North African Religious Leaders Fight Fanaticism in Sahel

North African religious leaders have convened in Algeria to discuss ways to resist fanaticism in the Sahel region, writes Kaci Racelma.

al-monitor Residents look at the remains of vehicles which they said belonged to radical Islamist group MUJAO, after they were hit by French air strikes in the town of Gao Jan. 27, 2013. Photo by REUTERS/Adama Diarra.

Topics covered

war on terrorism, war, islamism, al-qaeda

Feb 7, 2013

The fight against terrorism is a task that should be carried out not only by the security services, but also involve civil society in its call to bring about peace, tolerance and respect for others.This is the message proclaimed by scholars, preachers and imams who traveled from around the Sahel region to take part in the founding congress of the League of Sahel Ulemas based in Algiers.

Scholars, preachers and imams from Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Algeria met in the Algerian capital to study the scourge of religious extremism, its causes and ways to effectively put an end to it. It is clear that scholars from the Sahel have always been against fanaticism, just as they have continuously been supporters of peace, love and tolerance, due to its significance in Islam.

The participants, who steadfastly oppose religious extremism and support the Maliki rite, have openly attacked the religious extremists and followers of "destructive thought, which has recently become widespread in the Sahel region and tarnished the image of Islam and Muslims."

The founders of the League of Sahel Ulemas plan to spread a culture of tolerance and peace and the rejection of religious extremism across the Muslim world. The call for religious unity and territorial integrity as well as respect for others goes against jihad for the "cause of Allah," which was decried by the meeting's participants, who are fully devoted to spreading the teachings of Islam in order to counter religious extremism.

The escalation of religious extremism, shown in the profusion of books and sermons of self-appointed jurists, is unanimously denounced by the preachers who have elected the Nigerian imam Abdou Daoud Bourima as the head of the League of Sahel Ulemas.

This body, officially established on Wednesday, Feb. 6 in Algiers, appointed the Algerian imam Youcef Mechri as second in command. Mechri was appointed secretary-general of the league, whose office includes five members — one from each country.

The fight against extremism, which has plagued the Muslim world due to the emergence of fundamentalist movements, has been the main target of this religious and ethical league from the moment of its inception. 

All monotheistic religions warn against and prohibit religious fanaticism. The Sahel region, however, has become an ideal setting for the extremists' incendiary preaching.

The “cause of Allah” is fervently championed by radicals such as the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa and al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, who have been increasing calls for jihad against those they perceive to be “crusaders.” They consider waging war against those crusaders to be halal, or lawful. This dogmatic mindset has become deeply entrenched among young people in the Sahel region.

The league’s preachers are fighting a lack of resources, as well as poverty and political instability. They believe that Islam is based on tolerance and respect for others. In this context, Nigerian preacher Daoud commented on the consequences of these harmful extremist movements, which he believes can only be fought through intellect.

Daoud, who was appointed to the head of the league, called for a “religious” fight against these "evil" movements.

“Only religion can expose these fanatics,” Sheikh Daoud said.

In their final statement, the participants of this significant meeting made sure to denounce “violence, fanaticism and extremism.” They also seek to “spread a culture of peace, tolerance and coexistence with other religions and communities.”

Kaci Racelma is an Algerian journalist with Inter Press Service news agency and, an online magazine. He covers the North African region.

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