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Islam, Youth Religiosities and Sermon Practices in Contemporary Niamey, Niger

Abdoulaye Sounaye

This project examines the appropriation of the Islamic sermon (wa’z) in contemporary Niger. It focuses on Niamey, the capital of Niger, and seeks to show how in the last ten years young Muslims have carried out the calls to popularize the tradition of the prophet Muhammad (Sunna) and the injunction to live by its principles. Departing from the mere analysis of the critique of the bid’a (unlawful innovations), this project will highlight how the Islamic sermon (wazu) and the Sunna are understood, popularized and put to work. In responding to the calls to popularize the Sunna and while claiming to serve Islam, young urban Muslims have developed practices that are gradually altering the Islamic reform agenda by taking it in a direction shaped by urban social, cultural experiences and economic logics. This ethnography will contribute to our understanding of Islamic reform discourses and practices, particularly how their popularization affects their overall agenda. It will show how Muslims translate and live the experience of putting Islam to work. It will achieve this goal by focusing on the trajectories of individual preachers, their strategies (preaching rally, expansion of the geography of the Islamic sermon, performance style), their media cultures (CD/DVD sermons, Islamic discotheque and Islamic studio), and the meaning going to the sermon acquires within this context. From the specific cases presented, the study will shed some light on the emergence of a new generation of preachers and Muslim publics, and will illustrate how young Muslims authorize themselves to speak for Islam.