Saba Mahmood and Anthropological Feminism After Virtue

Sindre Bangstad

Abstract This article explores the work of the influential poststructuralist and postcolonial anthropologist Saba Mahmood (UC Berkeley, USA). Mahmood’s work in anthropology adopts an Asadian and Butlerian approach, particularly in the seminal Politics of Piety: The Islamic Revival and the Feminist Subject. In this work, Mahmood critically interpellates the categories of ‘Western’ secular feminism through an exploration of the lives of pious Muslim women of Salafi orientations in Cairo in Egypt. Mahmood’s work constitutes an important intervention at a point in time when secular feminist discourses are increasingly instrumentalized across the political spectrum in anti-Muslim discourses in the ‘Western’ world and in Europe. I argue, however, that in wanting to use the understandings and practices of pious Muslim women in Egypt in order to critique Western secular feminism, Mahmood fails to pose critical questions about the historicity of these practices and understandings, and lends her analysis to a form of cultural relativism which offers few prospects for a way forward for feminism. Key words Judith Butler j critical theory j Islam j Muslims






feminist theory

WHY IS it so hard to say anything about politics from outside politics? Why can there be no discourse about politics that is not in itself political? ( J.M. Coetzee, Diary of a Bad Year, 2007) In the end, we see what we want to see, and the rest falls away. (Daniel Mendelsohn, The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Millions, 2007)


Theory, Culture & Society 2011 (SAGE, Los Angeles, London, New Delhi, and Singapore), Vol. 28(3): 28^54 DOI: 10.1177/0263276410396914

Bangstad ^ Saba Mahmood and Anthropological Feminism After Virtue



HE WORK of the anthropologist Saba Mahmood (University of California-Berkeley) has attracted much attention from academics in various fields in recent years.1 Her writings represent in many ways a challenge to the ways ‘Western’ secular feminism has chosen to conceptualize gender issues in the so-called ‘Muslim world’ In pointing out . how many of these conceptualizations have re£ected the categories of many academics aligned to such traditions of thought themselves, Mahmood has made an important anthropological intervention. This comes at a point in time when the need for a re-thinking of categories of thought is more important than ever for a feminist and anthropological engagement with ‘the lives of others’ For some time, an important problem for secular feminism . ^ as both an analytical and prescriptive frame of thinking ^ has been its apparent inability to conceptualize female agency and freedom in any terms other than resistance or subordination to patriarchal societal norms. This has led to a situation in which female agency anchored in other understandings of freedom than those implied by secular feminism becomes void. There can be little doubt that many secular feminist discourses are central to anti-Muslim discourses in present Europe, and that absolutist secularism, with its particular understanding of gender and sexuality, positing Muslims as the embodiment of gendered alterity, feeds on these discourses (see Scott, 2007: 181). Increasingly, calls for women’s rights are being instrumentalized in anti-Muslim discourses across the political spectrum in ‘Western’ and European societies. This instrumentalization is by no means limited to populist right-wing movements, which have had little historical interest in the promotion of women’s rights. ‘The stigmatisation of Muslim men in terms of women’s rights’ has been identified as a ‘longstanding element of Western discourse’ (Ewing, 2009: 13). Elaborating on this theme, Judith Butler has argued that ‘sexual politics’ involves ‘claims to new or radical sexual freedoms’ which are ‘appropriated precisely by that point of view ^ usually enunciated from within state power ^ that would try and de¢ne Europe and the sphere of modernity as the privileged site where sexual radicalism can and does take place’ (2009a: 102). She further argues that modernity in the era of sexual politics is de¢ned as linked to sexual freedom (Butler, 2009a: 105), and that practising Muslim men and women are cast as outsiders by virtue of their perceived or real submission to other forms of sexual politics and gender relations. Given this ideological climate, Mahmood has undoubtedly made an important intellectual contribution in identifying the role of mainstream secular feminist understandings and categories as central to the exclusion of practising Muslim men and women in contemporary and late modern ‘Western’ social and political imaginaries. Furthermore, her work represents an important contribution to a nascent body of work in anthropology on contemporary Sala¢s in the Middle East and elsewhere. These modern ideological movements in Islam are by no means easy to explore ethnographically under the present circumstances much in£uenced by a mutual ‘hermeneutics of suspicion’ (Ricoeur, 1970).

feminists from the developing world and lesbian feminists’ led to the challenging of ‘the notion of the universal category ‘‘woman’’ and the assumption of underlying commonalities of experience for all women’ (Moore. Foremost among these is whether a conceptualization of anthropological critique appearing to target secular formations exclusively can be considered consistent in its apparent defence of pluralism.30 Theory. Moore. As an ethnographic stance this refusal to see the complexities and the fractured nature of the moral selves and the moral lives of pious Muslim women ultimately lends itself to a form of culturalism. It is premised on a view of particular Muslim women and men as the embodiment of difference or ‘radical alterity’ (Keesing.2 I would argue that Mahmood’s refusal to critically interpellate the categories of thought and practice central to Sala¢sm in its various forms and expressions raises several serious analytical questions. 1988. by asserting that Mahmood omits a Saudi role. Critical re-interpretations by ‘feminists of colour. the historical and contemporary role played by Saudi funding of Sala¢ publications and infrastructure. Modern Sala¢sm is a complex and variegated ideological phenomenon. 1989) in relation to the construct of ‘secular liberalism’ and its purported categories. 1988). only to suggest that it is more of a transnational phenomenon than what Mahmood’s analysis would seem to allow. Recasting Feminist Theory Critiques of the parameters of feminist thought and practice in ‘Western’ contexts as applied to women living outside of these contexts are not new to feminism nor to feminist anthropology (Mohanty. I do not mean to imply that Sala¢sm is a mere import to Egypt. For good reasons. Mahmood’s own categories require critical interpellation. Culture & Society 28(3) Nevertheless. This has become all the more important in a contemporary context where many ‘Western’ politicians and public intellectuals of various ideological stripes have appropriated and instrumentalized the discourses of feminism in order to legitimize the . and in a similar spirit. Sala¢sm in Egypt is ¢rst and foremost an Egyptian phenomenon. For what Mahmood sees in the lives of pious Salafi-oriented Muslim women in Egypt and elsewhere is ^ I would argue ^ by most accounts only part of the picture. F|nally. But Mahmood’s ethnography of the women’s mosque movement in contemporary Cairo fails to make crucial distinctions between strands of modern Sala¢sm more or less amenable to women’s rights. for instance. as many of its local detractors would have it. The emphasis on studying and analysing the particularities of the conditions of women in di¡erent contexts has become part of the received wisdom in feminist as well as anthropological scholarship (Moore. Therefore. this culturalism stands in a troubled relationship with contemporary ‘Western’ secular feminist politics. representing a continuum of puritan and literalist ideas concerning Muslim lives and ritual practices. 1994: 11). 1988). I would contend that Mahmood’s description of modern varieties of Sala¢sm in Egypt is dehistoricized and decontextualized in omitting.

the universality of the desire ^ central for liberal and progressive thought ^ and presupposed by the concept of resistance it authorizes ^ to be free from relations of subordination and. Among the most important questions raised in her study is that of the conceptualization of agency often underpinning the work of ‘Western’ secular feminists. to locate agency within those operations that resist the dominating and subjectivating modes of power. 1994: 11). also took di¡erence to mean that feminism. And so it was to be. would have to incur the risk of supporting forms of feminism that may not turn out to be conducive to advancing women’s rights at all. from structures of male domination’ (2005: 10). which positions her within a postcolonialist and post-structuralist tradition.Bangstad ^ Saba Mahmood and Anthropological Feminism After Virtue 31 brutalities of military adventurism and interventionism in the so-called ‘Muslim world’ (Abu-Lughod. Politics of Piety: The Islamic Revival and the Feminist Subject (2005). is closely aligned with Butler’s analysis4 (see Mahmood. But for all Mahmood’s insistence on the need to explore actual practice. for women. in its encounter and engagement with nascent and emergent ‘Third World feminisms’. . (2005: 14) In so doing. she subjects the normative and ideological foundations of ‘Western’ secular feminism to critical interpellation. emphasis added). there is relatively little of it in her works. The Women’s Piety Movement and ‘Western’ Secular Feminism In Mahmood’s ethnographic study of women in the piety movement in modern Egypt. As she puts it. This is a facet of Mahmood’s analysis which I personally find useful.3 Mahmood’s work. or the temporary suspension of one’s own normative political and ethical commitments as a requirement for anthropological understanding of the lifeworlds of pious Muslim women. or ‘the thick texture of the lives of the mosque participants’ (2005: 198). 2002). is attributable to a ‘tension within feminism’ due to its ‘dual character as both an analytical and politically prescriptive project’ (2005: 10. . In Politics of Piety. The feminist anthropologist Henrietta Moore anticipated a development in which the concept of di¡erence would eventually threaten ‘the whole edi¢ce on which feminist politics is based’ (Moore. Mahmood also usefully points to the importance of methodological relativism. such as Judith Butler (1995). as well as to render Muslim men (Ewing. This failure on the part of feminist anthropology. 2009) and women (Moors and Salih. Some feminists. she suggests. 2005: 17^22 in particular). one of her aims is to: question the overwhelming tendency within poststructuralist feminist scholarship to conceptualize agency in terms of subversion or re-signification of social norms. 2009: 376) in ‘Western’ contexts as the embodiments of purported ‘non-Western’ norms and values. Mahmood takes several leading feminist scholars of anthropology to task for failing to ‘problematize . she .

These are not any kind of Muslim women. it is clear that her husband is an ‘errant’ Muslim. Similarly. The whole version of events is apparently based on Abir’s narrative as recounted to Mahmood. in the mosques that they attend (see Mahmood. As Cooper (2008: 39) has pointed out. 2005: 46).32 Theory. we learn little about the social status and class positions of these pious Muslim women. who had become part of the piety movement. Asef Bayat notes that the halaqa‘at. but Muslim women with a very particular conception of what being Muslim entails in terms of embodied comportment and commitment. Mahmood’s analysis operates in the iterative mode. Van der Veer argues. Their conceptions and views seem to have much to do with their particular social and political location in contemporary Cairo. yet her appeal to religious arguments ensures her eventual ‘victory’ over her husband. Culture & Society 28(3) is content with confining her ethnographic focus to following her female Muslim informants in the Egyptian women’s piety movement in the ritual sphere. As readers we never get to listen in on Jamal’s narrative of the same events. 1981: 83). What Mahmood fails to problematize are ‘the complexities of consciousness even in the face of the most dominant cultural formations’ (Ortner. Peter van der Veer notes. in a review of Mahmood’s book. or Islamic study and prayer groups for women which Mahmood studied. in other words. primarily attracted well-off Egyptian women. These women’s turn to . and the extent to which this impacts on their ritual practice. apparent than on pages 174^80 of her book. whereby she herself ‘repeats and validates the moral norms of her pious interlocutors’ This is nowhere more . Nor do we learn much about the extent to which the moral dispositions cultivated in the ritual sphere reflect non-conflicted and coherent moral selves which remain so over time (rather than contextual and transient ones). Few anthropologists who have worked on Muslims anywhere in the world will be unaware of the limitations inherent in conducting fieldwork in and through mosques. One gets little sense of the extent to which moral dispositions cultivated in the ritual sphere are consonant with the actual behaviour of these pious Muslim women in other social fields. Consequently. The limitations of this methodological ethnographic framework in Mahmood’s work are demonstrable. subtly and through an appeal to religious arguments forced her upwardly mobile husband. that ‘her focus on the micro-processes inside the mosque seem to prevent her from looking at the micro-practices outside the mosque’ (2008: 812). to abandon his indulgence in alcohol and his taste for watching X-rated ¢lms at home (Mahmood. a female informant. 2005: 42^3). ‘one wonders whether piety defines the entirety of these women’s lives’ (2008: 812). It is activity directed at the generation and achievement of certain moral and societal dispositions. Ritual activity is in Islamic traditions a highly patterned and prescribed activity (Graham. For Abir. and which became a central feature of the Islamic landscape of urban Egypt in the course of the 1990s. Jamal. where she recounts the narrative of how Abir. 2005: 174).

But the fact that Mahmood pays little attention to the social and class location of her pietist interlocutors is in a sense symptomatic of the ‘culturalist turn’ of the postcolonial and poststructuralist left.7 This is not to say that Salafi followers did not take part in the demonstrations against the Mubarak regime ^ some evidently did. as outlined by Foucault (1972: 21^40). capillary. and so forth) ^ it was in fact the leaders of Salafi movements in Cairo and Alexandria (see Tammam and Haenni.Bangstad ^ Saba Mahmood and Anthropological Feminism After Virtue 33 religion. secularism is incarnated in the authoritarian state under Hosni Mubarak (1981^2011). and generates its own exclusions and inclusions. operates on multiple levels. and function through everyday social practices (Fraser. 2011). and toward the crafting of new social and political hegemonies. In other words. this might in fact be getting the dynamics of relations between a secular and authoritarian state and the contemporary strands of Salafism in the Egyptian context quite wrong. The power of discourse. Documents secured by pro-democracy demonstrators from the offices of the state security organ ^ Mabaheth Amn al-Dawla [State Security Investigations Directorate. My problem is not so much Mahmood’s contention that the piety movement has ‘political implications’ (Mahmood. as much as the pious Muslim women Mahmood has studied see themselves as set apart from political power and its exercise in the context of contemporary Egypt. more than suggests that her female Salafi informants’ piety is political in Mahmood’s ^ if not necessarily their own ^ eyes. The very title of Mahmood’s book. As the unfolding of the events which led to the fall of Hosni Mubarak on 11 February 2011 demonstrated. Modern forms of power are. in Foucault’s understanding. 2011. for this). This culturalization of politics is premised precisely on an obscuring of class and social relations. 2007: 155^61). 2005: 193) ^ though one could well argue that we need to consider it seriously when our informants claim to be acting in non-political ways and wanting to have nothing to do with politics6 ^ as her reductionistic rendering of this ‘politics of piety’ as one of embodied challenges and alterity to a purported ‘Western’ ‘secular liberalism’ In Egypt. the practices they are engaged in also contribute towards the reproduction of certain forms of gendered (patriarchal and social) power relationships in new forms. we are led to believe. ‘Western machinations’. may well have enhanced their own personal autonomy. What this means in this context is that. he argues. rather than posing a challenge to the . SSI] ^ on 6 March 2011 appear to implicate some Salafi leaders in Egypt in collaboration with the state security apparatus under Mubarak in the recent decade (see Schielke. 1981). and her recurrent invocations of a Butlerian and Foucaultian nomenclature in which ‘the private is political’. For if anyone condemned the democratic uprising as vociferously as the propaganda machinery of the Egyptian state under Mubarak ^ and very often on the very same terms as the state (‘Zionist plot’. but in reproducing patriarchal constraints they effectively delimited the agential possibilities of Muslim women from other social strata and with affinities to other ideologies (Bayat. and the ‘culturalization of politics’5 in which it is implicated. .

In many ways. The production of richly textured ethnographic accounts and ‘thick descriptions’. . imperialism and the other evils of Western society . But central to these new ways of studying religiosity is what Turner referred to as ‘the abstraction of cultural phenomena from their real social and political-economic contexts’ (1993: 415). in an answer to racism. An acid bath of instrumentality. Mahmood’s work is indicative of a broader shift in anthropological studies of Muslim societies in the course of the 1990s towards an emphasis on new (and old) modes of religiosity among contemporary Muslims. In turn. These were much inspired by both the emphasis on processes of reIslamization in the ‘Western’ media following the Iranian Revolution in 1979. The Politics of Ethnographic Refusal Ultimately. and about modes of Muslim sociality which are not primarily religious. Mahmood’s ethnographic stance reflects what Ortner (1995: 188) once characterized as an ‘ethnographic refusal’ or the ‘refusal to know and speak and write of the lived worlds inhabited by those who resist (or do not. Salafi leaders have in fact in many instances with their calls for their Egyptian followers to abstain from politics. about class and social status. rather than parsimony. to mention but a few. Culture & Society 28(3) Mubarak state’s purported ‘secularism’. as the case may be)’. . This development cannot be seen in isolation from broader and more general developments in ‘Western’ conceptualizations of Muslims. and their outright condemnation of political forces attempting to bridge ‘religious-secular’ and Muslim-Christian divides in opposition to the authoritarian state (see Hirschkind. refinement. been extremely useful to the very same authoritarian and ‘secular’ state. and whether her ethnographic data can provide a solid template for doing so seems to be of lesser importance to her. these coalesced to form a perspective framing Muslims first and foremost as religious beings. 2011). Marshall Sahlins points to the inherent reductionism in a notion of anthropological critique based on using ethnographic data as a template for criticizing one’s own society. the procedure dissolves worlds of cultural diversity into the one indeterminate meaning. There are many silences in these kinds of conceptualizations ^ silences about what happens in the spaces between secularity and religiosity among Muslims. (Sahlins.34 Theory. as well as the emergence of Islamism as an oppositional political movement and ideology in the 1980s and 1990s. sexism. however. She wants to debunk ‘Western’ secular feminism and ‘Western’ secular liberalism. a refusal of an ethnographic stance implying a commitment to ‘producing understanding through richness. he observed: It is as if other peoples had constructed their lives for our purposes. texture and detail. is not Mahmood’s ¢rst priority. 1995: 174). 2000: 505^6) . and (in the sense used by mathematicians) elegance’ (Ortner. Writing ten years ago.

Bangstad ^ Saba Mahmood and Anthropological Feminism After Virtue 35 But for Mahmood. ism is not dependent on liberalism. . that the reductionist isomorphism between secularism and liberalism is Mahmood’s own. since she claims that many pious women in Egypt and elsewhere do in fact constitute their relationship with ‘secular liberalism’ as precisely one of ‘simple opposition’ inasmuch as ‘contemporary Islamist activists identify secular liberalism as a powerful corrosive force within Muslim societies’ (2005: 191). to ¢nd a form of state secularism that is quite illiberal. How secularism. however. from an anthropological point of view. Secular liberalism. Mahmood’s aim is similar to that of her mentor Talal Asad: she wants to ‘question liberalism’. ‘neither is entirely reducible to the other’ In fact. may become de¢nable in and through those terms and be incorporated into what Bourdieu (1978) refers to as the doxic or ‘taken for granted’ This. for many of the individuals who live in societies de¢nable as both liberal and secular. does not mean . since there can be perfectly illiberal forms of secularism’ (see also Gourgouris. Mahmood appears to argue that there is a ‘simple opposition’ at work. comes to assume this status as a form akin to religious belief in particular contexts is never explained (see Gourgouris. in spite of her assertion that ‘Islamism and liberal secularity stand in a relationship of proximity and co-imbrication rather than of simple opposition’ to one another (2005: 25). which for Mahmood is ‘a historically shifting category with a variegated genealogy’ (2006: 323). is that Mahmood here con£ates secularism and liberalism. as argued by Bilgrami (2004: 173). under its secular and Western-orientated dictator Hosni Mubarak (1981^2011). and that human agency primarily consists of acts that challenge social norms and not those that uphold them. One need not venture further than. ‘secular. It seems quite clear. the notions of female agency and political action adhered to by many urban Muslim women in Cairo in their mosque movement clearly serve as a counter-model to those adhered to by many ‘Western’ secular feminists. and she wants to do so by using . however. 2008b: 455). precisely. at any rate) is the opportunity to problematize the belief that all human beings have an innate desire for freedom . 2005: 5) Elsewhere in her book. a secular liberalism which for Mahmood defines and prescribes nothing short of ‘a way of life’ (2005: 191). that secularism represents an orientation to the world of the same order as religious faith.8 Secular feminism draws on the imaginaries of secular liberalism. What the ethnographic exploration of the women in the piety movement yields (for Mahmood. The ideology of secular liberalism ^ in Mahmood’s polemical construction of it ^ appears to be as all-encompassing and determinative for its followers as it is assumed that religious faiths are for the believers. More worrying. Egypt. . however. 2006: 48). even though. as Connolly (1999: 10) points out. This should remind us that the concept of ‘iteration’ involves a resigni¢cation and repositing of meaning (Benhabib. 2008a: 441). (Mahmood.

Mahmood. 2003: 1). Culture & Society 28(3) ‘the resources of the Islamic tradition’ in order to ‘question many of the liberal political categories and principles for the contradictions and problems they embody’ (Mahmood. 2009 for a critique) remain evident in her usage of the concept. As noted by Silverstein: ‘the notion that Islamic traditions ^ their culturally de¢ned goals and modes of reasoning and being ^ stand in an alternative counterrelation to liberal politics is . geopolitical interests’ in the Middle East. they ‘share secular assumptions about enlightened religiosity with . For Mahmood. I am forced to ask: What form of democracy. 2007: 2) is of course nothing new in the canons of post-structuralist thought ^ it was central for Foucault and many of his epigones (see Afary and Anderson. the late Nasr Abu Zayd. an-Na‘im are problematic. Furthermore. (Mahmood. She is disparaging.9 inasmuch as they are engaged in the work of exploring the potentialities of a convergence between Islamic norms and values. Mahmood elaborates upon this critique by arguing that ‘some of the most heinous crimes committed against humanity ^ including the Holocaust ^ were under the rule and rubric of democracy’10 ‘So when Muslim scholars unproblematically uphold . Mahmood refers to ‘Islamic traditions’ in . For even though Mahmood has later admitted that the Muslim intellectuals in question are generally ‘opposed to U.36 Theory. but the problems of Asad’s approach (see Bangstad. the plural. for whom. is therefore required to constitute ‘Islamic traditions’ and her Muslim interlocutors as the embodiments of ‘difference’ and ‘alterity’ Unlike Asad (1986). like Asad before her. democracy and secularism. She writes of them: I believe the reason these kinds of questions [about secular liberalism] are seldom pursued is because of the hegemony that liberalism commands as a political ideal for many contemporary Muslim intellectuals.S. human rights. . ‘‘liberal democracy’’ as the ideal to emulate. however. of their works. . there is an equivocation on the very degree of alterity to be ascribed to Islamic traditions in Mahmood’s work (Silverstein. The ‘resort to Islam’ as ‘a means of obtaining some kind of critical distance from one’s own society’ (Almond. a hegemony that reflects the enormous disparity of power between the Anglo-European countries and what constitutes the ‘Muslim world’ today. 2003: 499). and with what conceptions of the public good?’ (Shaikh. not to say dismissive. 2006). incoherent’ (2008: 143). Hassan Hana¢ and ^ by implication. Mahmood charges these Muslim ‘liberal reformists’ with ‘closing down certain readings’ (2006: 346) of Islamic traditions. 2007: 152). 2003: 2) In an interview with Nermeen Shaikh. since they are not explicitly referred to by Mahmood in the article in question ^ Khaled Abou El Fadl and Abdullahi A. In order to make her case for a questioning of liberalism. In an earlier contribution. Muslim liberal reformists like Abdulkarim Soroush.

and Christians and animists in postcolonial Sudan (Collins. State Department’ (2008: 463). however. ‘The normative claims of secularism fail to interrogate secularism’s contention that it is the most effective political solution to warding off religious strife’.or non-secular traditions and anti. but the problem arises when and if this is posed as a unilateral demand. in attempting to reform Islam.12 In the present Egyptian context. say. insofar as any text is an act of interpretation based on certain readings. asserts Mahmood (2006: 326). purportedly Islamic states. once so cosmopolitan. so we are left with a conceptualization of secularism as an agent in the mode of a deus ex machina rather than as something produced by real people acting in real ways upon the world and as agents of and in history.11 and that the most rigid and exclusivist varieties of Sala¢sm are not even conceivably so. Shias and Christians in postcolonial Pakistan (see Bhargava. in order to be minimally consistent. If the neo-conservative ‘US imperial project’ exhibits ‘an extraordinary secular cast’. 2008). ‘secularism remakes certain kinds of religious subjectivities so as to render them compliant with liberal political rule’ (2006: 328). According to Mahmood. but so is the record of. But nowhere does she specify exactly how this is done. it seems reasonable to suppose that the epistemological and political foundation for this is . 2010: 282).Bangstad ^ Saba Mahmood and Anthropological Feminism After Virtue 37 the U. The historical record of secularism in this regard is certainly mixed. The problem here is as follows. She admits. Hermeneutics and Empire: The Politics of Islamic Reformation’ (2006). 2010). The charge that their work ‘forecloses certain readings’ is a problematic one. there have been a series of violent clashes in recent years which have cost the lives mainly of Coptic Egyptian Christians (Schielke.or non-liberal traditions such as Sunni Sala¢sm are similarly ‘Otherwise’ And the fact of the matter is that certain varieties of Sala¢sm are . It may well be that secularism in the present era needs to be more ‘Other-wise’ (Mahmood. But the question that Mahmood poses here is surely an empirical one. has exhibited ‘an extraordinary secular cast’ (2006: 330). and as such forecloses other readings. this is not merely a theoretical question: in Alexandria. 2006: 312). Secularism and Empire In her essay ‘Secularism. apparently applicable only to contemporary varieties of secularism. If this is not akin to imputing ‘guilt by association’. In other words. the persecution of Bahais in postcolonial Iran (Keddie.S. one would ^ unlike Mahmood ^ have to be prepared to entertain the question as to whether arguably anti. 2007). since it is ‘shot through with the agendas of the Christian right’ (2006: 329). plainly insu⁄ciently so. Mahmood argues that ‘the US imperial project’ (2006: 329). where Sala¢s now control many of the mosques in the eastern parts of the city. that this imperial project is not ‘non-religious’. then it is difficult to see what else it could be. Here it would su⁄ce to point to the persecution of Ahmadis.

38 Theory. there was at the very least ‘a crossover of secular and non-secular perspectives’. the US State Department and Bin Laden has ever been found. furthermore. for nearly a decade (2000^9). ¢nally.13 As Butler (2009a: 124) notes. that the Taliban created serious obstacles to the UN’s work in Afghanistan by requiring female Muslim UN sta¡ to travel with male blood relatives (2002: 70).16 . were in fact responsible for launching the most sustained and serious attack on secularism as a governing political principle in modern US history. and from Bin Laden’s own pockets. let alone funding of Bin Laden by the CIA and/or the US State Department. whom they suspected and accused of being either ‘spies’ or ‘Christian missionaries’ Rashid (2002) has . and indeed. Here it is alleged that a consequence of the campaign to ‘rescue’ Afghan women under the Taliban by ‘Western’ feminists was ‘the dramatic reduction of humanitarian aid to Afghanistan. 2004) ^ that no evidence of contact between the CIA. it is puzzling why Mahmood is not able to provide any reference to secondary literature which ‘documents’ this. 2002: 346). 2004: 71^88). and were believed to be behind the kidnapping and murder of Afghan UNHCR and WFP sta¡ (2002: 114). the brunt of which was borne by women and children as the most destitute members of the population’ (Hirschkind and Mahmood. Mahmood. and. Bin Laden’s activities in Pakistan and Afghanistan were in fact funded by Saudi and Pakistani intelligence (see Coll. If this is in fact ‘well-documented’. Central al-Qaeda ideologues such as Ayman al-Zawahiri and Abu Musab al-Suri have also rejected these claims as spurious (Bergen. But the paradox here is that both the Bush administrations. Bergen (2006: 61) and The 9/11 Commission Report (Kean and Hamilton. 2002: 70). He notes that UN sta¡ pulled out of Kandahar in 1998 after senior Taliban leaders physically attacked and threatened UN sta¡ (Rashid. It has furthermore been documented that Bin Laden called for boycotts of US products among his followers and associates in Pakistan in the 1980s. catalogued this well. that the Taliban shut down UNfunded and run schools for Afghan girls (2002: 114). 2006: 61).14 The fact of the matter is ^ as well documented by Coll (2004: 87). Culture & Society 28(3) an ideological conviction to the e¡ect that secularism o¡ers a political and social solution for all societies where the US has interests. especially in the ‘civilizing mission of the Bush II administration’ .15 Further examples of polemical assertions which are not substantiated by the available empirical evidence are found in a co-authored article for Anthropological Quarterly from 2002 (Hirschkind and Mahmood. No mention here of the fact that the UN and other humanitarian agencies were in fact forced by the Taliban to withdraw from Afghanistan by Taliban factions’ repeated harassment and intimidation of humanitarian aid workers. refers to the US State Department’s ‘well-documented alliances with Bin Laden’ (2006: 335) during the proxy war against the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s. 2002). for the US itself. that the Taliban shut down UN and NGO o⁄ces in Kabul by force in 1998.

Su¢-oriented Egyptians are perhaps the most obvious examples. but also ‘against well-established Islamic traditions that are supported by movements that cannot be accused of Westernization. they perform a kind of mirror-game that does nothing to unsettle this frontier [the frontier line on which imperialist and anti-imperialist border politics are played out ^ i. 2008: 811). ‘the destruction of life forms’. e. Nowhere in Mahmood’s account do we learn about Sala¢sm’s intolerance . seems to obscure the fact that most Sala¢s are not only opposed to secularism [‘ilmaniyya]. In this respect. rather than mastery. The pious dispositions cultivated by the Sala¢ women Mahmood has studied are of course perfectly modern. 2009: 16^17). One may therefore easily and perfectly turn the argument around and claim that it is in fact Sala¢ piety ^ a product of Islamic modernity and a particularly rigid interpretation of Islamic foundational texts and history ^ which seeks to ‘passionately remake’ or ‘destroy the life forms’ embodied by many Muslim women in Cairo through its calls for a disciplining of pious selves. of addressing women’s implication in the work of law-making violence’ (2008: 40). one in which feminist politics runs the danger of being reduced to a rhetorical placard of Islam’s abuses. 2005: 17). As Cooper (2008: 27) has pointed out: ‘when feminist and postcolonial political theorists seek to align themselves with the religious revival of the other culture. those of gender]’ Cooper further points out that Mahmood ‘stops short . it is difficult to see this as a stance which does not in effect lend itself to culturalist assumptions. my] attempt at comprehension offers the slim hope in this embattled and imperious climate. that analysis as a mode of conversation. as is Sala¢sm itself (see Meijer. for example. ‘the forms of life I want so passionately to remake’. The terms Mahmood invokes here in describing the potential violence of ‘Western’ secular feminist orientations.Bangstad ^ Saba Mahmood and Anthropological Feminism After Virtue 39 The epilogue of Mahmood’s Politics of Piety poses the following rhetorical question to its readers: Do my political visions ever run up against the responsibility that I incur for the destruction of life forms so that ‘unenlightened’ women may be taught to live more freely? Do I even fully comprehend the forms of life that I want so passionately to remake? Would an intimate knowledge of lifeworlds distinct from mine ever lead me to question my own certainty about what I prescribe as a superior way of life for others? (2005: 198) Mahmood answers her own question herself. in the following assertive and ^ well ^ prescriptive manner: This [i. (2005: 199) In spite of Mahmood’s assertions to the contrary (see. can yield a vision of coexistence that does not require making other lifeworlds extinct or provisional.e. but represent a notion of ‘‘the popular’’ that has come under threat thanks to mass education and literacy’ (Van der Veer.

supra-historical Islamic authenticity [asala] has always been central (al-Azmeh. The historical record also suggests that while Sunni and Shia Islamists may not endorse gender equality.18 The ability of Salafism to remake lifeworlds is in fact much stronger than the ability to do so possessed by ‘Western’ secular feminism. 2005: 75). especially to the extent that such participation may further their own long-term aims of recon¢guring both state and society. 2008). This is accomplished by its harking back ‘to the period of the Prophet. As Bernard Haykel has noted. Rutherford. 45) she links modern Sala¢sm to Rashid Rida (1865^1935) and Muhammed ‘ bduh (1849^1905). civic and political participation (see Afary. much more concerned with political and civic participation than those studied by Mahmood. Sala¢sm is part of what El Fadl has referred to as a ‘supremacist puritanism’ in Islam (2003: 43). Culture & Society 28(3) and condemnation of ritual practices central to the lives of many contemporary Muslim Cairene women. The strategy of ‘Islamization from below’ is one which the various strands of Sala¢sm in the Egyptian context largely share. and much more accepting of democracy as a mode of political organization and mobilization. This is not to suggest that puritan and literalist Sala¢s may not alter their views on such participation in particular social and political circumstances. fn.17 In its most rigid and exclusivist varieties. the notion of a speci¢cally . Mahmood does not attempt to situate or contextualize the emergence of Egyptian Sala¢sm or Sala¢sm in general in historical terms. such as the celebration of the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday [mawlid] or the visiting of Su¢ saints’ tombs [ziyara]. and their successors’ (2005: 75). 2006: 210).19 Sala¢s’ claim to be ‘proper Muslims’ more often than not implies that other ways of being Muslim are ‘improper’ For puritan movements in Islam. there is a proclivity towards reshaping public culture in line with pious requirements so as to ensure social uniformity in Sala¢sm. W|th the exception of four pages in Politics of Piety (2005: 61^4). As she A rightly notes.40 Theory. whereas such participation is generally anathema for the most puritan and literalist of Sunni Sala¢s (see Al-Rasheed. 1993: 50). these Muslim intellectual reformers active in Egypt ‘argued . his Companions. and also by demanding that any belief and action of Muslims be anchored in the Qur’an and the Sunna. It attempts to remake Muslim lifeworlds by delinking Islam from any particular cultural context (Wiktorowicz. because it denotes the earliest and therefore authentic version of Islam’ (2009: 33). Nor does she make the crucial analytical distinctions between its di¡erent historical and contemporary varieties in the Egyptian context. We certainly need to see Sala¢ movements as dynamic social movements in£uenced by local as well as translocal contexts. As Marc Lynch (2010) has shown. precisely because the term Salafi ‘is exploitable by any movement that wants to claim that it is grounded in Islamic authenticity’ (El Fadl. In a footnote (2005: 61. however. let alone of Sala¢s regular inveighing against Shias. Ismailis or Zaidis. they are generally not averse to female labour market. ‘the term Sala¢ is prestigious among Muslims. 2002). Sala¢s in the line of the Muslim Brothers are. 2009.

Meijer. . and the latter frequently excoriated ‘ bduh and Rida as ‘deviant rationalists’ (Wiktorowicz. and the Salafiyya Press and Bookstore.24 Anthropologist Lara Deeb provides a cautionary commentary in noting that: in responding to such instrumentalised arguments [i. 2010: 383). Lauziere A ' (2010) usefully notes that ‘today. 2005: 74). ' Furthermore. . arguments which assume that piety practices are linked to identity politics or to economic. 2006: 212). In its latest incarnation. and as a result of a Muslim quest for advancement. sala¢yya is ¢rst and foremost a label that Sunni purists use to designate their approach to Islam. has also been bankrolled by Saudi petro-dollars on a signi¢cant scale. Sala¢ satelite televi' sion in Egypt is mostly funded and owned by Saudi investors (Field and Hamam. liberal governance and natural law’ . El Fadl. 2009: 45^6. whereas the latter emerged in central Arabia prior to this encounter. Mahmood’s account ignores the fact that Sala¢sm and Wahhabism23 have been co-imbricated for the past 30 years (El Fadl. 2006: 212). to Wahhabism or are intimately linked to the religious establishment of Saudi Arabia (Lauziere.20 As a matter of fact. Wiktorowicz. 2002.e. information concerning this sponsorship is completely left out of Mahmood’s account. 2009). in its di¡erent varieties in Egypt and elsewhere in the modern Middle East since the 1970s. This ¢nancing has been part and parcel of the Saudi bid to out£ank Shi‘ism as well as secular nationalisms in the contemporary Middle East (see Al-Rasheed.21 Saudi financing of Salafi publishing and infrastructure in Egypt dates back to the 1920s. established a Saudi branch in Mecca (Lauziere. it is di⁄cult to ascertain the fact that Sala¢ da‘wa (proselytization). identical (Wiktorowicz. in as much as the former did not partake in Ibn Taymiyya’s anti-rationalist and literalist theological teachings (Haykel. 2009: 45). Meijer. The term is usually understood to refer to a rigorist creed and religious methodology that share a ‘family resemblance . Where Mahmood confuses the issue is ^ by implication ^ suggesting that all present Egyptian Sala¢sts trace their intellectual lineage to the modernistic and rationalistic legacy of Rida‘a and ‘ bduh. 2009: 37). when Rida’a and some of his supporters threw their weight behind the nascent Saudi state. 2003.22 Yet. Part of the intellectual challenge in writing about Salafism ^ as has been duly noted by many authors ^ is its fragmentation and heterogeneity (see Haykel. Al-Rasheed (2007: 3) notes that the Saudi Wahhabi Sala¢yya ‘does not have much in common with’ what she terms the ‘modernist Sala¢yya’. established in Cairo in 1909.Bangstad ^ Saba Mahmood and Anthropological Feminism After Virtue 41 for an interpretation of the founding sources of the tradition. 2009: 3. While Saudi sponsorship of Sala¢ publishing and infrastructure on a global level is of course not a su⁄cient explanation for its presence in the present Muslim world (see Haykel. Moreover. the ideoA logical lineages of these earlier Sala¢s and many of the present Sala¢s are not. in accordance with principles of scienti¢c rationality. 2009: 20). . since the former emerged as a result of the encounter with the ‘West’. 2010: 370). strictly speaking. 2006: 212). from Mahmood’s description.

Furthermore. to leave open the possibility that we may be remade through an encounter with the other’ (2005: 36^7). it is extremely di⁄cult to avoid the conclusion that women’s entitlement to rights and dignity regardless of religious and ethnic a⁄liation must be central to its minimal and core de¢nition.25 If a term like feminism is to . The detachment of feminism’s descriptive from its prescriptive character called for by Mahmood (2005: 197^8) appears problematic in light of her own warning that feminism is to avoid making ‘certain life forms provisional. W|th the globalization of the modern media as well as of ¢nancial capital. Mahmood ‘is at great pains to declare that she is a feminist and wants to contribute to feminist theory’ (2008: 811). Her declaration here appears to imply that the only ones liable to base themselves on culturalist assumptions are those who explicitly foreground the term ‘culture’ for analytical purposes. than ever before. But this avoids the central question.42 Theory. ‘a⁄rms cultural di¡erence as a constant point of reference in the e¡ort to ‘‘parochialize’’ certain absolutist and monolithic conceptions of normativity’ (Butler. and from complex social environments and relationships. She claims to be calling for an expansion of ‘the normative understanding of critique’. 2000: 52). postcolonial Muslims live less as Leibnitzian ‘windowless monads’ (Gray. I would argue that these calls do not re£ect analytical detachment but Mahmood’s own normative ordering of priorities for feminism. fully detached from other daily practices. in Butler’s phrase. if not extinct’ (2005: 197). In Van der Veer’s words. It is true that Mahmood stops short of calling for the embracing of pious Sala¢ lifestyles or the abandonment of a critical stance towards socially conservative and non-liberal movements of this kind (2005: 38^9). One notes here that Mahmood (2009b: 146) takes exception to the characterization of her position as one which. For if feminism is to mean anything at all. it would appear that the requirement of change is one placed exclusively at the door of the ‘teleological certainty’ which is said to characterize ‘progressive liberalism’ (Mahmood. 2009b: 106). a politics which subordinates the exercise of female autonomy and agency to the interests of a ‘preservation of life forms’ ^ as Mahmood’s account in effect does ^ becomes in fact and impact culturalist. (2009: 113^14) In the encounter between religious and secular traditions which Mahmood envisages. ‘traditions are not unities with clearly de¢nable borders but hybrid conversations and argumentations’ (2002: 194). so that ‘we occasionally turn the critical gaze upon ourselves. it is also possible to slip into another sort of reductive argument where piety becomes a singular aspect of life unto itself. Culture & Society 28(3) social or political gain]. from politics. Mahmood responds to this charge by asserting that ‘the term culture is alien to my analytical vocabulary’ (2009b: 146). For as Seyla Benhabib has argued. and increased transnational £ows. But there simply is no way of reconciling feminism with a perspective which appears to prioritize the ‘preservation of life forms’ over women’s rights. encapsulated and enclosed in their own ‘forms of life’. Herein lies the crux of the matter. 2005: 39).

with the exception of attempts by murderous regimes to annihilate the world of the other. I have argued that the post-structuralist and postcolonial conceptualizations of Islam and Muslims as found in the anthropology of . and which accepted ‘as necessary. Kwame Anthony Appiah (2006: 141) has asked whether we should conclude that all ‘forms of life’ ought to be ‘respected’ and ‘preserved’ at all costs to individuals. and rightly so (Schott. 2007: 1). We may disagree with some aspect of their moral. might we dare ask whether anthropological critiques should be able to pose the same critical questions to arguably anti. ‘ nxieties about A cultural imperialism’ may in fact engender a kind of relativism which makes it ‘di⁄cult to represent any belief or practice as oppressive to women or at odds with gender equality’ (Phillips.26 One is reminded here that feminist anthropology emerged precisely in response to anthropological and sociological scholarship which treated women as ‘essentially uninteresting and irrelevant’. Most human encounters. 2009: 778)? And. (2002: 41) In addressing precisely this issue. Nussbaum is by no means opposed to exploring the feminist potentialities in religious traditions (see 2000: 167^240). Seyla Benhabib has written: It does not follow that if we respect human beings as culture-creating beings that we must either ‘rank or order’ their worlds as a whole or disrespect them by dismissing their life-worlds altogether. and that women may at times partake in these very infringements themselves. ¢nally. To this extent. natural and hardly problematic the fact that. 2009: 51^2).or non-secular formations as they do to secular formations in order to be minimally consistent? Conclusion In this article. mode of analysis and categories are fallible and open to question. Or. in every human culture. feminism is indeed prescriptive. in insisting that our own knowledge. 1974: 17). convictions.Bangstad ^ Saba Mahmood and Anthropological Feminism After Virtue 43 retain any force. we must draw the line and deny that these approaches deserve the title ‘‘feminist’’ at all’ (2000: 187). can it be the case that. To be frank about this does not entail reducing feminist politics to ‘a rhetorical display of the placard of Islam’s abuses’. but she is also quite clear about the fact that religious discourse and practice may at times lead to infringements of women’s basic rights (1997: 98). alternatively. 1996: 103). occur in this in-between space of partial evaluations. ethical or evaluative practices without dismissing or holding in disrespect their life-worlds altogether. women are in some way subordinate to men’ (Rosaldo. translations and contestations. For as Martha Nussbaum argues: ‘at some point. In an incisive critique of precisely the kind of reasoning found in Mahmood’s work. as Mahmood (2005: 199) would have it. the same must hold for the knowledge and convictions held by others (Sayer. there must in fact be something with which it is in fact incompatible (Eagleton.

Culture & Society 28(3) Saba Mahmood are premised on the proposition that Islam and Islamic traditions represent a counterpoint to Western secularity. calling for ‘more understanding’ of pious Muslim women and ‘a larger transformation of the cultural and ethical sensibilities that undergird the law’ in ‘Western’ contexts (Mahmood. A nascent body of work in anthropology exploring the lives of ordinary Muslims in different contexts has in recent years attempted to transcend the binaries on which Mahmood’s thought to a large extent depends. Like Foucault. 2009: 778) and to the proliferation of ‘deconstructive questions’ (O’Hanlon and Washbrook. For Mahmood. 1992: 154). that there is some good we can a⁄rm’ (Taylor. While these monographs may not . 2009). The omissions and evasions in Mahmood’s representation of varieties of Sala¢sm point to a notion of critique that is limited to ‘the highlighting of hidden presuppositions and the deepening of re£exivity’ (Sayer. 2008: 811). This may of course not matter all that much for anthropology as an analytical discipline. to the extent that this existence is irreconcilable with the positing of Muslims as religious and representatives of a radical ‘non-Western’ alterity. 2007: 9) or to ‘totalizing notions of the cultivation of virtue’ (Soares and Otayek. So what are the available alternatives for feminist anthropology? This is neither the time nor the place to outline a detailed programme for feminist anthropology on Muslim women in the future. As cases in point. 1985: 152). 2009a: 860).27 and o¡ering a trenchant post-structuralist critique of modern state power and ‘Western’ secular liberalism. their writings provide a useful antidote to the assumption that revivalist Islam is the only and most powerful dimension of Muslim thought and identity in the contemporary Muslim world (Marsden.44 Theory. Muslims are primarily defined in and through Islamic traditions. Mahmood does not seem to o¡er any practical way out of the current impasse. Mahmood’s work does not constitute a ground onto which a sustainable anthropological conceptualization of the lives of contemporary Muslims in a globalized and hybrid world ^ in which the religious and the secular. I will limit myself to referencing the work of Adeline Masquelier (2010) on the impact of revivalist Islam on Muslim women in a town in rural Niger and Arzoo Osanloo (2009) on women’s rights discourses in Tehran. Nor does it appear to offer a way forward for any sustainable feminist politics (Van der Veer. Mahmood also has a discernible lack of interest in the singularities of Muslim empirical existence. 2007: 18). Mahmood seem to be dashing the hope ‘if we had one. as well as these traditions’ reference to foundational texts. In exploring the heterogeneity of Islamic thought and practice in particular contexts.28 rather than merely a⁄rming existential di¡erence. For. Iran (Osanloo. but it does matter for those anthropological scholars interested in exploring potential convergences in and between various traditions. beyond denouncing secular feminism’s universalist assumptions. but it seems to me that a good starting point would be to avoid reducing ethnographies of actual Muslim women’s lives to the function of templates for ideologically motivated critiques from either side of the political spectrum. the non-Islamic and the Islamic intersect ^ can be grafted.

Acknowledgements The author wishes to thank TCS’s four anonymous reviewers. Stina Helena Bang Svendsen and BjÖrn Olav Utvik. Notes 1. This article is dedicated to my father-in-law. Thomas Hylland Eriksen. declared on 4 February 2011 that protest movements in the contemporary Arab world originate from ‘the enemies of Islam’. and furthermore . as well as the following for comments: Rosemarie van den Breemer. see Z iz› ek (2008). The Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia. Saudi king Abdallah bin Abdul-Aziz al-Saud for his part expressed his full support for the Mubarak regime on 29 January 2011 and referred to the pro-democracy demonstrators as ‘infiltrators inciting a malicious sedition’. prominent Egyptian Salafi sheikh Mahmoud Amer from Damanhur Governate. Jonathan Spencer for making this point in correspondence (March 2011). For the term ‘culturalization of politics’. After the fall of Mubarak. sheikh Yasir Burhami of Alexandria pronounced a legal edict reproduced by the Arabic Salafi website Salaf Voice declaring the pro-democracy demonstrations ‘illicit’ [haram]. declared that al-Baradei’s blood was ‘licit’ on the grounds that he was ‘inciting civil insurrection [fitna] against the Mubarak regime’ ^ in fact an open call for al-Baradei’s murder. I wish to thank Prof. Jacob HÖigilt. 6. Salafi sheikh Ahmed Farid of Alexandria declared to the Egyptian newspaper AlShorouk on 5 March 2011 that democracy was haram [illicit]. see Moi (1999). Mohamed A. OddbjÖrn Leirvik. 7. Charles Taylor. See Nussbaum (1999) for a critique of Butler centred on allegations of a noncommital stance on feminist concerns. Some useful cases in point are made by Tammam and Haenni (2011). The usual disclaimers apply. and other fathers. mothers and children of the Egyptian uprising of 2011. › 5. B. 4. Caton. Samuli Schielke. 2.Bangstad ^ Saba Mahmood and Anthropological Feminism After Virtue 45 have the same potential for positing anthropological critiques of ‘secular liberalism’ or ‘secular feminism’ on the basis of ethnographic explorations. 3. complexities and ambivalences. and was published with blurbs from Judith Butler. Michael Seltzer. The women’s da‘wa (proselytizing) training centres listed as being central to the women’s mosque movement in Cairo at the time of her study (Mahmood. For an important critique of Butler’s post-structuralist understanding of gender and her emphasis on gendered performativity. During the insurrection against the Mubarak regime. Upon learning in December 2010 that Mohamed al-Baradei would stand in the presidential elections of 2011. with love and gratitude. sheikh Abdel Aziz al-Sheikh. 2005: 72) are all run by Sala¢-oriented organizations.. Matti Bunzl. Lila Abu-Lughod and Steven C. according to the Arabic newspaper Al-Sharq al-Awsat on 21 December 2010. Mahmood’s book Politics of Piety: The Islamic Revival and the Feminist Subject (2005) won the V|ctoria Shuck Award for best book on women and politics from the American Political Science Association in 2006. such work nevertheless ultimately comes much closer to an ideal of exploring Muslim women’s lives in particular contexts in all their heterogeneities.

in fact think so (Browers.46 Theory. Scholars such as Michael Mann (2005) have made similar arguments. 2004: 132). as she notes: ‘very few of the mosque groups are affiliated with the Muslim Brothers’ (2005: 71). academics and politicians who regarded the Mubarak regime as a bulwark against sectarianism and a supposed ‘reIslamization’ of and in Egypt (and Mahmood is certainly not among them) should take some note of the political bedfellows of the late Mubarak regime. among ‘moderate Islamists’ of the wasatiyya (‘moderate’. Islamists in the classical Egyptian sense (i. they do not dispute that the principle of universal citizenship is crucial to democracy.e. and the Holocaust as a result of democracy. See Wright (2006: 127) for this. Bin Laden is alleged to have seen a . For An-Na‘im’s views on secularism. it requires more than a stretch of imagination to regard German Nazism as a quintessentially democratic movement. 12. activists aligned with the Muslim Brothers) are hardly represented among Mahmood’s interlocutors. Wright refers to such a call having been made during a lecture Bin Laden held at the Red Crescent Society Hospital in Peshawar. 2009: 65). post-Holocaust/Shoah. is of course not the only nor the most crucial aspect of democracy. even though a number of Islamists. Among others who have made similar unsubstantiated allegations are Mahmood Mamdani (2002: 770^1. both other Muslims ^ in particular [the] Shia. 14. but in practice are divided about equality between Muslim and non-Muslim citizens and between men and women’ (Ottaway and Hamzawy. 15. whose main exponent is the Muslim Brothers-aligned Egyptian-Qatari sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi. Whatever remained of German democracy after the fall of the Weimar Republic was soon completely abolished in the course of the brutal repression of political opponents by German Nazis after 1933. Here. Esposito notes that ‘Wahhabi/Salafi religious exclusivism is clearly antipluralist and often religiously intolerant of other believers. a lack of distinction between Salafists of different strands would appear to be discernible on Mahmood’s part. Judith Butler (2004: 10) and Arundhati Roy (2001). see An-Na‘im (2008). 11. a recognition and critique of popularly held unequal notions of citizenship for non-Muslim minorities and women is lacking. 9. 2008: 7). The way Mahmood poses this question to ‘Muslim scholars’ of supposedly liberal democratic persuasions is thus more than a bit polemical. 10. John L. Browers (2009: 92) notes that. One could perhaps suggest that the many ‘Western’ pundits. Salafis in the mainstream Islamist Muslim Brothers’ lineage in Egypt can be said to: ‘accept the idea of political pluralism. where Ayman al-Zawahiri worked. whom they despise ^ as well as non-Muslims’ (2010: 77). ‘centrist’) trend. Popular will. 13. but even though there can be no doubt that German Nazism came to power on the back of popular will in 1933. 8. and through quali¢ably democratic means. For cases in point. Culture & Society 28(3) expressed revulsion over the fact that ‘women and men had been together’ in the demonstrations against the regime. and that there had been ‘Christian crosses’ among the demonstrators at Tahrir Square in Cairo. It is worth noting that none of these authors provide any evidence to substantiate their claims to the e¡ect that Osama Bin Laden was sponsored. again. but are fighting over its limits. see Kaplan (2004) and Linkler (2005). recruited and/or trained by the CIA. including Yusuf al-Qaradawi (1926^).

There is no reference to any such funding of literature and infrastructure to be found in Mahmood’s 2005 book. whereas others would stretch it to include the three generations after the Prophet. Zaidis and Ismailis to the list. the al-Sauds of the nascent Saudi state. 2010). A spokesperson for one of the most popular of these channels alleged that ‘foreign pressures’ were behind the suspension (see El Hennawy. Al-Rasheed (2007: 3) notes that there is no consensus among Sunni Muslims as to who the pious ancestors were. ‘Abduh’s death in 1905 was followed by a turn in Rida’a’s thought which in the 1920s was to manifest itself in his spirited defences of Wahhabism. 2010: 375). 111^20) for this. The incident is also reported by Bergen (2006: 61). ' 21. the Egyptian Ministry of Information suspended the broadcasting licences of 12 of these channels. and in virulent attacks on Shias and Jews (2009: 105^8. but that most scholars would include the ¢rst generation of the Prophet. In a widely reported governmental crackdown on Salafi television stations ahead of the parliamentary elections of November 2010. Rida’a himself was clear about the fact that being a Sala¢ was not su⁄cient to be counted among the proponents of ‘Abduh’s ‘modernist school of thought’ [madrasa ¢kriyya] and ¢rst publicly acknowledged his passing from the Hana¢ school of law [madhhab] to being a Sala¢ in 1928. As a recent contribution by Gilbert Achcar (2009) makes clear. 2006: 219). and the usage of the term has therefore resulted in often virulent debate among Salafis themselves (Wiktorowicz. 16. See also Filkins (2008) for this. 22. The term ‘Salafi’ was never used in the era of the Prophet Muhammad and his Companions. Rashid (2002) also documents how sports stadiums funded by UN agencies were used by the Taliban for public executions of women charged with infractions of the shari’a. He referred to Saudi Wahhabis as Sala¢s as early as 1905 (Lauziere. one should be careful not to make too much of Rida’a’s supposedly liberal. Mahmood furthermore dismisses the notion held by many scholars that Egyptian migrant workers who worked in the Gulf in . 23. 19. I owe this point to Associate Professor BjÖrn Olav Utvik. 17. writing about ‘Sala¢-Wahhabism’ in Saudi Arabia. See Haykel (2009: 41). The preferred term of self-designation for ‘Wahhabis’ in contemporary SaudiArabia is reportedly simply ‘Salafi’ (Lacroix. 24. Al-Rasheed (2007: 2) consequently prefers the term ‘Wahhabiyya’. 2004: 345). modernist and rationalistic legacy. and its continuties with ‘Abduh’s legacy. 20. who describes himself as a ‘reformist Sala¢’. Muslims who visit saints’ tombs to ask for intercession [tawassul] are referred to as ‘grave worshippers’ [quburiyyun] in Salafi parlance. 18. whereas Shias are referred to as rafidi or ‘rejectionists’. The main proponent of Sala¢sm in the original lineage of Rida’a and ‘Abduh in the contemporary world is Tariq Ramadan (1962^).Bangstad ^ Saba Mahmood and Anthropological Feminism After Virtue 47 boycott of US products as a means to support the Palestinian cause. Al-Rasheed (2007: 23). and issued warnings to 20 other channels due to their alleged incitement to religious hatred against Christians. in order ‘to refer to the Saudi variant of Sala¢yya’ in contradistinction to the ‘modernist’ (or ‘reformist’) Sala¢yya. adds intolerance of the practices of other Sunnis.

VikÖr (2005) and Ali (2006) for nuanced analyses of the unequal rights of men and women to marriage and divorce under classical interpretations of shari’a. G. See Bowen (2009) and Osanloo (2009) for illustrations of what ethnographic explorations of such convergences might look like. which she renders as being linked to a doctrine of ‘consubstantiality’ during the second iconoclastic controversy. Afary. 26. Tauris. Madawi (2002) A History of Saudi Arabia. are problematic (Michael Na¢. See an-Na’im (1990). American Anthropologist 104(3): 783^790. Ian (2007) The New Orientalists: Postmodern Representations of Islam from Foucault to Baudrillard. Janet and Kevin B. L (2002) ‘Do Muslim Women Really Need Saving? Anthropological Reflections on Cultural Relativism and Its Others’. Hadith. both stipulate equal civil and political rights for men and women. Al-Azmeh. See Mayer (2004) for an analysis of Arab Muslim states’ reservations to the CEDAW Article 16. and how it is to be effected. 27. including equal rights to marriage and divorce. trans. Goshgarian. . 27 July 2010). 2009a). Gilbert (2009) The Arabs and the Holocaust: The Arab-Israeli War of Narratives. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Al-Rasheed. Ali. comm. pers. 28. and the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).B. However. Anderson (2006) Foucault and the Iranian Revolution: Gender and the Seductions of Islamism. is never answered by Mahmood. which requires equal rights to marriage and divorce. 312^14). The UN Declaration of Human Rights (UNDHR). 2009: 256^61. London: I. 1981. ¤ Mahmood’s account of the notion of skhesis in Aristotle and Nikephoros. Culture & Society 28(3) the petroboom years of the 1970s and 1980s might have contributed to the spread of more socially conservative understandings of Islam in Egypt in a short footnote (2005: 42^3). In her essay about the cartoon crisis of 2005^6 ¤ (Mahmood. Kecia (2006) Sexual Ethics and Islam: Feminist Reflections on Qur’an. and Jurisprudence. Mahmood argues that the Aristotelian concept of skhesis [archetype]. Oxford: Oneworld.. 25. Al-Rasheed. ‘aptly captures’ how a devout Muslim’s relationship to the Prophet Muhammad is lived and practised. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.B. and her use of it in the context of her discussion of the cartoon crisis. Achcar. Almond. Madawi (2007) Contesting the Saudi State: Islamic Voices from a New Generation. Afary. New York: Metropolitan Books. 2nd edn. Janet (2009) Sexual Politics in Modern Iran. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. References Abu-Lughod. The question of what this might mean. A case in point is Iran in the post-1979 revolutionary phase (see Afary.M. London: I. Tauris.48 Theory. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Aziz (1993) Islams and Modernities. 1948.

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