Islam goes evangelical in Nigeria’s south

By Sophie Bouillon, AFP

LAGOS, Nigeria — Sunday morning is usually the preserve of Christian pastors in the Nigerian megacity of Lagos but a new form of worship is emerging to challenge the monopoly.

“Praise Allah!” shouts the imam of the Nasrul-lahi-li Fathi Society of Nigeria (NASFAT) before thousands of his faithful, gathered under tents on the outskirts of the city.

Pacing up and down through the crowd, he punctuates his message with vigorous “Allahs” in the trademark bombastic style of Nigeria’s evangelical preachers.

Entranced, men and women sitting on multi-colored prayer mats, raise their hands to the heavens.

NASFAT is one of a growing number of groups practicing “charismatic Islam” in response to the massive success of Pentecostal Christianity in Nigeria, said Ebenezer Obadare, a sociology professor at the University of Kansas.

It has introduced “new modalities of prayer, modes of proselytizing, and repertoires of devotion that closely approximate forms normally exclusively associated with Pentecostal Christianity,” he told AFP.

NASFAT’s mission statement is “to develop an enlightened Muslim society nurtured by a true understanding of Islam for the spiritual upliftment and welfare of mankind.” Along with traditional Friday prayers, it holds a special session every Sunday morning. “The aim is to maximize favorably the leisure time that exists among Muslims who laze away on Sunday mornings,” NASFAT explains on its website. Unofficially, it also stops them from being invited to Sunday services at neighboring churches — even if the movement doesn’t admit it. Wave of Conversions “Friends invited me for the Sunday prayers,” said Sheriff Yussuf, a well-dressed man in long white robes who joined the movement in 1998. “At the beginning I was very skeptical but then I thought, ‘let me try, I’m not doing anything on Sundays.’

“It creates an attraction to Islam, to start pulling Muslims out of the churches.” NASFAT and other charismatic Islam groups born in its wake have been embraced by the Yoruba community, which is traditionally based in the southwest and one of the few ethnic groups in Nigeria not to be attached to a particular religion. In fact, throughout southwestern Nigeria, a single family can celebrate Muslim festivals such as Eid as well as Christian ones such as Christmas. It’s not uncommon to hear a Muslim release an enthusiastic “amen” or listen to the latest hit gospel song in a taxi decorated with quotes from the Koran. But the siren song of charismatic Christian churches in Lagos — financial prosperity, miraculous healing, eternal fertility and a faithful soulmate — is just too strong for many to resist and conversion to Christianity is very common.