Gender and Islam in Africa examines ways in which women in Africa are interpreting traditional Islamic concepts in order to empower themselves and their societies. African women, it argues, have promoted the ideals and practices of equality, human rights, and democracy within the framework of Islamic thought, challenging conventional conceptualizations of the religion as gender-constricted and patriarchal.

The contributors come from the fields of history, anthropology, linguistics, gender studies, religious studies, and law. Their depictions of African women’s interpreting and reinterpreting of Islam go back into the nineteenth century and up to today, including analyses of how cultural media such as popular song and film can communicate new gender roles in terms of sexuality and direct examinations of religious and religiously based family law and efforts to reform them.

Margot Badran is a historian of women and gender issues in Muslim societies. She is a Senior Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center and a Senior Fellow at the Prince Alwaleed ibn Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding, Georgetown University. Her most recent book is Feminism in Islam.



Introduction: Gender and Islam in Africa—Rights, Sexuality, and Law
Margot Badran

Part I. Women Re/produce Knowledge
1. Muslim Women’s Knowledge Production in the Greater Maghreb: The Example of Nana Asma’u of Northern Nigeria
Beverly B. Mack
2. Rethinking Marginality and Agency in Postcolonial Niger: A Social Biography of a Sufi Woman Scholar
Ousseina D. Alidou
3. Deconstructing Islamic Feminism: A Look at Fatima Mernissi
Raja Rhouni
4. Embodied Tafsir: South African Muslim Women Confront Gender Violence in Marriage
Sa’diyya Shaikh

Part II. Re/constructing Women, Gender, and Sexuality
5. Changing Conceptions of Moral Womanhood in Somali Popular Songs, 1960–1990
Lidwien Kapteijns
6. Guidelines for the Ideal Muslim Woman: Gender Ideology and Praxis in the Tabligh Jama‘at in the Gambia
Marloes Janson
7. Titanic in Kano: Video, Gender, and Islam
Heike Behrend
8 Shari‘a Activism and Zina in Nigeria in the Era of Hudud
Margot Badran

Part III. Shari‘a, Family Law, and Activism
9. Women and Men Put Islamic Law to Their Own Use: Monogamy versus Secret Marriage in Mauritania
Corinne Fortier
10. Islam, Gender, and Democracy in Morocco: The Making of the Mudawana Reform
Julie E. Pruzan-Jørgensen
11. Family Law Reform in Mali: Contentious Debates and Elusive Outcomes
Benjamin F. Soares
12 Legal Recognition of Muslim Marriages in South Africa
Rashida Manjoo


“Margot Badran has assembled 12 articles by outstanding scholars and ethnographers in the fields of African Studies and Islamic Studies. By focusing on political, social, and economic societal micro-processes that are often ignored in text-focused Islamic legal studies, this volume helps reveal how particular conceptions of Islamic law are naturalised and valenced ‘a historical’ in particular African societies.”—Sarah Eltantawi, Journal of Modern African Studies

“The volume provides a much welcome contribution to the literature on Islam and gender in Africa, and will be of interest to graduate students and scholars alike.”—Michelle Johnson, International Journal of African Historical Studies

“This book both presents new and original work and provides a glimpse at the state of the art among scholars who have a sustained commitment to an extremely difficult and contentious topic.”—Barbara M. Cooper, Rutgers University