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‘All Women are Guides’: Sufi Leadership and Womanhood among Taalibe Baay in Senegal

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image of Journal of Religion in Africa

In Sufi Islamic groups in West Africa, the position of muqaddam, one appointed as a spiritual guide, is usually held by men. Although Senegalese Shaykh Ibrahim Niasse (1900-1975) appointed many Senegalese women as muqaddams throughout his life, few of his disciples were aware of these appointments. Since the 1990s a growing number of ‘Taalibe Baay’ (disciples of Niasse) women have more openly led active communities of disciples. Several factors have made it possible for these women to act uncontroversially as recognized leaders, including (1) Baye Niasse’s popularization of mystical knowledge and authority, making them available to the general body of disciples, (2) the urbanization of the Taalibe Baay movement and (3) global and local processes raising Muslim women’s visibility as objects of discourse and as active religious and economic actors. While these women sometimes draw on global discourses of gender equality, to a much larger extent they base their religious authority on embodying and performing the interiority and submissiveness conventionally associated with pious women.

Affiliations: 1: Sociology, Anthropology, Psychology & Egyptology Department American University in Cairo P.O. Box 74 New Cairo 11835 Egypt, Email:


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