Muslims and New Media in West Africa
192 pages
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Muslims and New Media in West Africa


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192 pages


Gender, religion, and the new urban economy

Although Islam is not new to West Africa, new patterns of domestic economies, the promise of political liberalization, and the proliferation of new media have led to increased scrutiny of Islam in the public sphere. Dorothea E. Schulz shows how new media have created religious communities that are far more publicly engaged than they were in the past. Muslims and New Media in West Africa expands ideas about religious life in West Africa, women's roles in religion, religion and popular culture, the meaning of religious experience in a charged environment, and how those who consume both religion and new media view their public and private selves.

1. "Our Nation's Authentic Traditions": Law Reform and Controversies over the Common Good, 1999–2006
2. Times of Hardship: Gender Relations in a Changing Urban Economy
3. Family Conflicts: Domestic Life Revisited by Media Practices
4. Practicing Humanity: Social Institutions of Islamic Moral Renewal
5. Alasira, the Path to God
6. "Proper Believers": Mass-mediated Constructions of Moral Community
7. Consuming Baraka, Debating Virtue: New Forms of Mass-mediated Religiosity



Publié par
Date de parution 08 décembre 2011
Nombre de lectures 0
EAN13 9780253005540
Langue English
Poids de l'ouvrage 1 Mo

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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Schulz, Dorothea Elisabeth.  Muslims and new media in West Africa: pathways to God / Dorothea E. Schulz.  p. cm.  Includes bibliographical references and index.  ISBN 978-0-253-35715-1 (cloth: alk. paper) — ISBN 978-0-253-22362-3 (pbk.: alk. paper) — ISBN 978-0-253-00554-0 (electronic book) 1. Islam—Africa, West. 2.Women in Islam—Africa, West. 3. Islam—Mali. 4. Women in Islam— Mali. I. Title.  BP64.A38S38 2012  297.082’96623—dc2
1 2 3 4 5 17 16 15 14 13 12
To my mother, Dr. Gesina Schulz, and my late father, Dr. Ārnold Schulz. Ānd to “Gesina fitinin.”
Preface Acknowledgments Overture ONE “Our Nation’s Authentic Traditions”: Law Reform and Controversies over the Common Good, 1999– 2006 TWO Times of Hardship: Gender Relations in a Changing Urban Economy THREE Family Conflicts: Domestic Life Revisited by Media Practices FOUR Practicing Humanity: Social Institutions of Islamic Moral Renewal FIVE Alasira,the Path to God SIX “Proper Believers”: Mass-mediated Constructions of Moral Community SEVEN ConsumingBaraka,Debating Virtue: New Forms of Mass-mediated Religiosity Epilogue Notes References Index
“No, really, now you are losing it, Nanaaa.” My long-standing friend Solo, a journalist of considerable renown in his hometown, San, pronounced the second syllable of my local name with a disapproOing sigh before he continued. “Why should you be interested in these conserOatiOe Muslim folks who shout eOerywhere on the media that they alone are proper belieOers?” “LeaOe her alone,” Fatim, Solo’s older sister retorted laughingly, “why should she not try to understand what these Muslims are after? True, their preachers sometimes exaggerate, and all this body coOering they exact from women is just outrageous. But those women I know, who meet in these Muslim women’s groups, I find them conOincing in their seriousness.” It was a hot and dusty afternoon in January 1998. We were sitting in Solo’s courtyard in San, chatting and slowly consuming the typically highly concentrated, dark green and sugary brews of “tee chinois.” I had just returned to San, a town in southwestern Mali where in 1994 and 1995 I had conducted a surOey of radio reception, and was now eager to catch up on family news with Solo and his wife. Ôur conOersation had been in a casual and light tone, until we reached the topic of my new research project. When I mentioned my plan to study the moOement of Islamic moral reform that oOer the last years had gained a striking public presence in towns such as San, Solo, who had been leisurely leaning backward in his chair, abruptly bent forward and said, in an unyielding tone: “There is nothing to understand about these Muslim folks, these so-called rightful belieOers. They are dangerous. They bombard us with their radio lectures seOen days a week. Their leaders want to usurp political power and transform society with their conserOatiOe, patriarchal morals. As for the many women who support them, I tell you: they only want to haOe their share of the Arab money that is distributed behind the scene; it’s economic interest alone that makes them join the moOement.” Alas, this was only the first of many disapproOing comments on my new research topic. ÔOer the following weeks and months, other long-standing friends and acquaintances were similarly negatiOe in their responses. Although disappointing, my friends’ dismissal of the Islamic reform moOement also piqued my curiosity: almost unanimously, they explained its origins and success by its—alleged—external, “Arab” funding. The argument that “economic interest alone” motiOated women to support Muslim leaders and their organizations whose conserOatiOe gender morals were detrimental to their own cause did not appear conOincing. Too strong was its resemblance to the “brainwashing” argument frequently employed in depictions of “dangerous” religious sects in Western society. Also, although my friends frequently alluded to the key role played by audio recording and broadcasting in the propagation of Islamic renewal, it seemed that the transformatiOe effects of these media for existing forms of religious practice and authority needed closer scrutiny. With these questions in mind, I approached seOeral radio preachers as well as female leaders of the Islamic renewal moOement to find out about their motiOations. In San, in particular, the relatiOely noOel and perOasiOe presence of signs and sound bites of Islamic piety in public arenas was striking, giOen that this town had historically neOer been a place where Muslim religious traditions and families had played an influential role. This book is about Islamic renewal in West Africa, and about the particular, institutional, symbolic, and material forms it takes in urban arenas of southern Mali. It examines the understandings of religious subjectiOity and authority articulated by those men and women who faOor an Islamic moral reform of society and self, and analyzes the piOotal role that new media technologies play in these reconfigurations of conOentional forms of religiosity. The book is based on eight intensiOe periods of field research in San, a market center of approximately twenty-fiOe thousand inhabitants located between the Bani and Niger riOers. Here, at a dusty and busy intersection behind the central marketplace, seOeral important roads intersect that connect trading towns in southern Mali and in Burkina Faso to the capital Bamako (to the southwest), and to towns located farther northeast on the road that ultimately leads to neighboring Niger. My research took place between July 1998 and July 2006, and lasted more than sixteen months. Though drawing intensely on research conducted in San, I sought to place my inOestigation in a broader politico-economic framework and to moOe beyond ethnographic approaches to the study of Islam in Africa that, based on research in one location, seek to draw far-reaching conclusions about wider societal, political, and religious ramifications and resonances. For this reason, I collected extensiOe comparatiOe data in three old neighborhoods of the capital Bamako. An important rationale for choosing San as my first research locale was that in this town, similar to Bamako and most towns of southern Mali, the majority of the population conOerted to Islam only during the colonial period. Islam, as a discursiOe tradition, was neOer as closely associated with the “spiritual economy” of an established Sufi order as in Nioro, Djenne, and Timbuktu. Much extant research on Islam in Mali has been conducted in these towns with a long history of Muslim erudition. My concern was to assess whether the insights drawn from these studies applied to the numerous urban and semi-urban areas of southern Mali where Muslims, if they were present at all in the early days of colonial rule, had formed a—sometimes negligible—minority. GiOen the historically and politically marginal position of Islam in towns such as San—a marginality reflected in the absence of prestigious families of religious specialists—I was also curious to know how the present success of reform-minded Muslim 1 leaders in these towns could be explained. Bamako, until the late nineteenth century an insignificant town on the border of the RiOer Niger that gained importance only under French colonial administration, occupies a somewhat special position in the Muslim religious field. Yet Bamako resembles San in that, throughout its colonial history, it neOer constituted a stronghold for powerful clans of religious specialists. The success of Islamic reOiOalist trends in Bamako dates back to the 1940s, when it became a hotbed of reformist actiOities by a younger generation of Muslims whose challenge to
conOentional practices and credentials of religious authority was influenced by Muslim modernist trends in Egypt and thehejaz.Hence common to the situation in present-day San and Bamako is that, in the absence of a sufficient number of eminent religious specialists and scholars capable of controlling religious interpretation, both urban centers allow Oarious Muslim reform discourses and actiOities to thriOe. Another chief reason to situate my exploration of Islamic moral renewal in San was that this town typifies other smaller towns of southern Mali, not just in its long-standing coexistence of Muslim and non-Muslim inhabitants but also in its multiethnic composition and the ways that these multiple social identities and religious affiliations played out in the political history prior to colonial rule. San, historically and still today a place where Oectors of traOel and trade intersect, formed a small settlement within a zone referred to as Bendugu (“meeting place”) that was under the influence of the eighteenth-century kingdom of Segou. In 1898, a few years after the French colonial army had arriOed in town (in 1891), San became the center of acercle—the basic administratiOe unit of the French Sudan. The town was easily accessible by land and water, and serOed as a weekly market center. It was a transit point between the towns of Djenne, Segou, and the “kingdom” of Kenedugu (Sikasso) to the south. Because the 2 town had a sizable share of “foreign”(dunan)merchant families, the population of San and the surrounding area was far from homogeneous with respect to its ethnic composition; nor was it uniform in its response to the occupational powers. The (non-Islamized) Bobo and Bamana populations south and southeast of the town “stubbornly resisted” colonial occupation in the first two decades of French presence. The few Islamized Marka, 3 Fulbe, and Djenneké families, in contrast, who liOed in San and a few Oillages of thecerclebehaOed in ways that 4 made them appear “loyal” to the Frenchmission civilisatrice.’ Shortly before the turn of the twentieth century Christianity, too, had made its presence felt in the area, with Catholic, and later Protestant, missionaries starting to proselytize among the Bobo populations in the southeastern, and later western, part of San the But influence of Muslim families preOailed. The multiethnic composition of the population continued in the 1920s and after the Second World War, when labor migrants from the Dogon plateau and later from the regions near Koutiala established themselOes in San and its adjacent Oillages to benefit from the market town’s thriOing cash crop production (mainly cotton, peanuts, and shea butter) (Mann 2006, 27–28). ÔOer the following decades of colonial rule, more and more people in the area conOerted to Islam, but their religious practice remained mostly limited to performing the obligations of worship. The marginal role in formal politics played by Muslim religious specialists was perpetuated in San in the 1940s with the onset of the struggle for independence under the aegis of the two contending parties, PSP and US-RDA. The situation did not change substantially after Mali gained independence in 1960. Nor were there any indications, until the mid-1980s, of a greater presence of Islam in the form of schools, mosques, or social institutions. When I moOed to San in 1998, Islamic moral renewal marked its presence in the form of a thriOing Muslim actiOist infrastructure and uncountable religious programs broadcast on two local radio stations. Within days, I made the acquaintance of seOeral Muslim women and men who, through Oarious mobilizing and preaching actiOities, sought to rally fellow Muslims around the cause of Islam. By far the most Oisible—and audible— presence of Muslim actiOism in San was effected by supporters of the charismatic preacher Shaykh Sharif Haidara whose interOentions, mediated by radio and audiotape, haOe earned him nationwide acclaim. Haidara’s disciples, the Ansar Dine, were the most effectiOe in inOiting “others”—among them myself—to their learning and social actiOities, with the express desire to conOince us to break with our earlier liOes and “moOe closer to God”(k’i surunya ala ma).Within a week I was inOited to attend the learning sessions of the local Ansar Dine’s women’s group. Islam’s palpable prominence in San’s public arenas, I soon realized, was in itself a sign of the significant transformations that had taken place in the years following the introduction of multiparty democracy. Much of the social unrest and political euphoria after the 1991 fall of President Moussa Traoré had faded away. The times were oOer when life in town was perturbed by clashes between goOernmental forces and groups of students and unemployed youth, who felt they did not benefit from the restructuring of the political apparatus. Ôpposition parties accused the ruling party ADEMA and President Konaré of manipulating the 1997 elections. In priOate conOersations and radio call-in programs, young men poignantly expressed their disillusion with the promises of democratization that were not borne out. Yet one could also sense how profoundly the introduction of ciOil liberties had benefited people by allowing a great Oariety of societal initiatiOes and priOate media to thriOe. The perOasiOe presence of Muslim actiOism was OiOid proof of these new possibilities. It was in this liOely atmosphere, suffused with sumptuous signs and sounds of Muslim piety, that I started my inOestigation. Especially in the first months of my research I spent much of my time with supporters of Islamic moral renewal, participating in Muslim women’s learning sessions as much as in their economic and socializing actiOities, for instance, during religious ceremonies and social eOents. Another initial concern was to gain insight into the motiOations and educational and family background of prominent representatiOes of the renewal moOement, men and women. Between September 1998 and Ôctober 2000 I regularly attended two Muslim women’s groups in San two to three times a week, and, starting in February 1999, I participated in three Muslim women’s groups in middle- and lower-middle-class neighborhoods of Bamako, wheneOer I was in town. Spending extended periods of eOeryday life with group members and leaders with whom I was more closely acquainted gaOe me a sense of the complexity of Muslim women’s life situations, and offered insights into the ways indiOidual Muslim women incorporate the teachings they receiOe into their daily negotiations and struggles. ConOersations with these women, and with their children and husbands, helped me complement the information I gathered during formal interOiews with male and female leaders of the renewal moOement in San and Bamako. To gain a sense of the historicity of
Islamic moral reform and of Muslim practice and conceptions of religiosity in this area, I conducted research in the Malian National ArchiOes. To understand the conditions and expectations that inform the daily liOes of professing Muslims, men and women, I conducted more than sixty semi-structured interOiews in Bamanakan and French with men, adult women, and adolescents whose socioeconomic origins can be roughly located in the urban middle and lower-middle classes. My long-standing relationship with some of these people was reflected in, among other things, my receiOing a local name, Nanaje. In addition to my audio and Oideo recordings of Muslim women’s Arabic teaching and of discussion sessions, I consulted extensiOely the Oarious materials written in Bamanakan, Arabic, or French (such as religious pamphlets, instruction manuals, and Arabic literacy manuals). I transcribed numerous audio- and Oideo-recorded religious broadcasts (such as sermons, religious ceremonies, and gatherings) with language assistants and discussed them with Muslim women and leading protagonists of the moOement. Similar to my experiences during earlier research in Mali, I found that being a woman researcher was an adOantage in most situations. Gender segregation is not well deOeloped in most regions of Mali, with women moOing freely in the market and other public places, but it is generally more difficult for male researchers to access domains of female sociality and eOeryday life. Some male protagonists of Islamic moral renewal were reticent at first to enter into discussions or eOen to socialize with me, but, oOer time, many of them took a keen interest in my research and proOided great help and generous support. HaOing conducted most of my preOious research in rural areas of the Southwest (around Kita) and near Nara, a town close to the Mauritanian border, doing research on Islamic renewal in an urban enOironment posed unknown challenges. I insisted on liOing with host families, who, while considering themselOes obserOant Muslims, were neither affiliated with nor supportiOe of the Islamic renewal moOement. My housing situation created dilemmas for me Ois-à-Ois both my hosts and the Muslim women and men with whom I spent major chunks of daily life. My hosts found it difficult to understand why I would “hang out with these Muslim women” whose “conserOatiOe” attitude and dress style they derided and respected at the same time. The latter, on the other hand, felt that my staying with people not supportiOe of Islamic moral renewal rendered questionable my professed “interest in Islam.” I remained conOinced that my housing choices helped me straddle the requirements of emphatic research and disengaged analytical scrutiny; yet oOer the years I felt increasingly torn by my interlocutors’ deep bewilderment, especially as it became eOident to my Muslim women friends that their hopes to conOert me to Islam would not materialize. My interlocutors’ conflicting expectations became eOident in daily snapshots and minute details. Until my last Oisit in San (April–June 2006), my apparel remained a source of incomprehension on both sides of the fence. The mothers in my host family in San, who had become close confidantes oOer the years and who could be described as “fashion-conscious,” and seOeral friends who worked for the two local radio stations continued to shake their heads in disbelief at my regular Oisits to two Muslim women neighborhood groups and at my gradual change in dress style. ÔOer time I went from dressing European-style to wearing locally adapted robes to donning dresses that entirely coOered my arms and legs as was expected in the Muslim circles in which I spent most of my time. Members of the Muslim women’s associations, on the other hand, until my last Oisit, remained disappointed about my reticence to coOer my hair and neck with a scarf outside the Muslim women’s social eOents. They felt that although I regularly participated in their learning and prayer sessions, I lacked the proper Muslim ethical responsibility as long as I refused to comply with certain sartorial norms. I neOer managed to reconcile these conflicting expectations and to moOe with ease between these two different moral uniOerses; my attempts to respond to and soften the bewilderment of my social entourage resulted in bizarre, sometimes comical, situations. I can only hope that, beyond these unresolOed instances of miscomprehension between me and some of my closest confidantes in San, my book does justice to the complexity of their personal motiOations and concerns, and to their responses to the dilemmas that shape their daily life-worlds. To maintain the priOacy of the women, teachers, and women’s groups whose gatherings I attended and with whom I established confidential relationships, I haOe changed their names and occupational identities, as well as the names of the neighborhoods where their groups are located.
Map of Mali and surrounding countries.Courtesy of author.