Responding from the Fringe

Women, Islam, and patriarchy in Nigerian Muslim women’s novels

Authored by: Saeedat Bolajoko Aliyu

Routledge Handbook of Minority Discourses in African Literature

Print publication date:  May  2020
Online publication date:  April  2020

Print ISBN: 9780367368340
eBook ISBN: 9780429354229
Adobe ISBN:


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Discourse on gender relations affirms that there are entrenched practices and beliefs in societies which restrict women and subvert opportunities open to them. These practices are more emphasized in many African societies, especially as the African woman’s access to the agency of representation came decades after African literature was established and populated by male writers. This resulted in the foregrounding of many negative stereotypes about femaleness in early African literature. The African Muslim woman seems doubly challenged; her gender and the selective and oftentimes over-application or misapplication of the tenets of Islam in matters concerning her combine to reinforce her subjugation. The initial resistance to Western education and its inability to penetrate and make significant impact in the already established Islamic societies of Northern Nigeria may have added to the slower response of women writers who write in English to emerge and take ownership of the agency to depict themselves, especially when compared to their male counterparts or other female writers in the larger Nigerian society. A large number of Nigerian Muslim women writers come from the northern part of the country, and this is not by chance. The north of Nigeria is where the first contact with Islam happened before the religion spread to other parts of what is today called Nigeria. In fact, the religion and its teachings had been established in Kanem by the end of the 13th century before traders and scholars spread its reach to other parts of the north in the early part of the 14th century (Fafunwa 53). The 1804 Jihad of Uthman Dan Fodio further spread and consolidated Islamic culture to more parts of the north. There is therefore a dominance of Muslims in the region and a corresponding dominance of the influence of Islam on the people. It is worthy of note that Islam is not just a religion; it is a way of life that is complete with a system of education that is drawn from the Arabic language, a legal system based on Islamic jurisprudence (Sharia law), and a culture that is influenced by the Arab way of life. With the teachings of Islam covering all aspects of human life, it is inevitable that aspects of indigenous cultures will be integrated into the dominant Islamic culture, so much so that some of the integrated cultural practices are taken to be authentic precepts of Islam.

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