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date: 26 September 2022

Women and Islamlocked

Women and Islamlocked

  • Shobana ShankarShobana ShankarDepartment of History, Stony Brook University

Summary

African women’s experiences of Islam reveal the rich and layered ways in which belief has shaped not only the deeply personal relationship to God but also broader political, social, economic, and cultural processes. History in Africa shows examples of pious Muslim women who have made notable contributions through their activities to profess their own faith and strengthen believers and practices within their communities over many centuries. As with all historical actors, women who were literate, in prominent positions, and had power over others tend to be more legible in the African past. Even as Muslim African women have had considerable agency in some spheres in different parts of the continent, the “question of women”—what they do in public and private lives and what power they have in society—has also raised considerable debate and tension in Muslim communities and their relationships with non-Muslims, including but not only with the West. The nature of relations between women and men and the roles of women in public and private spheres, education and opportunity, entertainment and leisure, marriage, sexuality, and love have all been matters of negotiation for Muslims. The tendency to view Islam, women, and gender in terms of “tradition versus modernity” or “orthodoxy versus heterodoxy” was common among European observers of Islam in Africa, often on a presumed comparative basis to the Middle East. Some African Muslims too have engaged in such comparisons, often in the name of reforms of religious practices. Yet such comparisons have never erased the importance of indigenous, local, and regional women’s and gender dynamics. The impossibility of generalizing Islam or even “women,” which is not a singular category, destabilizes simplistic overarching narratives that overstate neat patterns and obscure the meanings of complicated lived experiences of religious belief and practice.

Subjects

  • Women’s History

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