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Sahelian Muslim Women, Lived Islam, and Ethical Aesthetics by Ousseina Alidou, Rutgers University

Ousseina Alidou

Since the 1990s Sahelian African countries with both majority and minority Muslim populations have been experimenting with democratic systems that have resulted in both political pluralism (with a gendered dimension), and a renewed place for Islam in both private and public spheres. This dialogue will highlight the prominent roles Sahelian Muslim women are playing in these democratization struggles, and their emergence as agents in national and global social reform movements, advocating for women’s rights in the region and beyond. These movements manifest a diversity of trajectories and objectives within secular and/or Islamic frameworks.  Strikingly, however, the majority converges on a common quest for gender justice against local and external hegemonic forces, ranging from cultural patriarchal Islamic understandings, the patriarchal state, and neoliberalism. Starting with the social and politico-economic contexts within which many Sahelian Muslim women’s social movements have arisen in recent times, this dialogue will focus on specific social frames – education, sexuality and family law, media and arts – to explore some of the manifestations and workings of Muslim women’s agency and movements in the Sahel. In the final analysis, the examination of the diversity of Sahelian Muslim women’s social impacts will highlight how they read Islam within both secular and Islamic prisms, and how they transform hegemonic Islamic interpretations for the purpose of forging ethical aesthetics of living and being that honor human dignity.