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

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Overview

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.
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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 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 20th 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 20th century West Africa; it's 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, University of Michigan, International Journal of African Historical Studies

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780521156295
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press
  • Publication date: 7/19/2010
  • Series: African Studies
  • 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.
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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.
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