When fighters linked to al-Qaida swept into Timbuktu on 1 April 2012, Dr Ibrahim Maiga found himself living a nightmare. The new rulers of west Africa’s most famous centre of Islamic scholarship immediately set about destroying its history. Over the following months they set fire to thousands of ancient manuscripts, destroyed the mausoleums of local holy men and forced musicians into exile. For the invaders, many of whom were from Algeria and other parts of the region, “saint worship” and music were un-Islamic. The new sharia court wasted no time issuing death sentences to anyone who violated its creed.
State officials fled before the onslaught, and Dr Ibrahim became the most senior medic in Timbuktu. Overnight, he found himself responsible for providing healthcare to a population of 60,000. “The first responsibility of government is governance, then security,” he said. “But the state left. They all ran away.”
The rebellion had started that January. Tuareg nationalists who had served in the army of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi had returned from Libya the previous summer, armed with heavy weapons plundered from the collapsing regime’s arsenal. They then launched an uprising in pursuit of an independent Tuareg homeland in northern Mali. The government’s shambolic mismanagement of the uprising angered army chiefs, and in March they conducted a coup in the capital Bamako, hundreds of miles to the south. With the state in disarray, the Tuareg rebels teamed up with Islamist groups, and together they drove the army out of northern Mali – an area the size of Spain. But the jihadists soon cast the Tuaregs aside and imposed their own brutal form of governance across the northern regions of Gao, Kidal and Timbuktu.
The occupation lasted 10 months. On 28 January 2013, French and Malian troops retook Timbuktu, and it was placed under the protection of United Nations peacekeepers. UN vehicles still patrol the town, guarding it from bandits who raid the surrounding villages. But while the UN provides essential services, the government has yet to return. The few officials who have ventured north have been threatened, or simply assassinated. This June, a senior UN official in Timbuktu told us that “the return of administrators is a key priority”, but they admitted that many of the Malian officials who had been flown into the north on UN planes quickly abandoned their posts.
In the state’s absence, Mali’s northern desert has become a vast, lawless expanse at the centre of west Africa; a crossroads for drugs, people and arms that links territories held by Boko Haram in Niger and Nigeria to the bases of veteran jihadists in Libya and Algeria. It is a security nightmare for west Africa, and increasingly for Europe, which fears the creation of yet another haven for terrorism.
Despite the presence of UN peacekeepers and ongoing French counter-insurgency operations, Islamist militants have attacked civilian targets all over Mali. At least 342 people have been killed this year alone. Driving into towns on motorbikes, gunmen have torched government buildings and executed local officials. In March, a lone attacker hurled a grenade into La Terrasse, a popular nightclub in Bamako, then opened fire with an automatic weapon, killing five people. The most deadly attack came last week, on Friday 20 November, when 170 people were taken hostage at the Radisson Blu, a luxury hotel in the capital. Before the captives could be liberated, 19 were killed. Two foreign jihadist groups, al-Mourabitoun and al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, claimed responsibility.
The next day, the Malian president Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta delivered a defiant statement outside the hotel, declaring that terrorism would not win. But the attack highlighted once again the chronic weakness of the Malian state.
The army’s ousting from the north, political turmoil in Bamako and the rise of banditry and terrorism have exposed a system that is corrupt and ineffective at almost every level. With the government unable to provide basic services to much of the population, many Malians have turned to more traditional sources of social support, material assistance and moral leadership – their imams.
In Timbuktu, three years after the jihadist occupation, one of the most prominent local religious leaders is Daouda Ali Maiga, who presides over a vast mosque on the outskirts of the city. When we met one evening earlier this year, lightning flashed outside and the wind whistled around the building as the first rainstorm in 18 months thrashed down on the roof. The electricity was out, and the ageing imam’s face was illuminated from below by a solitary torch. Around him, his students sat in the shadows, listening to his measured words. Like Dr Ibrahim, he stayed in Timbuktu throughout the occupation. As the headmaster of the Askia Daoud Centre, he ran one of the largest schools in the city.
“Today we have over 400 students and 19 teachers. We teach all subjects, not just Islam, but languages and modern sciences. We teach boys and girls, from seven years old onwards,” he said.
There are other schools in Timbuktu, but Daouda’s is special: when the economy was shattered by war he decided to stop charging fees. To fill the funding gap, he tapped into Islamic charities based in the Gulf, and activated his personal network of contacts from the years he spent in Saudi Arabia. He has even secured funding to send the best students to study in the Gulf. When he set up the centre, the imam of the Sacred Mosque in Mecca sent his own son to attend the opening ceremony.
But locally, Daouda’s reputation has been tarnished by his involvement with the jihadists during the occupation. One day, a 25-year-old called Mahaman Diedou was accused of stealing a sack of rice. He was brought before the sharia court, which ruled that he should have his hand amputated. It was Dr Ibrahim, the medic, who had to tend to his stump after the sentence was carried out. Daouda was one of the judges.
Daouda insists that he took up the position under duress. During the occupation, armed jihadists would come to his mosque for Friday prayers. “If someone came to your mosque to pray and had a gun, would you refuse to pray with them?” he asked. “They forced people to do things. If you are with someone in appearance but oppose them in your heart you are not really with them.”
But there was a reason why the jihadists selected him as a judge. Daouda is a Salafist, a Saudi-trained scholar who had long preached against the Sufi practice of praying at the graves of holy men. He continues to espouse a deeply conservative faith that is at odds with the syncretic Islam, which blends many religious customs, that is traditionally practised in Mali.
Daouda eventually resigned from the sharia court, not because its sentences were too extreme, but because the jihadists refused to execute one of their own Arab fighters who killed a child. “They believed that the soul of a white person is more important than the soul of a black person,” he explained.
Despite his role in abuses during the occupation, Daouda has remained an influential figure in Timbuktu. With state authorities all but absent from the region, an investigation into his collaboration with the jihadists has been dropped, and his school remains one of the biggest providers of education in town.
The collapse of the state has if anything increased Daouda’s influence and drawn greater attention to his teachings, but his Salafism was controversial before 2012. Daouda’s beliefs, at odds with the religious practices of a majority of his community, are deemed by many to be, like the jihadists, foreign. His connections to Saudi Arabia lead to accusations that he serves foreign interests. And yet, for all that, he continues to attract followers, expanding a communal divide.
The divisions that have hung over Timbuktu since the jihadist occupation reflect a struggle that affects the whole of Mali. The November attack was a reminder that a plethora of militant Islamist groups, many with their origins in Algeria, are free to operate in Mali. However they are not the only foreign forces seeking to change the way Islam is practised there. Local religious leaders, backed by foreign charities and governments, are pushing rival interpretations of the faith that are creating deep tensions in Malian society.
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In July 2012, when the Malian government decided to send an envoy to talk with the jihadists occupying Timbuktu, they did not send a diplomat. They sent Mahmoud Dicko, president of the High Islamic Council of Mali. When Mali was desperate for foreign help in resolving the ongoing crisis in the north, it was not the foreign minister who toured Europe, but Dicko and his deputy, Chérif Ousmane Madani Haïdara, along with the Roman Catholic archbishop of Bamako, Jean Zerbo. When a local community needs a new mosque, they do not call the Ministry for Religious Affairs. They call Dicko. Neither Dicko nor Haïdara holds government office, but they have the power to mobilise street protests that can prevent laws being passed.
Although they work together, the two men are bitter rivals. Dicko heads the minority Salafist community, a recent addition to Mali’s colourful patchwork of religious groups. Haïdara, who has roots in the Maliki tradition that has dominated Mali since the 13th century, is one of the richest, most influential holy men in west Africa. Malikism, a school of Islamic jurisprudence, incorporates communal custom to assist in interpreting the Qur’an and hadith, a practice rejected by more literal interpretations of the faith.
Both Dicko and Haïdara exemplify how religious patronage has supplanted the institutions of the Malian state. In their spiritual role, they wield immense moral authority, and through the essential services they fund, have a practical relevance to the lives of ordinary Malians in regions where the government has disappeared.
Dicko was born in 1954 in the desert village of Tonka, near Timbuktu. Son of a religious judge, he was raised by a conservative family and memorised the Qu’ran by the age of 15. Wahhabism, the austere form of Islam practised in Saudi Arabia, has had a presence in Mali since the 19th century, when it was brought back by Malians who had travelled to Mecca on hajj. It won few converts as it rejected the mixing of local traditions with strict Islamic law. But during Dicko’s teenage years, Saudi charities began to fund mosques and schools in Mali’s cities, and some young Malians were offered the chance to go to Saudi Arabia to study. Dicko was among them. After a short spell studying Arabic in Mauritania, he headed to Medina, the second most holy city in Islam, where he studied Islamic theology.
On his return to Mali, Dicko worked briefly as an Arabic teacher, then, like many of the early Gulf-educated graduates, became an itinerant preacher, giving sermons and leading prayers around Bamako. He quickly built up a following, and in 1983 a community of Salafists invited him to become imam of a mosque in Badalabougou, a middle-class suburb of Bamako.
Haïdara was born a year after Dicko, near the city of Ségou in the south of Mali. Educated at a French school, he began preaching as a teenager in Bamana, a language spoken across Mali, Guinea, Burkina Faso and Senegal. He continued his religious education under Saad Touré, a local scholar steeped in Mali’s Maliki traditions. Haïdara moved to Bamako and began to distribute his sermons on cassette. By 1991, when mass protests prompted the army to overthrow the dictatorship of Moussa Traoré, Haïdara had gathered a large following.
Traoré’s government had long suppressed civil society, but the 1991 constitution created a new space for cultural and religious expression. Religious organisations were quick to take advantage, and hundreds of new Islamic associations were founded. Few would be as influential as Haïdara’s Ansar Dine (Arabic for “defenders of the faith”). Over the course of the 1990s, its membership grew into the tens of thousands. Relying on private donations, Haïdara established a nationwide network of schools, hospitals and mosques.
But given the country’s secular constitution, these associations had little political clout. Mali has been officially secular since its independence, a legacy of French colonialism. The state has become so detached from religious institutions that a senior UN official liaising with the Malian government in Bamako earlier this year told us that “Malian society is not fundamentally religious”.
In 2002, a group of senior imams set out to change this state of affairs by establishing the High Islamic Council, widely referred to by its French acronym, HCIM. The council brought together around 400 Islamic associations, giving them a platform through which they could coordinate their activities and influence government. Dicko and Haïdara, both influential preachers and respected imams, were elected to its executive committee. In 2007, Dicko was elevated to the presidency. The Salafists were on the rise, and the council was to become a key player in Malian politics.
In August 2009, the Canadian government and other donors pressed the Malian parliament to change the country’s conservative Personal Status and Family Code. Under the proposed new law, girls would have more inheritance rights, women would no longer be required to obey their husbands, and only secular marriages would be recognised. The HCIM saw the bill as un-Islamic. Dicko and his colleagues mobilised protests across the country. Tens of thousands demonstrated on the streets of Bamako. Weeks later, under intense pressure from the HCIM, the then president Amadou Toumani Touré refused to sign the bill into law. It was a turning point in Mali’s hitherto largely secular politics: a religious organisation had shown it could stop the government in its tracks.
The events of 2012 only increased the HCIM’s power. The army’s rapid retreat from the north exposed widespread corruption, prompting a collapse of confidence in the political class. Imams became the sole surviving source of moral authority. Unlike any of the country’s politicians, Dicko and Haïdara are both treated like rock stars by their supporters. And theirs is a popularity that politicians cannot afford to ignore. These days, President Keïta telephones Dicko twice a week.
Imams became the sole moral authority, treated like rock stars by their supporters
Dicko stays aloof from the day-to-day business of politics, but he wields immense influence behind the scenes. Despite being a small minority of the population, Salafists have come to dominate the HCIM’s executive committee. This position gives them enormous influence, from the presidential palace to the poorest villages in Mali.
One consequence of religion in Mali becoming politicised is that differences in religious practice have become markers for political allegiance, fuelling an increasingly sectarian shift in Malian society. Where people once simply referred to each other as Muslim, they are now labelled Wahhabist, Sufi or Shia – and these labels, meant to suggest links to foreign political agendas, often accompany accusations of sinister intent.
Among the Maliki majority, the Salafist minority’s takeover of the elected leadership of the Islamic Council is the subject of endless speculation. Imam Diallo, a Maliki leader and member of the HCIM executive committee, accuses Dicko of being “a moral referee who has started to kick the ball. How, in a country where only 15% of the population are Salafi, do they have so much power? With funding from Saudi Arabia. Dicko is trying to take over the country.”
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A few days before the start of Ramadan in June, Combey Adamah explained his faith. Sitting in a small breeze-block shack, nestled amid wiry trees at the top of a hill overlooking Bamako, he was surrounded by a wicker tray of shells, a bible open at Leviticus, and an array of mystical symbols drawn onto the electric blue walls of his dwelling. Adamah is a witch doctor and member of a community of Rastafarians who live above the village of Lassa. In their hilltop retreat, the Rastas smoke weed, listen to reggae music and try and purge themselves of the material excesses of the world. Their beliefs are diffuse, combining Rasta wisdom, new-age spirituality and west African animism.
Беккер был уверен, что представляет собой отличную мишень, даже несмотря на то что находился среди огромного множества прихожан: его пиджак цвета хаки ярко выделялся на черном фоне. Вначале он хотел снять его, но белая оксфордская рубашка была бы ничуть ни лучше, поэтому он лишь пригнулся еще ниже. Мужчина рядом нахмурился. - Turista, - усмехнулся .