In This Review

The Heritage of Islam: Women, Religion, and Politics in West Africa
The Heritage of Islam: Women, Religion, and Politics in West Africa
By Barbara Callaway and Lucy Creevey
Lynne Rienner, 1994, 221 pp

Does religion shape society less or more than society shapes it? Less, according to this solidly researched study of the comparative status of Muslim women in northern Nigeria and Senegal. Historically and geographically less exposed to Western influences than Senegal, northern Nigeria today secludes women and bars them from public life, whereas Senegalese social and religious norms are less discriminatory. In Senegal, Muslim women have achieved at least a toehold in the modern sector, and a feminist agenda is supported by a nascent women's movement. By contrast, in northern Nigeria (where women were denied the vote until 1976 and today less than one percent attend universities today), patriarchy and social conservatism are so pervasive that women's only hope of advancement, the authors argue, lies in promoting gender equality as a matter of reform within Islamic law, or sharia. Muslim fundamentalists, who use different interpretations of sharia to justify their opposition to equality, are striving in both countries to roll back even the minor gains of Muslim women; But here again, the authors predict, the greater openness of Senegal to modern economic and social influences (as well as the buffer against fundamentalism provided by Muslim brotherhoods) make Senegal less likely than northern Nigeria to be swept by fundamentalist reaction.