Why the sartorial choices of Salafi clerics sparked a debate on morality in Nigeria?

Amazing things keep happening around the world.

There is a saying that one should follow what he/she preaches. It can be altered to one should wear what one preaches as well.

This article by Prof Moses Ochonu (Professor of African History, Vanderbilt University) is precisely on this. He writes on how two Salafi clerics of Nigeria who wore so called “western clothing” are in the thick of a storm:

The innocuous photos of two Nigerian Islamic clerics shopping and relaxing in London sparked a fierce debate on social media platforms in northern Nigeria in early December 2017. The photos were quite unremarkable. One showed the two men sitting on a park bench; another showed them in a clothing store wearing cowboy hats. In both, they were dressed in suits. And they were wearing gloves and scarves to protect themselves from London’s cold, wet weather.


The pictures caused a fierce online debate about piety, hypocrisy, morality, the sartorial prescriptions of Islam, and the tyranny of religious authorities in Muslim-majority northern Nigeria. The violent Islamist group, Boko Haram, is active in the region, which has become a hotbed of extremism.

So, why were these ordinary images so controversial? Why did they spark heated debates among educated northern Nigerian Muslim men and women?

The answer is simple. The two men are Salafi clerics, members of a clerical order that has come to wield outsized influence over Muslims in northern Nigeria. The clerics act as enforcers of an increasingly puritan Islamic order. They are uncompromising in defining what is moral and permissible and what is haram or sacreligious. They often equate Muslims’ engagements with modernity and Western ways of life with immorality and sinful innovation or bid’ah.

This leaves them open to charges of hypocrisy when they appear to make choices seen as contradicting their teachings. And this is what happened in London. The two clerics were wearing what in northern Nigeria is considered western dress. This touched off debates between two camps of young Muslims: those who resent the growing intrusion of the clerics into their lives and are eager to criticise their adventures in a Western city, and those who continue to look on the religious figures as revered exemplars of piety.

How things come back to hit you…

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