Everyday Islam in Kumasi: Devout Lay Men and Women in Daily Life

by Gracia Clark

About Methods

Research for this gallery took place during two summer field visits to Kumasi, in 2006 and 2009. In 2006, participants were contacted through the Old Tafo Islamic Primary School and Mosque, the Bantama Mosque women's fellowship and the Allabar women's school, in addition to some personal contacts in the market and elsewhere In Tafo, the headmaster granted permission for one of his teachers, Maimounah Shaban, to adjust her schedule and become my primary research assistant. That year I was steered by my contacts to work primarily with women, recording interviews with only three men. I introduced myself and explained the web project to those present at a meeting of each group, inviting those who might be interested to join me in a room nearby for an interview session. Participants then had the opportunity to ask further questions about the website and to record their consent for audio and video recording and their preference for using their actual names or not.

Those choosing to participate were often quite enthusiastic about the overall aim of the website to counter inaccurate stereotypes about Muslims prevalent in the US. The variety of life experiences and opinions documented in these interviews demonstrate very effectively the diversity of lay Muslims even in a single city. The interviews were relatively undirected, so that participants were free to bring up the issues they wished to present to the US public on the web. I asked general questions to start and keep their comments flowing, such as "how did you learn about Islam?", "how can you tell that someone is a good Muslim?" and "how does being a good Muslim help you in your work?" The most productive final question was "Is there anything I did not ask about that would help people in the US understand about your life?" Men and women both brought up moral values of honesty, charity, submission and peace, as well as contemporary world events. The 80 interviews varied in length from ten minutes to over an hour, and their number was primarily limited by the short time I had available before my fall classes started.

When I returned to Kumasi for the second visit in 2009, I specifically sought interviews with Kumasi Muslim men to balance the website, although I also interviewed several additional women. Edward Mensah, from the Ghana Institute of Languages, Kumasi branch, was my primary research assistant that year. He introduced me to community leaders and to young men who were his friends, whom we interviewed in their homes, their mosques, their shops and workshops. Ahmed Bashir Baba was among them; he provided us reliable car transport, and also introduced me to his friends and family, some of whom participated. Carmen Paz handled the videotaping equipment both years, leaving me free to attend to the interviewing and also training Muhammed Mustapha to assist her. She also accompanied me to the Asantehene's Archives in Manhyia, Kumasi, and made copy photographs of the documents I located there relating to Muslims. I hope this gallery will make a perceptible contribution towards better understanding between Muslims and their neighbors in North America and in Africa.