• Middle East and North Africa
    The U.S. Faces a Public Relations Crisis in the Arab and Muslim World
    The Joe Biden administration’s steadfast show of support for Israel in its war with Hamas has reignited a torrent of anti-American sentiment in many Arab and Muslim communities.  
  • Iran
    Iran Isn’t the Only Country With Morality Police
    Multiple countries have special police that enforce Islamic moral codes. Here’s how Iran’s morality police compare to other forces with the same goals.
  • China
    China’s Repression of Uyghurs in Xinjiang
    More than a million Muslims have been arbitrarily detained in China’s Xinjiang region. The reeducation camps are just one part of the government’s crackdown on Uyghurs.
  • Diplomacy and International Institutions
    NATO Leaders Talk Russia, OIC Ministers Meet, and More
    North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) leaders meet in Brussels as Russia’s attacks in Ukraine continue, and ministers from Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) countries discuss the ongoing crisis in Afghanistan.
  • Middle East and North Africa
    Understanding Sharia: The Intersection of Islam and the Law
    Sharia guides the personal religious practices of Muslims worldwide, but whether it should influence modern legal systems remains a subject of intense debate.
  • China
    The Uighurs and the Question of Muslim Solidarity
    Facing genocide by China, the Uighurs, who are Muslim, benefit from near zero solidarity from their co-religionists.
  • United States
    The U.S., Muslims, and a Turbulent Post-9/11 World
    The 9/11 attacks created upheaval for Muslims worldwide. Successive U.S. administrations have attempted to debunk al-Qaeda’s anti-West narrative and improve relations with Muslims, but challenges continue twenty years later.
  • Iran
    The Last Shah
    Ray Takeyh provides new interpretations of many important events—including the 1953 coup against Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadeq and the rise of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini—significantly revising our understanding of the United States’ and Iran’s complex and difficult history.
  • China
    China’s Uighurs, With Gulchehra Hoja
    Gulchehra Hoja, a Uighur journalist for Radio Free Asia, sits down with James M. Lindsay to discuss the Chinese government’s repression of Uighurs and other Muslim ethnic groups in the Xinjiang region.
  • Public Health Threats and Pandemics
    Governors Face Public Pressure, UN Security Council Talks Syria, and More
    Governors face pressure to reopen America, the UN Security Council discusses conditions in Syria, and the Islamic holy month of Ramadan begins.
  • Nigeria
    Case Not Quite Closed on the Assassination of Nigerian Salafi Scholar Shaikh Jaafar Adam
    Jacob Zenn is a fellow on African affairs at The Jamestown Foundation and an assistant adjunct professor at Georgetown University. His book, Unmasking Boko Haram: Exploring Global Jihad in Nigeria, is being published in April 2020.  While at prayer on April 13, 2007—thirteen years ago—the prominent Salafi scholar, Shaikh Jaafar Mahmud Adam, was assassinated at his mosque in Kano. At the time, the murder made a deep impression on mainstream Muslims, many of whom revered Adam. The murder took place in the final days before the 2007 presidential elections, and many observers, including those at the U.S. embassy, thought that the murder was somehow related. But it now seems more likely that Adam was assassinated by a vengeful former member of the Nigerian Taliban. His murder was an early manifestation of the deadly battles among Boko Haram’s competing factions that continue up to the present. When Adam was assassinated, there were three suspects: Sufis who resented his anti-Sufi preaching; Kano politicians who resented his condemning cronyism; and Boko Haram. Nigerian Sufis have virtually no precedent for engaging in such violence, let alone the ability to conduct targeted assassinations, and no evidence has since come to light that substantiates their involvement.  So that leaves either politicians or Boko Haram, or both. For Boko Haram, it has long been clear that the group has never been a monolithic entity; factions existed well before Abubakar Shekau announced the jihad in 2010. At the time of Adam’s assassination, “Boko Haram” was made up of the principal group, led by the charismatic preacher Muhammed Yusuf, whose deputy was then Shekau, and a subgroup comprising former members of the Nigerian Taliban, which was originally led by Muhammad Ali until his death in 2004. Other factions, like Ansaru and the Islamic State in West Africa (ISWA), did not materialize until 2012 and 2015, respectively.  In his 2018 book, Abu Musab al-Barnawi, Muhammed Yusuf’s son, asserted that it was not Yusuf, but the “Kanama Taliban,” another name for the Nigerian Taliban, that had assassinated Adam. Muhammed Ali, its original leader, was a Nigerian university campus leader who traveled to Sudan in the mid-1990s and returned to Nigeria to found and lead this now notorious group. Based in Kanama, Yobe State, in 2003, it counted among its members former students of Adam and especially then current students of Yusuf.   Further, in his capacity as Boko Haram’s official spokesman and liaison to the Islamic State, but before he deposed Shekau to become ISWA leader in 2016, al-Barnawi explicitly denied claims that his father was behind Adam’s murder. In communiques to an Islamic State media activist in 2014, for example, al-Barnawi (or his media team colleagues) wrote that Boko Haram under his father’s leadership denounced Adam’s “religion of democracy,” but said that it was a “lie” that Yusuf’s followers assassinated Adam.  But can al-Barnawi’s claims be trusted? Given Adam’s popularity and ISWA avoiding killing Islamic scholars after al-Barnawi became leader, it may be self-serving for al-Barnawi’s self-described "hearts and minds" approach to insurgency to deflect blame for the widely condemned assassination. Nevertheless, given that Yusuf was once considered Adam’s “likely heir” in the 1990s before breaking with Adam after the 1999 restoration of civilian rule in Nigeria, there was an element of ambiguity in their relationship. Yusuf believed Adam engaged in shirk, or polytheism, by accepting Nigerian democracy, but Yusuf still attended Adam’s funeral as a sign of respect. Although Adam’s followers castigated him and suspected he plotted Adam’s assassination, unless Yusuf was supremely duplicitous, he would not have gone so far as to pay condolences to Adam’s wives while having secretly ordered their husband’s assassination. Moreover, up to that point in 2007, Yusuf had no history of ordering attacks or assassinations, even though other factions in his following, especially late Muhammed Ali’s followers from the Nigerian Taliban, were prone to violence. The Nigerian Taliban had a much clearer reason than Yusuf for wanting Adam dead: he had supported the government crackdown on them in Kanama in December 2003. The effort ultimately led to Ali’s death at the hands of pro-government vigilantes in Borno State weeks later. Yusuf, who fled to Saudi Arabia shortly before the crackdown, had already been declared an infidel by Ali because Yusuf advocated a more patient approach to jihad than Ali. Ali’s followers even attempted to kill Yusuf, which, in addition to pilgrimage, prompted his flight to Saudi Arabia. According to an interview with a former companion of Ali in 2019, Ali’s students had also declared Adam a murtad (apostate) for condoning the crackdown and disavowing his former students in the group. Yusuf, meanwhile, returned to Nigeria from Saudi Arabia in 2004 and successfully reintegrated Ali’s supporters into his own following. One credible Boko Haram “insider,” who is known for releasing deceased commanders’ photos and revealing the group’s secrets, has gone so far as to proffer the alias of Adam’s assassin, Ibrahim Uquba al-Muhajir. After the crackdown in Kanama, which left the Nigerian Taliban in disarray, al-Muhajir was among several members who fled to join al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) in the Sahel. According to the insider, al-Muhajir then returned to Nigeria to assassinate Adam on April 13, 2007. He benefited from confusion surrounding Nigeria’s April 14 elections and two surprise Nigerian Taliban attacks in Kano that same week, including one claimed retrospectively by ISWA in 2015. Al-Muhajir was killed years later in a Boko Haram attack in Bama and eulogized in a Boko Haram video in 2019. It featured an image of him that the Boko Haram insider already released one year earlier. There are still mysteries about Adam’s assassination. For example, what exactly did Adam imply in his final sermon before his assassination, when he mentioned that three years earlier Yusuf returned from Saudi Arabia to Nigeria without his bags checked at the airport? Was there, for example, some secret deal made between Yusuf’s contacts in Saudi Arabia, Nigerian officials, and Yusuf himself when several Nigerian officials visited him in Saudi Arabia and then facilitated his return? Adam further promised to “disclose those things…when their time will come.” Who or what would Adam have exposed will never be known, but it was likely related to Yusuf’s stint in Saudi Arabia in 2004, where Adam also met Yusuf and urged him to return to Nigeria. Yusuf did not trust Adam, however, and only returned after some form of safe passage back to Nigeria was guaranteed. In addition, what did another prominent Nigerian Salafi scholar, Muhammed Auwal “Albani,” mean when he once asserted Adam was killed because “a few international organizations to build mosques and schools [and] a few politicians…brought some problems for him” and noted that an “Algeria group” brought weapons into Nigeria and Yusuf’s followers were “prime suspects”? Could any Islamic organizations or politicians in Kano who were close to Nigerian Taliban members have collaborated with, or even ordered, al-Muhajir to assassinate Adam?  Albani can no longer expound on his theory because he, too, was assassinated by Boko Haram in 2014. Shekau bombastically lauded his death in a video and, according to the Boko Haram insider, Shekau later killed Albani’s assassin, who was Albani’s former student. Shekau must know the group’s secrets about Adam’s murder. Although Shekau has rarely alluded to the murder, in February 2020, he warned Salafi scholar and Nigerian minister of communications, Isa Ali Pantami, that he would suffer Adam’s same fate. The episode surrounding Adam’s assassination drives home the point that Boko Haram has never been a monolithic entity. Factions and internecine warfare existed well before the jihad began in 2010. Perhaps more importantly, it suggests that revenge has always been one of Boko Haram’s motives. Adam’s assassination not only caused great mourning in Nigeria, but, in killing a former Yusuf ally and relative Salafi moderate, it was also a harbinger of more violence to come, especially against Salafis whom Boko Haram viewed as betraying the pursuit of an Islamic state in Nigeria.
  • Nigeria
    Lamido Sanusi: A Man of Nigeria’s Past and Possibly Its Future
    On March 9, the governor of Kano state removed Sanusi Lamido Sanusi from his position as Emir of Kano, which is usually regarded as the second or third most important Muslim traditional ruler in Nigeria. Briefly under what amounted to internal exile in a neighboring state, Sanusi sued in the federal courts for his freedom. He won, and the Federal government did not intervene to block the judgement. He has now moved to join his family in Lagos. There is speculation, especially among some Nigerian expats, that he is looking to launch a political career, perhaps even contesting for the presidency in 2023. Sanusi is a rather unique figure in Nigeria. Prior to his enthronement as Emir of Kano, he was the governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) under the presidency of Umaru Yar'Adua and his successor, Goodluck Jonathan. In this position, Sanusi won the prestigious international award of “Central Banker of the Year.” As CBN governor, he publicly called attention to the disappearance of some $20 billion in oil revenue from the government’s coffers; Jonathan removed him as a result. At that time, especially among Nigerian expats and parts of the business community, there were hopes he would enter politics. But, as a member of the royal house of Kano, he instead sought successfully his election by the “kingmakers” to become the Emir of Kano after the death of his uncle, the previous emir. His election was supported and approved by the then-governor of Kano, Rabiu Kwankwaso, a member of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) generally regarded as a reformer.  In 2015, Abdullahi Ganduje, a politician from the rival party, President Muhammadu Buhari’s All Progressives Congress (APC), won the governorship. Sanusi was highly critical of the news governor’s alleged corruption. In the elections of 2019, Ganduje claimed that Sanusi was supporting his opponent for the governorship; traditional rulers are supposed to be above partisan politics. After Ganduje’s reelection, the emir’s criticism continued unabated. Ganduje secured the approval of the Kano state executive council to remove Sanusi and secured the election among the kingmakers of another member of the royal family to be Emir. There has been speculation that President Buhari had a hand in his removal, but such allegations are strongly denied by presidency spokesmen, who point out that relations with traditional rulers are the purview of governors, not the president. Sanusi is apparently not contesting the governor’s right to remove him as emir. Though there are precedents going back to British colonial times for a governor to remove a traditional ruler, it is not done lightly, not least because of concern for popular unrest in the aftermath. Yet, the media reports little popular reaction in Kano to Sanusi’s removal. Sanusi emphasized the injustices faced by the poor of Nigeria’s political economy, particularly those in the north, in terms that resonate positively with a Westernized audience. But, he was not known for his liberality in the unstructured alms-giving that characterizes traditional charity. At the time twelve northern states adopted Sharia, a popular cause among the northern poor, he did not support it. Should he wish to enter electoral politics, Sanusi’s way forward is not clear. He is popular among the captains of Nigeria’s modern economy, just as he is among international business people. He appears especially popular among Nigerian expats, both those living abroad and those returned home. Hence, Lagos would appear to be his natural political base. But, Lagos, including its political class, is dominated by the Yoruba. It is hard to see them making room for a northerner, especially a critic of the political economy from which they benefit. On the national level, Nigeria’s system of political alternation, or “power shift,” between Christians and Muslim and between north and south, plays against him. Even under the British, the northern, Muslim, political class feared domination by the much wealthier and more advance south. They have long feared exclusion from government and hence from the wealth that accrues to those that capture the state and can access oil revenue. Power shift, in response to those fears, was an important part of the 1998 to 1999 transition from military to civilian government. In principle, after eight years under President Buhari, a Muslim from the north, it will be the Christian south’s turn in 2023. Especially in Lagos, among Nigerian expats and in the internationally-oriented business community, it is increasingly said that Nigeria no longer needs power alternation to stay together. This was the argument used by supporters of the southern Christian Goodluck Jonathan when he ran in 2011, though it was ostensibly the north’s turn at the presidency. (The Muslim president, Umaru Yar’Adua, died in office. Jonathan, as vice president, was meant to finish Yar’Adua’s first term and then make way for a northern Muslim to run in 2011.) The aftermath of those elections, however, when it was clear that Jonathan had won not least by rigging, were marked by horrific bloodshed in the north; riots that started against Jonathan’s victory morphed into rival Christian-Muslim pogroms with a strong ethnic dimension. In 2015 the political classes nation-wide joined together to ensure the election of Buhari, thereby restoring power shift. In 2019, still the north’s turn, both major political parties fielded northern Muslim presidential candidates. Some of the leading contemporary Yoruba politicians are Bola Tinubu and his successor as governor, Babatunde Fashola. Both are Muslims and southerners. Could a southern ticket include two Muslims, with Sanusi as a vice-presidential candidate? That is a possibility. However, the way forward for Tinubu, Fashiola, or other Muslim presidential candidates is not clear. Since 1993, the south’s Christian majority has become much more politicized and uncompromising. That, along with growing radical Islamic movements in the north, narrows the scope of the possible in Nigerian politics. Buhari’s vice president, Yemi Osinbajo is a Christian Pentecostal preacher, also with a positive international reputation. What about an Osinbajo-Sanusi ticket? A dream for the business community. But Osinbajo denies political ambition and says he is merely “on loan” from his church to the government as vice president. In any event, 2023 is a long way away, and much could happen in the interim.