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Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 April 2015


Inequalities are growing on a global scale and rising consumerism has exacerbated the negative connotations of material deprivation in many places. What does this imply for how poor people experience their situation? What role does religion play in their lives? This paper explores these questions by studying how young Qur'anic students (almajirai) in Kano in northern Nigeria experience, and deal with, being poor. In the context of growing violent conflict related to the Boko Haram insurgency, poor Muslims, including the almajirai, have frequently been cast as being prone to violence in order to claim their share of highly unequally distributed resources. Religion has often been portrayed as a radicalizing force in their lives. This paper challenges such views. It describes how the almajirai deploy religious discourses to moderate feelings of inadequacy and shame triggered by experiences of exclusion. At the same time, recourse to religious discourses emphasizing the values of asceticism and endurance does not further an agenda of social change and thus risks perpetuating the almajirai's weak social position. The paper concludes that consumerism and wealth-based definitions of status are likely to silence demands for social justice.


Les inégalités s'accentuent à l’échelle mondiale et le consumérisme croissant a exacerbé les connotations négatives de la privation matérielle en de nombreux lieux. Quelles en sont les implications quant à la manière dont les personnes pauvres vivent leur situation ? Quel rôle la religion joue-t-elle dans leur vie ? Cet article explore ces questions en étudiant la manière dont de jeunes élèves coraniques (almajirai) de Kano, dans le Nord du Nigeria, vivent et font face à leur situation de pauvreté. Dans le contexte de l'escalade du conflit violent lié à l'insurrection de Boko Haram, on a souvent présenté les musulmans pauvres, y compris les almajirai, comme enclins à la violence pour revendiquer leur part de ressources très inégalement réparties. On a souvent décrit la religion comme une influence radicalisante dans leur vie. Cet article conteste ces points de vue. Il décrit comment les almajirai utilisent des discours religieux pour modérer des sentiments d'infériorité et de honte provoqués par des expériences d'exclusion. Dans le même temps, le recours à des discours religieux soulignant les valeurs d'ascétisme et d'endurance ne sert aucun projet de changement social et risque par conséquent de perpétuer la faiblesse de la situation sociale des almajirai. En conclusion, l'article affirme que le consumérisme et les définitions du statut basées sur le patrimoine sont susceptibles de réduire au silence les demandes de justice sociale.

Youth and generation
Copyright © International African Institute 2015 

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