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The Ethical Soundscape

The Ethical Soundscape: Cassette Sermons and Islamic Counterpublics

Copyright Date: 2006
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    The Ethical Soundscape
    Book Description:

    Charles Hirschkind's unique study explores how a popular Islamic media form-the cassette sermon-has profoundly transformed the political geography of the Middle East over the last three decades.

    An essential aspect of what is now called the Islamic Revival, the cassette sermon has become omnipresent in most Middle Eastern cities, punctuating the daily routines of many men and women. Hirschkind shows how sermon tapes have provided one of the means by which Islamic ethical traditions have been recalibrated to a modern political and technological order-to its noise and forms of pleasure and boredom, but also to its political incitements and call for citizen participation. Contrary to the belief that Islamic cassette sermons are a tool of militant indoctrination, Hirschkind argues that sermon tapes serve as an instrument of ethical self-improvement and as a vehicle for honing the sensibilities and affects of pious living.

    Focusing on Cairo's popular neighborhoods, Hirschkind highlights the pivotal role these tapes now play in an expanding arena of Islamic argumentation and debate-what he calls an "Islamic counterpublic." This emerging arena connects Islamic traditions of ethical discipline to practices of deliberation about the common good, the duties of Muslims as national citizens, and the challenges faced by diverse Muslim communities around the globe. The Ethical Soundscape is a brilliant analysis linking modern media practices of moral self-fashioning to the creation of increasingly powerful religious publics.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-51088-2
    Subjects: History, Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
    (pp. 1-31)

    This Book is a study of a popular Islamic media form that has had a profound effect on the configuration of religion, politics, and community in the Middle East. As a key element in the technological scaffolding of what is called the Islamic Revival (al-Sahwa al-Islamiyya), the cassette sermon has become an omnipresent background of daily urban life in most Middle Eastern cities, accompanying and punctuating the mundane toils of men and women like the taxi driver whose journey through Cairo and the hereafter I began with above. As I will argue, the contribution of this aural media to shaping...

    (pp. 32-66)

    For religious and secular reformers from the late nineteenth century through the present, the sermon has provided a favored problem space for reassessing the virtues and dangers of the ear and for attempting to establish the conditions enabling its reeducation. The innovations these reformers brought about cannot be understood in terms of the replacement of a premodern listener by a modern one, an attentive and pious ear by a distracted and secular one. While modernization changed the terrain upon which acts of listening take place, its very partial and incomplete character also opened up new spaces of possibility for alternative...

    (pp. 67-104)

    Ahmad was one of the men with whom I listened to sermon tapes on a regular basis when I was in Cairo. He lived with his mother and sister in the lower-middle-class neighborhood of Ain Shams and worked in an aluminum processing plant on the outskirts of Cairo. Ahmad’s father had abandoned the family and gone off to work in Germany some years earlier, and for years now, his father’s sole contribution to their family was an occasional phone call and the long-unfulfilled promise that he would someday bring Ahmad to Europe and set him up with a job. After...

    (pp. 105-142)

    Scholars exploring the incorporation of modern mass media into religious practices have frequently approached the topic in terms of a polarity between what are assumed to be two contradictory processes, the deliberative and the disciplinary. Analyses focusing on the deliberative aspect have emphasized the possibilities of argument, contestation, and dialogue that have been afforded by the advent of universal modern literacy, the diffusion of printed texts, and the operation of electronic mass media.¹ Following conventional histories of the Protestant revolution, this scholarship has given particular emphasis to the role of print and other media technologies in propelling a democratization of...

    (pp. 143-172)

    As a required component of Friday’s communal prayer, the sermon has continued to occupy a well-defined location conceptually and ritually within Islamic practice. As with the other acts of worship prescribed within Islam, the sermon has its authoritative basis in the example set by the Prophet Muhammad’s words and acts, what is collectively referred to by Muslims as the sunna. Documented in the classical biographies of Muhammad’s life (al-sira, pl. al-siyar), as well as in numerous hadiths (the preserved records of the Prophet’s words and deeds), the Prophet’s sermons have provided a set of authoritative basis in the example set...

    (pp. 173-204)

    In her short story “At the Time of the Jasmine,” the contemporary Egyptian writer Alifa Rifaat tells the tale of a man who returns from Cairo to the village of his birth in upper Egypt to attend the funeral of his father. In many ways, the story rehearses a modernist return-to-self narrative: a man’s rediscovery of spiritual and emotional vitality among the rural peasantry after having been subjected to the alienating experience of the modern metropolis. Hassan has lived in the city ever since, while still a young boy, his mother sent him to study at an English school in...

  11. 7 EPILOGUE
    (pp. 205-214)

    In this concluding chapter, I want to briefly take up a predictable response my work often elicits from academic and nonacademic audiences: however historically unique and complex the Islamic Revival may be, isn’t it nonetheless a fundamentalist movement, and therefore a danger to the Middle Eastern societies where it has set root? This response recurs with some regularity despite the fact that a number of scholars, including myself, have pointed to the inadequacy of the term “fundamentalism” for the analysis of contemporary Islam (Goldberg 1989; Esposito 1992; Harris 1994; Hirschkind 1997; Hirschkind and Mahmood 2002). Within both popular and scholarly...

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 215-246)
    (pp. 247-264)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 265-270)