Dr. Ramzi Ben Amara



Completed Project

The Izala-movement in Nigeria: Its Split, Relationship to Sufis and Perception of Sharia Re-Implementation


This PHD project was published and is available online:


ramziThe Izala Movement in Nigeria: Its Split, Relationship to Sufis and Perception of Sharia Re-Implementation Abstract The religious landscape of Northern Nigeria is very heterogeneous. Nevertheless two Sufi Brotherhoods, the Tijāniyya and the Qādiriyya dominated the religious field until the 1970s. This situation changed in 1978 with the appearance of Jama’atul Izalatzul Bid’a wa Ikamatis Sunna (Society for Removal of Innovation and Reestablishment of the Sunna). This reform movement was established to fight the so called bidac (in Arabic: non-Islamic innovations) on the basis of the tradition of the Prophet. The long Islam tradition in Nigeria has to be “purified” and the model of al-salaf al-ṣāliḥ (in Arabic: the pious predecessors) should be followed. This created numerous tensions between Izala and Sufi Brotherhoods. In 1999 and during the process of transition to the Fourth Republic Nigeria, Islamic Penal Law was re-implemented by the Governor of Zamfara State Ahmad Sani Yeriman Bakuru. This step was followed by eleven northern states. This meant amongst others the introduction of ḥudūd-punishments – corporal punishments like lashing, hand amputation, or stoning to death. The re-implementation provoked a debate in and outside Nigeria. Many observers raised questions related to the constitutionality of Sharia-laws, human rights, religious freedom and to the democratic process. Opinions on this process were divided. Almost all Islamic organizations of Nigeria stood for the re-implementation of Islamic Law. Izala was among those who supported that project. Sharia goes side by side with Izala doctrine of “islamizing the society”. Izala was ready to compromise within the Sharia context and a kind of “domestication” of the long-going Izala-Sufi struggle seems to have taken place. During the Sharia-reimplementation, no Islamic organization (except of Shiite movement) risked opposing Sharia. Islamic Law was started by a single politician within a political campaign and after him the masses pushed in eleven states to have Sharia re-implemented. Izala claimed being behind the Sharia re-implementation. One could ask if this was a re-orientation strategy of the movement especially after the end of its conflict with Sufi. Do Izala really contributed to the re-implementation of Sharia law? On the basis on solid fieldwork in Northern Nigeria including participant observation, interviews with Izala, Sufis, and religion experts, and collection of unpublished material related to Izala, three aspect of the development of Izala past and present are analysed: its split, its relationship to Sufis, and its perception of Sharia re-implementation. “Field theory” of Pierre Bourdieu, “Religious Market theory” of Rodney Start, and “Modes of Religiosity theory” of Harvey Whitehouse are theoretical tools of understanding the religious landscape of northern Nigeria and the dynamics of Islamic movements and groups.