Piety as a concept underpinning Muslim women’s online discussions of marriage and professional career

Abstract

In this article, I address piety as a concept shaping Muslim women’s online discussions about gender roles, marriage and professional careers. I also investigate cross-cultural religious encounters in these women-only groups as I am interested in the potential of such online environments to facilitate women’s religious reflection and intellectual engagement. Finally, I explore motivations and religious interpretations of three categories of participants in these discussions: egalitarians, for whom gender equality is a necessary component of piety (Barlas 2006); traditionalists, identified by other authors as Islamists (Karam 1998) or social conservatives (Gül and Gül 48:1–26, 2000; Mahmood 2005) and finally, holists, a group that cannot be mapped out on the political landscape by using the progressive–conservative binary (Badran, Agenda 50:41–57, 2001) and which exists and acts outside of it, neither subverting nor enacting norms of any dominant system, be it secular–liberal or patriarchal. Following Mahmood’s argument that formulating an analysis based exclusively on such a binary is simplistic (Mahmood 2005), I argue that actions of holists can be only addressed by formulating a set of questions different to those used to analyse self-defined egalitarians or traditionalists.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Taqwa—a Qur’anic concept of the moral framework of human action, an ethical awareness related to God and society.

  2. 2.

    Khalifah—a Qur’anic concept of human mastery over creation and their destiny, ordained by God.

  3. 3.

    Informal religious seminars that may include presentations, discussions and prayer.

  4. 4.

    The Islamic declaration of faith.

  5. 5.

    For the terms ‘egalitarian’, ‘traditionalist’ and ‘holist’, as used in this article, see below.

  6. 6.

    My quotes from the Qu’ran are taken from the Yusuf Ali translation.

  7. 7.

    All initials used in this paper are pseudonyms, and all participants’ contributions are kept in their original form.

  8. 8.

    The abbreviation ‘swt’ stands for subhanahu wa-ta’ala, ‘may He be glorified and exalted’, an Arabic phrase commonly recited whenever the name of Allah is mentioned.

  9. 9.

    Muslim women creatively fill niches in the market with their women-only services, for example women-only taxi companies, popular in the Middle East, are springing up in the UK (Firth 2008).

  10. 10.

    Al-Bukhari, volume 7, book 62, number 121–122 and Muslim, book 8, number 3368.

  11. 11.

    Sunnah—sayings and habits of the Prophet Muhammad, constituting a source of Islamic knowledge secondary to the Qur’an.

  12. 12.

    Al-Bukhari, volume 3, book 31, number 189.

  13. 13.

    One of the female companions of the Prophet Muhammad.

  14. 14.

    One of the Prophet Muhammad’s companions. The following Arabic phrase means “May Allah be pleased with him”.

  15. 15.

    Qur’anic verse.

  16. 16.

    The first of the five prayers recited daily by Muslims.

  17. 17.

    The set of rules that define how the Qur’an should be read, including proper pronunciation.

  18. 18.

    Interpretation of the Qur’an; commentary.

  19. 19.

    A chapter of the Qur’an; there are 114 surahs in the Qur’an.

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Acknowledgements

I would like to thank Joseph Covey, Cirihn Malpocher and two anonymous reviewers for reading this paper and providing insightful comments. All mistakes and limitations, however, are mine.

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Correspondence to Anna Piela.

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Piela, A. Piety as a concept underpinning Muslim women’s online discussions of marriage and professional career. Cont Islam 5, 249–265 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11562-011-0162-y

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Keywords

  • Muslim women
  • Online
  • Religion
  • Islam