El Affandi (1985). Discovering the South' Sudanese Dilemmas for Islam in Africa
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THE RESURGENCE experienced by the radical Sudanese Islamist group, the National Islamic Front (NIF), a resurgence which, since September 1985 appeared to have a direct correlation with the civil war in the South, poses some important questions about the interaction between 'Africanism' and political Islam. The way this apparent conflict is resolved is likely to have significant implications for the future development of political systems in Africa.
In a sense, the dynamics of this conflict are not unfamiliar. Although Islam seeped into most of Africa slowly, and interacted with indigenous institutions over centuries in the context of a largely peaceful process, there were nevertheless points when the dynamics of the process led to conflict. The jihad movement of Shehu Osumanu dan Fodio and the Mahdist uprising in Sudan are two of the more prominent examples. These movements were based on the awareness of a discrepancy between the actual content of the Islamic message and the habitual practices of African populations who were to a large extent only nominally Muslim. The movements then interacted with local forces to give a new shape to Islamic observance. But there is also a sense in which the current conflict in Sudan presents novel features.
For the Islamic advance in Sudan is not a one-sided process representing the locomotive carrying forward the development of a given culture in the face of the retreating vestiges of an earlier one. What we are witnessing is the clash of two antagonistic cultural outlooks, both of which are experiencing a revival. The introduction of Western culture as a dynamic external factor, offering both a paradigm and material and cultural backing to the anti- Islamic forces is a new development. Although not completely absent from earlier phases of Islamic 'revival' alluded to, the Western factor is important precisely because it is working in conjunction with well-developed internal forces.