Friday, June 29, 2012

The View of Geography in Boko Haram Explained by the Difference Between Traditional Sub-Saharan Islam and Egyptian Salafism

The main Islamist terrorist group in Nigeria has the Arabic name of "People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet's Teachings and Jihad".  The Hausa, the local Nigerian language, name for the group is Boko Haram, which translate to "western education is sinful".

Back in 2009 the leader of Boko Haram gave the group's perspective on geography.  According to the BBC, Boko Haram's thoughts are

"Like rain. We believe it is a creation of God rather than an evaporation caused by the sun that condenses and becomes rain.  Like saying the world is a sphere. If it runs contrary to the teachings of Allah, we reject it. We also reject the theory of Darwinism."

So besides Darwinism, Boko Haram rejects the hydrologic cycle and a spherical Earth.  This may confuse some who associate Islam with being accepting of science.  The truth is that Boko Haram's geography is actually a good example between more traditional forms of Islam and Egyptian-style Salafism.

The cosmos of traditional Islam is full of things like djinn, angels, and divine intervention on a daily basis.  Egyptian-style Salafism (EsS), however, started as a reaction to an Enlightenment-era Europe that militarily dominated the Islamic World, which at the time rejected the more advanced sciences ("if it is in the Qu'ran it is redundant and if it is not in the Qu'ran it is anti-God"). EsS sought to accept the  scientific mindset and reject the more "folk culture" aspects of the faith in order to bring about a scientifically advanced and yet still devout Islam.  EsS coincides in large part, but not exactly, with Saudi-style Wahabbism.  This helps explain why there are so many highly educated Arab engineers and doctors (black-and-white science) who tend also to be the most radically devout, such as Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri.  Meanwhile, areas outside the zone of the EsS Islamic reformation like Afghanistan and Nigeria are no less devout in their Islam yet practice a faith which keeps much of the old ways and remain skeptical of science.

In order to understand why certain militant Islamist related groups (al Qaeda/Boko Haram/Taliban) hold such radically different beliefs it is important to understand where the originate from.  Are they from a zone which is EsS, Wahabbi, and in a more traditional Islamic place.  Knowing their exact origins also helps with confronting them when the fight outside the religious zone.  The United States military has done a decent job turning local Afghans against foreign fighters by reminding the Afghans that Wahabbis will destroy Deobandi graves.

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