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The Heritage of Islam: Women, Religion, and Politics in West Africa

Barbara Callaway and Lucy Creevey
ISBN: 978-1-55587-414-8
1994/221 pages/LC: 93-35396

"A detailed, carefully researched, and well-written study that is deserving of a wide in data and empirical examples."—Alusine Jalloh, Journal of Islamic Studies

"Callaway and Creevey have assembled much of the research, including their own wide- ranging studies, that has been carried out over the last twenty years and more on the subject of women in [Nigeria and Senegal]. An essential review of information on the lives of women in these two societies"—International Journal of African Historical Studies

"A solidly researched study of the comparative status of Muslim women in northern Nigeria and Senegal."—Foreign Affairs

"Helps to challenge the tired clichés, stereotypes and essentialist premises of so much of recent literature."—International Relations

"A must read for any student of Islamic religion."—Feminist Bookstore News


Callaway and Creevey explore the impact of Islam on the lives of West African women, particularly (but not exclusively) in Nigeria and Senegal.

Focusing on whether Islam acts as a barrier to women in the process of social change and development, they address a series of important questions: Is the pattern of training and education different for Muslim and non-Muslim girls? Comparatively, what is the domestic life of a Muslim woman like? How do Muslim women fare in the economy, in both the wage-labor force and in the informal sector? Do Muslim women act as a political group, and are they involved in politics in any way that differs from the political participation of other West African women? In short, how is a Muslim woman's life different from that of her animist or Christian sister?

These questions are placed in the context of the on-going controversy over the role of Islam in the secular realm; the particular history of West Africa; and the position of women in pre-Islamic West African society, which has an important bearing on their present situation.

The authors also examine the impact of modernization and industrialization, as well as nationalist reactions to colonialism and neocolonialism, on Islamic women in West Africa.


Barbara Callaway, now retired, was a political scientist, and associate provost for academic affairs at Rutgers University-New Brunswick. She is author of Muslim Hausa Women in Nigeria: Tradition and Change. Lucy Creevey is professor emeritus at the University of Connecticut. She is author of Muslim Brotherhoods and Politics in Senegal and editor of Working with Women Farmers in Africa.


  • Does Religion Shape or Reflect Society?
  • The Islamic Encounter.
  • Socialization and the Subordination of Women.
  • Education and Attitudes Toward Women.
  • Women in the Formal and Informal Economies.
  • The Political Empowerment of Women.
  • Conclusion: Islam and the Changing Status of Women.