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Islam in a Zongo
Muslim Lifeworlds in Asante, Ghana


Part of The International African Library

  • Date Published: January 2021
  • availability: Available
  • format: Hardback
  • isbn: 9781108830249

£ 75.00

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About the Authors
  • Zongos, wards in West Africa populated by traders and migrants from the northern savannahs and the Sahel, are a common sight in Ghana's Asante region where the people of these wards represent a dual-minority as both foreigners and Muslims in a largely Christian area, facing marginalisation as a result. Islam provides the people of the zongos with a common ground and shared values, becoming central to their identity and to their shared sense of community. This detailed account of Islamic lifeworlds highlights the irreducible diversity and complexity of 'everyday' lived religion among Muslims in a zongo community. Benedikt Pontzen traces the history of Muslim presence in the region and analyses three Islamic phenomena encountered in its zongos in detail: Islamic prayer practices, the authorisation of Islamic knowledge, and ardently contested divination and healing practices. Drawing on empirical and archival research, oral histories, and academic studies, he demonstrates how Islam is inextricably bound up with the diverse ways in which Muslims live it.

    • Explores the diversity and complexities of lived Islam by immersing the reader into everyday Islam and Muslim lifeworlds
    • Focuses on three Islamic phenomena encountered in the zongos: Islamic prayer practices, the authorisation of Islamic knowledge, and ardently contested divination and healing practices
    • Draws on empirical and archival research, oral histories, and academic studies to demonstrate the interconnectedness of Islam with the lives of people in this unique community
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    Reviews & endorsements

    'The most important analysis of Islam in a Zongo in recent times. This is a fascinating anthropological account of how Islamic beliefs and practices permeate every facet of life for the people of Kokote Zongo in Offinso in southern Ghana. Pontzen offers a unique, nuanced and thorough ethnographic approach with theoretical insights by analysing the backgrounds of the various Muslim groups and their conceptualisations of Islamic beliefs and practices which highlight diversities, conceptions and imaginaries of Islam.' Yunus Dumbe, Department of Religious Studies, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Kumase, Ghana

    'This elegantly written, richly detailed and theoretically sophisticated book offers deeper insights into the complex history of Islam and the people of Zongo in southern Ghana. Remarkably bold and astutely nuanced, the book is poised to pave a new approach in the study of Muslim communities in Ghana that accounts for their multifaceted reality.' Ousman Murzik Kobo, Ohio State University

    'Meticulously crafted and engagingly written, Islam in a Zongo draws readers into the world of ordinary Muslims who, rather than unquestioningly accept Islamic tradition, continuously engage in its re-actualization and its contestation. As such, the book makes a significant contribution to both the anthropology of zongos and the study of lived religion.' Adeline Masquelier, Tulane University

    '… combines an enviable knowledge of Islamic theology and practice(s) with thoroughly good fieldwork in Kokote … capture[s] the messy workaday business of taking Islamic precepts and applying them to life lived on a daily basis.' Tom McCaskie, SOAS University of London

    '… a valuable contribution to the anthropology of Islam, in Africa and in general … one of the best illustrations I have seen of the way Islam is effectively a 'discursive tradition'.' Robert Launay, Northwestern University

    'The author considers the distinctive and sometimes convergent practices, knowledge, and faith of members of these different groups in three subsequent chapters, which include insightful interviews and participant-observation that underscore the multiplicity of the lived experiences of zongo everyday life ... Recommended.' E. P. Renne, Choice

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    Product details

    • Date Published: January 2021
    • format: Hardback
    • isbn: 9781108830249
    • length: 325 pages
    • dimensions: 155 x 235 x 20 mm
    • weight: 0.55kg
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    1. A History of Muslim Presence in Asante
    2. Muslim Presence and Zongos in Asante: The Current State
    3. Those Who Pray Together
    4. Speaking for Islam: ʿIlm and Religious Authority
    5. 'Bōkā:' on Islamic Discourses, Imaginaries, and Incommensurability

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    Islam in a Zongo

    Benedikt Pontzen

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  • Author

    Benedikt Pontzen
    Benedikt Pontzen is an anthropologist and writer who has been carrying out ethnographic and historiographic research in Asante since the early 2000s. Besides his research on Islam, he also works on so-called 'African Traditional Religions', religious encounters, and lived religious diversity in the region. His work has been published in journals, including Africa and the Journal of Religion in Africa, and in edited volumes.

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