Reshaping the Holy

Reshaping the Holy: Democracy, Development, and Muslim Women in Bangladesh

Elora Shehabuddin
Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 304
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  • Book Info
    Reshaping the Holy
    Book Description:

    Through extensive field research, Elora Shehabuddin explores the profound implications of women's political and social mobilization for reshaping Islam. Specifically, she examines the lives of Muslim women in Bangladesh who have become increasingly mobilized by the activities of predominantly secular NGOs, yet who desire to retain, reclaim, and reshape-rather than reject-their faith. In their employment and in their interactions with the legal system, the state, NGOs, and political and religious groups, women are changing state practices, views of women in the public sphere, and the nature of lived Islam itself. In contrast to most work on Islam and Muslims, which has focused on the Middle East and has privileged the study of religious and legal texts, this book redirects our attention to South Asia, home to one of the largest Muslim populations in the world, and emphasizes the actual experiences of Muslims. Women and gender, as well as Bangladesh's formally democratic context, are central to this inquiry and analysis.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-51255-8
    Subjects: Religion, Sociology, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xvi)
    (pp. 1-32)

    On January 10, 1993, in the eastern district of Sylhet in Bangladesh, a young woman called Nurjahan (literally, “light of the world”) was dragged out of her home by her hair to be punished for adultery. Her life, even more than her tragic death, is representative of the lives of impoverished women in contemporary rural Bangladesh.¹ The seventh of nine children, Nurjahan was a young girl when her first marriage was arranged. After abusing her for several years, her husband suddenly divorced her and disappeared. Like millions of women throughout Bangladesh, Nurjahan joined a mohila shomiti (women’s group) sponsored by...

    (pp. 33-74)

    Over the last two hundred years, the region that is today Bangladesh has been transformed from a prosperous land that once attracted numerous foreign travelers, adventurers, and entrepreneurs to what Henry Kissinger notoriously described as an international basketcase. It has been under the control of the British East India Company, the British Crown, the West Pakistani–dominated central government, and, since 1971, a sovereign Bangladeshi state; it has been known as East Bengal, East Pakistan, and, finally, Bangladesh. Amid all these political upheavals and economic transformations, competing interest groups have advanced seemingly opposing notions of the nation, the state, development,...

  7. 3 ʺA LITTLE MONEY FOR TEAʺ: Rural Womenʹs Encounters with the State
    (pp. 75-110)

    Some months after Nurjahan’s death, her father, Ashrafullah, described to ASK investigators on camera, for the documentary Eclipse, how she protested the fatwa against her even as she was being dragged into the pit that winter morning. In an anguished voice, he admitted that he had edged her forward, telling her, “Daughter, do as they tell you,” while the shalish committee had kept reminding them, “The law is in our hands” (ASK 1994a).¹

    As I described in chapter 1, Nurjahan was found guilty of adultery by a village shalish and stoned publicly; she subsequently committed suicide by drinking pesticide. From...

  8. 4 CONTESTING DEVELOPMENT: Between Islamist and Secularist Perspectives
    (pp. 111-152)

    In the spring of 1995, shortly before a scheduled trip by then–First Lady Hillary Clinton to visit some of Bangladesh’s renowned indigenous NGOs, the enmity between groups for and against NGOs spilled out onto Manik Miah Avenue in Dhaka. This grand avenue runs in front of the national parliament complex, a starkly modern set of buildings designed by American architect Louis I. Kahn in 1962 and constructed of marble and concrete to be the “Second Capital” of united Pakistan. Members of the NGO community had applied to the government for permission to hold on Manik Miah Avenue on March...

    (pp. 153-192)

    I traveled from Dhaka to Jessore in southern Bangladesh early on the morning of June 10, 1996, just two days before the elections. My companions on the short flight down included a team from the Asia Foundation—a representative from the Dhaka office and eight observers from Cambodia—and their escort, a junior officer from the Bangladesh Foreign Office. After breakfast in the canteen of the local NGO, Banchte Shekha (Learning to Survive), we headed to the Jessore district commissioner’s office, located in an old building dating back to the British period. In a large room upstairs with noisy fans...

    (pp. 193-220)

    With my shalwar pulled halfway up my calves, I followed the two women down a monsoon-drenched path into a large rectangular building. Built primarily of sheets of corrugated tin and lengths of bamboo at some height from the ground to protect it from rising floodwaters, the structure consisted of a single large room. It took my eyes a few moments to adjust to the darkness inside. Then I discerned that the room was furnished sparsely, with two tables, a few chairs, and several benches. The women debated between opening the small windows to allow in some light and air and...

  11. CODA
    (pp. 221-226)

    Rural Bangladesh has changed dramatically in recent years as various NGOs have entered villages, drawn nonelite women into new networks, and thereby affected their relationships with neighbors, local landed elites, religious leaders, moneylenders, the state, and, of course, members of their families. NGOs have not always attained their stated objectives, such as reaching the poorest of the poor, but they have certainly disrupted rural life, in ways expected and unexpected. What has been of particular interest to me in this book is how impoverished rural women, who struggle to improve their lives within formidable social and economic constraints, negotiate the...

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 227-242)
    (pp. 243-270)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 271-288)