Fashioning Piety: Women's Dress, Money, and Faith among Senegalese Muslims in New York City

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Abstract

Many Senegalese women migrate to make a living and build themselves up. The distance enables them to resist daily demands on their income and makes it possible for them to save and to invest in long term projects such as home building, their children's education, and family and religious celebrations. Yet, social criticism often blames women for the problems of marriage: such as the high divorce rate, infidelity, and financial squabbling between spouses. In this paper, I focus on the religious aspects of women's migration; I argue that Murid women deflect criticism of their wealth earned abroad by investing in the signs and symbols of a Muslim Sufi congregation. By visiting (ziyara), dressing up (sañse), and donating generously to shaykhs (addiya), Murid women display their wealth, convey the strength of their social networks, and construct themselves as candidates for salvation. Murid women engage in the global economy and preserve their distinctively Murid vision of the world and their place in it. Is it possible to understand their global engagement as a form of cosmopolitanism, as a practice and a form of consciousness, which is rooted in history and which is universal? The restructuring of the Senegalese state under neoliberal reform and its aftermath in the 1990s and into 2000 has made Muslim global networks important to livelihoods at home and yet, Muslim networks have come under scrutiny globally as the U.S. led Global War on Terror lingers on.

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