This article examines northern Nigeria’s mainstream Salafis – figures who advocate exclusive, literalist, exoterically-minded readings of scripture, but who oppose the violence of the fringe Salafi sect Boko Haram. The article argues that the emergence of Boko Haram has placed mainstream Salafis in a complicated position vis-à-vis both Salafi-leaning audiences and the state. In the face of accusations by state and society that all Salafis are connected to Boko Haram, mainstream Salafis have worked to undermine Boko Haram’s messages and Salafi credentials in order to maintain influence over Salafi-leaning youth. Along with other voices in northern Nigeria, mainstream Salafis have also externalized blame for Boko Haram’s violence, attributing Boko Haram’s existence to the state, to Christians and Jews, and/or to Western powers. They have also criticized the state’s response to Boko Haram. Finally, they advocate for perceived northern Muslim interests but attempt to avoid being seen as pro-government.
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