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This article explores the possibilities, limits, and paradox of Salafi 
female agency at a time when Ansar al-Sunna is assuming a new political 
role under the rule of an Islamizing state in Sudan. The Islam Ansar al-Sunna preaches is Salafism and is based on the idea that there is a unitary 
Islamic doctrine and only one correct understanding of the Quran and the 
Sunna. That one correct understanding of Islam dictates gender segregation. 
Introducing new empirical data on a largely understudied movement from 
Sudan, the article argues that in its attempt to introduce gender 
segregation Ansar al-Sunna has provided (perhaps unintentionally) a space 
for women’s empowerment. Despite Ansar al-Sunna disavowing women’s 
political participation based on arguments that women are more emotional 
and less rational than men, the women have begun to challenge this stance 
of the unitary Islamic doctrine. Women have begun to participate 
politically as a consequence of: (1) the opening of a segregated Ansar al-Sunna women’s center in which leadership fall to women themselves and 
therefore constitutes a parallel form of governance within the movement, 
and (2) the political context in which Ansar al-Sunna are entangled within 
Sudan’s Islamic state, in which they struggle to distinguish themselves 
from Islamism. While women are challenging the male leadership’s position 
that women’s biological makeup excludes them from making sound political 
decisions, they are simultaneously maintaining and inhabiting norms of 
gender segregation and thus implicitly and explicitly critiquing state-induced gender mixing in the name of Islam.


A preprint of the article can be downloaded as a PDF file above

Liv Tønnessen

Director of Center on Law and Social Transformation and Senior Researcher

Gendering Faith

Mar 2011 - Dec 2013