Date of Degree

6-2020

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

M.A.

Program

Middle Eastern Studies

Advisor

Mucahit Bilici

Subject Categories

Islamic World and Near East History

Abstract

The participation of women in fundamentalist movements has always posed a problem for feminist analysis because it disrupts the belief that all women see themselves as victims who share a common interest in ending this oppression. More broadly, portrayals of fundamentalists as people who are uniquely opposed to modern life are simplistic and dehumanizing. They are particularly problematic for Muslims because often, all Muslims whether they are fundamentalists are not, are portrayed as adhering to the same uncompromising, fanatical, and violent form of faith.

The Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) was founded in 1971 to provide its members with supportive religious communities. Its primary aim was education: to educate its diverse membership about Islam so that they would adhere to correct Islamic values. Its female members, who often wear hijab and marginalized through practices of gender segregation, could be mistaken as icons of the oppressed Muslim woman. This paper profiles the lives of ordinary Pakistani women who are members of the ICNA chapter on Staten Island. They are not the assertive activists that are often associated with Islamist activism in the West. They are ordinary women whose adoption of Islamist piety intersects with the spiritual and practical needs of their everyday lives. Using the framework provided by Saba Mahmood in Politics of Piety: the Islamic Revival and the Feminist Subject, this study proposes that the binary of oppression and liberation that is used to understand women’s lives is unhelpful not only because women not only don’t see themselves as oppressed but sometimes don’t see becoming free as a priority either. These women were raised in Pakistan, a patriarchal society whose social norms they unquestionably accepted. They were satisfied with their lives there yet reluctantly emigrated to the United States at the behest husbands and families. Once there, they needed to find new friends, and larger communities that also represented familiar cultural patterns. These practical needs were met by joining their local ICNA chapter, attending its religious gatherings, and adopting the mode of piety that they encountered.

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