An Islam of Her Own

An Islam of Her Own: Reconsidering Religion and Secularism in Womens Islamic Movements

Sherine Hafez
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    An Islam of Her Own
    Book Description:

    As the world grapples with issues of religious fanaticism, extremist politics, and rampant violence that seek justification in either religious or secular discourses, women who claim Islam as a vehicle for individual and social change are often either regarded as pious subjects who subscribe to an ideology that denies them many modern freedoms, or as feminist subjects who seek empowerment only through rejecting religion and adopting secularist discourses. Such assumptions emerge from a common trend in the literature to categorize the 'secular' and the 'religious' as polarizing categories, which in turn mitigates the identities, experiences and actions of women in Islamic societies. Yet in actuality Muslim women whose activism is grounded in Islam draw equally on principles associated with secularism.In An Islam of Her Own, Sherine Hafez focuses on women's Islamic activism in Egypt to challenge these binary representations of religious versus secular subjectivities. Drawing on six non-consecutive years of ethnographic fieldwork within a women's Islamic movement in Cairo, Hafez analyzes the ways in which women who participate in Islamic activism narrate their selfhood, articulate their desires, and embody discourses in which the boundaries are blurred between the religious and the secular.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-9072-4
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. 1 Introducing Desiring Subjects
    (pp. 1-26)

    Climbing up the stairs to the main hall of the building of al-Hilal, an Islamic private voluntary organization (PVO) nestled in the suburbs of Cairo,¹ I was met by the reading class’s familiar rhythmic recital of the Qur’an.² Filtering through the animated hum of conversation and the chimes of cell phones ringing from the far corners of the hall, voices rose and fell in perfect unison. The smell of baking wafted through the kitchen door, calling attention to the culinary skills of the cooking team who were preparing their baked goods for sale. Wrapped in cellophane, freshly bakedkonafaand...

  5. 2 Writing Religion: Islam and Subjectivity
    (pp. 27-50)

    The central aim of this chapter is to challenge binary representations of subjectivities engaged in religious practice, as opposed to those who appear to engage with secular endeavors. This goal rests on the critique of assumptions that unquestioningly employ—as a marker of modernity—a universal distinction of religion as a separate category from other spheres of social life. Such sweeping generalities inform how foundational scholarship in the social sciences contends with issues of “religious subjectivity,” representing the religious subject—a unit of analysis—as the antithesis of the modern subject, through which the principles of rationality, responsibility, and freedom...

  6. 3 Women’s Islamic Movements in the Making
    (pp. 51-76)

    Whether by acknowledging religion or denying it, various interlocutors author religious movements, drawing on historical and discursive processes that reinforce power structures in society. These processes of discursive production take place locally and globally, forming a discourse that is always in constant dialogue and is always responding to shifts in power relations. In the previous chapter, I traced a number of epistemological themes in the analysis of religion and the normative concept of religious subjectivity in order to highlight their limitations in studies of religion. I now turn to analyzing the relationship between the projects of secularization instituted by colonial...

  7. 4 An Islam of Her Own: Narratives of Activism
    (pp. 77-100)

    Women’s experiences with Islamic activism in Cairo are at the center of my ethnographic account in this chapter. Through these women’s accounts and my observations of activism atgam’iyatal-Hilal, I explore the desires and subjectivities of the activist women who work to Islamically reform Egyptian society. These findings reveal that the multiple variations in subject positionings cannot be attributed solely to a fixed and stable conception of religious disciplinary practices, namely, Islamic practices. Although the women themselves present their subjectivities as a consistent and homogenous unified whole, their accounts do in fact reflect inconsistencies, disruptions, and ambiguities that are...

  8. 5 Desires for Ideal Womanhood
    (pp. 101-126)

    Throughout my conversations, interviews, and discussions with the activist women of thegam’iyatal-Hilal, I discerned slippages in their accounts, revealing both secularist and Islamic principles. Often these were clear-cut, such as the way that they seemed to have difficulty describing whatdin, or religion, meant to them—because it was so normative—and then they would say that it was about “an internal, personal relationship” between them and God or, very commonly, that “it was a way of life.” Perhaps one of the most salient examples comes from the women who said that what motivated them to become pious...

  9. 6 Development and Social Change: Mehmeit
    (pp. 127-150)

    The sounds of animated conversation filtered in from the outside as one after another a group of women walked into al-Hilal’s spacious, freshly painted and carpeted meeting room. It was bright, with sunlight coming in through two big windows that faced the doorway. A long meeting table with a lace imitation plastic tablecloth surrounded by white plastic chairs dominated the room. On the walls, embroidered Islamic verses hung in gilded wooden frames, and in the corner, a three-panel screen propped against the wall caught my attention. The panels were decorated with ribbons of various colors, and someone had arranged a...

  10. 7 Reconsidering Women’s Desires in Islamic Movements
    (pp. 151-162)

    One evening in the spring of 2007, two women were sitting on a panel on either side of a faculty moderator facing an audience of students and scholars. The debate, sponsored by the political science department at the American University in Cairo, was entitled “Egyptian Women: Which Way Forward?” On the moderator’s right side was the Islamic feminist Amany Abul Fadl, dressed in shades of white and wearing a longkhimar¹ that extended down to her waist. On the moderator’s left side was the liberal feminist activist Aida Seif al-Dawla, in a navy blazer and skirt.

    The event started with...

  11. Glossary
    (pp. 163-164)
  12. Notes
    (pp. 165-174)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 175-182)
  14. Index
    (pp. 183-190)
  15. About the Author
    (pp. 191-191)