Z. Fareen Parvez is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. She received her Ph.D. in sociology from the University of California at Berkeley and has a Masters in Public Policy from the University of Michigan. Her work is comparative and ethnographic and explores the relationship between Islam and politics. Her current book manuscript, Politicizing Islam, is based on her research of Islamic revival movements in France and India, for which she conducted participant observation in the working-class suburbs of Lyon, France, and in poor neighborhoods and slums in Hyderabad, India. This research was funded by several University of California grants and the National Science Foundation. Her recent (2011) lead article, “Debating the Burqa in France,” in the journal Qualitative Sociology, was awarded by the American Sociological Association and has been translated for publication in France.
Posts by Fareen Parvez
One of the practices I’ve regularly participated in during my ethnography of French, working-class, Salafist women is Quranic memorization and recitation. Quranic reading circles are common among women of many mosque communities. Recitation is linked to prayer because reciting chapters and verses from the Quran is part of the required daily prayers (salat) as well as to invocations, such as prayers for protection or healing.
In India, Milad-un-Nabi refers to the celebration of the birth of the Prophet Mohammed. The word milad is the Urdu variation of the Arabic word, mawlid, meaning birth. The Prophet’s birth took place on the twelfth day of the Islamic month of Rab ̄ı’al-Awwal in the Sunni tradition, or the seventeenth day in the Sh ̄ı’ite tradition.
In many disciplines, early literature often dismissed women’s prayer rituals as superstitions and magic. In recent years much of what has been studied on the subject of contemporary prayer centers on health and psychology, examining questions such as the impact of prayer on women’s emotional well-being, rehabilitation, coping capabilities, and medical conditions such as cancer.
Gender plays a role, whether implicitly or explicitly, in many of the facets of prayer we discuss—whether it is prayer as a form of healing, warfare, politics, social solidarity, or a mechanistic bodily practice. Deities, spirits, objects, and religious narratives often have different relationships to women than to men across religious traditions.
Charles Hirschkind asks, “Does the study of prayer allow us to say anything interesting about universal attributes or faculties?” Like a good academic, I won’t directly answer this but will instead start by questioning the question itself. We might first question the intellectualist stance that compels us to want to find universalisms or, on the contrary, to view all phenomena as results of particular historical traditions or “life-worlds.”
During my fieldwork in Lyon, France, and its working-class urban periphery, I heard a refrain among Muslims and non-Muslims alike about the “superficiality” of reformist (in this case, Salafist) concerns: among others, their concern over the details of prayer, from body positioning to length of time spent in prayer. I eventually lost track of how many times I heard this common sentiment, and over time, I learned the deep inaccuracy of this view.
This study is a comparative project on prayer among poor and working-class Muslim women in India and France. Specifically, it will examine the following two dimensions of prayer: supplications (duas) and prayers for healing from jinn afflictions ruqya).