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Contested Religious Authority: Sufi Women in Ethiopia and Eritrea

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image of Journal of Religion in Africa

The African experience in works dealing with Sufi women shows a concentration of classical and more recent works in the Maghreb and in West Africa. There is an observable gap in academic writings on the Horn of Africa where only scarce and fragmentary studies are available on women’s involvement and leadership in Sufism. Works focusing on Somalia address such themes as women’s oral literature, religious practices, and everyday religion. The challenges Sufi women face in legitimizing their power, their experiences in a strong patriarchal society, the dominant discursive gendering strategy in defining religious orthodoxy, and the different mechanisms used by these women to establish and protect their religious power are marginalized themes in the region. Furthermore, by clearly showing the different coping mechanisms adopted by two religious figures and the different activities they lead as custodians of Sufi shrines, this paper stresses the need to go beyond the dominant academic discourse that overshadows the agency of women and instead magnify the passive status women have in the African sociopolitical landscape. This paper focuses on these themes and contributes to this gap through a comparative case study of two prominent Sufi figures from two different parts of the Horn of Africa, Ethiopia and Eritrea.

Affiliations: 1: Institut Emilie du Châtelet/IMAf – CNRS France ; 2: Volkswagen Foundation Knowledge for Tomorrow Initiative


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