Morality at the MarginsYouth, Language, and Islam in Coastal Kenya

Morality at the MarginsYouth, Language, and Islam in Coastal Kenya

Sarah Hillewaert

Print publication date: 2020

ISBN: 9780823286515

Publisher: Fordham University Press


This book considers the day-to-day lives of young Muslims on the island of Lamu (Kenya) who live simultaneously “on the edge and in the center”: they are situated at the edge of the (inter)national economy and at the margins of Western notions of modernity; yet they are concurrently the focus of (inter)national campaigns against Islamic radicalization and are at the heart of Western (touristic) imaginations of the untouched and secluded. What does it mean to be young, modern, and Muslim in this context? And how are these denominators differently imagined and enacted in daily encounters? Documenting the everyday lives of Lamu youth, this ethnography explores how young people negotiate different cultural, religious, political and economic pressures and expectations through nuanced deployments of language, dress, and bodily comportment. It thereby illustrates how seemingly mundane practices—from how young people greet others, to how they walk, dress, and talk—can become tactics in the negotiation of moral personhood. A central concern of the book lies with the shifting meaning and ambiguity of such everyday signs and thus the dangers of semiotic misconstrual. By examining this uncertainty of interpretation in projects of self-fashioning, the book highlights how shifting and scalable discourses of tradition, modernity, secularization, nationalism, and religious piety inform changing notions of moral subjectivity. Documenting how Lamu youth navigate this contested field in a fast-changing place with a fascinating history, this book offers a distinctly linguistic anthropological approach to discussions of ethical self-fashioning and everyday Islam.