Islam and the Prayer Economy

History and Authority in a Malian Town
Benjamin F. Soares
A close look at the changing terms of exchange between gifts and blessings


At a time when so-called fundamentalism has become the privileged analytical frame for understanding Muslim societies past and present, this study offers another way of looking at Islam. In an innovative combination of anthropology, history, and social theory, Benjamin Soares explores Islam and Muslim practice in an important Islamic religious centre in West Africa from the late nineteenth century to the present.

Drawing on extensive ethnography, archival research, and written sources, he provides a richly detailed discussion of Muslim religious practice—Sufism, Islamic reform, and other contemporary ways of being Muslim in western Mali and more broadly in the country.

This book provides a major contribution to the study of Islam in Africa and will be welcomed by scholars and students in history, religion, and the social sciences, particularly those interested in anthropology, Islam, colonialism and the public sphere.

Benjamin F. Soares is Professor of Religion at the University of Florida. He is the co-editor of Islam, Transnationalism, and the Public Sphere in Western Europe and the editor of Muslim/Christian Encounters in Africa.

Praise / Awards

  • ". . . a well-researched ethnography of religious practice in the Malian town of Nioro. It is also a distinct statement on the broader issues central to the contemporary history of West African Islam. . . . Soares's careful analytical and empirical methods yield accounts of Sufi esotericism and Islamic reformism, which make the book both a stimulating read for specialists and a good introduction to the field for non-specialists. . . . Merely identifying this large category of Muslim, whose views tend to get drowned out by the more partisan and ideologically self-conscious perspectives of Sufis and reformists, is itself a real contribution. Islam and the Prayer Economy raises most of the core questions for the study of West African Islam's contemporary history and the theoretically creative, empirically supported answers that it proposes merit the serious attention of specialist and generalist readers alike."
    —Jeremy Berndt, Northwestern University

  • "...[a] nuanced and smoothly written study of Muslim leadership, practice and culture in this community [Nioro, Mali] from the nineteenth century to the present."
    African Studies Review

Look Inside


List of figures     vi
Acknowledgements     vii
Notes on Orthography and Translation     ix
Abbreviations     x
Glossary     xi
Maps     xiii

Introduction     1

Part 1: History

1. Islam and Authority before the Colonial Period     25
2. Colonialism and After     44
3. Saints and Sufi Orders I: the Hamawiyya     69
4. Saints and Sufi Orders II: the Tijaniyya     106

Part II: Authority

5. The Esoteric Sciences     127
6. The Prayer Economy     153
7. 'Reform'     181
8. The Public Sphere and the Postcolony     210

Conclusion: The Market, the Public and Islam     244

Notes     257
Bibliography     279
Index     299

Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 320pp.
  • 10 B&W photographs, 2 illustrations and maps.
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  • Paper
  • 2005
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-06925-5

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  • $38.95 U.S.



  • Islam, Mali, West Africa, Muslim, Sufism, Islamic reform, anthropology, colonialism, African Muslims, Bamako, Cote d'Ivoire, Mauritania