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How to Be a Good Muslim Wife: Women’s Performance of Islamic Authority during Swahili Weddings

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Abstract The existing literature on women of the Swahili Coast has focused largely on their involvement in activities labeled as non-Islamic by both male peers and scholars. However, Islam plays an important role in these women’s lives and they often bring Islamic knowledge to bear on their participation in seemingly secular activities. In this study I address women’s role as sex instructors with a specific focus on instructing a bride in contemporary Swahili weddings. Contextualizing participant observation within the existing literature on Swahili puberty rituals, sex instruction, weddings, and language ideologies, I find that the ritual involves a discursive performance of Islamic knowledge and thereby offers women who act as instructors a form of religious authority. This provides an important counterpoint to decontextualized representations of Swahili Islam as excluding women from positions of authority.

Affiliations: 1: UCLA Department of Applied Linguistics 3320 Rolfe Hall, Los Angeles, CA 90095 kdthompson@ucla.edu

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