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Piety, Moral Agency, and Leadership: Dynamics Around the Feminization of Islamic Authority in Côte d’Ivoire

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image of Islamic Africa

The existing literature has pointed out some of the ways in which Muslim women claim legitimacy and, in some cases, even authority within their communities, ranging from militancy within Islamic organizations to the mastery of religious knowledge. While militancy is at the core of the contemporary feminization of Islam in a number of sub-Saharan African societies, in some places authority over religious knowledge is also in a process of being feminized. This article examines how, in the context of Islamic revivalism in Côte d’Ivoire, the feminization of Islam has evolved in the settings of voluntary associations. In particular, this article addresses the articulation between Islamic concepts of womanhood, including practices of veiling and ideological formations around them, and the construction of alternative modes of sociability in the context of the transformation of local religious organizations. In the 1990s, women’s roles in the Ivorian Islamic revivalism were marked by instances of intensified activism, while the 2002 military conflict has encouraged the emergence of women- led NGOs. For some women, these NGOs have come to be the site of assertion of new forms of religious authority. Based on ethnographic data collected between 1992 to 2011 in the cities of Bouaké and Abidjan, the analysis focuses on the material and historical conditions of women’s religious mobilization and authority.



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