Islam and Social Change in French West Africa: History of an Emancipatory Community

Paperback (Print)
Buy New
Buy New from
Buy Used
Buy Used from
(Save 36%)
Item is in good condition but packaging may have signs of shelf wear/aging or torn packaging.
Condition: Used – Good details
Used and New from Other Sellers
Used and New from Other Sellers
from $25.60
Usually ships in 1-2 business days
(Save 26%)
Other sellers (Paperback)
  • All (7) from $25.60   
  • New (4) from $32.58   
  • Used (3) from $25.60   


Exploring the history and religious community of a group of Muslim Sufi mystics who came largely from socially marginal backgrounds in colonial French West Africa, this study shows the relationship between religious, social, and economic change in the region. It highlights the role that intellectuals – including not only elite men, but also women, slaves, and the poor – played in shaping social and cultural change and illuminates the specific religious ideas on which Muslims drew and the political contexts that gave their efforts meaning. In contrast to depictions that emphasize the importance of international networks and anti-modern reaction in twentieth-century Islamic reform, this book claims that, in West Africa, such movements were driven by local forces and constituted only the most recent round in a set of centuries-old debates about the best way for pious people to confront social injustice. It argues that traditional historical methods prevent an appreciation of Muslim intellectual history in Africa by misunderstanding the nature of information gathering during colonial rule and misconstruing the relationship between documents and oral history.
Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Hanretta's book examines a dissident West African Sufi order transplanted from the southern sahel to Côte d’Ivoire during French colonial rule. Drawing on written and oral materials, Hanretta offers probing analyses of Muslim authority, memory and human agency. The result is a sophisticated history of the transformations associated with colonial rule, slave emancipations and Sufi piety during the first half of the twentieth century."
John Henry Hanson, Indiana University

"Islam and Social Change in French West Africa is a significant contribution to African history. It manages to integrate, in a coherent argument, the history of Islamic religious practice and of social marginality. Hanretta reflects with great intelligence on the process of writing about contested colonial history. He tells us that his sources bear the indelible marks of colonial power relations but can, despite this, serve as the basis of an important narrative."
Steven Feierman, University of Pennsylvania

"With this book, Sean Hanretta takes his place as one of the leading authorities on religious and social change in Africa. He has 'pluralized' the paths and patterns of islamization in this story of a Muslim community in Mali, Mauritania, Senegal and Cote d’Ivoire in the twentieth century. The Yacoubistes, spiritual descendants of the Hamallistes, who were in turn a variant of the Tijaniyya Sufi order, suffered at the hands of French colonial and local elite authorities in Mauritania in 1929–30, and then transformed the history of that suffering into an entrepreneurial success in Cote d’Ivoire. Hanretta makes several passes at their narrative, and reinventions of that narrative, and the ways in which different parts of the overall community have interpreted the story. He brings special insight to the interpretations and meaning for women, who have been woefully neglected in the literature on Islam in francophone West Africa."
David Robinson, Michigan State University

"In this remarkable examination of the trajectory of one West African Sufi community, Hanretta masterfully pulls together the diverse strands of religious, economic, political and social change in Sahelian Africa into a finely textured account of the region in the twentieth century. Critically engaging with oral accounts, archival sources, and an extraordinarily wide range of literature, this work provides a window on a history of striking relevance to our understanding of Islam and social order in the contemporary Sahel, while simultaneously challenging scholarly conventions of how we come to understand complex social change."
Leonardo A. Villalón, University of Florida

"This is more than a study of a Sufi community in twentieth-century West Africa; it is a study of the intellectual life of patronage and power in a colonial society. With a critical reading of oral and archival materials, Hanretta shows how patronage and power articulate a moral universe of doctrine and practice."
Luise White, University of Florida

"… Hanretta’s work pushes the field in new directions … Within the historiography of Islam in West Africa, the book breaks new ground alongside other recent works that seek to employ local or micro-histories to critique and analyze standard conceptions and to present emerging theories on the larger topic of the development of Islam in Africa."
John Glover, American Historical Review

"Islam and Social Change in French West Africa is a significant, well-written, and thoughtfully argued book. Hanretta makes major substantive contributions to the historiography of Islam in Africa by illuminating the history of an under-examined movement and by placing women and low status individuals at the center of the analysis. Moreover, he makes useful interventions into African colonial historiography - and colonial historiography more broadly - by showing how meaningful narratives in the history of the colonized might be discerned in the archive of the colonizer."
Rudolph Ware, International Journal of African Historical Studies

"[A] rich and intellectually ambitious work."
Gregory Mann, Islamic Africa

Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780521156295
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press
  • Publication date: 7/19/2010
  • Series: African Studies Series
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 328
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Sean Hanretta is currently Assistant Professor of History at Stanford University. He received a B.A. in history from the Colorado College and an M.A. and Ph.D. in African history from the University of Wisconsin. He has published research on precolonial Zulu history, on mining camps in the Belgian Congo and on the history of Islam in West Africa. His work has appeared in the Journal of African History and Comparative Studies in Society and History. His current research focuses on wedding and funeral reform efforts among Muslims in Ghana.
Read More Show Less

Table of Contents

Part I. 'The Suffering of our Father': Story and Context: 1. Sufism and status in the Western Sudan; 2. Making a revival: Yacouba Sylla and his followers; 3. Making a community: the 'Yacoubists' from 1930 to 2001; Part II. 'I Will Prove to You that What I Say Is True': Knowledge and Colonial Rule: 4. Ghosts and the grain of the archives; 5. History in the Zawiya: redemptive traditions; Part III. 'What Did He Give You?': Interpretation: 6. Lost origins: women and spiritual equality; 7. The spiritual economy of emancipation; 8. The gift of work: devotion, hierarchy, and labor; 9. 'To never shed blood': Yocouba, Houphouët, and Côte d'Ivoire.
Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Be the first to write a review
( 0 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star


4 Star


3 Star


2 Star


1 Star


Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation


  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously

    If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
    Why is this product inappropriate?
    Comments (optional)