Skip to main content Accessibility help
Hostname: page-component-544b6db54f-dkqnh Total loading time: 0.265 Render date: 2021-10-18T05:42:46.419Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "shouldUseShareProductTool": true, "shouldUseHypothesis": true, "isUnsiloEnabled": true, "metricsAbstractViews": false, "figures": true, "newCiteModal": false, "newCitedByModal": true, "newEcommerce": true, "newUsageEvents": true }


Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 April 2014

Jean-Louis Triaud*
Université de Provence


This article revisits the concept of islam noir (black Islam) crafted in the context of French rule of sub-Saharan Muslims. For the French colonial administration, islam noir connoted the idea of a degraded Islam tainted by animist practices and therefore different from the pure Islam practiced in Arab countries. This differentiation was a way to separate it from ‘Arab Islam’, which was considered a subversive model. This distinction was not entirely new for it had already a long history behind it. Arabic sources had often shown a high distrust of sub-Saharan Africans who converted to Islam; they never really enjoyed a status equal to that of Arab Muslims. After the end of colonial rule, the story still continues. The theme of a specific sub-Saharan Islam (African Islam) remained a convenient category that was used by scholars, regardless of old prejudices. In the latest period, some African intellectuals have also embraced this concept, conjoining it with the pride of blackness, as a kind of Islam de la négritude, while praising its orthodoxy. It is this long epistemological and taxonomical adventure of islam noir that is examined here.

JAH Forum: Islam in Sub-Saharan Africa
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2014 

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)



1 Hunwick, J. and Harrak, F. (trans. and eds.), ‘Mi'raj al-Su'ud, Ahmed Baba's Replies on Slavery’, Université Mohammed V, Institut d’études africaines, Textes et documents, 7 (2000), 765Google Scholar. The full title is Mi‘raj al-Su‘ud ila nayl hukm mujallab al-sud (‘The ladder for rising to the knowledge of the legal status of enslaved blacks’). Ahmad Baba responds to two interlocutors who have asked him for legal advice on the status of enslaved blacks. The text dates to the end of the sixteenth and the beginning of the seventeenth century. See Hunwick, J. O., ‘Ahmad Baba on slavery’, Sudanic Africa, 11 (2000), 131–9Google Scholar.

2 Hall, B. S., A History of Race in Muslim West Africa, 1600–1960 (Cambridge, 2011), 85CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

3 Hall, A History of Race, 30.

4 Ibid. 37.


5 Ibid. 98–100. The text of this question was collected by Ghislaine Lydon from a private library in Tichit. Sidi al-Mukhtar al-Saghir's reply remains unknown, but given the close relations between the Kunta and Ahmad Lobbo, the founder of the Dina, there is no doubt, according to Hall, that it would have been favorable to the Dina.


6 Al-Nasiri, , Kitab al-istiqsa’ li-akhbar duwal al-maghrib al-aqsa, Volume 5, (Casablanca, 1955) 131Google Scholar, cited by Hunwick, ‘Ahmad Baba on Slavery’, 138.

7 Muhammad al-Sanusi b. Ibrahim al-Jarimi, Tanbih ahl al-tughyan ‘ala hurriyyat al-sudan, (Centre de Documentation et de Recherche Ahmed Baba, today Institut des Hautes Études et de Recherches Islamiques Ahmed Baba, Tombouctou, ms. 1575, folio 1), cited by Hunwick, ‘Ahmad Baba on Slavery’, 139.

8 Triaud, J.-L., ‘L'islam au sud du Sahara : une saison orientaliste en Afrique occidentale. Constitution d'un champ scientifique, héritages et transmissions’, Cahiers d’études africaines, 50:198 (2010), 907–50CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Miran-Guyon, M. and Triaud, J.-L., ‘Islam’, in Parker, J. and Reid, R. (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Modern African History (Oxford, 2013), 243–62Google Scholar.

9 Amselle, J.-L. and Sibeud, E., ‘Introduction,’ in Amselle, J.-L. and Sibeud, E. (eds.), Maurice Delafosse: Entre orientalisme et ethnographie: l'itinéraire d'un africaniste, 1870–1926 (Paris, 1998), 13Google Scholar.

10 le Chatelier, A., L'islam dans l'Afrique occidentale (Paris, 1899)Google Scholar. He employs the expression islam soudanien quite frequently (13, 139, 144, 279, 299, and 316). In the final chapter of the work, entitled ‘The future of Sudanic Islam’, he sketches out his thoughts on Islamic policy regarding this ‘sudanese’ space (341–65).

11 Quellien, A., La politique musulmane dans l'Afrique occidentale française (Paris, 1910), 172Google Scholar. This work has regained interest of late as it seems to be the first in French to have employed the term ‘Islamophobia’: ‘there has always been and there remains a widespread prejudice against Islam among Western and Christian peoples’, 133. See ‘Islamophobie’ in ( 21 Sept. 2013.

12 Ibid. iii.


13 Robert Arnaud (1873–1950), born in Algiers, had his career divided between North and West Africa. He authored colonial novels under the thinly disguised pen name ‘Robert Randau’, becoming a pioneer of what one might call Algerianist literature. See Henry, J.-R., Schmitz, J., and Sibeud, E., ‘Arnaud (Randau dit) Robert’, in Pouillon, F. (ed.), Dictionnaire des orientalistes de langue française (Paris, 2008), 802–3Google Scholar.

14 Arnaud, R., L'islam et la politique musulmane française en Afrique occidentale française, (Paris, 1912), 128–9Google Scholar. The title clearly calls to mind Quellien's book. By ‘Ethiopianism’ he means a black church.

15 Marty, P., ‘Les mourides d'Amadou Bamba. rapport à M. le Gouverneur Général de l'Afrique occidentale’, Revue du Monde musulman, no. 25 (1913), 42–3Google Scholar; Marty, P., Études sur l'islam au Sénégal, Volume 1, Les Personnes (Paris, 1917), 261–2Google Scholar. The later 1917 volume includes the entirety of the 1913 publication.

16 On the role and importance of Marty in both the handling of the ‘Mouride question’ and in later historiogrophy, see Babou, C. A. M., Fighting the Greater Jihad: Amadu Bamba and the Founding of the Muridiyya of Senegal, 1853–1913 (Athens, OH, 2007)CrossRefGoogle Scholar, 1 and 17.

17 P. Marty, ‘Les Mourides d'Amadou Bamba’, 123.

18 Archives Nationales d'Outre-Mer (formerly CAOM), Aix-en-Provence, Affaires politiques 159, Haut-Sénégal Niger, Région du Sahel, Rapport sur la situation politique, 4ème trimestre 1917, cited by Soares, B., Islam and the Prayer Economy: History and Authority in a Malian Town (Ann Arbor, MI, 2005), 58Google Scholar and 262 n 46.

n 46

19 Marty, P., Études sur l'islam et les tribus du Soudan, tome IV (Paris, 1920), 210–11Google Scholar, cited in English translation by Soares, Islam and the Prayer Economy, 58. I have here returned to the original phrase in French.

20 André, Capitaine Pierre Jean, L'Islam noir, contribution à l’étude des confréries religieuses islamiques en Afrique Occidentale, suivie d'une étude sur l'Islam au Dahomey, (Paris, 1924)Google Scholar. The work has a preface by M. J. Carde, who was gouverneur général of l'Afrique occidentale française. Capitaine André, who was later to become a general, was a significant figure in this period; his reports on his 1923 mission to British Nigeria on the trail of a mahdi reputed to be launching a jihad against colonial occupation became the basis of the construction of a hamalliste bogeyman by the French administration. Savadogo, B. M., ‘Les rapports du capitaine André (1923) et le déclenchement de la répression contre la Tijaniyya Hamawiyya’, in Goerg, O. and Pondopoulo, A., Islam et sociétés en Afrique subsaharienne à l’épreuve de l'histoire (Paris, 2012), 174Google Scholar.

21 Administrator for Overseas France, J.-C. Froelich served as director of the ‘Centre des hautes études d'administration musulmane’ from 1967 to 1972. CHEAM, created in 1936 under the Front populaire, offered training on Muslim affairs to officers and functionaries. Upon decolonisation it became the ‘Centre des hautes études administratives sur l'Afrique et l'Asie modernes’.

22 Monteil, V., L'islam noir, (Paris, 1964)Google Scholar ‘première édition’; L'islam noir, (Paris, 1971) ‘seconde édition, revue, corrigée et augmentée’; L'islam noir. Une religion à la conquête de l'Afrique, (Paris, 1980) ‘troisième édition refondue’. Note the subtitle of the third edition.

23 Monteil is particularly harsh towards André, describing his work as ‘a contemptible little bureaucratic book’ (1971, 47). Commandant Marcel Cardaire, who served in Bamako for much of the 1950s, was the head of the local office of the Bureau des Affaires musulmanes. See Cardaire, M., L'islam et le terroir africain (Koulouba, 1954)Google Scholar; and Triaud, J.-L., ‘Le crépuscule des Affaires musulmanes en AOF, 1950–1956’, in Robinson, D. and Triaud, J.-L., Le temps des marabouts : itinéraires et stratégies islamiques en Afrique occidentale française v. 1880–1960 (Paris, 1997), 503Google Scholar. Cardaire is known for his activities directed against the reformist students returning from Cairo who were labeled ‘Wahhabites’, Kaba, L., The Wahhabiyya: Islamic Reform and Politics in French West Africa (Evanston, IL, 1974)Google Scholar. In this he had the support of Amadou Hampaté Bâ, whose biography of Tierno Bokar Salif Tall Cardaire promoted. See Triaud, J.-L., ‘D'un maître a l'autre: l'histoire d'un transfert. Amadou Hampaté Bâ entre Tierno Bokar et Théodore Monod (1938–1954)’, Sociétés politiques comparées, 20 (décembre 2009), 22Google Scholar, pdf online at <>. A less well-known but equally influential partner in this ‘counter-reform’ effort was Abdoul Wahhab Doucouré, who celebrated the spirituality of black Africans over that of Arabs. See Soares, Islam and the Prayer Economy, 226. See also Brenner, L., Controlling Knowledge: Religion, Power, and Schooling in a West African Muslim Society (Bloomington, IN, 2001), 104Google Scholar and passim, 125, and 161–3, and more generally 80–130. Thus ‘counter-reform’ was very precisely one of the manifestations of this islam noir in the face of a Middle Eastern Islam.

24 On Cheikh Touré, see Loimeier, R., ‘Cheikh Touré. Du réformisme à l'islamisme, un musulman sénégalais dans la siècle’, Islam et sociétés au sud du Sahara, 8 (1994), 5566Google Scholar, republished as ‘Cheikh Touré: un musulman sénégalais dans le siècle: du réformisme à l'islamisme’ in Kane, O. and Triaud, J.-L. (eds.), Islam et islamismes au sud du Sahara (Paris, 1998), 155–68Google Scholar.

25 The administration hoped to contain the reformist ideas of Cheikh Touré by limiting access to the Arabic language, see Samson, F., Les marabouts de l'islam politique: le Dahiratoul Moustarchidina wal Moustarchidaty, un mouvement néo-confrérique sénégalais (Paris, 2005), 208–9Google Scholar.

26 Monteil, 1ère édition (1964), 41–2 ; 2ème édition (1971), 47–8.

27 Cornell, V. J., Realm of the Saint: Power and Authority in Moroccan Sufism (Austin, 1998), xxviGoogle Scholar, cited in Babou, Fighting the Greater Jihad, 8. Cornell refers in particular to Alfred Bel, [Bel, A, La religion musulmane en Berbérie. Esquisse d'histoire et de sociologie religieuses (Paris, 1938), 379–81Google Scholar], but also cites others, among them Jacques Berque [Berque, J., Structures sociales du Haut-Atlas (Paris, 1955)Google Scholar], who presents Islamic law as imposed by foreigners upon Berber custom (237–48). See Cornell, Realm of the Saint, 290n36.

28 Babou, Fighting the Greater Jihad, 8.

29 O'Brien, D. B. C., ‘La filière musulmane : confréries soufies et politique en Afrique noire’, Politique africaine 1:4 (1981), 910Google Scholar. The issue is entitled ‘La question islamique en Afrique noire’.

30 Ibid. 29.


31 Triaud, J.-L., ‘Le thème confrérique en Afrique de l'Ouest : Essai historique et bibliographique’, in Popovic, A. and Veinstein, G., Les Ordres mystiques dans l'Islam: cheminements et situation actuelle, Éditions de l’É.H.E.S. S (Paris, 1986 [orig. pub. 1985]), 277Google Scholar.

32 Rosander, E. E. and Westerlund, D. (eds.), African Islam and Islam in Africa: Encounters between Sufis and Islamists (Athens, OH, 1997)Google Scholar, v. From the title of Westerlund's contribution, ‘Reaction and action accounting for the rise of Islamism’, in Rosander and Westerlund (eds.), African Islam and Islam in Africa, 308.

33 Ibid. 310.


34 Ibid.


35 Rosander, E. E., ‘Introduction: the Islamization of “tradition” and “modernity”’, in Rosander, and Westerlund, , African Islam and Islam in Africa, 12Google Scholar.

36 Westerlund, ‘Reaction and action’, 310.

37 An-Na'im, A. A., ‘Islam and human rights in Sahelian Africa’, in Rosander, and Westerlund, (eds.), African Islam and Islam in Africa, 90Google Scholar.

38 Of interest in this regard is Rüdiger Seesemann's review of this book in Die Welt des Islams, New Series, 40:1 (2000), 129–31, which pays homage to the quality of the contributions while noting the problems presented by the binary model.

39 Robinson, D., Muslim Societies in African History (Cambridge, 2004)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

40 Robinson, Muslim Societies, 85.

41 Seck, A., La question musulmane au Sénégal. Essai d'anthropologie d'une nouvelle modernité (Paris, 2010) 181Google Scholar.

42 Ibid. 183; Seck, La question musulmane au Sénégal, 178.


43 Saliou Kandji, who died in 2006, was a well-known media figure representing modernist positions on religion. He taught at l’École des Arts and had been a close friend of Cheikh Anta Diop. Seck, La question musulmane au Sénégal, 183 and 181. Seck draws here from Kandji, S., Des droits de la femme africaine d'hier à demain (Saint-Louis, 1997)Google Scholar.

44 Babou, Fighting the Greater Jihad, 177.

45 Senghor, L. S., Liberté I. Négritude et Humanisme (Paris, 1964), 423–4Google Scholar. Cited in translation by Babou, Fighting the Greater Jihad, 260–1, n. 2.

46 Babou, Fighting the Greater Jihad, 260, n. 2.

n. 2
Cited by

Send article to Kindle

To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

Note you can select to send to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Available formats

Send article to Dropbox

To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

Available formats

Send article to Google Drive

To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

Available formats

Reply to: Submit a response

Please enter your response.

Your details

Please enter a valid email address.

Conflicting interests

Do you have any conflicting interests? *