The Journal of African History


Towards an ‘Islamic Policy’ in French West Africa, 1854–1914

Donal Cruise O'brien

The French government, in the early part of this period, from 1854 to the turn of the century, did not have a consistent or systematic ‘Islamic policy’ for ts colonial possessions. There were, however, certain patterns of administration which, quite unintentionally, gave a new impetus to the spread of Islam in Vest Africa. The first section of the article deals with this period, when the basis for later policy was laid but when policy was not yet systematically articulated.

The creation of the Service des Affaires Musulmanes et Sahariennes in Paris in 1900, and of the Service des Affaires Musulmanes in Dakar in 1906, together with the works of scholar-administrators such as Le Chatelier, Arnaud and Marty, marks the definition of a general policy towards Islam in colonial territories. This policy was aimed, in particular, to secure the loyalty of the Muslim notables, and to use them as intermediaries and tools of administration.

In a final section, the article deals with the renewed fear of Islam which affected France, with the intensification of pan-Islamic propaganda from Turkey immediately before the First World War, and with the change in policy which resulted. The outbreak of war, which enabled the Muslim élite to demonstrate its real loyalty to France, provided, however, a final reassurance.