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.