Ould Bouamama, the press officer of Ansar Dine, stated that the Government of Mali is an apostate government ruling with secular legislations and it is incumbent for the Muslims in the country to migrate from Dār al-Kufr to Dār al-Islām—in the then “Islamic State of Azawad” in northern Mali. Bouamama further stated that Ansar Dine opposes all other movements such as the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) and the Azawad National Liberation Front (FNLA) that “seek to establish a secular state ( Dār al-Kufr ) and are prepared to combat terrorism and reject what they call the religious Islamic state.”55 Bouamama also stated that there were Nigerians in the rank-and-file of Ansar Dine and MUJWA, which was supported by other media reports and a joint al-Murabitun-MUJWA video featuring an Ansaru member. This suggests the cross-fertilization of theological ideas between Mali-based and Nigerian militants deepened on the fields of battle.

Similar to Bouamama, during his broadcasted audio message to the people of Timbuktu after the city fell into the control of Ansar Dine, Iyad Ag Ghaly also alluded to the same binary division of the world.56 In his message, Iyad Ag Ghaly preached that the disabling of the sharī`a in Dār al-Islām and its replacement with man-made laws taken from the Jews and Christians in Dār al-Kufr resulted in oppression, aggression, immorality, disobedience, poverty and deprivation.57

Al-walāʾwa-l-barāʾ and Jihad

The theme of al-walāʾwa-l-barāʾ is the fourth and fifth chapter of Ibn Fūdī’s Bayān Wujūb al-ḥijrah. Chapter four, which is titled Fī Taḥrim Muwalāt al-Kāfirīn’ (On the Prohibition of Befriending the Unbelievers), started with an explanation of al-barāʾ.58 Ibn Fūdī explicitly prohibited any union of friendship or alliance between the Muslims and followers of other religions—in this case between the Hausa rulers and all those labelled as unbelievers. Ibn Fūdī’s sole intention was to unite the ranks of his followers on a clear-cut ideological basis and to also encourage them to perform migration from the city-state of Degel and other neighboring states to the city-state of Gudu to join the jihad.

Ibn Fūdī backed his arguments with citations of the verses of the Qur’an, the Sunna and Ijma’ (consensus). In interpreting the definition of a Muslim in Hausa land,59 Ibn Fūdī cited Qur’anic verses—3:28, 4:144, 5:51, 5:57, 8:73, 58:22, 60:1, including their tafsīr (interpretation), which have an important clause and a strict ruling of ‘takfīr‘ on Muslims who befriend or support the followers of other religions even if there is a common blood relation or kinship. This is followed by a series of explanation of the reasons for the necessity of disavowal by Muslims from the followers of other religions. The failure to abide by this prohibition is equated with the spread of oppression, persecution and corruption on earth, owing to the strength of unbelief and the weakness of Islam.

In chapter five titled ‘Fī Wujūb Muwālat al-Muminīn‘ (On the Obligation of Befriending the Believers), Ibn Fūdī expounded on the meaning of al-walāʾ, a phrase that refers to the loyalty, fealty or allegiance of a Muslim towards other Muslims. The basis of Ibn Fūdī’s theological judgement on the concept of al-walāʾ can be found in the Qur’anic verses 9:71, 49:10 and 8:1, the ḥadiths, and the ijma of the Sunni scholars he cited and, most importantly, by the explanation of al-Nafrawi in his ‘Fawākih’, where he defines al-walāʾ as showing love and sincere affection for Muslims and avoiding whatever can create aversion such as rancor and envy. Towards the end of this chapter, Ibn Fūdī reiterated his discussion of al-barāʾ and argued that Muslims should openly distance themselves from the followers of other religions. He cautioned, however, that such treatment should not be extended towards the dhimmīs, whose lives and properties have been protected through their payment of jizya to the Dār al-Islām.

By connecting al-walāʾwa-l-barāʾ to the Qur’an, the Sunna and ijma, Ibn Fūdī portrays the concept as an explicit divider for defining a Muslim and non-Muslim: the meaning of a Muslim is not limited to those who observe the Islamic rituals but also extends, most importantly, to those who totally eschew what Ibn Fūdī classified as ‘acts of unbelief’. According to this understanding and based on the earlier explanation of the definitional criteria of Dār al-Islām and Dār al-Kufr , Ibn Fūdī arrived at the conclusion that the lands being governed by the Hausa rulers are all Dār al-Kufr since the rulers are ‘infidels’. This criterion therefore means that Muslims who had conflicting loyalties or who failed to refrain from being loyal to the Hausa rulers or supporting them would be excommunicated and fought against as followers of other religions. Once the jihad against the Hausa rulers was legally justified, the doctrine of al-walāʾwa-l-barāʾ endorsed the framing of the term ‘Muslims’ to be used only for the followers and supporters of Ibn Fūdī. This resulted in a situation where all those who were not with ‘Muslims’ were against ‘Muslims’ and all those against ‘Muslims’ were non-Muslims; Muslims were often in effect fighting Muslims.60

The theme of al-walāʾwa-l-barā is perhaps the most important theological focal point that features recurrently in the writings and sermons of the contemporary jihadist groups in the Sahel-Sahara region. In his Kanuri-language sermon called “This is Our Creed” delivered prior to his 2009 declaration of Jihad, Abubakar Shekau said:

People of Yerwa (Maiduguri), I call on you. If you see an unbeliever in your midst, investigate him. If he is not a visitor, but belongs to the city, inform him that we are Muslims living in a Muslim city, and we are proud to be Muslims in a Muslim city. However, since we are Muslims, living in a Muslim city and are proud of Islam, how can our children and those of the unbelievers be going to same school? How can we and the unbelievers participate in the same political system, and go to the same judge to obtain justice?61

Mamman Nur reiterated the same reasoning as Shekau in his criticism of the Salafi clerics in 2009, where he argued against their position that if Muslims do not participate in secular political systems, they would face ostracism and aggression:

What is the use of seeking status from them? For example, those who have doubts, what do they say? If we do not enter and join them, they will not allow us to pray. If we do not enter and join them, our admonition and sermons will be banned—is that not what they say? If we do not enter and join them, they will kill us. Now, if we leave the unbelieving government, then they will impose an unbelieving governor, an unbelieving councilor, or an unbelieving chairman upon us. Should we sit and allow unbelievers to rule over us? Since we have told you, it is only because we saw your name was Abū Bakr, `Abd Allāh, `Uthman and `Alī—that is why you wasted our time. If only we peeped and saw that the Governor’s name is John, the Chairman’s name is Joseph, that official’s name is Peter, then the talk is over. The talk would have been declared to be over for a long time. It is the love we have for you that made us wait until now. It is the need to make you understand—that is what made us to wait until now. The desire for you to come and let us go together is what made us to wait until now. Whether you like it or not, whether you love them or not, we will commence the jihād! If you are not aggressive, you left us and go, we will be aggressive towards you. This task is obligatory.62

Shaykh Usa Abu Muhammad, one of the commanders of Ansar Dine, also cited the principle of al-walāʾwa-l-barā as a major factor that prevented their cooperation with the secular Tuareg MNLA during Ansar Dine’s occupation of northern Mali in 2012. Sandah Ould Bouamama reiterated the same principle in his interview with Ansar Mujahideen Forum when he stated that “there will be no concession on the loyalty to the believers even if they are very far and on disavowal from the unbelievers even if they are close relatives.” The loyalty to the believers was the chord that paved way for a working relationship between Ansar Dine and AQIM as demonstrated in the audio recording of Abu Mus’ab Abd al-Wadud to the “mujahidin in Sahara Azawad” where he commended Ansar Dine and offered his advice to them on the matters of jihad and how to deal with opponents of the movement.65

The same principle of al-walāʾwa-l-barā was also invoked in the Islamic legal ruling opposing the participation of the Mauritanian government in Operation Serval. The Islamic legal ruling entitled ‘Haqiqat al-Harb ‘ala al-Muslimin fī Shimal Mali‘ (The Reality of the War on Muslims in Northern Mali) was signed by 39 Muslim scholars in Mauritania including Mohamed Salem Ould Mohamed Lemine al-Majlissi, a jihadist thinker repeatedly arrested and detained by Mauritanian authorities in connection with AQIM attacks. The ruling stated that the conflict in Mali is an extension of a series of colonialist campaigns in Palestine, Afghanistan, Iraq, Sudan, and Somalia with the ultimate aim of separating Muslims from their religion and imposing the new world order (al-niẓām al-‘ālam al-jadīd). In his analysis of the Islamic legal ruling, Alex Thurston pointed out how the 39 signatories of this Islamic legal ruling framed the conflict in Northern Mali as an effort by ‘the enemies of the religion (’adā’ al-dīn)’ to ‘occupy Northern Mali (iḥtilāl shimāl Mālī).’ Based on this judgment, they forbade Muslims from aiding a Western-led military intervention that might harm Muslims in Northern Mali and would also violate the principle of al-walāʾwa-l-barā essential to the preservation of Islam.66

There are methodological variations between the groups that existed during the pre-colonial jihads and the Muslim resistance against colonial rule in the Sahel-Sahara region on the one end and the contemporary jihadist groups in the region on the other end. Nonetheless, contemporary jihadist groups have been able to effectively replicate the theological and jurisprudential discourses produced by the classical Sahel-Sahara scholars on jihad in their own sermons and writings in the contemporary era. This is what gives legitimacy and sustenance to the contemporary jihadist groups in the Sahel-Sahara region. Despite the variation in time, the theological discourses of the contemporary jihadist groups are crafted in a way that fits with the ideational narratives that have not only been transmitted from generation to generation but have also been institutionalized and taught through Islamic schools, history texts, official curriculums and official and semi-official religious institutions in the Sahel-Sahara region.  


This article focused on the two main jihadist nodes in West Africa—AQIM and Ansar Dine, and Boko Haram and Ansaru. It showed that they rose in al-Qaeda structures (with Boko Haram eventually becoming Islamic State’s West Africa Province and then breaking away from Islamic State, while formerly al-Qaeda-affiliated Ansaru members paradoxically came to lead West Africa Province). However, both nodes have exploited distinct historical narratives and theological justifications to legitimize their jihads today: this hybridization of the past and present is aided by the Salafis ‘Salafization’ of Sufi history and theology. The history and theology of the jihads of centuries past and the jihads today are evidently similar enough that both nodes have succeeded in exploiting history and theology for their own purposes.

If anything, this article presents a precautionary tale. Salafism is the fastest growing strand of Islam in Africa today.67 Over the years, Salafism has established strong inroads in Africa through the funding of patrons in Saudi Arabia, the establishment of several Salafi religious centers across Africa as well as the presence of vibrant Salafi-funded media, such as Sunnah TV, that is deeply entrenched at the grassroots level in various African societies. These elements of power have increased the general acceptance of Salafism over other strands of Islam, specifically Sufism. Salafism appears linked to jihadism in areas where an accompanying historical narrative can be revived to justify the violence of contemporary Salafi-Jihadis, such as North Africa, the Sahel and Nigeria as well as Somalia. In areas where Salafi influence is growing but the historical narratives are slightly more attenuated, such as Senegal or the Kenya-Tanzania Swahili Coast, there is not yet a high-level of Salafi-Jihadi violence. If, however, al-Qaeda (or Islamic State) can revive a jihadist history and overcome the attenuation, the key two elements to inspire Salafi-Jihadi movements in these areas would exist: ‘Salafized’ historical narratives and Salafism itself.

In this regard, it is important to recall that ten years ago—in 2007—prominent scholars considered Salafi-Jihadi movements “to have had little impact on Africa” and that “Jihadism and extremism have made very limited inroads in sub-Saharan African countries overall.”68 Ten years from now—in 2027—it may appear equally naïve to look back at the scholars of 2017, who are yet to recognize the explosive Salafi-Jihadi potential for regions of Africa rapidly witnessing an increase in Salafi influence. For these regions, al-Qaeda and other groups in the global jihadist movement may yet be able to recreate historical narratives to justify jihad today.

1 Stephen Schwartz, The Other Islam: Sufism and the Road to Global Harmony (New York: Random House, 2008), pp. 1-34
2 Mark Sedgwick “The Support of Sufism as a Counterweight to Radicalization: An Assessment” in Marco Lombardi et al (eds.) Countering Radicalization and Violent Extremism Among Youth to Prevent Terrorism (Amsterdam: IOS Press, 2015), pp. 113-119; Mark Sedgwick “Sufis as ‘Good Muslims’: Sufism in the Battle Against Jihadi Salafism” in Lloyd Ridgeon (ed.) Sufis and Salafis in the Contemporary Age (New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2015); Fait Muedini Sponsoring Sufism: How Governments Promote “Mystical Islam” in their domestic and Foreign Policies (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015)
3 Jonathan N.C. Hill, Sufism in Northern Nigeria: Force for Counter-Radicalization (Carlisle, PA: Strategic Studies Institute, 2010), pp. 1-56; Jonathan N. C. Hill, ‘Religious Extremism in Northern Nigeria Past and Present: Parallels between the Pseudo-Tijanis and Boko Haram’, The Round Table: The Commonwealth Journal of International Affairs (2013) 102:3, pp. 235-244; Olabanji Akinola, ‘Boko Haram Insurgency in Nigeria: Between Islamic Fundamentalism, Politics, and Poverty’, African Security (2015) 8:1, p. 4. This policy suggestion is akin to the ‘Good Muslims’ and ‘Bad Muslims’ appellation that the British colonial authorities adopted in repressing those Islamic groups who were perceived to threaten the status quo, See Jonathan Reynolds, ‘Good and Bad Muslims: Islam and Indirect Rule in Northern Nigeria’, The International Journal of African Historical Studies (2001) 34:3, pp. 601-618
4 For an overview of the different jihads spearheaded by Muslim scholars in the Sahel-Sahara region from the 1800s see Roman Loimeier, Muslim Societies in Africa: A Historical Anthropology (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2013), pp. 108-134
5 An example of the ‘Salafizing’ of the narratives of the Sufi scholars is evident in the career of Abubakar Gumi who is generally regarded as the originator of anti-Sufism in contemporary Nigeria. See Abubakar Gumi and Ismaila Abubakar Tsiga, Where I Stand (Ibadan: Spectrum Books, 1992), p. 3; 50-52; Muhammad Sani Umar, ‘Changing Islamic Identity in Nigeria from the 1960s to the 1980s: From Sufism to Anti-Sufism’ in Louis Brenner (ed.) Muslim Identity and Social Change in Sub-Saharan Africa (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1993), pp. 154-178
6 Jean-Luc Marret “Al-Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb: A ‘Glocal’ Organization, Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, (2008) 31:6, p. 543; Stephen Harmon, “From GSPC to AQIM: The evolution of an Algerian islamist terrorist group into an Al-Qa‘ida Affiliate and its implications for the Sahara-Sahel region” Concerned African Scholars, Bulletin No. 85, Spring 2010.
7 “Burkina Faso, The Jihadist Threat Continuously Rising in the Far North – A new Ansar Dine Branch in Gestation, Ansaroul Islam”, Menastream, January 3, 2017, available at
8 Al-Mourabitun came under the lead of Mokhtar Belmokhtar in 2013 and merged with MUJWA briefly before separating in 2015 due to MUJWA's collaboration with Islamic State and later the defection of two of its leaders to Islamic State; Belmokhtar, instead, preferred to continue under the al-Qaeda umbrella.
9 See video announcement of the formation of Jama'at Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin (Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims) by al-Zaleqa Media, March 2, 2017, available at; “عاجل.. الإعلان عن اندماج الحركات الجهادية بمالي في تنظيم واحد,” Noakchott Information Agency, March 2, 2017, available at
10 Jacob Zenn and Dario Cristiani, "AQIM’s Resurgence: Responding to Islamic State," Terrorism Monitor, Volume 14, Issue 5, Jamestown Foundation, March 3, 2016, available at
11 Risalah Magazine, Issue 4, Jabhat Fath al-Sham, January 2017, available at:
12 “Letter from ‘Abdallah Abu Zayd ‘Abd-al-Hamid Abu Mus’ab ‘Abd-al-Wadud”, Bin Laden's Bookshelf – ODNI, released January 2017, available at
13 “Boko Haram Gets N40million Donation From Algeria,” Sahara Reporters, May 13, 2012. Available at
14 “Praise be to God the Lord of all worlds,” Bin Laden's Bookshelf – ODNI, released March 2016, available at
15 See “A Gift to the people of Tawhīd in Nigeria” by Al-Katā’ib Media available at:; “Fursān al-Shahāda” by al-Furqān Media Islamic State in Iraq available at:; “Message of Condolence to the Mujāhidīn by Abubakar Shekau” available at:
17 Ansaru leader, Abu Yusuf Usamatul al-Ansari, decried the killing of Ansaru members by Shekau in the video debut on the group which appeared on June 2, 2012 in Hausa and English language. See;
18 "New Boko Haram Leader, Al-Barnawi, Accuses Abubakar Shekau Of Killing Fellow Muslims, Living In Luxury." Sahara Reporters,
19 "New Issue of The Islamic State's Newsletter:." August 3, 2016, available at; "New Audio Message from Abū Bakr Al-Shekau: “Message to the World”. August 5, 2016, available at
20 For a detailed background on Dr Iyad Qunaybi and his influence as an ideologue in the Salafi-Jihadi circles see Joas Wagemakers, “Who is Dr Iyad Qunaybi?”, Jihadica, 15 June 2016 available at:
21 For a biographical information on Aḥmad Baba b. Aḥmad al-Timbuktī See John Hunwick and Alida Jay Boye, The Hidden Treasures of Timbuktu: Rediscovering Africa’s Literary Culture (New York: Thames & Hudson, 2008), pp 133-134.
22 Umar b. Sayyid was captured in Futa Toro present-day Senegal in 1806/7 and was exported and sold as a slave in South Carolina. In his autobiography, Umar narrated how he was enslaved and transported through the sea to Charleston. See John Hunwick, "I Wish to be Seen in Our Land Called Afrika: Umar b. Sayyid's Appeal to be Released from Slavery (1819)"  Journal of Arabic and Islamic Studies 5 (2003-2004), p. 66
23 See ‘New video message from Dr. Iyad Qunaybi: “Mali and the Torch of Freedom” (accessed 24 January 2017). Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi, another prominent Jordanian Salafi-Jihadi ideologue, offered a similar narrative with Dr Iyad Qunaybi in his article titled “Faransā wa Mālī” Available at:
24 See New video message from Anṣār ad-Dīn: “The Conquest of Azawad” (accessed 7 January 2017) See also al-Andalus Media presents a new video message from al-Qā’idah in the Islamic Maghrib’s Shaykh Abū ‘Ubaydah Yūsuf al ‘Anābī: “The War on Mali” (accessed 7 January 2017)
25 For biographical information on `Umar al-Mukhtār see Ahmad Mahmud, `Umar al-Mukhtār: al-ḥalqa al-ākhira min al-jihād al-watani fī Tarabulus al-Gharb (Cairo: Matba’at ‘Isa al-Babi al-Halabi, 1934), pp. 5-56. See also Hala Khamis Nassar and Marco Boggero, ‘Omar al-Mukhtar: the formation of cultural memory and the case of the militant group that bears his name’, The Journal of North African Studies (2008) 13:2, 201-217
26 See Abu Mus’ab Abd al-Wadud “Support for the Free, Descendants of ‘Umar al-Mukhtār” (accessed 24 January 2017). See also Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb “Support and Backing for the [Libyan] Revolution of our Family, the Free, Descendants of ‘Umar al-Mukhtār” (accessed 24 January 2017); Ḥamid b. ‘Abdullah al ‘Ali “Why has the Syrian Regime Killed ‘Umar al-Mukhtār’s Descendants With al-Qathāfī (Gaddafi)” (accessed 24 January 2017) Shaykh Abu Muḥammad al-Ṭaḥawi, a prominent Jordanian Salafi-Jihadi ideologue, reiterated the same phraseology in his video to the Libyan revolutionaries see “Message to the Descendants of ‘Umar al-Mukhtār” (accessed 24 January 2017).
27 From the historical records, `Umar al-Mukhtār was indeed offered 50,000 lira (al-Razi, `Umar al-Mukhtār [Beirut: Dar al-Madar al-Islami, 2004], pp. 119-29), so Yusuf had access to accurate information on this incident.
28 Author’s Translation of the “Exegesis of Sūrat Al-Tawba (Qurʼān 9 Verses 9-16)” by Muhammad Yusuf available at: (accessed 12 December 2014)
29 Author’s Translation of “New statement from Jamā’at Anṣār al-Muslimīn Fi Bilād al-Sūdān: “Innocence of the Mujāhidīn From the Blood of the Innocent Muslims” (accessed 24 December 2014)
30 Khadim Mbacke, Sufism and Religious Brotherhoods in Senegal edited by John Hunwick (New Jersey: Markus Wiener, 2005), pp. 30-35. See also Loimeier, ‘Muslim Societies in Africa’, p. 119-121
31 Author’s Translation of the “Application of the Rulings of Islam in the Islamic State in Africa” by Jamā`at Ahl al-Sunna li-Da`wa wa-l-Jihād available at: (accessed 11 February 2015)
32 See Abdulbasit Kassim, “Defining and Understanding the Religious Philosophy of jihādī-Salafism and the ideology of Boko Haram,” Politics, Religion and Ideology, (2015)16:2-3, pp. 173-200
33 ‘Uthmān Ibn Fūdī’s brother, ‘Abd Allah Fūdī wrote a book with similar contents titled ‘Ḍiyā al-Mujāhidīn’ (The light of the fighter of jihad). Ibn Fūdī’s son, Muḥammad Bello, also wrote similar book titled ‘Infāq al-Maysūr fī ta’rīkh bilād al-Takrūr’ (A Little Light on the History of Hausa land)
34 For a detailed theological assessment of the doctrine of ḥijrah in Islam see Muhammad Khalid Masud, ‘The Obligation to Migrate: The Doctrine of Hjrah in Islamic Law’, in Dale F. Eickelman and James Piscatori (eds.) Muslim Travellers: Pilgrimage, Migration, and the Religious Imagination (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990), pp. 29-49
35 ‘Uthmān Ibn Fūdī, Bayan Wujub al-hijra ‘ala ‘l-‘ibad Wa Bayān Wujūb Naṣb al-Imām Wa Iqāmat al-Jihād, ed. and trans. Fatḥī Ḥasan Maṣrī (Khartoum: Khartoum University Press, 1978), p. 50; ‘Uthmān Ibn Fūdī, ‘Wathīqat ahl al-Sūdān wa ilā man shā’ Allāh min al-Ikhwān fı ̄ al-Buldān’, in Mukhtārāt min mu’alafāt Shaykh ‘Uthmān Ibn Fūdī al-ḥujām al-thānī (Gusau: Iqra’a Publishing House, 2013), p. 269; ‘Uthmān Ibn Fūdī, ‘Tanbīh al-Ikhwān ‘alā aḥwāl arḍ al-Sūdān’, in Mukhtārāt min mu’alafāt Shaykh ‘Uthmān Ibn Fūdī al-ḥujām al-thālith (Gusau: Iqra’a Publishing House, 2013), p. 18 See also Muhammad Khalid Masud, ‘Shehu Usuman Dan Fodio's Restatement of the Doctrine of Hijrah’, Islamic Studies (Spring 1986) 25:1, pp. 59-77 
36 Alā l-Din Abī Bakr b. Mas'ūd al-Kāsāni, Badā'i' as-sana'i' fi tartib ash-sharā'i' (Cairo: al-Imām Press, n.d.), Vol. 9, p. 4375
37 Abū al-ḥasan ‘Ali Ibn Muḥammad Ibn Ḥabib al-Māwardī, al-Aḥkam al-Sulṭaniyyah (Cairo: Musṭapha al-ḥalabi, 1973), pp. 49-50
38 Al-Qādī Abū Ya’lā Al-Hanbalī, al-Mu’tamad fī usūl al-dīn (Beirut: Dār Al-Mashriq, 1974), p. 276
39 Abū Muḥammad ʿAlī ibn Aḥmad ibn Saʿīd ibn Ḥazm, al-Muḥalla (Beirut: Dār al-Kutub al-Ilmiyya, 1988), Vol. 11, p. 200
40 Imam Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyyah, Ahkām ahl adh-Dhimmah (Beirut: Dār Al-’Ilm Lil-Malāyīn, 1983), Vol. 1, p. 366
41 Muḥammad ibn ʿAlī ibn Abdullah al-Shawkani, al-Sayl al-Jarrār al-Mutadaffiq ‘alā ḥadā’iq al-Azhār ed. Maḥmūd Ibrāhīm Zāyid (Damascus and Beirut: Dār Ibn Kathīr, 2000), Vol. 4, p. 575
42 These same criteria apply to the discourse on Dār al-Kufr and Dār al-Islām in contemporary jihadi literature, see Abū Musàb al-Suri, ‘Dàwat al-Muqāwama al-Islāmiyyah al-‘ālamiyya’ (n.p., 2004), pp. 983-984; Fāris al-Zahrānī, ‘al- ‘alāqāt al-dawlīya fī al-Islām’ (Part 1-3) available at:;;
43 See Ibn Fūdī, ‘Tanbīh al-Ikhwān’, op. cit., p. 23
44 For biographical information on Sunni Ali and Askia al-Hajj Muhammad see John Hunwick, Timbuktu and the Songhay Empire: Al-Saadi's Taarīkh Al-Sūdān Down to 1613 and other Contemporary Documents (Leiden: Brill, 1999) pp. 91-117
45 John Hunwick, Shari’a in Songhay: The Replies of al-Maghili to the Questions of Askia al-Hajj Muhammad (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985), pp. 69-76; p. 121; Charlotte Blum and Humphrey Fisher, ‘Love for Three Oranges, or, the Askiya's Dilemma: The Askiya, al-Maghīlī and Timbuktu, c. 1500 A.D.’, The Journal of African History, (1993) 34:1, pp. 73-76; Loimeier, ‘Muslim Societies in Africa’, p. 112; Umar Mukhtar Bunza, ‘The North African Factor in “Tajdeed Tradition in Hausaland, Northern Nigeria’, The Journal of North African Studies (2005) 10:3–4, pp. 325–338; Ousman Murzik Kobo, Unveiling Modernity in Twentieth-Century West African Islamic Reforms (Leiden, Brill, 2012), pp. 37-41
46 Hunwick, ‘Shari’a in Songhay’, p. 118
47 Bradford G. Martin, ‘Unbelief in the Western Sudan: 'Uthmān dan Fodio's "Ta'līm al-ikhwān"’, Middle Eastern Studies (1967) 4:1, pp. 50-97. For a detailed study of Miṣbaḥ al-arwāḥ fī usūl al-falāḥ see John Hunwick, Jews of a Saharan Oasis: Elimination of the Tamantit Community (New Jersey: Markus Wiener, 2006), pp. 14-32
48 Muhammad Yusuf, ‘Hādhihi ‘Aqīdatunā wa-Manhaj Da‘watinā’ (Maiduguri: Maktabat al-Ghuraba, n.d.) p. 108
49 Author’s Translation of “the History of the Muslims” by Muhammad Yusuf available at:
50 ‘Hādhihi `Aqīdatunā (This is Our Creed) by Abubakar Shekau. Translated by Atta Barkindo Available at:
51 From the period of the state established by Ibn Fūdī and his successors (1812-1902);
52 The last independent caliph of the state established by Ibn Fūdī.
53 Author’s translation of “Lecture on Returning to the Path of the Qurʼān and Sunna by Muhammad Mamman Nur and Muhammad Yusuf” March 15, 2009 Available at: (accessed 14 December 2014) See also Zacharias P. Pieri and Jacob Zenn, ‘The Boko Haram Paradox: Ethnicity, Religion, and Historical Memory in Pursuit of a Caliphate, African Security (2016) 9:1, pp. 74-77
54 See New Open Meeting With Anṣār ad-Dīn’s Sandah ‘Ūld Bū A’māmah (accessed 5 January 2017), pp. 20-21; 31
55 Ibid., p. 9. Bouamama is referring to the interview of Mossa Ag Attaher (MNLA Coordinator for Diplomatic Action in Europe) published on July 30, 2012 by the Tuareg media outlet Toumast Press. In the interview, Mossa Ag Attaher explains that secularism is the main pillar of the movement and that the MNLA stands against the implementation of sharī`a law. For a transcript of the interview see See also Anna Mahjar-Barducci "The MNLA's Fight for a Secular State of Azawad" available at;
56 Ibid., p. 7
57 See (accessed 14 December 2014) See also pp. 4-5 (accessed 14 December 2014)
58 This theme is also the subject matter and the title of a book written by ‘Uthmān Ibn Fūdī, ‘al-‘Amr bi muwālāt al-Muminīn wa al-Nahy ‘an muwālāt al-Kāfirīn’ in Mukhtārāt min mu’alafāt Shaykh ‘Uthmān Ibn Fūdī al-ḥujām al-thālith (Gusau: Iqra’a Publishing House, 2013), pp. 286-292; see also Ibn Fūdī, al-Masā’il al-Muhimma’, op. cit., p. 302-303.
59 For Ibn Fūdī’s definition of a Muslim see Uthmān Ibn Fūdī, ‘Sirāj al-Ikhwān fī ahamm mā yaḥtāju ilayhi fī hadhā al-zamān’, trans. Abubakar Buba Luwa in Selected Writings of Sheikh Othman Bn Fodiyo (Gusau: Iqra’a Publishing House, 2013), vol. 2, pp. 234-235; ‘Uthmān Ibn Fūdī, ‘Nūr al-albab’, trans. Muhammad Isa Aliyu in Selected Writings of Sheikh Othman Bn Fodiyo Fodiyo (Gusau: Iqra’a Publishing House, 2013), vol. 3, p. 5. See also Robert Raymond Martenson, ‘The Life and Work of Usmaanu Bii Fooduye with Special Reference to the Religious Nature of the Encounter Between the Hausa Muslim and Fulbe Muslim Communities’, PhD Diss., Hatford Seminary Foundation, Minnesota, 1977, pp. 60-89
60 The implication of this interpretation becomes clear when it is extrapolated to the historical debates between the leaders of the Sokoto Caliphate and the Kanem Bornu Empire over the legality of declaring Kanem-Borno as a lawful target of jihad as depicted in the correspondence between the erudite Kanem-Borno scholar Shaykh Muhammad El-Amin Al-Kanemi and Shaykh Muhammad Bello, the son of Ibn Fūdī. While citing the book ‘Ajwibat al-Maghilī `an asilat al-Amin al-Hajj Muhammad Askiya’, Ibn Fūdī stated the three reasons for fighting the ruler of Kanem Borno and his followers: their partial acceptance of Islam; their hostility towards those who embrace Islam; and their support and assistance to unbelievers fighting against the Muslims. See ‘Uthmān Ibn Fūdī, ‘Najm al-ikhwān yahtadūna bihi fī ‘umūri al-zamān’, trans. Muhammad Isa Aliyu in Selected Writings of Sheikh Othman Bn Fodiyo Fodiyo (Gusau: Iqra’a Publishing House, 2013), vol. 3, p. 312-314. Murray Last and M.A al-Hajj provided a more detailed account of the dispute between the leaders of the Sokoto jihād and the Kanem Borno Empire see Murray Last and M.A. al-Hajj, ‘Attempts at Defining Muslim in 19th-century Hausaland and Bornu’, Journal of Historical Society of Nigeria 2(1965), pp. 232–233. See also Bradford G. Martin, ‘Unbelief in the Western Sudan’, op cit., pp.51-57; Louis Brenner, The Shehus of Kukawa: A History of the Al-Kanemi Dynasty of Bornu (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1973) pp. 40-42; Mervyn Hiskett, The Sword of Truth: The Life and Times of the Shehu Usuman Dan Fodio (New York: Oxford University Press, 1973); p. 109-110; Loimeier, ‘Muslim Societies in Africa’, p. 118-119; Lamin Sanneh, Beyond Jihad: The Pacifist Tradition in West African Islam (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016), pp. 219-224.
61 ‘Hādhihi `Aqīdatunā (This is Our Creed) by Abubakar Shekau. Translated by Atta Barkindo Available at:
62 Author’s translation of “Lecture on Returning to the Path of the Qurʼān and Sunna by Muhammad Mamman Nur and Muhammad Yusuf” Available at:
66 See Alex Thurston, “A Mauritanian Fatwa against the French-Led Military Intervention in Mali”, Maydan, 13 January 2017 available at:
67 Ousmane Kane, “Moderate Revivalists: Islamic Inroads in Sub-Saharan Africa,” Harvard International Review 29, no. 2 (2007): 64–68.
68 Ibid.

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