Frontiers of Law, Political Science and Art

Intervention in political perfomance among charismatic tangential Sufi leaders


Luis Ramos

Islam in Senegal is dominated by Sufism, a mystical form of religiosity governed by different Muslim brotherhoods (tarixas). A number of researches on the political influence of the Senegalese tarixas have approached Sufi-Muslim authorities from a globalized perspective, thus paying less attention to internal segments within each tarixa. In this article, the author emphasizes the political roles of Sufi segment leaders (‘peripheral shaykhs’) as they build clientelistic relationships with secular politicians. Peripheral Sufi leaders are charismatic Muslim guides (shaykhs) who earned political legitimacy either through blood lineage with a Sufi founder or through a privileged relationship with a Sufi central leader (Khalif-Général). Speaking of a fragmented Senegalese Muslim authority, the article proposes that the negotiation of political roles among peripheral Sufi leaders has had a double impact on Senegal’s democratization. On one hand, it stifles the constructive role of the Khalif-Général as a transethnic religious mediator. On the other hand, by allowing client shaykhs to proliferate voting commands (electoral ndigëls), it fuels clientelism and prebendalism in political regimes. Based on field observation and analysis of diverse secondary sources, the article concludes that electoral ndigëls, although in decline, have consequences that continue to challenge fuller democratization in Senegal.


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