Picturing Islamic Authority: Gender Metaphors and Sufi Leadership in Senegal

Citation:

Hill, Joseph. 2014. “Picturing Islamic Authority: Gender Metaphors and Sufi Leadership in Senegal.” Islamic Africa 5 (2): 275-315. 

Author: Joseph Hill

Abstract:

Gendered metaphors of begetting, birth, milk nursing, maternal nurturing, virility, filial piety, patrilineage, and marital relationships have been central to Sufi imaginations of religious knowledge and authority for over a millennium. Contemporary adherents of the Fayḍa Tijāniyya Sufi movement in Senegal continue to use these metaphors, picturing changing relations of religious authority in terms of familiar social realities. Although the most widely used metaphors are perhaps those of fatherhood for male leaders and motherhood for female leaders, a range of masculine and feminine metaphors can describe either men or women. The Fayḍa Tijāniyya's founder, Shaykh Ibrahim Niasse, is best known to disciples as “Baay” (“Father”). The paternal metaphor is largely reserved for Shaykh Ibrahim's unique place in the movement. Yet women leaders overwhelmingly describe themselves in terms of maternal metaphors, presenting religious leadership as growing naturally out of their maternal qualities. At the same time, these women deconstruct gender distinctions using mystical discourses, sometimes presenting all Sufis as “men” and sometimes insisting that gender has no reality. Although some scholars have argued that Sufi gender metaphors value men and masculinity while devaluing women and femininity, this article shows that the effects of a metaphor must be sought in the performative context in which it is invoked. Ancient gender metaphors now serve to imagine new configurations of religious authority, including the growing number and influence of women Sufi leaders.

Topics: Clan, Gender, Women, Men, Masculinity/ies, Gender Roles, Femininity/ies, Gendered Power Relations, Governance, Religion Regions: Africa, West Africa Countries: Senegal

Year: 2014

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