August 24, 2015

Salafi Muslim Women in France and "Je suis Charlie"

Recently, New Directions in the Study of Prayer grantee Fareen Parvez wrote for the Council for European Studies’ CritCom on the experience of Salafi Muslim women in France, particularly in the wake of the attacks on Charlie Hebdo in January 2015. Lyon, where Parvez did her fieldwork, has been a center for political satire since the early 1800s and the rise of the famous puppet character Guignol. Parvez draws a distinction between Guignol and other satirical works that targeted privileged classes (including Catholics) and more recent satire that has targeted underprivileged minorities, like French Muslims. She offers the example of Salafi Muslim women in Lyon, who are prevented from taking part in public life, due in large part to the discrimination they face since laws banning headscarves and burqas were passed over the last decade. With this historical context in mind, Parvez problematizes the popular expression of solidarity, “Je suis Charlie”:

[T]he implications of the slogan “je suis Charlie” are not as straightforward as they are made to appear. To say “je suis Charlie” is not only to denounce the killings and express one’s sympathy with the victims and their societies. It is not only to show one’s support for protected speech and the use of satire. Rather, it simultaneously has the effect of dismissing and invalidating the persistent reality of aggression, harassment, and political and economic exclusions that have been plaguing French Muslims, especially women among the unemployed working-class. Furthermore, it ignores the history of satire and perverts its logic by prodding and provoking those without social power—those who are excluded from public space and denied various dignities of citizenship.

You can read the full article here.

December 10, 2014

Reciting the Quran in the Urban Periphery

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. For women, reading and memorizing chapters of the Quran, as opposed to salat, is unrestricted: they may do it with or without the hijab, and they may do so regardless of menstruation. To some extent, these factors made our sessions more relaxed and intimate, despite the immense effort and work that reading and memorization demanded.

Beginning courses and study circles in my field site at the urban periphery of Lyon tend to focus on basic literacy. More advanced projects focus on the art of tajwīd, or recitatio­n that follows specific forms of articulation, pauses, and comportment, and is thought to emulate the Prophet’s own practices. Our mosque teacher had said that tajwīd is not obligatory, but it is obligatory to read the Quran correctly (i.e. with no mistakes in pronouncing the Arabic letters). Incorrect reading and recitation could significantly alter the meaning of the verses and in turn, the content of one’s prayers.


April 15, 2013

Supplications and Islamic Reformism

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 isn’t particularly surprising, given the global (mis)perceptions of reformist movements as both troubling and homogenous. I use “reformism” here as employed by Osella and Osella as “…projects whose specific focus is the bringing into line of religious beliefs and practices with the core foundations of Islam, by avoiding and purging out innovation, accretion and the intrusion of ‘local custom’…”. 

A category of Islamic prayer whose centrality to the faith I began to understand while spending time with reformist women in Lyon’s periphery is duas, or supplications. These are distinct from the daily obligatory salat. According to the Prophet’s teachings, they constitute a form of worship and express one’s ultimate humility vis-à-vis her Creator. As I saw among my companions in the field, duas are crucial to questions of avoiding shirk (associating other powers or entities with God); having a direct, unmediated relationship to God; and perfecting one’s faith. These are central concerns among reformist women.