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Periodical article Periodical article
Title:Spirit Discipline: Gender, Islam, and Hierarchies of Treatment in Postcolonial Northern Nigeria
Author:O'Brien, Susan M.
Periodical:Interventions: International Journal of Postcolonial Studies
Geographic term:Nigeria
Subjects:Peoples of Africa (Ethnic Groups)
Religion and Witchcraft
Women's Issues
Cultural Roles
Health, Nutrition, and Medicine
spirit possession
Abstract:This article examines how an unprecedented 1995 case of mass schoolgirl possession at a secondary school for girls in Kano, Nigeria, inspired the rapid expansion of Islamic techniques of spirit exorcism (rukiyya) into clinical formats by Hausa malamai (Muslim scholars). The remarkable popularity of the new Islamic techniques among a primarily female clientele indicates the importance of the healing domain, and in particular competing approaches to the spirit world, in contemporary Hausa negotiations of both Islamic and gendered identity. In the past twenty-five years, the rapid pace of modernization and the emergence of anti-Sufi Islamic reform movements have thrown into question the meaning of Hausa identity and community, and intensified debates over the necessity and nature of female seclusion and education. The case of mass schoolgirl possession can be read as an embodied expression of the 'contradictions of modernity,' just as the Islamic response reflects struggles to define Islamic 'orthodoxy' and Muslim Hausa identity, by fusing local Sufi versions of the faith with a more international 'scripturalist' Islam that draws its ideological and financial impetus from the Arab world. In collaboration with the women and girls who seek their help, rukiyya practitioners dramatize the parameters of community belonging and produce a novel vision of Islamic modernity. The impact of rukiyya on gender is thus ambivalent. While rukiyya indirectly brings women into public debates over Islamic 'orthodoxy' and bridges the divide between male and female ritual practice, the aggressively violent practice of Islamic exorcism simultaneously reinscribes assumptions about sexual difference that make physical discipline for unruly, permeable female bodies a necessity and the idea of a 'good' Muslim Hausa woman a logical impossibility.