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.
". . . 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
List of figures vi
Notes on Orthography and Translation ix
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