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In Kano, reformist Muslims

advocated the “democratic”

implementation of Shari’ah
criminal law, insisted on
government accountability,
and opened new domains
for public sentiment and
debate—domains that
cut across longstanding
community barriers, yet
stratified citizenship among
“Marginal Muslims”:
Politics and the Perceptual Bounds of
Islamic Authenticity in Northern Nigeria
Conerly Casey

In 1999 and 2000, twelve states in northern Nigeria declared

Islamic law (Shari’ah) the state criminal law for all Muslims,
redefining the boundaries of identity, civility, and criminality.
In the city of Kano, the implementation of Shari’ah criminal
codes appealed to Muslims from all sectors of society, as
a democratic alternative to, and strong critique of, colo-
nialism and the elitism and corruption of federal and state
politicians. Urban ward gang members ( ‘yan daba) agitated
alongside other Muslim youths for the implementation of
Shari’ah codes, yet with others deemed “marginal Muslims,”
became the immediate objects of preaching and surveillance
by Hisbah (Shari’ah enforcers). Perceptual experiences in
everyday life—whether one wore the beard of Muslim ortho-
doxy, or the baggy jeans and chains of Los Angeles rappers,
or prayed at the tombs of Sufi saints—began to redefine and
frame identity in terms of ethnic, Islamic “authenticity,”
morality, and neighborhood and state security. In this article,
I describe the changing relations of Hisbah and ‘yan daba
during the 2000 implementation of Shari’ah codes in Kano,
providing an analysis of the impact of the implementation
itself on nonreformist residents. I show that reformist Hisbah
vigilantly scrutinized Muslims living in ethnically plural
spaces, Muslim ethnic minorities, and people who, by virtue
of their region of origin, religion, or ethnicity, were deemed
to be “marginal Muslims” or polytheists, and thus, “out of
place.” Reformist Hisbah considered Muslim ‘yan daba, ‘yan
Bori (followers of Bori), nonreformist Sufis (with pro-Shari’ah
Sufi critics of Hisbah), and non-Hausa Muslims, particularly
Muslim Yoruba, to be political–spiritual saboteurs who dis-
allowed the reenchantment of orthodoxy and its ability to
function as Islamic political unity and collective memory. For
‘yan daba and Hisbah, Islamic state-building became a work
of ethnic, religious, and regional conflation, which through
unlawful displays of masculine power conflicted with the
political aspirations of moderate Muslim Hausa, and super-
seded personal and non-Muslim Hausa expressions of Islamic
authenticity, morality, and security.
africa today 54(3)

In 1999 and 2000, twelve states in northern Nigeria declared Islamic law
(Shari’ah) the state criminal law for all Muslims, redefining the boundaries
of identity, civility, and criminality.1 In the city of Kano, the Independent
Shari’ah Implementation Committee, similar to Islamic state-forming coali-
tions in Algeria and in the Sudan, galvanized the political will to move
beyond the rhetoric of Shari’ah as a democratic alternative to, and strong
critique of, colonialism and the elitism and corruption of federal and state

politicians. The committee appealed to Muslims from all sectors of soci-

ety who desired concrete political, economic changes.2 Urban ward gang
“Marginal Muslims”

members (‘yan daba) agitated alongside other Muslim youths for the imple-
mentation of Shari’ah criminal codes, yet with others deemed “marginal
Muslims,” became the immediate objects of preaching and surveillance by
Hisbah (Shari’ah law enforcers). Perceptual experiences in everyday life—
whether one wore the beard of Muslim orthodoxy, or the baggy jeans and
chains of Los Angeles rappers, or prayed at the tombs of Sufi saints—began to
redefine and frame identity in terms of ethnic and regional forms of Islamic
“authenticity,” morality, and neighborhood and state security.
What was visible, in the form of dress or comportment, was insepa-
rable from what was not seen, or the world of spirits, which, as Mbembe
(2001) points out, strengthens the visual image and the power of the visible.
Hisbah extracted scriptural verses from the Qur’an to preach and project
visual stereotypes of the “enemies of Islam” into popular consciousness.
Hisbah who identified themselves as “Nigerian Orthodox Muslims,” an
uneasy alliance of reformist Sunni and Shi’a Muslims, many of whom were
reformist Sufi, vigilantly scrutinized Muslims living in ethnically plural
spaces, Muslim ethnic minorities, and people who, by virtue of their region
of origin, religion, or ethnicity, were deemed to be “marginal Muslims” or
polytheists, and thus, “out of place.”3 Hisbah considered Muslim ‘yan daba,
‘yan Bori (followers of Bori),4 nonreformist Sufis (with pro-Shari’ah Sufi
critics of Hisbah), and non-Hausa Muslims, particularly Muslim Yoruba,
to be political–spiritual saboteurs who disallowed the reenchantment of
orthodoxy and its ability to function as an Islamic collective memory, a
history of perception that would unify Nigeria’s Muslims, and draw them
more fully into world networks of politically active Muslims.5 Citing the
Prophet Mohammed’s prediction that the Islamic umma (community) would
split into seventy-three sects after his death, only one of which would bring
salvation, Hisbah declared a jihad, “a struggle against a visible enemy, the
devil and against self (nafs),” enemies of Islam, visible and unseen (Abdul
There is growing documentation of the contributions of Islamic
reform movements in Nigeria and in Niger, particularly of Wahhabi/Salafi-
oriented‘yan Izala, to open debate over reigning political and moral ortho-
doxies and the legacies of colonialism (Loimeier 1997; Masquelier 1999;
Umar 1993; Westerlund 1997). Such movements, as they seize on the signs,
objects, and practices they seek to reform, create a “precarious oscilla-
tion of democracy and despotism” (Comaroff and Comaroff 1999:29). In

africa today 54(3)

Kano, reformist Muslims advocated the “democratic” implementation of
Shari’ah criminal law, insisted on government accountability, and opened
new domains for public sentiment and debate—domains that cut across
longstanding community barriers, yet stratified citizenship among Muslims.
They offered new opportunities for Islamic identification and participation,
but, through the paradox of the democratization of religious knowledge and
self- and community censorship, reform movements increased anxiety about

salvation, about practicing the “true” form of Islam, and the potential for evil
to enter oneself and one’s community through a lack of religious commit-

Conerly Casey
ment. The Hisbah jihad, at the time of Shari’ah implementation, expressed
the tensions of democratization and censorship, and provides an ongo-
ing perceptual framework for ethnic and regional significations of Islamic
authenticity, the identification of “bad” Muslims as kafirai (nonbelievers)
and ba’ki (strangers), a shift in the policing of “un-Islamic practices” to the
identification of “un-Islamic people,” and for routine violence against such
people as “enemies of the state.”7
Among northern Nigerians, the relations of political–religious antago-
nism, forged during the nineteenth-century Islamic jihad, British coloniza-
tion, and the Nigerian civil war, intersect with media portrayals of violence
against Muslims within and outside of Nigeria’s national borders. Such
antagonisms are rooted in, reproduce, and transform the ideologies and feel-
ings of “affective citizenship,” which I define as displays of feeling about
belonging to, and having agency within, the state. In Nigeria, “affective
citizenship” is a fusion of personal, ethnic, religious, and regional citizen-
ship, based on ethnic customary law, religious law, and the historical per-
ceptions of enclosure and exclusion that underpin memories of belonging,
backed by law, but a law that, historically, has been arbitrary and violent
in its application. Hisbah, along with recruits among ‘yan daba and alma-
jirai (Qur’anic students), use violence as a means of establishing them-
selves as dutiful Muslims—as “affective citizens,” who passionately display
their feelings of belonging to, and having agency within the reforming
government of Kano State.
Muslim identities in northern Nigeria have historical dependence on
evil others, who through the interpretation of Islamic symbols and ethnic
descent may be routinely vilified, yet in newly relevant ways (Ado-Kurawa
2000; Gumi with Tsiga 1992; Kumo 1993; Paden 1986; Sanusi 2006a; Umar
2001). Shehu Usman ‘dan Fodio (1754–1817), founder of the Sokoto caliph-
ate in northern Nigeria, sought to purify Islam, distilling the teachings of
the Prophet as the basis for a unified spiritual umma (community). He was
considered revolutionary because he called for jihad against Muslims he
considered nonorthodox. Further complicating the spiritual, political unity
that he sought was the existence of several anti-Caliphate, antijihad states,
including Argungu (Kebbi), Gobir (Tsibiri), Maradi, Damagaram, Gumel,
Borno, Ningi, Abuja, and Daura (Baure).8
In 1898, Flora Shaw suggested the name Nigeria for the British colonial
project of uniting “politically neighboring but formerly autonomous states
africa today 54(3)

and peoples under imperial rule in one colonial state” (Levin 1997:135). Brit-
ish administrators arbitrarily established specific territorial units within the
colonial state as autonomous, in what Mamdani (1996) calls “decentralized
despotism,” exacerbating ethnic, religious, and regional political tensions.
The British takeover of the Royal Niger Company in 1900, indirect rule as
the British governing principle in northern Nigeria, and the consolidation of
British colonial power under the Sokoto caliphate framed the regional motif

of British colonial policy (Last 1967; Levin 1997; Paden 1986). Fractions
emerged between the majority Muslim Hausa in the north, Christian Igbo in
“Marginal Muslims”

the southeast, and Christian and Muslim Yoruba in the southwest, and the
ethnic, religious minorities within these regions, most notably the Ogoni in
the oil-rich southeast (Crowder 1978; Falola 1998; Okpu 1977; Paden 1973;
Saro-Wiwa 1992).
The colonial transfer of state power to northern Muslims in 1960 at
Nigeria’s independence brought with it a renewed interest in world Islamic
affairs, grassroots Muslim brotherhoods and efforts to reimpose Shari’ah
codes that had been excised at independence. The Nigerian civil war in the
late 1960s generated thousands of internally displaced persons, requiring
state governments to manage disputes about the constitutional and prag-
matic rights and protections of displaced people. Under General Murtala
Mohammed and General Olusegun Obasanjo, political attempts to establish
a Federal Shari’ah Court of Appeal failed, but Shari’ah courts gained state-
level appellate status, which was incorporated into the 1979 constitution
(Williams 1997). These events, coinciding with the 1979 Iranian Revolu-
tion, emboldened reformist Muslims who considered the implementation
of Shari’ah law a way to confront Nigeria’s political economic and social
ills. Nigeria’s oil boom, in the 1970s, and the state’s “petro-capitalism” and
“spoils politics,” further deepened political antagonisms, based on ethnic,
religious, and regional interests in the control of Nigeria’s land and resources
(Falola 1998; Saro-Wiwa 1992Watts 2001). In the 1980s and 1990s, the cre-
ation of new states (Levin 1997), the convergence of religious and state poli-
tics (Falola 1998; Williams 1997), and development projects (Ocheje 1997)
again displaced large numbers of Nigerians, reviving constitutional disputes
over state jurisdictions and the ethnic, religious, and regional dimensions of
national and state rights and protections.
In northern Nigeria, conflicts over historical Islamic reform, Mahd-
ism and millenarian militancy, colonial legacies and Western influences,
and local ethnic, religious and regional perceptions of Islamic authenticity
occur in dynamic relation to Nigeria’s political economic crises (Falola 1998;
Watts 1996). Historical doctrinal disputes between Saudi Arabian Sunni
and Iranian Shia enter contemporary northern Nigerian conflicts over the
“role of the imam, umma, the importance of devotion, and legal matters”
(Falola 1998:231). Interpretations of nineteenth-century disciplinary regimes,
reformed in the Islamic scholarship and military-minded force of Shehu
Usman ‘dan Fodio, provide ongoing scripts for identifying and punishing
ethnic, religious, and regional others, in Kano State, once they are considered

africa today 54(3)

a threat to the moral order. Muslim Hausa youths such as ‘yan daba and
Hisbah come to understand these scripts as they are revived through Friday
prayer sermons, in religious media and pamphlets, by routine media depic-
tions of political violence against Muslims (Ado-Kurawa 2000), and as part
of ongoing political battles to implement Shari’ah codes in Nigeria (Kumo
1993; Okunola 1993; Yadudu 1993). With heavy media coverage of Israeli
violence against Palestinians (and now Lebanese and Hezbollah) and the

Bush administration’s “war on terrorism” and war against Saddam Hussein’s
Iraq, Muslim reformists increasingly draw upon nineteenth-century jihadi

Conerly Casey
disciplinary regimes, as well as those of contemporary resistance movements
such as Hezbollah and Hamas, for guidance in what they perceive as a war
on Muslims and the talakawa (commoners, poor).
Media, as Feldman (1994:405) suggests, separately or combined with
state and legal rationalities “can erect a cordon sanitaire around ‘acceptable’
or ‘reasonable’ chronic violence to the same extent that they successfully
infiltrate social perception to neuter collective trauma, subtract or silence
victims, and install public zones of perceptual amnesia that privatize and
incarcerate historical memory.” Reformist movements gain momentum by
extensive uses of, and responses to, media and telecommunications, embed-
ded in the profiling stratifications of state violence, violence sanctioned by
the governments of the United States, the Nigerian nation-state, and Kano’s
Shari’ah state, and state, legal, and media legitimizations of violence toward
“enemies of the state” under “wars” and “states of emergency.” Whether in
the United States, where profiling has substantially increased after 11 Sep-
tember 2001, or in Kano State, where the assessment of Islamic authenticity
intensified with the reimplementation of Shari’ah criminal codes, the “wars
of orthodoxy” require “truth-telling” to recruit for, to justify, and to hide,
ongoing colonial, imperial, and state violence against the “enemies of the
state,” typically ethnic and religious minorities, and the poor.

Kano and the geopolitics of research

In July of 2000, I returned to Kano, an ancient city of northern Nigeria, with

a population of several million. Located in the north of Nigeria toward the
border with Niger, it is the commercial and religious center of the north,
serving a vast area from Burkina Faso to the West, to Chad and Cameroon
in the East. Kaduna is the next largest city to the south, followed by Abuja,
the Nigerian capital, then Lagos on the coast.
The people of Kano have identified as Muslim Hausa for several cen-
turies, aligned with one of two Sufi orders, the Quadiriyya and the Tijani-
yya, but Kano has incorporated large communities of Yoruba (about half of
whom are Christian and half Muslim) and Igbo (predominately Christian).
It includes well-established communities of Muslim Lebanese, and smaller
communities of people from other parts of Nigeria and Africa, and from the
Middle East, Europe, and Asia.
africa today 54(3)

Kano has an emir (traditional Islamic political leader), whose ancient

palace, and the central mosque attached to it, stands in the Gari, the old
city. Surrounding the Gari, remnants of twenty-feet-high walls built during
the twelfth century create weathered hills that are crossed by indented
walkways. Most ‘yan daba hangouts and Hisbah positions of surveillance
are around the gates and walkways of their wards, points of visual power,
security, and escape.

Beyond the predominately Muslim Gari is the congested sprawl of

greater Kano, more cosmopolitan by far, a maze of commercial and industrial
“Marginal Muslims”

sections interspersed between newly developed residential quarters for the

rich. Two miles from the old walls is the tree-lined Government Residen-
tial Area (GRA), its colonial, stone houses a contrast to newer, Arab-style
residences. Unlike the Gari, there is a level of ethnic, religious, and regional
diversity within this quarter, for it is mainly populated by the Kano middle
and upper classes who work in the professions, small business and manufac-
turing, and government service. There are tensions between Muslims who
live in the single-family compounds of the GRA and their extended-family
relatives in the Gari, who complain that the Westernization and elitism
associated with life in the GRA results in an unruly selfishness that sepa-
rates Muslim Hausa families. No ‘yan daba have historically congregated
in the GRA, though in the years 1999 through 2002 the GRA became one
of the main sites of political–religious protest and violence, especially vio-
lence associated with the profiling and “states of emergency” implemented
to regulate “prostitution” and the consumption of alcohol, the other areas
being neighborhoods on the outskirts of the Gari, such as Doraye and Tudun
Wada, whose populations are also culturally mixed, but tend to be poor, and
Sabon Gari ‘the new city’, comprised of a large market and residences of
mainly southern Christians.
In the mid 1990s, the convergence of ‘yan daba and Islamic militant
sectarian violence toward ethnic, religious others formed the basis of my
interest in youth groups and the ways that Muslim Hausa youths transmute
aggression into ideologies of ethnic, religious authenticity and martyrdom,
and use them to justify witchcraft, social banditry, ethnic, religious violence,
and fighting for and against the state (Casey 1998). Between 2000 and 2002, I
used a combination of methods—participant observations, semi-structured
and person-centered interviews, archival and library research, and media
collecting—to focus on formations of youth groups that through communal
ideologies and acts suffer and mete out physical and metaphysical forms
of violence. I interviewed a hundred ‘yan daba and their family members,
Hisbah, ‘yan banga (vanguards, bodyguards), ‘yan farauta (hunters), ‘yan
tauri, (former warrior class, now ritual fighters protected by herbal magic
from the effects of weapons), drug-enforcement agents and police officers,
judges, and health professionals who treat youths wounded in battle. I sought
to understand youths’ ideologies of ethnic, religious authenticity and mar-
tyrdom, forms of personal and shared suffering, and whom they blame for
their suffering. In locations ‘yan daba deemed comfortable and safe—hotel

africa today 54(3)

rooms and joints where they frequently congregated, the rooms of friends,
abandoned buildings, their parent’s homes, my car, or on the street—I asked
youths about changing notions of personhood, respect, civility, social jus-
tice, and revenge, and how and why youth groups solidify around common
identities and the identification of enemies. I inquired about traditional
and transnational influences on youths’ integrations into youth groups and
political–religious communities. From these perspectives, I assessed groups

of youths as the objects and perpetrators of violent acts, documenting inci-
dents of interpersonal, intergroup fighting with fists, clubs, sticks, spears, or

Conerly Casey
guns, and indirect, intergroup fighting through the use of spirits and witches.
Through violent acts, I explored temporal and spatial convergences of vio-
lence with other ongoing events, ritual–religious calendars, the fetishization
of certain forms of violence, and narrations of violence that had wider social,
religious consequences than the acts of violence themselves.

Northern Nigerian youth groups

In northern Nigeria, traditional Muslim Hausa youth groups such as ‘yan

farauta and ‘yan tauri emphasize bravery and skill with weaponry and
forms of magical protection sanctioned by most Muslims. During colonial
occupation, joining these groups was banned, but they continued illicitly as
forms of youth disciplinary development, entertainment and for political,
economic survival (‘dan Asabe 1991). Their roles changed during the 1950s
with the emergence of partisan politics in northern Nigeria. The Northern
Elements Progressive Union (NEPU), a party led by Malam Aminu Kano,
which championed the rights of the poor (talakawa), put up strong opposi-
tion to the Northern Peoples’ Congress (NPC), which had the support of
the Fulani elite, traditional rulers, and British colonial administrators (‘dan
Asabe 1991). The leaders of NEPU, faced with harassment and arbitrary
arrests by the Native Authority policemen, recruited ‘yan farauta as ‘yan
banga.9 Other parties followed suit, and clashes between ‘yan banga of
different parties became routine. In 1966, the army took over, and General
Aguiyi-Ironsi, military head of state, banned all partisan politics, eliminating
most ‘yan banga activities. In 1978, General Olusegun Obasanjo as head of
state lifted the ban, and the emerging parties in Kano, the National Party
of Nigeria (NPN), dominated by wealthy businessmen and bureaucrats, and
the Peoples Redemption Party (PRP), predominately talakawa, once again
recruited ‘yan banga (‘dan Asabe 1991). On 17 January 1995, General Sani
Abacha lifted the ban he had placed on party politics early in his regime,
ushering in a new phase of ‘yan banga violence in Kano.
In the early 1990s, ‘dan Asabe (1991) considered ‘yan daba to be ‘yan
banga who were recruited from ‘yan farauta and ‘yan tauri, implying an evo-
lution in youth gangs from traditional hunters and ritual fighters to modern
gang members. Contemporary ‘yan daba, ‘yan banga, and most recently
Hisbah, are part of a larger phenomenon—the emergence of ethnic, religious
africa today 54(3)

vigilantes across Nigeria after the 1999 democratic transition and demilitar-
ization, most notably the Yoruba O’odua Peoples Congress in the southwest
(Akinyele 2001; Nolte 2004), and the Igbo Bakassi Boys of the southeast
(Baker 2002; Harnischfeger 2003; Smith 2004).10 Vanguards in the politics of
identity and citizenship, these ethnic and religious vigilantes represent diver-
gent political imaginings of Nigeria, and the use of power to enforce certain
ethnic, religious, and regional interests. With demilitarization, deregulation

and the primacy of the market, Nigerian vigilantes use violence to “control
the means of coercion,” gaining advantage in conflicts over state sovereignty
“Marginal Muslims”

and the appropriation of resources (Mbembe 2001:78).11 Violence occurs in

the struggle for national and state codification of new rights and privileges,
extrajudicial challenges to the international judiciary, the Nigerian nation
state, Nigerian state governments, and corporate elites, whom vigilantes
claim turn a deaf ear to the needs of the poor.12
Contemporary ‘yan daba align themselves with the ‘yan farauta and
‘yan tauri of two villages forty minutes to the south of Kano, Kura and ‘Yadda
‘Kwari, which they call the white team and the black team, respectively
creating an East–West divide within Kano city. The white and black teams
are essentially parallel black market economies whose members compete,
often violently, for political and economic control over Kano markets. While
‘yan daba serve as ‘yan banga for political and religious leaders, many of
whom have interests in lucrative black markets for petrol, Indian hemp,
and pharmaceuticals, they generally support the leaders who pay the most
for their services, and if they are caught with illegal items, will bail them
out of jail.
‘Yan daba speak with pride about the ‘yan farauta from ‘Yadda ‘Kwari
and Kura, expert hunters, and tauri ritual fighters who, in 1980, battled the
‘yan tauri of the Maitatsine sect,13 and in 2000 fought Christians in Kaduna
who protested the implementation of Shari’ah law, yet this relationship is
tenuous, and in some cases another source of ‘yan daba marginalization. For
instance, a mafarauci ‘hunter’ from ‘Yadda ‘Kwari described daba as:

an acquired habit, not a profession or tradition. . . . Stealing,

drinking, smoking hemp, and general antisocial behavior is
not the culture or subculture of hunters. . . . What is paining
us is that these groups of ‘yan tauri and ‘yan daba, even in the
eyes of the law and the emir, they see them as hunters, which
is not so. To us, ‘yan daba are hooligans.14
‘Yan daba who participate in violence are typically the leaders of a daba
and the inner core of members who have heart (zuciya) for their dabas and
for particular political–religious leaders. This inner core differentiates itself
from the majority of ‘yan daba, who restrict their daba involvement to
During the 1990s, skyrocketing inflation and unemployment, resulting
from the Structural Adjustment Program implemented in the 1980s by Gen-

africa today 54(3)

eral Ibrahim Babangida as head of state, ushered in greater poverty among the
talakawa and economic hardships in new sectors of the Nigerian population
(Ya’u 2000). The ranks of ‘yan daba grew from between fourteen per Kano
city ward in 1991 (‘dan Asabe 1991) to between fifty and two hundred in the
year 2000. These economic hardships widened the pool of potential recruits
into daba activities, and changed the perceptions ‘yan daba have of them-
selves and of Nigerian leaders whom they increasingly view with cynicism

and hostility (Ya’u 2000).
‘Yan daba recruits speak about getting even with people who had

Conerly Casey
“downgraded” or “underrated” them. Insults and injuries are taken as
reenactments of earlier acts, variably related to personal experience and to
cultural, religious, or political abstractions, but that nonetheless, excuse
violence. Forceful acts of domination are accompanied by outbursts of rib-
aldry and derision that seem to mock and mimic officialdom, while creat-
ing new forms of officialdom altogether (Mbembe 2001:102). A ‘dan daba,
dressed lavishly in a Muslim-style dress (riga), smoking a joint reminiscent
of Cheech and Chong, slaps an almajiri to the ground for forgetting to say
his prayers, and the crowd cheers and laughs. Using an arbitrary application
of pain and caretaking, ‘yan daba produce a combination of fear and respect
that “reinforces certain moral values within society” (‘dan Asabe (1991:99).
The felt and expressed qualities of fear and respect emerge as an entangle-
ment with what Mbembe calls the “banality of power,” part of which is a
“distinctive style of political improvisation, by a tendency to excess and
lack of proportion, as well as by distinctive ways identities are multiplied,
transformed and put into circulation” (2001:102).
‘Yan daba are the main caretakers of younger male siblings and alma-
jirai whose moral aesthetics and behaviors develop through ambiguous
attachments to social rituals and daily life in Qur’anic school and to those
of the daba street economy. Younger siblings and almajirai form the main
pool of youths from which ‘yan daba recruit.15
‘Yan daba self-identify with wards, hanging out in particular joints,
but they shift among modes of violent opposition to other wards, tolerant of
separation and eclecticism. They take non-Hausa street names, like Scorpion
or Pusher, or words combining Hausa with references to people elsewhere,
such as Kayaman ‘reggae man’ or Takur Sahab (person who has a leader in
India). ‘Yan daba have adopted a style of dress they associate with “West-
side niggers” (or Los Angeles–based rappers). In their sunglasses, chains,
and baggy jeans, ‘yan daba show a broad interest in world youth cultures,
questioning me, through whirls of Indian hemp, about the political impact of
rappers like Tupac Shakur and the revolutionary politics of his Black Panther
mother. ‘Yan daba use ideas from the Black Panthers and other revolution-
ary groups in their plans to violently force politicians to make good on their
political promises to the poor.
Until the emergence of Kano government-sponsored ward vigilantes in
1999, and the Hisbah in 2000, ‘yan daba were the main protectors of their
wards, safeguarding them from armed robberies, police brutality, communal
africa today 54(3)

violence, and crimes committed by ‘yan daba of other wards. Ward vigilan-
tes and Hisbah, agemates and neighbors of ‘yan daba, brought an intimate
challenge to the authority of ‘yan daba in the realm of ward “policing.”

Media, authentic citizenship, and the emergence of Hisbah


In the late 1970s, a burgeoning media industry and increased access to media
coincided with a powerful reformist Sunni movement, Jama’at Izalatil Bid’a
“Marginal Muslims”

wa Iqamatus Sunnah (Movement Against Negative Innovations and for

Orthodoxy),16 led by Sheikh Abubakar Gumi, former Grand Kadi (Paramount
Islamic Judge), and Mallam Isma’il Idris, a former military imam. Popularly
known as Izala, this movement’s stated purpose is reform and rejuvenation
(tajdid), inspired by Shehu Usman ‘dan Fodio’s achievements and Wahhabi–
Salafi revival, yet realized through the day-to-day struggle against what they
consider the unlawful innovation (bid’a) of Bori and the Sufi orders (Falola
1998; Hunwick 1997; Ibrahim 1991; Loimeier 1997; Umar 1993, 2001;
Williams 1997). After Friday mosque, or in response to new publications
or audiocassettes, violent conflicts are largely over doctrinal and legal dis-
putes, accusations that imams are partial to the wealthy, and for control of
mosques and public space (Falola 1998:228). ‘Yan Izala state unequivocally
that Islamic authenticity is best realized through compliance with Shari’ah
law, based on the laws of belief and conduct spelled out in the Qur’an and
the Hadith (reports of the words and deeds of the Prophet Mohammed). Gumi
writes, “Indeed, they [the Qur’an and the Hadith] should form the yardstick
by which to measure the authenticity or otherwise of any new writings
concerning the religion” (Gumi with Tsiga 1992:165).
Umar suggests the Wahhabi–Salafi “espousal of this overwhelming
emphasis on the centrality of Shari’ah in Islamic beliefs and practices is com-
parable to the legal positivism that pervades modernity” (Umar 2001:133).
Stressing other aspects of modern life—the promotion of social justice and
equality, a preference for bureaucratic rules over charismatic authority,
universal education, including the education of women, and the provision
of social services and amenities—‘yan Izala have converted thousands of
Nigerian Muslims to their form of Islamic orthodoxy. The intellectualism
of the Izala leadership, with vast funding from Saudi Arabia and Kuwait,
contributed to a rapid explosion of Izala publications, radio and television
programs, and cassettes, which compete with media from other parts of
Nigeria and the world.
During the 1990s, an increase in the speed and density of media and
telecommunications, and thus, amplification in the intercultural account-
ings of Nigeria’s worsening “realities,” conjoined a split within the Muslim
Students’ Society’s anti-Sufi-order reformers, many of whom had previous
Izala affiliations, into the pro-Saudi, Wahhabi-inspired missionary move-
ment (da’wa), and the pro-Iranian umma (Ibrahim 1991), which took a
firm stance on the implementation of Shari’ah and the establishment of

africa today 54(3)

an Islamic state. The umma split again into the Hodabiya, which favored
some accommodation with a secular state, and ‘yan Shia, who, inspired
by the mujahidin struggle in Afghanistan and Islamic state-formation in
Iran, preached no compromise with the secular state (Hunwick 1997:39).
Western-educated Sheikh Ibrahim El-Zakzaky, leader of the Islamic Move-
ment in Nigeria, whose members are sometimes called ‘yan Shia, was an
early opponent of the idea to reimplement Shari’ah criminal codes in Kano.

With increased international criticism of the implementation of those codes,
he appeared frequently in the media decrying the U.S. Bush administration’s

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“war on terrorism” as a war against Muslims. ‘Yan Shia refer to Yoruba
President Olusegun Obasanjo as “the U.S.’s boy,” implying Yoruba ethnic
support for U.S. government policies. Though El-Zakzaky insists that he and
his followers are not Shi’ite, they wear the garments of Iranian clerics, dis-
tribute Shi’a literature, and echo Shi’a doctrine in their own publications.17
El-Zakzaky and his followers have been routinely imprisoned on charges of
posing a threat to state security by denouncing the Nigerian State as a system
of nonbelievers (kafirai).
Before the implementation of Shari’ah law in Kano, Hisbah of diverse
religious sects and factions drew together as “Nigerian Orthodox Muslims,”
following the model of such Nigerian reformists as Shehu Usman ‘dan
Fodio, Sheikh Abubakar Gumi, Mallam Isma’il Idris, and Sheikh Ibrahim El-
Zakzaky, and such scholars as Ibn Abd al-Wahhab, from eighteenth-century
Arabia, and Ibn Taymiyya, of the fourteenth century, Sudan’s Hasan al-Turabi,
and Iranians such as Ayatollah Murtadha Mutahhari, protégé of Ayatollah
Ruhollah Khomeini, who sought “to establish the rule of the oppressed”
(Sanusi 2006a, b). Through bitter political struggles with Dr. Rabiu Kwank-
waso (Kano State Governor), the emir (Alhaji Ado Bayero) and the Sufi estab-
lishment, members of reformist sects united in the struggle for Shari’ah and
violently forced the implementation of Shari’ah law as Kano State criminal
law, claiming the governor, the emir and certain religious leaders were not
“good Muslims.”18 Beyond local level politics, much Hisbah anger and politi-
cal momentum came from identification with the talakawa in relation to
failures of the international judicial system and global inequities:

We have to confront the evildoers. The Hisbah exist and have

100% support from God. Most of the vices committed by
poor people . . . are because of the poor leadership in America,
England, and Switzerland. Why did they allow our leaders to
go and take our money there?19
Increased religious proselytizing, surveillance, and political–religious
conflicts, framed and legitimated by state, legal, and media rationalities
and unprecedented poverty, compromised the abilities of young Muslim
Hausa, whether Sufi or recently converted to reformist Sunni or Shi’a sects,
to maintain lafiya (balance in all areas of life—social, spiritual, psychical,
physical). Young Muslim Hausa men living in the Gari began avoiding non-
Muslim media, vigilantly reading the litany of prayers (Hausa, wuridi) that
africa today 54(3)

Sufis recite, until they lost a sense of time, place, and identity, and disturbed
their relatives with shouting and bizarre behavior. Spirits from far away
places such as India, the United States, and the Sudan possessed women and
men with greater frequency, causing new symptoms such as spontaneous
“dancing like they do in Indian film” and “American break dancing,” inter-
spersed with paralyses (Casey 1998, forthcoming).20 Debates within various
healing communities about the prevalence and signification of rashin lafiya

‘imbalance in all areas of life’ led to a focus on the excessive consumption

of non-Muslim media among Kano youths, and to mistrust and xenophobia,
“Marginal Muslims”

culminating with increased “orthodox” spirit exorcisms. During these exor-

cisms, Hausa malams, funded by Wahhabi Muslims in Saudi Arabia and
wealthy Nigerian reformist Muslims, forcefully read the Qur’an into the
ears of possessed persons, “heating up” the spirits, while placing pressure
on them to convert to Islam before expulsion. Malams, trained by Wahhabi
Muslims who had come to Kano to teach an orthodox form of exorcism,
converted humans and spirits to orthodoxy. They suggested that through
these conversions, Muslims might gain respect for the boundaries Allah
established between humans and spirits, distinguishing pious Muslims from
those who interacted with spirits.
Young Muslim Hausa appeared to be under pressure from two para-
doxical notions of being authentic (na gaske), framed and underpinned by
conflicts between Muslims of different sects and factions. One was the
experience of cultural and religious identity as more and more open to
choice, whereas lived experience was increasingly one of the impossibility
of “authentic” identity. Young people experienced high levels of anxiety and
self-consciousness about intersubjective religious identifications, alongside a
striving for independence in thinking and behavior. Second, they expressed
a concern about Western education (boko) and tendencies to dwell in imagi-
nation and fantasy, all of which conflicted with an idealized Islamic self-
identity and the ability to be “for real” spiritually. Musa, a young Muslim
Hausa, wrote in his personal diary:21

I have suppressed some of my favorite habits in the course of

my “Muslim Brotherhood,” not because I came to hate them,
no, but because they are “bad,” without actually assimilating
their badness. Some vital habits which are actually the source
of refreshing my mind, my source of apparent happiness. The
result is that my life became flat, dead, without any enjoy-
ment. No doubt, some of the habits are not good spiritually,
but then unless I have developed spiritually enough to leave
these things naturally, convincingly, all apparent stoppage of
these habits are just detrimental to my self. It makes me lose
the essence of life. The habits are burning in the inner self and
the false self is suppressing them. Yes, when I develop spiritu-
ally with the true self, I shall leave some of these things, i.e.,
music, movies. In sha Allah.

africa today 54(3)

The paradoxes Musa experienced took on additional significance in rela-
tion to Sufi and reformist Sunni teachings about how one attains religious
knowledge, whether for instance, “authentic” knowledge is embodied and
practiced or scriptural and learned, and whether global forms of related
knowledge and self-expression are sources of knowledge or paths to hell. Ide-
alisms associated with forming an Islamic state that would rectify Nigeria’s

worsening realities by restoring Islamic “authenticity,” and the sensorial
memories associated with taqwa ‘fear of God’, and tahara ‘ritual purity’,

Conerly Casey
reflected and constituted conflations of Islamic authenticity, morality and
security, a jihad against self and others, censorship and self-censorship.
Among Muslims, persistent conflicts about whether to sanction reli-
gious history and mystical traditions that predate the nineteenth-century
Islamic jihad led by reformist Shehu Usman ‘dan Fodio have become the
norm, with Qadiriyya and reformist Sunnis claiming him as a member of
their sects.22 Litigation between ‘yan Bori has become increasingly common,
focusing on the “genuineness” and “originality” of ‘yan Bori, and their
capacity to represent Hausa “traditional culture.” There are complex pat-
terns of conflict, for Bori, as traditional culture, is tolerated and protected
by the Sufi emirate, yet condemned by reformist Muslims who lay claim
to orthodoxy, sharply differentiating themselves against the heterodoxy of
Bori and the “un-Islamic practices” of the Sufi brotherhoods (Ibrahim 1991;
Loimeier 1997).
Well-funded at a time when the Nigerian national government was in
a fiscal “state of emergency” and neither willing to provide regular salaries
for government employees, nor social services and amenities for the poor,
members of reformist movements became rapidly absorbed with the needs
of Muslims, converting hundreds of Sufis, through education and free spirit
exorcisms, to Shi’a and Sunni forms of orthodoxy. Conflicts between reform-
ist Sunni Muslims and nonreformist Sufis and ‘yan Bori emerged in response
to the sensory structures associated with Sufi and Bori ritual uses of music,
dance, perfumes, and amulets, visiting the tombs of Sufi saints, and excessive
feasting and celebrations—practices that draw spirits to humans. Reformist
Sunnis considered all of these practices forms of shirk (polytheism, or the
forbidden association of partners such as humans, the jinn or witches with
Allah),23 bid’a, and blasphemy (sab’o), and to be economically excessive,
with reformist Shi’a concurring that many of these practices were emblem-
atic of, or infused with, animism and Western capitalism, yet what consti-
tuted shirk, bid’a, or sab’o, or the conspicuous consumption of Western
capitalism, was always a matter of interpretation and debate. For instance,
in times of political conflict, most notably the 1999 violence in Kaduna, over
the implementation of Shari’ah law, many reformist Sunnis and Shi’as relied
on the use of “traditional” ritual forms of medicinal protection, heightening
enmity between reformist Sunnis, Shi’as, and nonreformist Sufis. Umar, a
Sufi ‘dan tauri (people who make and use ritual herbal medicines to prevent
injury from weapons), said:
africa today 54(3)

Now, mafarauta [hunters], ‘yan Izala, and a businessman will

all seek to find tauri medicine. Before, ‘yan Izala condemned
these practices, but now it is a lie. During the Kaduna crisis,
there was one ‘dan Izala who really fought. He sent a car
asking for tauri medicine, but nobody sent it to them. They
used to condemn the practices of wearing amulets and drink-

ing rubutu.24 They said these are all blasphemy. But Allah says
stand up and I will help you.25
“Marginal Muslims”

The struggle to implement Shari’ah law in Kano drew together reformist

Sunnis and Shi’as and nonreformist Sufis, against protesting Christians,
yet exacerbated conflicts over historical perceptions of Nigerian ethnic and
Islamic authenticity and belonging. Sufi critics of Hisbah complained that
the insults, intimidations, and violence of Hisbah were outside of Shari’ah
law, insisting that most of the “troublemakers” were not Nigerians, but
Nigerien or Chadian, perhaps ‘yan Tatsine.26 Addressing the charges of
Hisbah abuses of power, Yusuf, a member of Hisbah, told me:

The government said some Hisbah are not Nigerian, some

are not Muslim, and some are not from Kano. The governor
thought some ‘yan daba had found their way into Hisbah.27

National, regional and ethnic dimensions of religious ideology and prac-

tice became central discourses in a shift from the policing of “un-Islamic
practices” to the profiling of “un-Islamic people”—a conflation of ethnicity
with Islamic authenticity that sharply differentiated ethnic Muslims who
supported the implementation of Shari’ah law from those who sabotaged it.
Hisbah focused on non-Hausa Muslims, particularly Muslim Yoruba, the
second-largest ethnic group of Nigerian Muslims, as a powerful stumbling
block to Islamic unity and reform.

Excluding Minorities: Democracy as “Majority Rules”

Hisbah and ‘yan daba considered Shari’ah law to be a democratic form of

governance, but they differed in the emotional attachments they had to
democratic values. Hisbah tended to equate Shari’ah law with a democracy
of majority rules, while ‘yan daba emphasized social justice and individual
human rights. For instance, a member of Hisbah said:

We are a democracy. We are the majority. And, the Islamic

injunction is superior to any other injunction. So they say it’s
a government of the people, for the people, by the people—
Abraham Lincoln, American President. .  .  . Since this is a

africa today 54(3)

democracy, we can use it (Shari’ah) as a political weapon,
to make sure that someone who is conscious of Shari’ah is

By contrast, a response I commonly heard among ‘yan daba is reflected by

the statement:

We are all Muslims. Shari’ah will help us to know each other
better. In this way, crimes will be reduced and the rich and

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poor will be the same under the law.29

‘Yan daba described their hopes for jobs and schooling, healthcare, and per-
sonal reforms in behaviors such as their use of alcohol, forms of idealism
reflected in wider discourses of support for Shari’ah law. However, alongside
these public narratives of support for Shari’ah law, ‘yan daba activities
revealed mistrust, anger, and feelings of betrayal. ‘Yan daba developed ward
“lookouts,” who monitored their neighborhoods for Hisbah. Some said dis-
cretion was their best protection from Hisbah because “Shari’ah works with
eye-witnessing a crime.” Others said they would allow Hisbah to preach to
them, but would not change. A member of daba smoking Indian hemp on
the side of a major road joked with Hisbah:

These Hisbah are hypocrites. They do these things, but they

hide in their houses. We do it in the open because we only fear
God. We fear God, while they fear other people. We are the
only true Muslims.30

‘Yan daba and Hisbah were concerned with masculine power and the
moral authority to secure an area. A member of Hisbah said, “We are over
a hundred and we are ready to lose our lives to defend this town.”31 A ‘dan
daba who was a strong supporter of Shari’ah said:

‘Daba actions and mode of life do not conform with what soci-
ety wants, so people like the Hisbah are the ones who abuse
them. If they come and meet ‘yan daba committing an offense,
they will try to arrest them; thus there is this kind of indirect
abuse or small talk between them. . . . But ‘yan daba will not
stop because they would be labeled as cowards.32
Another ‘dan daba said:

We can stop our activities perhaps, . . . but you should remem-
ber that if a person is just killed without committing any
offense, do you think if the Shari’ah doesn’t do anything about
it that we will let the matter rest? To me, you cannot give
advice to ‘yan daba after such a thing. . . . The Shari’ah says if
africa today 54(3)

you kill a man, you should be killed too. So why should you
kill and not be killed?33

‘Yan daba, who were on intimate, joking terms with Hisbah from their
wards, responded to the personal character (hali) of Hisbah in face-to-face
confrontations. They most respected Hisbah whom they perceived to be gen-
erous, fair, and sincere about their social roles, people they considered to be

Islamically “real.” Hisbah and ‘yan daba claimed “affective citizenship”—

the feeling of belonging to, and having agency within the reforming govern-
“Marginal Muslims”

ment of Kano State, through daily challenges of masculine power and Islamic
authenticity, in tension with the democratic notions of majority rule and the
protection of individual human rights.

Profiling and the Jihad against Visible Enemies and the Devil

With the November 2000 formal implementation of Shari’ah law as Kano

State criminal law, a struggle emerged between reformist Muslims over sec-
tarian control of the government, marked by accusations of kafirai (nonbeliev-
ers), and debate about the qualities of political leadership and visibly lived
examples that were important for public reform. A split within the Kano State
Shari’ah Implementation Committee emerged between Muslims who insisted
on the enforcement of Shari’ah law before the establishment of jobs, social
services, and provisions, for people like ‘yan daba, and those who believed
that it was impossible for the poor, marginalized or otherwise disadvantaged
to obey Shari’ah law in its entirety without these amenities. This division
deepened through the politically motivated enforcement of Shari’ah criminal
codes, which were applied to particular groups of people at times integral
to the implementation of Shari’ah law: Muslim Hausa and Muslim Yoruba
women, Muslim Yoruba and Christian Igbo owners of businesses that served
alcohol, ‘yan daba and ‘yan Bori. Ironically, Hisbah did not enforce the distri-
bution of zakat (obligatory alms, one of the five pillars of Islam) or regulations
prohibiting usury (interest on loans), which might have aided the talakawa,
but focused on the crimes of theft, zina (adultery or fornication, depending on
one’s marital status), and the use of alcohol (Iman [2002] 2006:3).
A conjoined aesthetics of dress and bodily practice, emblematic of
orthodoxy—beards, austere riguna ‘robes, gowns’, as opposed to ones elabo-
rately embroidered and colorful, and stockings for women—became highly
visible markers of Hausa Islamic reform. Hisbah, who wore a green tunic
uniform with the word Hisbah written across the front in white, considered
Kano State an Islamic democracy, based on the concept of majority rule,
whereby through control of the population, the law, and government coffers,
reformist Muslims would provide for the basic needs of all Muslim Hausa.
Yusuf said:

We know we are a democracy where the majority are Muslims.

africa today 54(3)

We believe in Islam under Islamic law, and we believe one
hundred percent that Islamic injunctions are superior to all
other injunctions, and that the Qur’anic constitution is supe-
rior to any other constitution. . . . Hisbah is the organization
to take care of the law. We are going ahead. The governor is
not ready and is going to withdraw all support, so the Hisbah
are using the truth to stop what we can stop.34

In the early stages of Shari’ah implementation, there was little money

Conerly Casey
for the creation of jobs, social services, or education, other than reformist
Islamic education, funded by Saudis, Kuwaitis, Iraqis, and wealthy Nigeri-
ans. Instead, the Kano State Shari’ah Implementation Committee started
campaigns against the sale and consumption of alcohol and prostitution, and
for marriages of all unmarried Muslim Hausa women. Sanusi, a member of
Hisbah, told me:

Women are the people to bring all moral conduct. It is for them
to teach children. They are our mothers, so we like them to be
in front. They are the figureheads of everything moral.35

Hisbah complained that Muslim Yoruba and Christian women, not practic-
ing the partial seclusion (kulle) of Muslim Hausa women, were “too indepen-
dent,” available attractions for Muslim men. Among Muslim Hausa, failing
to maintain what is considered proper control of one’s love, including mari-
tal and familial relations, erotic desires, and sexual behavior, is a religious
lapse, a falling into non-Muslim patterns of indulgence and romanticism
(Callaway and Creevey 1994; Wall 1988). Because erotic desire and sexual
urges are considered natural and inevitable, moral virtue is relative to one’s
behavior within the family, the guardian and container of eros and sex.
Unmarried women and women who live alone are commonly called karuwai
(prostitutes), bound to men only through sex and money, potential sources
of communal betrayal. There is a widespread sentiment among Muslim
Hausa that ethnic others, spirit and human, and members of the opposite sex,
men and women, are “uncontrollable”—that, without volition, their erotic
desires and sexual activities inevitably overflow the boundaries of marriage.36
During the implementation itself, ‘yan daba received silent encouragement
(or thought they did) and condemnation from reformist Muslims to frighten
and attack Muslim women, married and unmarried, who ventured out of
their homes unaccompanied.
Conceptions of reformist interventions in moral, social order are
widely associated with conservative ideologies of gender and family, yet ‘yan
Shi’a and ‘yan Izala simultaneously developed strong educational programs
for women and persuaded women to participate in politics. Muslim Hausa
women, marrying and having babies, were a major front in the domestic poli-
tics of democracy as majority rule, but they also participated in protests and
other public displays of reformist political affiliation. In December of 2000,
africa today 54(3)

thousands of Hausa women protested in front of the Kano State Government

House to ask the governor, Dr. Rabiu Kwankwaso, for a stricter implementa-
tion of Shari’ah—that the bans on alcohol and prostitution were not strong
enough to prevent Muslim Hausa husbands and sons from enjoying these
pleasures. Referring to the women’s protest, a member of Hisbah said:

Politics is there for the religion. All of the questions raised


by women were supposed to be raised by men, but when men

start raising an alarm, it won’t be looked on with gentle eyes:
“Marginal Muslims”

people would be dead.37

To avoid arrest, reformist Muslims who ventured out to consume alcohol

changed from Muslim Hausa riguna into Western cut shirts tucked into pants,
a style Muslim Hausa jokingly referred to as wasp (zanzaro)—an indication
of the immodesty of Christians and Muslim Yoruba who show their bodily
contours. Concerned with the “visibility of immorality,” Hisbah arrested
their agemates and the poor more often than their elders for consumption
of alcohol and for wearing clothes, such as short skirts, associated with
“prostitution,”—strata of society less able to hide in cars or guesthouses.
In northern Nigeria, Hausa ethnicity and the Muslim religion are
conflated because of the predominance of Muslim Hausa. By contrast, about
half of all Yoruba are Muslim, so that the categories of ethnicity and religion
function more readily as independent sources of identification. In 1999,
‘yan daba attacked Muslim Yoruba living in Kano as “retribution” for the
Yoruba attacks on Muslim Hausa in Sagamu, a town in the southwestern
Ogun State. Following this attack, the lead story in the Weekly Trust (Hausas
massacred in Sagamu 1999:1–2), one of the most widely read newspapers in
northern Nigeria, described ‘yan daba as a future ethnic army:

The ‘Yan daba, a reserve army of unemployed youths, have

acted in ways that suggest that they can metamorphose into
a tribal army some day. In 1999, when Hausa residents of
Sagamu town in Ogun State had a clash with their Yoruba
hosts, it was the ‘Yan daba group that organized a reprisal
attack against Yoruba residents in Kano.

In an interview about Muslim Yoruba killing Muslim Hausa in Lagos

(Weekly Trust, 4–10 August 2000), the Secretary-General of the Supreme
Council for Islamic Affairs said:
We have too many nominal Muslims in the south who are
ignorant of their religion. . . . THEY CAN BE used by some
other people who think that Shari’ah is a monster which they
must attack.

Media depictions of Muslim Yoruba “marginality” and their potential

betrayal of reformist Muslims converged with Hisbah discussions of Yoruba

africa today 54(3)

influence on Kano State and Nigerian national government officials. Muslim
scholar Ado-Kurawa (2000:273) describes the denigration of southern
Muslims as a ploy by Christian Yoruba to separate the north and the south:

For several years the fanatical Christian Yoruba tribalists

have led a propaganda campaign against northern Muslims.
The idea being to isolate and demonize northern Muslims

thereby making them ready targets for extermination by all
other Nigerians.

Conerly Casey
According to Ado-Kurawa (2000:324), Christian Yoruba controlled media,
backed by Christian imperialists, are the main force behind the anti-Shari’ah

All the tools acquired from the “psychological job” done on

Africans by the imperialists have now been deployed against
this adversary (Islam). The use of the tools perfected by their
European Christian patrons has been very easy for the Yoruba
Christian dominated Nigerian media. They portray the
Shari’ah as barbaric and uncivilized.

Hisbah used profiling techniques to identify the ideologies, practices

and people who might undermine Kano’s Shari’ah State. They ethnicized
religious knowledge (ilimi) and the “Islamic authenticity” of signs, people,
and practices, and nafs, control over biopsychological processes, such as
sexual desires, accusing Muslim Yoruba of directly or indirectly patron-
izing alcoholic, mixed-gendered celebrations of the worship of false gods,
namely Oro, Egungun, Sango, Oshun, and Ogun. Because of the closeness
of these gods to the Yoruba institution of kingship, Hisbah claimed that
Yoruba political leaders promoted polytheism, alcoholic inebriation, and
womanizing under the guise of culture.

“States of Emergency”

In March of 2001, Dr. Abdullahi Ganduje, the reformist Sunni Deputy Gov-
ernor of Kano State, announced an Islamic “state of emergency,” referring to
the inability of Shari’ah law, as it was being practiced in Kano State, to stop
“prostitution” and the sale and consumption of alcohol. In conflict with the
governor, Dr. Ganduje led Hisbah on a series of raids to local hotels, restau-
rants, and “cool spots,” where Hisbah verbally abused patrons and destroyed
millions of dollars’ worth of alcohol. Because Christian Igbo and Muslim
Yoruba owned most of these businesses, these raids bankrupted some, and
scared others into a mass exodus. Establishments stayed indefinitely closed
or operated at odd hours or with armed guards patrolling the gates. Jokes
about “dying for a drink” became a permanent fixture, as humor rose to
africa today 54(3)

meet increased levels of anxiety. Rumors about the arming of Muslims and
Christians came more frequently. In response, President Olusegun Obasanjo
called Dr. Ganduje to Abuja, stating in public that the deputy governor had
endangered Nigerian state security, thus reframing Kano’s Islamic “state of
emergency” as a national one.

Concluding Remarks
“Marginal Muslims”

The Kano State reformist jihad, resulting in the implementation of Shari’ah

criminal codes expressed the tensions of democratization and censorship,
and ongoing historical perceptions of “bad” Muslims as kafirai (non-believ-
ers) and ba’ki (strangers), derived from ethnic, regional, and Islamic sectarian
concepts of Islamic authenticity. While social justice, through the concept
of Muslim unity and reform, was a common goal for ‘yan daba and Hisbah,
it was based on the paradoxical notion of an Islamic nation-state, founded
by and through the violence that affectively placed ‘yan daba and Hisbah
outside of Shari’ah law. Youths with different visions of Shari’ah law as
democracy, and of “affective citizenships” under Shari’ah law, ‘yan daba
and Hisbah, along with the reformist leaders who targeted or supported
them, recreated and reenacted collective Islamic identities, legitimating
state violence against “marginal Muslims,” whom they considered “enemies
of the state.” Ultimately, Islamic state-building drew on political antago-
nisms, fusions of personal, ethnic, religious, and regional citizenship, based
on ethnic customary law, religious law, and the historical perceptions of
enclosure and exclusion, all of which underpin memories of belonging and
access to Kano State resources. Islamic state-building became a work of
ethnic, religious, and regional conflation, which conflicted with, and super-
seded, personal and non-Muslim Hausa expressions of Islamic authenticity,
morality, and security. By profiling “marginal Muslims,” censoring them,
and enacting violence to expel them, ‘yan daba, Hisbah and the reformist
leaders who recruited them into violent struggle, used state, legal and media
rationalities to permeate social perception, to establish self and community
censorship as a means of hiding state violence, and to silence the memories
and agencies of “marginal Muslims.” Nigerian reformist Muslims, failing
to fully convert, expel, or silence the “marginalized,” used ‘yan daba and
state law to physically enforce certain historical perceptions while censoring
others, sacrificing other Muslims and the bodies of youths to the “Wars of
Orthodoxy”—a microcosm of world conflict at home.

I am grateful to Aminu Sharif Bappa, Abdulkarim ‘dan Asabe, and Show Boy for introducing me
to ‘yan daba and Hisbah, and to the ‘yan daba, Hisbah, and families who allowed me into their
lives. For reasons of confidentiality, they shall remain unnamed, but I greatly appreciate my
experiences with them. I thank Abdulkarim ‘dan Asabe, Salisu Abdullahi, Phillip Shea, Murray

africa today 54(3)

Last, Istvan Patkai, Aminu Taura Abdullahi, Aminu Inuwa, and Umar Sanda for their important
contributions to my thinking about this project. I thank faculty in the Departments of Psychiatry
and Sociology at Bayero University in Kano for research affiliations and a sense of home base. I
am greatly indebted to Robert Edgerton, Douglas Hollan, Allen Feldman, Uli Linke, and Alexan-
der Hinton for their mentoring, and to Benjamin F. Soares and Marie Nathalie LeBlanc for inviting
me to participate in this volume. The project would have been impossible without the generous
support of a Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation Award (2000–2002), the skillful guidance of
Karen Colvard, and a Fulbright IIE Lecturing/Research Award (2004).

Conerly Casey

1. The civil code of Shari’ah law, which guides matters such as marriage, divorce, child custody,
and inheritance, has been continuously in place since the nineteenth century (Gumi with
Tsiga 1992:50). The change in 1999 and 2000 involved a reimposition of the criminal code of
Shari’ah that had been in place during the colonial period (under the control of the British,
who had outlawed hadd punishments, which they found “repugnant”), but had been excised
at independence (Kumo 1993:7–8).
2. While many Muslims considered Shari’ah law as an alternative to, or critique of, colonial and
postcolonial elitism and corruption, the Independent Shari’ah Implementation Committee
was the first group to implement it as a legal structure, with Hisbah (Shari’ah law enforcers),
Sirhul (committee of community elders), and Shura (Shari’ah court judges).
3. Scholarly debate about the impact of Shi’a Muslims on the politics of religion in northern
Nigeria is based on the notion of “authentic” Shi’a identity and a preference for doctrinal, rather
than communal, identification (Gumi with Tsiga 1992; Umar 2001).
4. Bori is widely regarded as animism or a spirit-possession cult, which predated Islam (Besmer
1983; Greenberg 1946; Masquelier 1993; Onwuegeogwu 1969; Palmer 1914; Tremearne 1914).
Scholars describe the Bori spirit-possession rituals, practiced in Kano State, as religious
opposition to Islam (Besmer 1983; Onwuegeogwu 1969) and as alternative or oppositional
gender experience and expression (Callaway 1987; Wall 1988). ‘Yan Bori consider themselves
Muslims, while Kano reformist Muslims variably refer to them as “fallen Muslims,” “marginal
Muslims,” or “pagans.”
5. After the implementation of Shari’ah law, in November of 2000, members of the Indepen-
dent Shari’ah Implementation Committee Sirhul (community of elders) and Shura (Islamic
judges) condemned Hisbah violence as “un-Islamic.” The Kano State government formed
the Kano State Shari’a Implementation Committee to address charges that Hisbah were
“abusing their powers.” The government retained most Hisbah from the Kano Independent
Shari’a Implementation Committee, but provided increased supervision and a written code
of conduct.
6. Nafs refer to the biopsychological powers of humans, such as feelings, emotions, sexual
desires, and carnal appetites.
7. See Casey (2007) for an analysis of the Kano ‘yan daba violence that occurred on 11 May 2004
against kafirai, Kiristoci, and ba’ki.
8. Personal communication, Professor Phillip Shea, Department of History, Bayero University,
Kano, Nigeria, 19 July 2004.
9. During the 1950s, Fulani elite used the al’kali (Islamic judge) courts for “political ends, to sup-
africa today 54(3)

press dissent, especially by adherents of the Northern Elements Progressive Union” (Christelow
10. Pratten (2005:2) suggests Annang vigilantes come to terms with Nigerian state disorder “by
means of brokerage, by inserting themselves within political and economic niches,” arrived at
through monitoring and surveillance, and ambiguous notions of accountability. Gore and Prat-
ten (2003:213) find “popular responses to disorder contribute to an ‘insurgent’ construction of
the public realm in which groups marginalized and excluded challenge the logic, locations,

patterns of discourse[,] and constructions of the public good.”

11. Demilitarization led to a security vacuum, with retrenched military personnel and under-
“Marginal Muslims”

paid Nigerian police officers increasingly involved in armed robberies and other forms of
extrajudicial violence.
12. Saro-Wiwa (1992) documents routine pleas to the United Nations and to the Nigerian nation-
state for public safety and a fair claim to oil revenues and jobs.
13. According to the Report of Tribunal of Inquiry on Kano Disturbances, Maitatsine ‘The One
Who Curses’ (a nickname given to him by Kano residents) came to Kano from Damaturu
in Borno State. He claimed that Kano Muslims had no direction (kibla), and he repeatedly
shouted at them, “May Allah separate you from all of His blessings!” He considered himself
a prophet, whose followers were “original” Muslims, uncorrupted by unlawful innovation
(bid’a) and shirk.
14. Interview with a hunter, ‘Yadda ‘Kwari, Nigeria, 26 October 2000.
15. Ya’u (2000) describes the social services ‘yan daba have historically provided for their
wards, including labor for community projects, protection, sporting and cultural events for
community entertainment, and enforcing the community discipline.
16. While there have been a number of slightly different names and translations given to this
movement, this is the name Gumi gave to it at its inception, 8 February 1978, in Jos, Nigeria
(Gumi with Tsiga 1992:155–156).
17. El-Zakzaky, former leader of the Muslim Brothers, a Sunni sect, developed close relations with
Iranian scholars and frequently traveled to Iran. Many of his followers, funded by scholarships
from the Iranian government, claim to be Shi’a.
18. ‘Yan daba threatened to use their black-market petrol to burn down the city of Kano if the Kano
State governor refused to sign Shari’ah criminal codes into Kano State law.
19. Interview with a member of Hisbah, Kano, Nigeria, 3 August 2001.
20. Indian masala film is the most popular genre watched in Kano, followed by Chinese Kung Fu,
and Nigerian magical and American crime films (Larkin 1998).
21. Musa, and all subsequent names that I use to ease the narratives of Kano Muslims, are
pseudonyms, meant to protect their identities.
22. Please see Paden (1986:43) for scholarship that supports both positions. During the transition
to independence, the Sardauna of Sokoto, Ahmadu Bello, revived the works of Shehu Usman
‘Dan Fodio to unify northern Muslims, regardless of brotherhood or legal school.
23. ‘Yan Shi’a and ‘yan Izala consider secular human legislation one of the most egregious forms
of shirk because it places humans on par with Allah (Westerlund 1997:309).
24. Rubutu is a Muslim Hausa treatment for rashin lafiya (imbalance in all areas of life—psychical,
spiritual, social, physical). To take rubutu, the afflicted person writes Qur’anic verses on a board
or bowl, washes it with water, and drinks the solution, to, literally, internalize the medicinal
25. Interview with a hunter, ‘Yadda ‘Kwari, Nigeria, 9 September 2000.

africa today 54(3)

26. This sentiment, that violence in Kano is a manifestation of aggressive intrusions from the
“outside,” is widespread, and cuts across historical perceptions of violence from colonization
to the most recent massacres of Christians in 2004 (Casey 1998, 2007).
27. Interview with a member of Hisbah, Kano, Nigeria, 15 January 2001.
28. Interview with a member of Hisbah, Kano, Nigeria, 12 August 2001.
29. Interview with a ‘dan daba, Kano, Nigeria, 13 October 2001.
30. Interview with a ‘dan daba, Kano, Nigeria, 12 September 2001.

31. Interview with a member of Hisbah, Kano, Nigeria, 3 August 2001.
32. Interview with a ‘dan daba, Kano, Nigeria, 29 January 2001.

Conerly Casey
33. Interview with a ‘dan daba, Kano, Nigeria, 23 February 2000.
34. Interview with a member of Hisbah, Kano, Nigeria, 3 August 2001.
35. Interview with a member of Hisbah, Kano, Nigeria, 15 January 2001.
36. Before the implementation of Shari’ah law, I witnessed the exorcism of a Muslim Yoruba spirit
who had possessed a Muslim Hausa woman because “he loved her.” The malams performing
the exorcism challenged him to recite from the Qur’an—to prove, in other words, his Islamic
authenticity—before firmly establishing his possession as “oppression.”
37. Interview with a member of Hisbah, Kano, Nigeria, 3 August 2001.


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