Muslims in the West African state of Mali use baraji, which translates from Bambara as ‘divine reward’ or ‘recompense’, as a criterion for understanding proper religious practice. The concept also drives Muslims’ lifelong aim to acquire the unspecified amount of merit that God requires for a person to enter paradise. Drawing from life history and ethnographic research, this piece deepens understanding of West African Islam by exploring the Qur’anic basis of baraji and situates the concept as a form of value through which Muslims discern the complementary places of different ritual practices and daily choices in their lives. In order to understand the ways that Malian Muslims seek measurable units of baraji to benefit both the living and the dead, this study also shows how kin earn baraji on one another’s behalf, especially through posthumous sacrifices. By doing so, the article highlights death as a process in which the acquisition of baraji continues through kin and sacrifices, revealing West African Islam as embedded in daily social life and relations with one’s ancestors.
This essay offers an analysis of how the spread of Islam across southern Mali has impacted relationships between humans and cats. Historically, Malians have generally characterized cats as familiars for witches, setting them apart from other nonhuman animals as signs of misfortune. Such attitudes regularly culminate in people capturing and killing cats, some of whom are kept as companion animals, without repercussion. But cat-loving Muslims in southern Mali have increasingly started to call such attitudes and practices into question, using stories of the Prophet Muhammad to defend the honor of cats. This article offers a review of the changing nature of human-cat relations in contemporary southern Mali by considering the varied rationales offered for vilifying as well as honoring and tending to cats alike.