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Gender, Religious Agency, and the Subject of Al-Huda International


The focus of this paper is Al-Huda International, a Pakistan-based Sunni Muslim women’s organization working to bring about social reform through women’s religious education. Created and led by urban, upper-class Pakistani women, Al-Huda approaches religious interpretation and praxis in a way that challenges that of the male ulema (religious scholars) who have historically exercised a monopoly over the production and dissemination of religious knowledge in Pakistan. Al-Huda advances a model of piety that casts women as moral-religious actors anchored in, but not confined to, their domestic roles and invested in building religiously educated families and communities. The group has gained unprecedented popularity among urban Pakistani women, influencing the ways that women practice and participate in religious discourse in everyday life. Due precisely to its influence, the group has become a subject of intense scrutiny from different segments of society. In 2005 the founder of the organization, Dr. Farhat Hashmi, moved to Mississauga, Ontario, Canada to establish a branch of Al-Huda for diasporic Muslim women. In the months that followed, staunch critiques from self-identified progressive Canadian Muslim activists began to emerge and circulate, critiques that represent Hashmi’s model of Muslim womanhood as detrimental and potentially dangerous to Canadian values. Employing a transnational feminist framework, I examine how the subject of Al-Huda and her presumed relation to the domestic is configured and reconfigured in narratives of the Pakistani ulema and narratives of prominent progressive Muslim activists in Canada. My analysis of these narratives reveals the anxieties that surface and crystallize around the figure of the Al-Huda woman when analyzed against the hegemonies of nation, class, race, gender, and religion in two very different national contexts, Pakistan and Canada.

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