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Engaging Modernity

Muslim Women and the Politics of Agency in Postcolonial Niger

Ousseina Alidou

Publication Year: 2005

Seizing the space opened by the early 1990s democratization movement, Muslim women are carving an active, influential, but often-overlooked role for themselves during a time of great change. Engaging Modernity provides a compelling portrait of Muslim women in Niger as they confronted the challenges and opportunities of the late twentieth century.
    Based on thorough scholarly research and extensive fieldwork—including a wealth of interviews—Ousseina Alidou’s work offers insights into the meaning of modernity for Muslim women in Niger. Mixing biography with sociological data, social theory and linguistic analysis, this is a multilayered vision of political Islam, education, popular culture, and war and its aftermath. Alidou offers a gripping look at one of the Muslim world’s most powerful untold stories.


Runner-up, Aidoo-Snyder Book Prize, Women’s Caucus of the African Studies Association, 2007

Published by: University of Wisconsin Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. xi


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pp. xiii

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pp. xv-xxi

I completed writing this book in a period of tense and polarized global politics in which any reference to Islam or Muslims raised wary eyebrows, sadly even in academic circles. Yet it is precisely in this geopolitical climate that a study such as this, which seeks to bring out the complexities of the Islamic experience, has become crucial. Though focused on one country, the...

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pp. 3-29

This book explores the interplay between Muslim women and agency in the Republic of Niger as shaped by religion, ethnicity, class, schooling, and citizenship. Drawing on biographical and sociological data, these intersections of vectors of agency are examined in four domains: political Islam, education, popular culture, and war and its aftermath. Hitherto dominated...

Part 1: Women, Education, and Epistemological Traditions

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pp. 31

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1. When Kuble (Seclusion) Literacy Invades the Electronic Space: Malama A’ishatu Hamani Zarmakoy Dancandu and the Politics of Knowledge

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pp. 33-56

In this chapter I examine two legacies associated with Islam in the popular imagination throughout the Sahelian region—kuble (kulle), also referred to as purdha in some Muslim societies, and Arabic-derived literacies—and how they have defined the lives of the women who came to embrace Islam.¹ In Niger, the practice of kuble has both an extreme and a moderate...

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2. Women and the Political Economy of Education

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pp. 57-84

The field of education and its interplay with gender is one cultural arena in Niger Republic where the convergence between Africa’s indigenous traditions, Islamic heritage, and Western legacies is best at play. But while I utilize terms like “tradition,” “indigenous,” and “Western” in exploring this historical experience, I wholly share the view of the late Nigerien...

Part 2: Women, Folklore, and Performative Identities

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pp. 85

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3. Politics, Popular Culture, and Women Performing Artists: A Biographical Inquiry in a Francophone-Islamic Context

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pp. 87-128

My aim in this chapter is to continue exploring the reality of Nigerien women’s identities by focusing on the biography of one of the most popular female artists in Niger, Habsu Garba. Through an examination of the interplay between cultural locations (ethnicity, culture, language, profession, and class) and the working of agency, I hope to demonstrate that...

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4. Cinderella Goes to the Sahel

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pp. 129-145

In this chapter, I provide a discourse analysis of a variant of a popular folktale most commonly known as Marainiya (the orphan girl), which illustrates another area of Habsu Garba’s contribution as a storyteller in radio broadcasting. The story is, in fact, a particular version of the Marainiya subgenre that Habsu selected for narration on the national radio. It is a...

Part 3: Women and Overt Political Contestation

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pp. 147

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5. Islamisms, the Media, and Women’s Public Discursive Practices

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pp. 149-171

The dynamics and counterdynamics of the democratization momentum of the 1990s inspired the women of Niger to interrogate their historical location in this predominantly Muslim West African nation of about eleven million people.

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6. Through the Eyes of Agaisha: Womanhood, Gender Politics, and the Tuareg Armed Rebellion

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pp. 172-186

Between 1985 and 1990, the Tuareg—a nomadic pastoralist people inhabiting the Sahara—launched sporadic attacks from their military camps in Libya and Algeria with arms supplied by France, Germany, and other foreign countries.¹ These attacks provided grounds for the Nigerien government to implicate all Tuareg indiscriminately and to order the national armed...

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pp. 187-196

While most studies on Muslim women make it their main goal to investigate how Islam views women or to examine the oppression of Muslim women resulting from Islam, this book has explored the lives of women as agents in several ways. The overarching concern has been with how the statuses and roles of Muslim women in Niger have changed as a result of...

Appendix A: Abdoul Salam’s Dance Song Tigyedimma: Transregional and Transethnic Sahelian Brassage

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pp. 199-203

Appendix B: Biographical Sketch of Dr. Malama Zeinab Sidi Baba Haidara

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pp. 205-206


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pp. 207-210


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pp. 211-223


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pp. 225-235

E-ISBN-13: 9780299212131
Print-ISBN-13: 9780299212100

Publication Year: 2005