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“Keep These Women Quiet:” Colonial Modernity, Nationalism, and the Female Barbarous Custom

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This paper revisits the Rufa’a revolt/riot (1946) in the Sudan led by Mahmoud M. Taha, the elderly Islamic, modernist reformer executed by President Nimerie in 1985, to abolish legislation against female circumcision imposed by the British. Although revered as a martyr for his courage facing death for his beliefs, Taha has been unrelentingly castigated for opposing a measure that intended allegedly to rescue women from this barbarous custom. Not even Taha’s subsequent unprecedented labor for women’s rights took the edge off this criticism of his stand on female circumcision in 1946.

The paper will argue that this conflicted view about Tahas’ feminist legacy arose from a sorrowful dichotomy in scholarship about the Sudan. The culturally sensitive feminist writings about female circumcision in the country failed to influence the narrative of Sudanese nationalism. In this narrative colonial modernity’s claim to civilize the “natives” (like rescuing colonial women from their male oppressors) has been widely accepted. Worse, this rescue mission is currently missed and nostalgically remembered as a golden past by both scholars and laymen who were turned off by the disarray of independent Sudan.

Drawing on postcolonialism, the paper will seek to bridge the gulf between Sudan feminism and nationalism scholarships to rehabilitate the feminist outlook and praxis of Taha, a consummate, different nationalist. The colonial rescue concept, or modernity, will be viewed as a form of a “colonial nonsense” as developed by Homi Bhabha. This nonsense is an evidence of the sterility of colonialism, an alleged modernist project, torn between the demands of the metropolis raised in the custom of democracy, and the administrative constraints of the colony mired in the custom of power.

Affiliations: 1: University of Missouri, Email:


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