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DIIS Working Paper 2008:4
In recent years there has been a revival of Islam in Zanzibar, with heated debates about the nature of Islam and its role in society (Lodhi and Westerlund 1997, Gilsaa 2006). While Islam played a central role in society until independence in 1963, it was effectively removed from the public sphere by the socialist government after independence. Since the 1980s, however, Islam has again become a central issue in the public sphere, albeit in new forms. Like elsewhere in Afri-ca, local forms of Islam are being challenged by a number of new reformist and revivalist kinds of Islam, influenced to some degree by a global Islamic revival, but shaped by the particular, local histories and politics. This has caused some friction – especially as the regime in place seeks to manipulate these tensions for political benefit. However, as it will be argued in this paper, the kind of Islamic revival taking place in Zanzibar is far from radical or violent. In fact, Islamic revivalists often coin their critique of the state in terms of human rights and good governance and provide an alternative modernity that at once challenges and articulates with secular, liberal forms of modernity. Hence, the present paper explores how global trends in Islam – but also global discourses on Human Rights and Good Governance – influence the current modes of Islamic revival in Zanzibar. This paper explores the nature of Islamic revival in Zanzibar, its emergence and some of the consequences that this has had on society. It explores how global trends in Islam – helped along by information technology and high-speed travel – have played a role in these changes and have reconfigured the relationship between generations, between state and citizens and between reli-gion and politics. Central to these changes are the young men who study in Arab states and return with new perceptions of Islam. But also other semi-educated youth can now access new, global knowledge about Islam via satellite TV, DVDs, booklets and the internet. In this sense, Islam becomes simultaneously globalized and individualised, challenging the religious authority of the traditional sheiks who used to have monopoly on interpreting Islam. The paper explores the ways in which the political and religious authorities react to these changes and how the young men in turn manoeuvre in this space, trying to avoid the label ‘fundamentalist’. After an analysis of the emergence of Islamic revivalism in Zanzibar, the paper explores the specific influence of returning youth. Finally it analyses more in depth the world views of a certain Islamic movement; the Tablighi Jamaat. While the focus of the paper is on local transformations, it is equally import-ant to place these processes in the light of global trends in Islam that have strongly influenced the debate in Zanzibar and gained a local flavour.
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