Ongoing Research – Mai Azzam

Development of Burhanyyia community: shaping youth religious identities 

This research is part of a PhD project in anthropology at the University of Khartoum; it falls under the umbrella of a cooperation program between Paris 8 University and University of Khartoum. Broadly, it is concerned with the general theme of Islamization, Sufi orders and youth in Sudan.

Some scholars expected that Islam is becoming detached gradually from the African continent following the same pattern of detached Christianity in Europe. In fact, Sudan as an African Muslim country is presenting a different case than what was expected by scholars in the past. It can be clearly seen that Islam is becoming more attached to the community, and in particular to the young generation one. Dating back in the history Islam was introduced to Sudan through Sufi orders, in a formula that best suited the community, it was a successful marriage between Sufi ideology and local cultures. Since then, Sudan is subjected to continuous pressures of Islamization, although, this happened in different periods, but the most effective one started with the current regime. It is hard to separate the Islamization process from political ideology, the process which is well studied by different scholars locally as well as internationally. Nevertheless, it is relevant to study the effect of forced Islamization on a Muslim community. The changes that happened in the Muslim community in Sudan can be seen through different indicators, thus, for the sake of this study, religiosity manifestations and modes of religiosity are to be used as entrances to understand new formulas of religious identities. Identities are shaped in a long process that includes religious background as an important element, especially within the youth community. It is worth mentioning that religious identities can be selected or forced, this depends on a complex of factors, which will be studied along through this research. The varieties of religious identities in Sudan are wide and handy, it can be Sufi, Salafi, centrist, etc. This research is concerned with the Sufi “followers”, the case of Sufi orders in Sudan is best suits examining the changes forced by Islamization, taking into account the new forms of Sufi orders that are targeting youth. One of these orders is Burhanyyia in Khartoum, Burhanyyia are interested in young generations. Their discourse, ideology and strategy are directed to attract youth to join the Sufi orders. The case of Burhanyyia is well aligned with the overall trend of what is known as neo-Sufism, but also it is aligned with the massive numbers of Sufi branches, Sufi orders, which are born constantly in Khartoum. The sheikh Mohamed Osman Abdo Al Burhany, had a clear vision regarding his tariqqa, the targeted community, the future plan, and the modernizing mechanisms. There are different layers in the above description; Burhanyyia as a tariqqa that is always coping with the social modernity forces, but also keeping the authenticity of an old Sufi tradition, as well as, reacting towards the Islamization trend, that is fluctuating between forcing a monocular Islamic ideology sometimes, and tolerant to others sometimes. On the other side of this coin, youth who are seeking a religious identity choose to follow Sufi tradition; they find a platform in Burhanyyia which already well prepared to grasp them. This study is trying to understand through studying development of the Burhanyyia community, youth modes of religiosity, sociological motives behind joining a Sufi Order and the process of shaping a religious identity. This will be analyzed under the wide umbrella of the question regarding Islamization effects from an anthropological stand point.


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