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Harrison, Christopher Howard Gordon (1985) French Attitudes and Policies Towards Islam in West Africa, c. 1900-1940. PhD thesis. SOAS University of London. DOI:

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This thesis describes the development in French intellectual understanding of the nature of Islam in West Africa and analyses the policies adopted by successive colonial administrations towards Muslims in the French West African Federation. Three broad periods are identified and illustrated with a selection of case studies. The first period (c. 1900 - 1915) was one characterised by great uncertainty about the nature of Islam and by suspicion and fear of its power. French metropolitan political battles combined with the spirit of pre-war international diplomacy to create a climate which favoured conspiracy theories, and these were reflected in attitudes towards Islam. The political dangers that had become apparent in this essentially hostile attitude and the loyalty of African Muslims to France at the outbreak of the First World War contributed to a reassessment of policy. This is described in the second part of the thesis covering the years 1914 - 1920 which saw major advances in French knowledge of Islam. Above all these advances were due to the work of Paul Marty, the Director of the Department of Muslim Affairs in French West Africa. His in-depth studies of Muslim societies provided the administration with the information and the confidence necessary to construct alliances with a wide range of Muslim leaders. At the same time the influence of Durkheimian theories of religion was reflected in an increasingly sophisticated perception of non-Muslim societies and in a view of African Islam which stressed its pre-Islamic foundations. The third and final period (1920 - 1940) was one in which the Russian Revolution and the growth of nationalism in Africa and Asia caused a certain amount of anxiety about Islam but in which, nonetheless, French dependence upon a number of Muslim leaders was the most striking aspect of Franco-Islamic relations. The highly personalised nature of this relationship survived until the end of the colonial era.

Item Type: Theses (PhD)
SOAS Departments & Centres: SOAS Research Theses > Proquest
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 12 Oct 2020 17:32

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