Imaniya and Young Muslim Women in Côte d'Ivoire

By LeBlanc, Marie Nathalie | Anthropologica, January 1, 2007 | Go to article overview
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Imaniya and Young Muslim Women in Côte d'Ivoire


LeBlanc, Marie Nathalie, Anthropologica


Abstract:

In the 1990s, Muslims in Côte d'Ivoire redefined the boundaries of their identity, as well as the structure of their community. While young men have been at the forefront of this movement of religious revitalization as leaders and erudites, the life trajectories of young Muslim women have been deeply altered by these changes. This article explores how, through renewed acts of faith and displays of orthodoxy, Western-style educated and financially self-sufficient young women are negotiating their participation into marriage markets. Their relatively new social roles, defined by Western-style education and salaried employment, exclude them from locally sanctioned notions of "proper womanhood." Whilst their lifeworld inscribes them within a locally defined space of modernity and self-realization, they are not fully actualized as Muslim women due to their exclusion from marriage markets and, by extension, legitimate motherhood. Through their overt display of Islamic practice and their participation into newly created Islamic youth associations, they position themselves as "marriageable women" in light of marriage practices that generally favour younger and less formally educated women. The locally articulated Arabized version of Islam is at the core of their inclusion into local and transnational matrimonial markets.

Keywords: Islam, Côte d'Ivoire, youth, women, conversion

Résumé : Dans les années 1990, le fait d'«être musulman» dans le contexte social ivoirien a acquis une toute nouvelle signification. De fait, les musulmans ont redéfini tant les limites de leur identité que la structure de leur communauté. La pratique de l'islam en fut dynamisée sur les bases d'une logique arabisante. Afin d'explorer les enjeux propres à ce renouveau religieux, nous nous attachons à décrire dans cet article le rôle des jeunes femmes hautement scolarisées et financièrement indépendantes. Tandis que les jeunes hommes sont au centre de ces transformations, en tant que dirigeants religieux, l'expérience religieuse et la quotidienneté de ces jeunes musulmanes en sont profondément modifiées. En raison de leur milieu de vie, inscrit dans la modernité et la quête de la réalisation du soi, ces jeunes femmes sont exclues des marchés matrimoniaux, qui favorisent les femmes plus jeunes et beaucoup moins scolarisées. Par l'entremise d'actes de foi, de la mise en publique de leur religiosité et de leur participation à des associations islamiques, ces jeunes femmes se positionnent en tant qu'épouse potentielle et ré-intègrent divers marchés matrimoniaux.

Mots-clés : islam, Côte d'Ivoire, jeunes, femmes, conversion

Introduction: Religious Transformation and Conversion

This article examines the role of African women in Islamic revivalism. More specifically, I will address the relationship between community conversion and individual experience in the 1990s in Côte d'Ivoire. I explore how, through imaniya or acts of faith, French-speaking, Western-style educated and financially self-sufficient young women1 are negotiating their participation into local, and at times international, marriage markets. By means of the public display of orthodoxy and their participation into newly created Islamic associations, they position themselves as "marriageable" in light of marriage practices that generally favour younger and less formally educated women.

In relation to contemporary postcolonial African societies, a number of authors have highlighted the social, political and economic dimensions of recent religious revivalisms (see Bayart 1993; Constantin and Coulon 1997; Gifford 1995; Miles 2004; among others). As such, religion has been one of the sites of social change in processes of political decentralization starting in the 1980s with the end of the Cold War. Political and economic liberalization have loosened the possibilities of creating new social structures. In a number of cases, political claims have been framed in terms of religious identities; Côte d'Ivoire and Nigeria are two significant examples of such processes in West Africa.

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