Salafi Aesthetics: Preaching Among the Sunnance in Niamey, Niger

in Journal of Religion in Africa
Restricted Access
Get Access to Full Text
Rent on DeepDyve

Have an Access Token?

Enter your access token to activate and access content online.

Please login and go to your personal user account to enter your access token.


Have Institutional Access?

Access content through your institution. Any other coaching guidance?



In their effort to contribute to Islamic reform in Niamey, young Salafi (Sunnance) have embraced preaching and have made it part of their religious practice. As preachers or audience members, they invest time and energy to imagine various ways to popularize the Sunna, the tradition of the prophet Muhammad. Because of the jokes, mimicry, and theatrics that characterize their preaching style, their critics have rejected their initiatives, claiming they are unqualified and therefore should not be allowed to preach. In response, Sunnance have argued that an effective sermon (wazu) requires art, skills, ingenuity and know-how (iyawa, hikma in Hausa). By examining how aesthetics are central to Sunnance popular and street preaching, this article invites a reexamination of Salafism through its aesthetic forms. Wazu is not just a gathering that seeks to deliver a message, be it divine; it is also a way to promote religiosity through particular cultural and aesthetic performances.



Bauman, Richard. 1977. Verbal Art as Performance. Rowley: Newbury House.

Bauman, Richard, and Charles L. Briggs. 1990. ‘Poetics and Performance as Critical Perspectives on Language and Social Life’. Annual Review of Anthropology 19, 59-88.

Beeman, William O. 1993. ‘The Anthropology of Theater and Spectacle’. Annual Review of Anthropology 22, 369-393.

Bell, Catherine. 1998. ‘Performance’. In M. Taylor (ed.), Critical Terms for Religious Studies. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 206.

Berkey, Jonathan. 2001. Popular Preaching and Religious Authority in the Medieval Islamic Near East. Seattle: University of Washington Press.

Bourdieu, Pierre. 1999. Language and Symbolic Power, 7th ed. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Boyer, Florence. 2013. ‘Faire Fada» à Niamey (Niger): Un espace de transgression silencieuse?’ in Carnets de géographes, no. 7, juin 2014 Rubrique Carnets de recherches.

Christiansen, Catrine, Mats Utas, and Henrik E. Vigh, eds. 2006. Navigating Youth, Generating Adulthood: Social Becoming in an African Context. Uppsala: Nordic Africa Institute.

Cohen-Cruz, Jan. 1998. Radical Street Performance: An International Anthology. London: Routledge.

De Witte, Marleen. 2011. ‘Fans and Followers: Marketing Charisma, Making Religious Celebrity in Ghana.’ Journal for the Academic Study of Religion 24.3, 231-253.

Engelke, Matthew. 2007. A Problem of Presence: Beyond Scripture in an African Church. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Fischer-Lichte, Erika. 2008. The Transformative Power of Performance: A New Aesthetics, Saskya Iris Jain (trans.). New York: Routledge.

Flynn, Alex, and Jonas Tinius (eds.). 2015. Anthropology, Theatre, and Development. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Gharavi, Lance. 2012. Religion, Theatre, and Performance: Acts of Faith. New York: Routledge.

Goffman, Erving. 1959. The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. New York: Anchor.

Grimes, Ronald L. 2012. ‘Religion, Ritual, and Performance’. In Lance Gharavi (ed.), Religion, Theatre, and Performance: Acts of Faith. New York: Routledge, 27-41.

Hammarlund, Anders, Tord Olsson,, and Elisabeth Ozdalga. 2001. Sufism, Music and Society in Turkey and the Middle East. Istanbul: Routledge.

Hirschkind, Charles. 2009. The Ethical Soundscape: Cassette Sermons and Islamic Counterpublics. New York: Columbia University Press.

Jones, Linda G. 2010. ‘Prophetic Performances: Reproducing the Charisma of the Prophet in Medieval Islamic Preaching.’ Charisma and Religious Authority 4, 19-47. Europa Sacra 4. Brepols Publishers.

Masquelier, Adeline. 2010. ‘God Made Me a Rapper: Young Men, Islam, and Survival in an Age of Austerity.’ In Benedetta Rossi and Anne Haour (eds.), Being and Becoming Hausa: Interdisciplinary Perspectives. Leiden: Brill, 235-256.

Masquelier, Adeline. 2013. ‘Teatime: Boredom and the Temporalities of Young Men in Niger’. Africa 83.03, 470-491.

Marsden, Magnus. 2007. ‘All-Male Sonic Gatherings, Islamic Reform, and Masculinity in Northern Pakistan’. American Ethnologist 34.3, 473-490.

Meyer, Birgit. 2010. ‘Aesthetics of Persuasion: Global Christianity and Pentecostalism’s Sensational Forms’. South Atlantic Quarterly 109.4, 741-763.

Meyer, Birgit. 2013. ‘Material Mediations and Religious Practices of World-Making’. In Knut Lundby (ed.), Religion across Media: From Early Antiquity to Late Modernity. New York: Peter Lang, 1-19.

Mudimbe, V. Y. 1997. Tales of Faith: Religion as Political Performance in Central Africa, Jordan Lectures in Comparative Religion. London: Continuum International Publishing Group Ltd.

Muessig, Carolyn (ed.). 2002. Preacher, Sermon and Audience in the Middle Ages. Leiden: Brill Academic Pub.

Niang, A. 2006. ‘Hip hop culture in Dakar, Sénégal’. In P. Nilan and C. Feixa (eds.), Global youth? Hybrid identities, plural worlds. New York: Routledge, 167-185.

Niang, A. 2009. ‘Preaching Music and Islam in Senegal: The Case of Rap and Mbalax Music’. African Communication Research 2.4, 61-84.

Niang, A. 2013. ‘Le rap prédicateur et les nouvelles “voix” de l’islam au Sénégal : Une intrusion du laïc dans le religeux ou du religieux dans le laïc?’ In G. Holder and M. Sow (eds.), L’Afrique des laïcités. Etat, religion et pouvoirs au sud du Sahara, Bamako, Tombouctou/IRD, 159-168.

Schechner, Richard. 1985. Between Theater and Anthropology. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Schechner, Richard. 1995. The Future of Ritual: Writings on Culture and Performance, revised ed. London: Routledge.

Schulz, Dorothea E. 2011. Muslims and New Media in West Africa: Pathways to God. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Sennett, Herbert. 2003. ‘Preaching as Performance (A Preliminary Analytical Model)’. The Journal of Religion and Theatre 2.1, 141-156.

Sounaye, Abdoulaye. 2009. ‘Izala Au Niger : Une Alternative de Communauté Religieuse’. In Laurent Fourchard, Odile Georg, and Muriel Gomez-Perez (eds.), Les Lieux de Sociabilité Urbaine Dans La Longue Durée En Afrique. Paris: L’Harmattan, 481-500.

Sounaye, Abdoulaye. 2011a. ‘Gendered Media and Gendered Religion: Female Preachers, Audiovisual Media and the Construction of Religious Authority in Niamey’. Bulletin 3 and 4, 27-31.

Sounaye, Abdoulaye. 2011b. ‘“Go Find the Second Half of Your Faith With These Women!” Women Fashioning Islam in Contemporary Niger’. The Muslim World 101.3, 539-554.

Sounaye, Abdoulaye. 2013. ‘Alarama Is All at Once: Preacher, Media Savvy and Religious Entrepreneur’. Journal of African Cultural Studies 25.1, 88-102.

Sounaye, Abdoulaye. 2016. ‘Walking to the Makaranta: Production, Circulation, and Transmission of Islamic Learning in Urban Niger’. In Robert Launay (ed.), Islamic Education in Africa. Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 234-252.

Stokes, Martin. 2016. ‘Islamic Popular Music Aesthetics in Turkey’. In Karin Van Nieuwkerk, Mark Levine and Martin Stokes (eds.), Islam And Popular Culture. Austin: University of Texas Press, 41-57.

Sztompka, Piotr. 1991. Society in Action: The Theory of Social Becoming. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Talmon-Heller, Daniella. 2008. Islamic Piety in Medieval Syria: Mosques, Cemeteries and Sermons Under the Zangids and Ayyubids. Leiden: Brill Academic Pub.

Turner, Victor. 1995. The Ritual Process: Structure and Anti-Structure. Piscataway, N.J.: Transaction Publishers.

Waters, Claire M. 2003. Angels and Earthly Creatures: Preaching, Performance, and Gender in the Later Middle Ages. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Werbner, Pnina, and Helene Basu. 1998. Embodying Charisma: Modernity, Locality, and Performance of Emotion in Sufi Cults. Hove, UK: Psychology Press.

Young, Douglas C. 2003. ‘Preachers and Poets: The Popular Sermon in the Andalusī Maqāma’. Journal of Arabic Literature 34.1/2, 190-205.

Zakari, Maïkorema. 2009. L’islam dans l’espace nigérien: Tome 2, De 1960 aux années 2000. Paris: L’Harmattan.


  • Young women having a conversation in a street in Saga, Niamey.
    View in gallery
  • Sunnance sisters in Quartier Abidjan, Niamey.
    View in gallery
  • Sunnance young women participating in a wazu in Yantala, Niamey.
    View in gallery
  • A group of men in wazu at Djado Sekou, a cultural center in Niamey.
    View in gallery
  • Alarama, a popular preacher in his home office in Niamey.
    View in gallery
  • A group of women participating in a wazu at Djado Sekou, one of the cultural centers in Niamey.
    View in gallery
  • Men participating in a wazu in the open air.
    View in gallery


Content Metrics

Content Metrics

All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 32 32 16
Full Text Views 4 4 4
PDF Downloads 2 2 2
EPUB Downloads 0 0 0