Islam and Gender in Colonial Northeast Africa

Sittī ‘Alawiyya, the Uncrowned Queen


In Islam and Gender in Colonial Northeast Africa, Silvia Bruzzi provides an account of Islamic movements and gender dynamics in the context of colonial rule in Northeast Africa. The thread that runs through the book is the life and times of Sittī ‘Alawiyya al-Mīrġanī (1892-1940), a representative of a well-established transnational Sufi order in the Red Sea region. Silvia Bruzzi gives us not only a social history of the colonial encounter in the Eritrean colony, but also a wider historical account of supra-regional dynamics across the Red Sea, the Ethiopian hinterland, and the Mediterranean region, using a wide range of fragmentary historical materials to make an important contribution towards filling the gap that currently exists in women's and gender history in Muslim societies.

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Silvia Bruzzi, (PhD 2011) is a Researcher at the Chaire d'Études Africaines Comparées (EGE Rabat). She was formerly a research fellow at the Institut Émilie du Châtelet and a visiting researcher at the Centre for Middle Eastern Studies, University of Bergen. She has also taught African and Middle Eastern History at the University of Bologna, the University of Padova and the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales (EHESS – Paris). She specialises in Islam and gender in the colonial context.
[...] “Constant experimentation of approaches and the use of a wide variety of sources are the distinctive traits of this book [...]. Silvia Bruzzi’s book is an original and stimulating contribution that gives Eritrea the history of one of its foremost female protagonists”.

Massimo Zaccaria, University of Pavia, in Aethiopica 23 (2020) pp. 292-295

[...] 'Cet ouvrage passionnant et érudit participe du renouvellement de l’approche biographique dans le champ des études africaines'

Ophélie Rillon, CNRS, in Cahiers d’études africains 242 (2021) pp. 1-3
List of Illustrations
A Note on Transliteration and Dates
Transliteration List
 Sufism, Colonialism and Gender Dynamics
 Sufism and the Female Body

1 Islamic Renewal Movements, Colonial Occupation, and the Ḫatmiyya in the Red Sea Region
 Islam and the Idrīsī Tradition in Northeast Africa
 The Establishment of the Ḫatmiyya in the Red Sea Region

2 Sufis at the Crossroads: Regional Conflicts and Colonial Penetration
 The Ḫatmiyya up against the Sudanese Mahdī
 A Marriage Alliance between the Mīrġanī and the Beni ʿAmer People
 Sīdī Hāšim: Spy or walī ?

3 Islam, Gender and Leadership
 Female Heirs by Blood Alone: A Power Vacuum?
 Women and Heresy in Sufi Centres
 Embodying Religious Orthodoxy

4 Fragmented, (In)Visible and (Un)Told Stories
 Looking for Muslim Women in Northeast African History
 Regional Women’s Centres of Empowerment and Religious Learning
 Baraka, Itinerant Preaching and the Mobility of Pious Women

5 Sufi Women’s “Fantasy”, Performances and Fashion
 Imagination and Desire in Women’s Bodies
 Women’s Fantasia in Sufi Regional Centres
 Visiting a Fashionable, Cosmopolitan Woman

6 Growing Visibility in the Political Arena
 Women’s Bodies, Photography, and Colonialism
 Growing Popularity Broadcast through Visual Media
 Visibility, Visuality and Power in Portraits of the Šarīfa

7 Marvels, Charisma and Modernity
 Performed and Contested Karāmāt
 Modern Enchantment: Colonial Technologies and Infrastructures
 Mediating Conflicts

8 Military Bodies: Askaris, Officials and “the Female Warrior”
 Religious Intermediaries and Regional Networks
 Enlisting Askaris and Colonial Propaganda
 The Defeat of Italy

9 A Female Icon of Muslim “Emancipation” for the Conquest of Ethiopia (1936–1941)
 Building Mosques: Muslim Policies from Libya to Ethiopia
 A Female Icon of Muslim “Emancipation”
 The Mosques Built in Honour of Sittī ʿAlawiyya
 Muslim Attitudes towards the Italian Occupation: From Collaboration to Agency

10 Conclusion: Sufi Memories
 Women’s Embodied Archives and Spirit Possession
 Embodying Sittī ʿAlawiyya’s Visit to Harar
 Sufi Visions and Historical Imagination

All interested in the social history of colonial Africa, the study of Islamic movements, and the broader subject of gender and religion.
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