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An Islam of Her Own

Reconsidering Religion and Secularism in Women’s Islamic Movements

Sherine Hafez

Publication Year: 2011

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.

Published by: NYU Press


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pp. vii

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pp. ix-xi

In many ways, this book has been like Rumi’s “guesthouse,” a guesthouse where many visitors were welcome, some more than others, and still, I hope, many more to come. Rumi evokes the ways that books, like humans, often require an openness to the unexpected: both the joy and the sorrows...

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1. Introducing Desiring Subjects

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pp. 1-25

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...

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2. Writing Religion: Islam and Subjectivity

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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...

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3. Women’s Islamic Movements in the Making

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pp. 51-75

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...

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4. An Islam of Her Own: Narratives of Activism

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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 at gam’iyat al-Hilal, I explore the desires and subjectivities of the activist women who work to Islamically reform Egyptian...

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5. Desires for Ideal Womanhood

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pp. 101-126

Throughout my conversations, interviews, and discussions with the activist women of the gam’iyat al-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 what din, or religion...

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6. Development and Social Change: Mehmeit

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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...

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7. Reconsidering Women’s Desires in Islamic Movements

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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...


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pp. 163-164


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pp. 165-173


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pp. 175-182


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pp. 183-189

About the Author

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pp. 191

E-ISBN-13: 9780814790724
E-ISBN-10: 0814790720
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814773031
Print-ISBN-10: 0814773036

Page Count: 208
Publication Year: 2011