“The vulture without fear”: Exploring the noble Muslim in contemporary rural Mali

André Chappatte


This article explores the relationship between religiosity and prosperity through a particular ethnographic case from Mali and interrogates the suitability of applying models that use the lens of neoliberalism to this relationship. In the eyes of many Muslims in WestAfrica, the material prosperity displayed by Muslim scholars indexes a pious life based on the practice of Islamic precepts. In contrast to neoliberal interpretations, I analyze a resilient mode of prosperity in rural southwest Mali associated with a figure of moral success that Malians nostalgically date back to a precolonial Mande era: “the noble Muslim.” I do so through an in-depth portrait of a particular individual who described himself as “Rasta Muslim” Moussa, whose life epitomized a diffuse traditional ethics and notions of prosperity in the region. Excavating these dimentation of experience back in time, I investigate how Moussa interpreted the contemporary noble Muslim through a dynamic of leterroir. This concept stresses a cultural formation that stems from a creative engagement with the soil as a vector of tradition in dialogue with larger contemporary Rasta influences.


Neoliberalism, prosperity, Mande, ethics, Islam, Mali

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.1086/701301