Imaniya and Young Muslim Women in Côte d'Ivoire
LeBlanc, Marie Nathalie, Anthropologica
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. Recent religious transformations have also been understood as a sociological critique of the project of modernization embodied in notions of the state and citizenship (see for instance Hefner 1998 and Nagata 2001).
While the sociopolitical aspects of recent religious changes in African societies have been extensively discussed in the literature, very little has been said about its experiential dimension, namely the experience of awakening to one's religious consciousness, be it individual or community-based. Among Muslims in Côte d'Ivoire, as well as other Muslims in West Africa, it is commonly anticipated that one's religious practice will change throughout one's life course. With age, one is expected to adhere more closely to the locally prescribed orthodoxy. As one male informant explained, "when you are young, you need to try things out. You are not always a good Muslim. But with age, with responsibility, you need to become a good Muslim."
Clearly, here, the notion of spiritual growth is embedded in a synchronicity between religiosity and the life course (LeBlanc 2003a; Soares 2004a, 2004b). Historically, some religious rituals have marked the transition towards adherence of a Muslim way of life. The hajj (yearly pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia) is a significant marker in this passage. After attending the pilgrimage, Muslims are expected to follow a strict observance of religious prescriptions; their religious experience is accompanied by the outward display of Islamic markers, such as special head-dresses, as well as the adoption of a set of gestures and social attitudes (see LeBlanc 2005).
In spite of the expectation of spiritual growth throughout one's life course, the experience of imaniya described by young women in the 1990s marks actual changes in religious practice. Among Muslims in Côte d'Ivoire, imaniya refers to the experience of faith. Literally, it means "to have faith" in the Dioula language. In the context of recent religious transformations among Muslims in Côte d'Ivoire,2 imaniya highlights the experience by Muslims "of assuming one's faith." One could also say: "Ka seguiko I ka dinala," to come back to one's faith, religion or belief. As such, imaniya is associated with the notions of humility and modesty,3 nimissa or remorse4 as well as djenebaya or purification (I will come back to these three elements later in the discussion).
The assertion of one's faith by young Muslims in the 1990s implies a radical transformation of one's lifestyle and worldview that fits the Pauline model of conversion, namely a sudden and dramatic change accompanied by the reversal of beliefs and allegiances (see Rambo 2003). …