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Piety among Tablighi women

Piety among Tablighi women

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Published by Usman Ahmad
Islamic piety in Muslim women has been on the rise in the last three
decades around the world. Much of it involves formerly nominal Muslim women
becoming observant of Islamic rules, rituals and practices and taking their faith
seriously. For these women, it is a journey of spiritual elevation. It is a new
endeavour of Islamic awakening and self discovery. All this is occurring in an era
characterized by a modernity which claims, among other things, that religion is the
basis for women’s oppression in society. Thus, western and western-educated
scholars and feminist theorists have argued for the “unveiling” of Muslim women as
part of the process of weakening the hold of Islam and allowing women to become
free thinking, liberal and independent. This article is an attempt to explore the
continuous growth of Islamic piety in Muslim women around the world. Using the
Tablīgh Jamā‘at in Australia as a case study, the article seeks to understand the role
of Islamic piety in Muslim women. The article argues that Islamic piety in Muslim
women is an attempt by Muslim women to find a religious response to modernity.
Islamic piety in Muslim women has been on the rise in the last three
decades around the world. Much of it involves formerly nominal Muslim women
becoming observant of Islamic rules, rituals and practices and taking their faith
seriously. For these women, it is a journey of spiritual elevation. It is a new
endeavour of Islamic awakening and self discovery. All this is occurring in an era
characterized by a modernity which claims, among other things, that religion is the
basis for women’s oppression in society. Thus, western and western-educated
scholars and feminist theorists have argued for the “unveiling” of Muslim women as
part of the process of weakening the hold of Islam and allowing women to become
free thinking, liberal and independent. This article is an attempt to explore the
continuous growth of Islamic piety in Muslim women around the world. Using the
Tablīgh Jamā‘at in Australia as a case study, the article seeks to understand the role
of Islamic piety in Muslim women. The article argues that Islamic piety in Muslim
women is an attempt by Muslim women to find a religious response to modernity.

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Published by: Usman Ahmad on Jan 04, 2014
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Piety among Tabl
 ī 
gh
 ī 
 women
Jan A. Ali
Published online: 1 July 2011
#
Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011
Abstract
 Islamic piety in Muslim women has been on the rise in the last threedecades around the world. Much of it involves formerly nominal Muslim women becoming observant of Islamic rules, rituals and practices and taking their faithseriously. For these women, it is a journey of spiritual elevation. It is a newendeavour of Islamic awakening and self discovery. All this is occurring in an era characterized by a modernity which claims, among other things, that religion is the basis for women
s oppression in society. Thus, western and western-educatedscholars and feminist theorists have argued for the
 
unveiling
 of Muslim women as part of the process of weakening the hold of Islam and allowing women to becomefree thinking, liberal and independent. This article is an attempt to explore thecontinuous growth of Islamic piety in Muslim women around the world. Using theTabl
 ī 
gh Jam
ā 
at in Australia as a case study, the article seeks to understand the roleof Islamic piety in Muslim women. The article argues that Islamic piety in Muslimwomen is an attempt by Muslim women to find a religious response to modernity.
Keywords
 Tabl
 ī 
ghJam
ā 
at .Women.Australia .Islam.Revivalism.Piety
Introduction
Piety among Muslims in a range of Muslim societies and communities has been onthe rise in the last three decades around the world. Embodied in contemporaryresurgence of Islamic forms of social behaviour as part of a larger project of reinstating orthodox Islamic virtues or pristine Islamic practices (Mahmood 2005), piety has become a tool for 
 Al-amr bi-l-ma
‘ 
ū
 f wa-l-nahy
 ‘ 
an al-munkar 
 (
enjoiningthe good and preventing the forbidden
) in the lives of many Muslims. Although thisform of Islamic social behaviour is often studied in the context of male practices, this
Cont Islam (2011) 5:225
 – 
247DOI 10.1007/s11562-011-0164-9J. A. Ali (
*
)CentrefortheStudyofContemporaryMuslimSocieties, University of Western Sydney, Sydney, Australia e-mail: Jan.Ali@uws.edu.au
 
article looks at the less-studied rituals of piety among women, specifically femalemembers of the Tabl
 ī 
gh Jam
ā 
at 
1
in Australia.In the context of the Tabl
 ī 
gh Jam
ā 
at, piety has found a strong hold on its femalemembers. It involves practices and rituals such as
 bay
ā
n
 (religious talk),
 dh
ī 
kr 
(knowledge and remembrance of All
ā 
h),
 khur 
ū
 j 
 (preaching tour),
 tabl 
ī 
 gh
 (a calltowards religion),
 ta
‘ 
ī 
m
 (education), wearing the
 burq
ā
2
and gender segregation.Piety among the Tabl
 ī 
gh
 ī 
s is seen as a necessary component of Islamic virtue or  being a true believer because it both expresses
 
true Islam
 and is the means throughwhich knowledge and practices of 
 
true Islam
 are acquired.The observation of Riaz Hassan (2008) about Muslim piety sheds important light on the concept. He notes that:Religion provides the means to create a morally coherent and meaningfullife
 As religion is the essence of Muslim identity, religious commitment is both the evidence and the expression of this identity. An analysis of Muslimreligiosity or religious commitment can provide vital insights into the natureand character of Islamic consciousness and the role it plays in shaping the political and social organization of Muslim societies (Hassan 2008: 62).In light of this fact, this article is a modest contribution, through a preliminaryinvestigation into piety among Tabl
 ī 
gh
 ī 
 women, to understanding why many Muslimwomen are returning to Islam in an era characterized by a modernity which claims,among other things, that religion is the basis for women
s oppression in society. It will show how contemporary Islamic forms of social behaviour are re-orientatingMuslim women towards maintaining moral standards and transforming the self withdirect and indirect consequences on the broader moral and social milieu.The article contends that piety among Tabl
 ī 
gh
 ī 
 women is part of a larger project of Islamic revivalism that seeks to return Muslims to orthodox Islamic virtues and practices of worship and to mount a defence against the Western ideologies of secularism, liberalism and materialism. The article argues that the acquisition of  piety by the Tabl
 ī 
gh
 ī 
 women is motivated by their need to increase their faith (
ī 
m
ā
n
)as a basis for self-fulfilment and happy living. Lavishness and material extravaganceare shunned because they are believed to fail in providing self-fulfilment to theextent that inwardly directed piety does. Tabl
 ī 
gh
 ī 
 women find the vocation of discovering God more fulfilling and rewarding than participating in the consumer culture of material capitalism.
The interviewees
The study is based on a small sample of four unstructured interviews conducted between January and March 2009. Each interview was approximately 1 hour and 30minutes long. All the interviewed women lived in Sydney in the state of New SouthWales in Australia. Their membership of the Tabl
 ī 
gh Jam
ā 
at ranged from
1
The Tabl
 ī 
gh Jam
ā 
at or 
 
group for propagation [of Islam]
 is an Islamic organisation that originated inIndia in the 1920s and is now active in many countries around the world (Sikand 2002; Ali 2006).
2
A loose outer garment for women, covering the whole body including the head, face and torso.226 Cont Islam (2011) 5:225
 – 
247
 
minimum of 4 years to a maximum of 25 years. The interviews were conducted inthe Tabl
 ī 
gh
 ī 
 women
s homes by a female researcher.In this article, I shall refer to the four interviewees as Aiesha Abdullah, Samar El-Masri, Fatima Ibrahim and Asma Hussein.
3
Aiesha Abdullah, the first, is a 41-year-oldhomemaker. She is an Australian citizen but was born in England, and her ethnic background is Pakistani. She is married, has one child and has been involved with theTabl
 ī 
gh Jam
ā 
at since 1990.Samar El-Masri, whose ethnic background is Egyptian, is 30 years old anddescribes herself as a home-schooling educator. She was born in Australia. Samar ismarried with children and has been involved with the Tabl
 ī 
gh Jam
ā 
at since she was7 years old when she started accompanying her parents on various preaching tours,which are known as
 khur 
ū
 j 
.Fatima Ibrahim is a 20-year-old homemaker. She was born in Australia, and her ethnic background is Lebanese. She is married, has one child and has been involvedwith the Tabl
 ī 
gh Jam
ā 
at since 2006.Asma Hussein is a 47-year-old housewife who also attends university part-time.She is an Australian citizen but was born in Lebanon and, therefore, has Lebaneseethnicity. Asma Hussein is married with four children and has been involved with theTabl
 ī 
gh Jam
ā 
at since 1985.Before considering some of the material from their interviews, it will be useful to present some further background to the Tabl
 ī 
gh Jam
ā 
at.
Islamic revivalism in the modern era
Islamic revivalism is a sociologically significant phenomenon in the modern world.Constituted by a large diversity of revivalist movements, Islamic revivalism is complex and heterogeneous reality. As Dekmejian observes, the movement to returnto pristine Islam or the development of Islamic revivalism
 
is at once spiritual,social, economic, and political in nature
 (Dekmejian 1985: 7). Though Islamicrevivalism is by no means a monolithic phenomenon, there is a common thread between these disparate movements that binds them together. For the earlier movements, it is the Muslims
 direct experiences of colonialism, while for morerecent movements, it is the consequences of these experiences and the ideology of a defensive reaction to the crisis of modernity.The literature on contemporary Islamic revivalism point to the colonialexperiences of the people of the
 
ā
r al-Isl 
ā
m
 (abode of Islam)
4
as the catalyst for Muslims returning to their faith with great zeal and enthusiasm. The encounter of theWest with the people of the
 
ā
r al-Is
ā
m
 was intense, less than amicable andultimately led to the downfall of the Muslim world (Esposito 1983; Hunter  1988). Thus, in the last 150 years or so, revivalist ideas and motivations have surfacedessentially in direct response to the challenges and experiences generated by Westerninfluence and intrusion, particularly European expansion on Islamic life. The
3
All names have been changed for reasons of confidentiality. The interviews took place in the Sydneysuburbs of Blacktown, Auburn and Greenacre between January and March 2009.
4
This term refers to regions of the world where Islam was freely practised under Muslim rule.Cont Islam (2011) 5:225
 – 
247 227227

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