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Larissa Kopytoff [email protected] “French Citizens and Muslim Courts: The Tensions of Citizenship in Early Twentieth Century Senegal” Abstract In 1916, the French National Assembly passed a law recognizing the inhabitants of Senegal’s “four communes”—the coastal urban centers of Dakar, Gorée, Saint-­‐Louis, and Rufisque—as French citizens. The law was intended to aid the recruitment of Senegalese troops during the First World War, as French citizens throughout the empire were subject to military service obligations. More than that, though, it appeared to settle a long-­‐running debate about the complex and contested nature of the French political and civil rights exercised by the communes’ inhabitants. Though they had long exercised rights not available to most French colonial subjects, such as voting in elections and having access to French as well as Muslim courts, their citizenship status had been ambiguous at best. Rather than resolving the issue of citizenship in the four communes once and for all, however, this naturalization-­‐by-­‐legislation—as opposed to the selective (and rare) naturalization of sufficiently-­‐
“assimilated” individuals that was the norm throughout much of the French empire—raised as many questions as it answered. While colonial officials voiced a number of concerns about the 1916 law—not the least of which was the possibility that French colonial subjects throughout the empire would demand similar treatment—their dissatisfaction with the notion that the Senegalese could acquire French citizenship while retaining access to Muslim courts was an especially frequent refrain. How, colonial officials asked, could French citizens be governed by Muslim laws that might contradict the French civil code? What place did a community whose members defined themselves in terms of religion, and religious law, have within an empire that recognized a clear separation of church and state? What did French citizenship mean if not the acceptance of French law? In this paper, I examine the debate about the relationship between French citizenship and Muslim law that followed the passage of the 1916 law. An analysis of archival documents, including government memoranda, newspaper editorials, and court transcripts, sheds light on how French colonial officials and Senegalese citizens and subjects perceived the complex web of opportunities and restrictions, and the overlapping communities and affiliations, that characterized citizenship rights in colonial Senegal. Although the 1916 law and the citizenship regime of Senegal’s four communes directly affected only a small part of the French empire, this debate helps us to understand France’s broader efforts to maintain control over its citizens, its subjects, and the consequences of its own laws, as well as the ways that individual subjects and citizens navigated the meanings of citizenship in a colonial context. Furthermore, the issues raised by this debate continue to have import today: the balance of one’s allegiances to state and to religion, and one’s membership in communities defined by state-­‐based citizenship as well as by religious practice and belief, remain central to our understanding of the meanings of citizenship today. Biography Larissa Kopytoff is a Ph.D. candidate in African History at New York University, currently completing a dissertation titled “The Boundaries of Citizenship: Colonial Administration and Political Imagination in Senegal, 1848-­‐1920”. Her work examines the opportunities and restrictions brought about by changing interpretations of citizenship law in colonial French West Africa.