Contemporary Islam

, Volume 8, Issue 1, pp 17–36 | Cite as

The revenge of the Jinns: spirits, Salafi reform, and the continuity in change in contemporary Ethiopia

  • Terje Østebø


The point of departure for this article is a story about jinns taking revenge upon people who have abandoned earlier religious practices. It is a powerful account of their attempt to free themselves from a past viewed as inhabited by evil forces and about the encounter between contemporary Salafi reformism and a presumed disappearing religious universe. It serves to prove how a novel version of Islam has superseded former practices; delegitimized and categorized as belonging to the past. The story is, however, also an important source and an interesting entry-point to examine the continued relevance of past practices within processes of reform. Analyzing the story about the jinns and the trajectory of Salafi reform in Bale, this contribution demonstrates how the past remains intersected with present reformism, and how both former practices and novel impetuses are reconfigured through this process. The article pays attention to the dialectics of negotiations inherent to processes of reform and points to the manner in which the involvement of a range of different actors produces idiosyncratic results. It challenges notions of contemporary Islamic reform as something linear and fixed and argues that such processes are multifaceted and open-ended.


Salafism Ethiopia Jinn Islamic reform Spirit possession 


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Center for African Studies and Department of ReligionUniversity of FloridaGainesvilleUSA

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