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ʻSpeaking for Islamʼ and Religious Authority in Zongos in Asante, Ghana

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In presenting and comparing three different endeavors of ʻspeaking for Islamʼ in the Muslim communities of zongos in Asante, this essay analyzes what renders this act into a felicitous performance. Accordingly, I delineate and discuss the grounds on which one is accorded or denied the authority to make consequential pronouncements on Islamic matters within the discursive tradition of this religion. As I argue, this authority does not solely hinge on one’s erudite Islamic learning and one’s abilities to implement it in one’s rhetoric; it also depends on one’s personal demeanor and reputation in the community. In order to have the actual chance to make consequential pronouncements on Islamic matters, which include religious as well as moral issues, one’s authority has to be accorded by those over whom it is exercised, and can neither be claimed nor enforced as such.

Affiliations: 1: University of Bayreuth BayreuthGermany


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1. Malam Abdeen from Kokote Zongo, 2011/2012. Notes, recorded sermons and interviews. Kotokoli; born in the late 1960s in Kokote Zongo; married with three children. One of Kokote Zongo’s leading Sunna malams; works as Islamic and Arabic teacher at an Islamic School and in the Sunna makarantā; study visit at an Islamic university in Khartoum, Sudan, in 2013. Several conversations and interviews.
2. Malam Alhassan from Kokote Zongo, 2011/2012/2013. Notes, recorded sermons and interviews. Wala; born in the 1970s in Kade; married with two children. One of Kokote Zongo’s leading malams; works malam adwuma (Asante Twi: a malam’s work); and often leads the Friday prayer in Kokote Zongo’s Central Mosque.
3. Anonymous: The president of Just One Day, Kokote Zongo, 2012. Notes. Ethnic identity and marital status unknown; in her mid-forties. The president and founder of Just One Day Fun Club, which in 2012 had branches in Kumase, Kokote Zongo, and a few other towns in Asante. However, by 2013 this club, which was highly successful and attractive for new members in 2012, had ceased to exist. Several conversations.
4. Al-Hajj Daoud from Kokote Zongo, 2011/2012/2013. Notes. Kotokoli; born in the late 1950s/early 1960s; married with several children. One of the mpaaninfoɔ of Kokote Zongo’s Sunna group; works at the National Health Insurance Office in Offinso. Several conversations.
5. Malam Hamidou from Kokote Zongo, 2011/2012/2013. Notes, recorded tafsīr and sermons. Hausa; born 1982 in Kokote Zongo; unmarried but formally engaged. One of Kokote Zongo’s leading Sunna malams; works as Arabic and Islamic teacher at an Islamic School in a nearby village and at the Sunna makarantā (Hausa: Qurʾān school). Host of the author throughout his stay. Several conversations and interviews; befriended the author.
6. Kumase Issaqu from Kokote Zongo, 2011/2012. Notes. Ethnic identity unknown; in his mid-thirties; got married during fieldwork. Sunna. Works as English teacher at an Islamic School in Kumase. Several conversations.
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