Author: Samia Huq
In the past two decades, women en route to places of work and education have become a very visible part of the urban landscape. In the past five to seven years, women’s active engagement with religion via taleem groups has also left its mark on the public space through, among other things, the proliferation of the hijab - the covering of the head. In light of the new spaces that have opened up for women, this paper, presented to 'Pathways: What are we Learning?', Analysis Conference, Cairo, 20-24 January 2009 explores what it means for these women - the factory worker, the student and the taleem participant to be Muslim. It investigates what it means for these women to have faith, and how they negotiate the performance of rituals. Next, the paper explores how their understanding of religion translates into the interaction with norms such as shalinota - modesty. It discusses how these norms are appropriated and negotiated differently by the different categories of women under study. The paper argues that through different modalities of corporeal engagement with norms, women make claims about the connection between external forms (such as the donning or absence of the veil), and the interiorization of norms (shalinota/modesty). The relationship between norms and forms is crucial in understanding these women’s ability to negotiate between their homes, their places of work, and the other spaces they inhabit. Finally, in light of norms, forms and dispositions that are the building blocks of the Muslim self, the paper suggests that agency in the lives of Muslim women who not only inhabit new spaces, but also constantly negotiate between the public and the private space, engagement with religion move beyond the old binaries of consolidation vs. subversion / passive vs. transformative.