Cablegate: The Ansar Dine Movement and Islam in Mali
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DE RUEHBP #0574/01 1711217
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R 191217Z JUN 08
FM AMEMBASSY BAMAKO
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 9326
INFO RUEHZK/ECOWAS COLLECTIVE
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UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 BAMAKO 000574
DEPT PLEASE PASS TO USAID/AFR/SD ANGELA MARTIN
E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: KISL PHUM SOCI PTER ML
SUBJECT: THE ANSAR DINE MOVEMENT AND ISLAM IN MALI
REF: A. 07 BAMAKO 01223
B. 07 BAMAKO 01170
C. 07 BAMAKO 01336
1.(U) Summary: On June 17 the Embassy met with Cheikh Cherif
Ousmane Madani Haidara, the vice-president of Mali's High
Islamic Council and the leader of Mali's extremely popular
Ansar Dine movement. With an estimated following of over one
million Malians, Haidara is perhaps the only Islamic leader
in Mali capable of filling to overflow capacity Bamako's
24,000 seat football stadium. Audio tapes, CDs and videos of
his sermons can be found in nearly any market or taxi-bus
station in Mali. The charismatic Haidara has been an
outspoken advocate for democratic openness and
anti-corruption since the late 1980s when Mali's former
military dictator Moussa Traore banned him from preaching.
Although Haidara has been free to speak his mind since Mali's
1991-1992 democratic transition, vociferous criticism of
government corruption remains a core component of his
message. Another important aspect of Haidara's philosophy is
his support for the controversial belief that African Muslims
may pray in languages other than Arabic. His stand for
social justice and defense of local languages has endeared
Haidara to Mali's primarily Bambara speaking population but
has annoyed many of his fellow Islamic leaders. Haidara's
popularity and message make him one of the more important
voices for tolerance in Mali. During our meeting he and his
followers discussed the need to provide increased support for
Islamic schools in Mali, their views of the United States and
terrorism. End Summary.
He Who Speaks the Undeniable Truth
2.(U) Cheikh Cherif Ousmane Madani Haidara has been an
outspoken advocate of anti-corruption measures and democratic
reform in Mali since the late 1980s. Former military
dictator Moussa Traore cemented Haidara's popularity with
everyday Malians in 1989 when he and the government run
Malian Association for Unity and Islamic Progress (AMUPI)
tried to silence Haidara by banning him from preaching in
public. Haidara's followers responded by founding Ansar
Dine, which can be translated as "supporters" or "defenders"
of the faith, and expanding their informal network for
distributing his sermons via audiocassette, thereby turning
Haidara's voice into one of the most recognizable in Mali.
Haidara, who is also known by the Bambara nickname "Wulibali"
meaning "he who speaks the undeniable truth," regained his
right to preach publicly during Mali's 1991-1992 transition
to democracy. Neither the repression he suffered under
Moussa Traore nor Mali's fifteen years of subsequent
democratic progress have altered Haidara's fundamental themes
of anti-corruption, development, tolerance and respect for
Mali's traditional Islamic practices.
3.(U) Haidara estimates that Ansar Dine's membership exceeds
one million people in Mali. In 2005 a western journalist
estimated that Haidara and Ansar Dine were taking in as much
as USD 50 million per year from supporters throughout West
Africa. Haidara said contributions from members are Ansar
Dine's sole source of funding. Most of his followers are
likely located in central and southern Mali, although Ansar
Dine has organizations in all of Mali's eight regions and
more than 20 countries in Africa. The leaders of the
committee charged with managing the mosque and UNESCO World
Heritage site in Djenne told the Embassy last week that the
vast majority of townsfolk in Djenne belonged to Ansar Dine.
4.(U) Ansar Dine is not associated with any particular
religious persuasion beyond a general adherence to Sunnism.
In Mali individuals who describe themselves as simply Sunni
in order to distance themselves from Sufi traditions often
belong to Mali's ahl-al-Sunna or "Wahhabi" community (Ref.
A). Although Haidara's philosophy and preaching generally
tracks with Sufi tenets, he is not interested in the semantic
differences between the Tidjaniyya, Hamaliyya and Quadriyya
which comprise Mali's three major Sufi traditions (Ref. B).
"They are all the same," said Haidara when asked if he
adhered to one Sufi persuasion. "There is no difference
between one and the other."
5.(U) Haidara's emphasis on religious unity rather than
division contributes to Ansar Dine's cross-cutting appeal.
According to Haidara, Ansar Dine's membership includes
Tidjanis, Hamallists, Quadris, Wahhabis and others who share
an interest in promoting social justice and equality. This
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openness, together with Haidara's charisma, humor,
willingness to take on both the political and religious
establishments, and reliance on local languages rather than
Arabic help explain how Haidara manages to attract, once or
twice a year, enough followers to fill Bamako's 24,000 seat
football stadium as well as its infield, parking lot and
surrounding streets. During his March 2008 celebration of
Maloud, those unable to fit within the stadium followed his
sermon on giant video screens set up outside the venue.
The Message - In Bambara, Not Arabic
6.(U) Haidara's message has changed little since Mali's
democratic 1991-1992 democratic transition. His sermons
typically mix religious teaching with often humorous
observations on political or social conditions. Haidara
frequently criticizes political leaders for failing to stamp
out corruption, arguing that corruption is the root cause of
poverty in Africa. During his March 2008 Maloud celebration
he challenged President Amadou Toumani Toure to ensure that
the rule of law serves everyone and not just wealthy elites.
"In a country where one single person can consume enough for
one hundred people," said Haidara to a packed stadium, "any
hope for development is out of the question."
7.(U) During his meeting with the Embassy Haidara referred
to Mali's political leaders as "thieves who are stealing the
wealth of the country." He said that while democracy has
produced some improvements for the average Malian, "things
still are not working very well." While many of his sermons
are overtly political, and he is frequently sought out by
political leaders and candidates for blessings and
benedictions, Haidara refrains from endorsing individual
politicians. Members of Ansar Dine, he said, are free to
vote for whomever they choose.
8.(U) At times Haidara still finds himself at odds with many
of his fellow Islamic leaders. One point of contention
remains the ties of many Muslim leaders to the government.
Haidara believes these links undermine the ability of
religious leaders to serve as independent advocates for
poverty-stricken Malians. "Development will not happen,"
said Haidara in a not-so-subtle criticism of some Muslim
leaders' unwillingness to challenge governmental authorities,
"through prayer alone."
9.(U) Haidara's stance on the use of local languages during
prayer has also sparked controversy. Haidara believes that
Malian Muslims who are generally not fluent in Arabic should
be able to pray in local languages. During his celebration
of Maloud at Bamako's football stadium in March, Haidara
urged his listeners not to confuse Islam with Arabism.
Haidara expounded on this theme during his meeting with the
Embassy. "God loves all languages," he said, "and we all
love God. But we don't all love an Arab God."
Social Issues, the U.S. and Terrorism
10.(U) Like other Muslim leaders in Mali, Haidara opposes
President Toure's proposal to abolish the death penalty in
Mali (Ref. C). He said that he and other members of Mali's
High Islamic Council planned on meeting with the President
later this week to restate their opposition to abolition of
the death penalty. Haidara said he was less worried about
proposed changes to Mali's Family Code which would provide
more equal inheritance and ownership rights to women. While
Haidara indicated that he agreed with other Muslim leaders
who have labeled the proposed Family Code amendments as
"un-Islamic" he said he would abide by any decision made by
the National Assembly provided the decision was reached
11.(U) Haidara urged the U.S. to play a greater role in
supporting medersas, which are Arabic language versions of
parochial schools that follow the same curriculum as Malian
public schools but include an element of Islamic instruction.
Haidara was pleased to hear that Deputy Assistant Secretary
Todd Moss visited Abdul Aziz Yattabare, the Secretary General
of the Malian Union of Medersas and the Director of the
largest medersa in Mali, on June 12 and that USAID is
currently working to incorporate more than 4,000 medersa
teachers at over 1,200 medersas into ongoing teacher training
programs in order to ensure medersa students obtain basic
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French literacy skills.
12.(U) In addition to his strong support for democratic
openness, Haidara defended the secular nature of the Malian
state, stating that Islam and secularism were not
incompatible. He and several of his assembled supporters
said religious freedom was one reason why they admired the
United States. In recent years the Embassy has tried on two
occasions to send Haidara to the U.S. as an International
Visitor. Both times Haidara backed out at the last moment.
When told that the Embassy still never understood what caused
Haidara to change his mind, he smiled and said fear of flying
kept him from traveling. "If I could travel to the U.S. by
car or by boat," he said, "I would have gone 100 times
already." His fear of airplanes has kept him from traveling
to Mecca to complete the Hadj for more than eight years.
13.(U) One member of Haidara's entourage asked whether
Americans understood that Islam was fundamentally a peaceful
religion, despite acts of terrorism by Islamic radicals.
Haidara added that violence had no place in Islam and that
this is a theme he frequently raises during sermons.
Comment: An Important Voice for Tolerance
14.(SBU) Haidara is one of Mali's key communicators and an
important symbol of tolerance and moderation. His reliance
on Bambara rather than Arabic, outspoken stance on issues
ranging from government corruption to democratic development,
ability to cut across sectarian divides, and personal
charisma have made Haidara one of the most recognizable, and
sought after, personalities in Mali. Although his demanding
schedule - and apparent fear of flying - often prevent him
from participating in U.S. Government sponsored events, we
will continue to explore ways of working with Haidara to help
reinforce Malians' traditional aversion to extremist messages.