In the aftermath of 9/11, the assumption that adherents of evangelical Christianity and reformist Islam inhabit discrepant, permanently warring publics, has solidified. The dominant narrative is one of mutual antagonism, which positions these religions as foundational in major global conflicts. In Western Nigeria however, scholars have noted new forms of Islamic prayer whose modalities such as all-night prayer sessions, Sunday Services, personal testimonies, and a new emphasis on good and evil bear a striking resemblance to those of Pentecostal Christians, Similarly, evangelicals are engaging in new approaches to prayer and uses of religious space that reveal the influence of Islamic practices. The convergence between the religious practices of these two groups reveals the direct sharing and transfer of experiences in religious practices and evangelizing stratagems. The new forms of Islamic prayer suggest an emergence of “Charismatic Islam” as can be seen in the intensification in (Yourba) Islam of the kind of “all-embracing enthusiasm” (Ojo 2006) normally associated with Pentecostalism.
In this study, I use the case of these new dramatizations of Muslim prayer in order to understand broader questions such as: how does the transformation of Islam, betoken by these new expressions of prayer, help us to understand the shifting boundaries between Islam and Christianity, particularly in ecologies where both remain socially, economically, politically, and ideologically competitive? Further, to the extent that the nascent modalities of worship symbolize or anticipate doctrinal transformation within faiths, how does a study of prayer provide an analytic platform for understanding of critical shifts and tension within and between Christianity and Islam primarily within the cultural contest of Western Nigeria? In a national context in which the state is disconnected from ordinary people’s lives, prayer has become a central element in the rearrangement of personal and inter-personal regimes, and in the composition of ordinary people’s selfhood. Using prayer transfer and imitation, important components of how the two faiths relate in Western Nigeria, I interrogate the role of these emergent forms of Islamic prayer in the deeper transformation of the totality of the religious culture in the area.
To address questions, I will conduct ethnographic research that focuses on close observation of devotional programs and social events among Islamic groups in two Western Nigerian cities: Lagos and Ibadan. My goal is to closely monitor these events to capture the expressions and nuances of the new protocols of Islamic prayer. My work in the field will be supplemented by interviews with participants. The primary data I plan to collect will be supplemented with an analysis of audiovisual material used by Islamic groups for proselytization. Secondary data will come from published books, journal articles, newspaper reports, and religious pamphlets and tracts. The intellectual payoff of this research will be to challenge the ideas of an “economy of political panic” (Last 2007) or “cosmologies in collision” (Kileyesus 2006) that have appeared in mainstream literature. Instead, I will shift the emphasis to a “spiritual economy” (Rudnychyj 2010) in which, even as theological differences remain salient, competing faiths, in their attempts to expand and preserve themselves, frequently cross boundaries to appropriate the other’s devotional and conversionary strategies. In addition, by emphasizing the strategies of mutual influence and appropriation between Islam and Christianity, the research demonstrates the fundamental “instability of the borders” (Larkin 2008, 103; cf. Soares 2006) between these seemingly antagonistic groups, providing deep insight into their modes of adaptation and accommodation.