How much Takfir is too much Takfir? The Evolution of Boko Haram’s Factionalization


  • Jacob Zenn Adjunct Professor, Security Studies Program (SSP) at Georgetown University
  • Zacharias Pieri Lecturer of International Relations and Security Studies at University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee


Boko Haram, Nigeria, Takfir, Factionalization, Islamic State


This article explores the ways in which the doctrine of takfir has been a central component in causing the Boko Haram movement to factionalize. The paper considers the historical origins of the concept of takfir and then turns to looking at how this concept has been (re)interpreted in the contemporary period among jihadist groups such as Boko Haram. Contemporary usage of takfirism as an ideology has often led to lethal consequences for civilians on the ground who are labeled “Kafir”, and devastating consequences for the internal cohesion of groups who use takfir as disagreements arise over who is or is not “Kafir”. The concept is highly controversial, and has torn jihadist movements apart. The priority given to this concept in Boko Haram factions provides an illustrative case study of takfirism in contemporary jihadist movements. In the conclusion, the article provides recommendations on how this concept can be incorporated into CVE programs and especially de-radicalization of both leaders and foot soldiers of Boko Haram.


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