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Periodical article Periodical article Leiden University catalogue Leiden University catalogue WorldCat catalogue WorldCat
Title:Secular Power and Religious Authority in Muslim Society: The Case of Songhay
Author:Hunwick, John O.
Periodical:The Journal of African History
Geographic term:Niger
Songhai polity
traditional polities
Peoples of Africa (Ethnic Groups)
History and Exploration
Religion and Witchcraft
External link:https://www.jstor.org/stable/183182
Abstract:The relationship between political power and religious authority has been a delicate one in Muslim societies. In Songhay, as in several other States of precolonial Sudanic Africa, a subtle balance was achieved between the ruling estate and the diverse body of scholars, mystics and holymen who made up the religious estate. The 'askiyas' (rulers) of 16th-century Songhay, while exercising full political power, saw it in their interest to maintain harmonious relations with these men of religion. Gifts in cash and kind, including slaves, grants of land and privilege, especially exemption from taxation, as well as recognition of rights of intercession and sanctuary, ensured their moral support and spiritual services and protected rulers from their curse. Such a symbiosis was important for the stability of a large and ethnically diverse empire like Songhay, especially as regards its conquered western reaches, which were ethnically non-Songhay and had a strong Islamic cultural tradition. This equilibrium was preserved over a century of Songhay's history, only to be cast aside in 1591 by a regime that lacked roots in local society. Notes, ref., sum.