"Privately Empowered: African-Islamic Feminism in Northern Nigerian Fiction," Shirin Edwin, Sam Houston State University
Abstract: My talk is based on my forthcoming book entitled Privately Empowered: Expressing Feminism in Islam in Northern Nigerian Fiction (Northwestern University Press, 2016). It responds to the lack of adequate attention Islam in Africa receives in comparison to Islam in the Middle East and the Arab world. I attribute this neglect to the tight embrace between Islam and politics that has rendered Islamic feminist discourse historically and thematically contextualized in regions where Islamic feminism evolves in concert with the nation-state, and many struggles for legal reforms, activism or social affiliations. In Africa itself, Islam bears the burden of being a “foreign” presence that is considered inimical to African Muslim women’s success. Bridging the blind spots in both African and Islamic feminist theories, I forward the term, African-Islamic feminism, to compel attention to African Muslim women’s private engagement with Islam in potent depictions by three relatively unknown Nigerian novelists, Zaynab Alkali, Hauwa Ali and Abubakar Gimba, due to the texts’ emphases on Muslim women’s personal and private engagements with Islamic ritual and prayer in the quotidian. Such rituals as prayer and the observance of Qur’anic injunctions—Islamic monotheism (shahādah), prayer (ṣalāt and duᶜa), Islamic virtue (akhlāq), among others—privately inculcated for personal fulfillment, regionally and thematically validate those underexplored forms of Islamic feminism whose objectives fall outside the purview of public activity, commonly manifested in activism or in affiliations to organizations. I conclude that the spiritual universe of African Muslim women may be one where Islam is not the source of their problems or their legislative and political activity, but a spiritual activity that can exist devoid of activist or political forms.
Bio: Shirin Edwin is an associate professor of French in the Department of Foreign Languages at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas. Her work focuses on Islam in African literatures.