Abstract

In Niger, women have long been seen as embodiments of virtue (or wickedness). Of late, with the rise of reformist Islam, their role as upholders of purity has become key to the definition of moral community. Debates over the control of female sexuality and the ordering of social spaces have intensified. While such debates are characteristically framed in Islamic terms, one should not assume that pre-Islamic cosmologies—often denigrated by Islam—have become irrelevant to local moral concerns. In August 2003, rumors of a veiled she-devil haunting the streets of Zinder in search of seductive encounters provoked a moral panic, which eventually received a full account in a Nigérien newspaper. Muslim reformists argued the apparition was meant to discourage women from veiling, but others countered that it served as a warning to philandering husbands. It demonstrated that far from waning under the impact of Islamic revivals, figures of the pre-Islamic past are well entrenched in Islamic towns. Besides suggesting that non-Muslim others cannot be consigned to history, the rumors of spiritual intrusion discussed in this article highlight the centrality of the non-Muslim other in popular constructions of Muslimhood. In an age of renewed Muslim anxiety about forms of femininity perceived to conflict with the image of virtuous womanhood, the she-devil offered Nigérien Muslims a means of pondering the dangers of women's sexuality. At another level, her tale is about spirits parodying Islam so as to reveal the limits of morality. By subversively playing with notions of modesty and morality, the spirit presented a sobering critique of the hypocrisy of the veil in contemporary Niger.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-1978
Print ISSN
0001-9887
Pages
pp. 39-64
Launched on MUSE
2008-04-03
Open Access
No
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