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Dimetri Whitfield

Dimetri

Truth in Masculinity & Muslimness: Young Men of the Ahmadiyya Jama'at in the Gambia

Truth in Masculinity & Muslimness: Young Men of the Ahmadiyya Jama'at in the Gambia

In the Gambia, members of the Ahmadiyya Jama'at are seen by other Muslims as disbelievers, despite their assertions to the contrary. This characterisation flies in the face of what Ahmadis experience, that they are real Muslims, following the “Truth” as prophesied by the Holy Founder of Islam. Having to negotiate one’s place as a Muslim in a contested environment is difficult enough. Add to that the pressures of growing up, of finding one’s place as a man, and you have found the red thread running throughout my inquiry.

This project thus seeks to ethnographically examine the lives of young Ahmadiyya men living in the Kombo region of the Gambia—the areas in and around the Gambia’s largest city, Serekunda. In doing so, I will attempt to answer the following questions:

1) How do these young men construct a meaningful life as men and as true believers?

2) How are these notions of masculinity and truth articulated and enacted in everyday life?

The Ahmadiyya Jama'at is a reform movement within Islam that started in the late nineteenth century in British India. The first Ahmadiyya missionaries came to the Gambia in the late 1950s and, since then, the Ahmadiyya Jama'at has expanded, opening hospitals, schools, and training centres in the country. The members of the community now comprise approximately 1 per cent of the two million residents in the Gambia.

Many of my interlocutors are “born Ahmadis”, being the sons and grandsons of the initial converts. Some of them, having emigrated from the rural provinces to continue their education, also reside in one of three “boys’ quarters” at the Ahmadiyya head mission house in Serekunda.

As a strongly hierarchical movement, the young men who are lodged within the Jama'at’s premises are subjected to the highly structured and disciplined life promoted by the community. This study also attempts to account for how these temporal—as well as spatial and affective—possibilities and constraints help to construct the lives of young Ahmadiyya men.

With my work, I hope to contribute to a richer understanding not only of men in the Gambia but also of emerging masculinities on the continent of Africa in the twenty-first century.

 

First Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Hansjoerg Dilger

Second Supervisor: Dr. Paolo Gaibazzi

Third Supervisor: Dr. Marloes Janson