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Topics Challenged in 2013


Contextualizing Public Piety and Visibility


To address the characteristic of a piety that is public in nature, one should tackle the concept of visibility, but to do so Lara Deeb suggests disclosing the complexity behind being modern. It is important to note to what was previously stated about Shi’i women not wanting to be identified as West or East, while believing that their Islamic practice is an understanding between both authenticity and modernity. As a result, Deeb states that “over the twenty years, the community of the Shi’i pious modern has emerged and been institutionalized, in conjunction with the Shi’i Islamic mobilization in Lebanon.”[1] This emergence led to conceptualizing two forms of progress; one attributed to an increase in modernization and another to an increased piety. The latter here denotes to a richer acquisition of interpretations, an intensified feeling of and a more visible piety, which leads to the conclusion that “public piety is the key to the pious modern.”[2]


Lara Deeb chooses visibility to describe the pious modern women because as she states: “although other senses are crucial to processes of learning and encounter, sight is privileged in many ways. It is the sense most privileged in stereotyping, in identifying stigmas, in grouping people together, and recently, it has taken a central role in cultural analysis.”[3] This highlights that the anthropologist in this case was reliant on what was visible to her, however, this questions whether or not the group of pious modern women chose to make certain practices and experiences visible to her during her stay, which in itself is an emphasis on the influence of a visible practice, which this paper is discussing, on building perceptions, knowledge, and constructing an understanding about a specific community of people. This also illustrates how the pious Shi’i community, men included, was conscious of the fact that the world had been continuously alert of the situation of women there that it signified “a marker of their level of modern-ness.”[4] The world’s keenness to know about the situation of women is specifically focused on examining women’s roles and thus, this group of Shi’i women felt a duty to constantly be representatives of women in and outside Lebanon.[5]


Ahmed likewise says that because the emergence of the veil, hijab, as the Islamic dress had first appeared in Egypt in relation to other Islamic countries, it had attracted researchers and anthropologists to study and analyze the scene of political and Islamist militant activity there. The appearance of women certainly brought this subject forward along with their motivations and issues concerning their agency. However, in contrast to Deeb, Macleold (1988), one of the researchers mentioned in A Quiet Revolution, describes the situation of Muslim women in relation to Islam in spite of Deeb’s categorizations, as she states:

Islam typically formed the strong and unquestioned…foundation of their [the women’s] lives. Although there were variations in people’s personal commitments, overall Islamic beliefs and rituals nevertheless formed a foundation for society in a way perhaps difficult to understand in secularized, commercialized America.[6]


[1] Deeb, L. An Enchanted Modern. 2008: 34.

[2] Deeb, L. An Enchanted Modern. 2008: 34-35.

[3] Ibid 34.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid, 34-35.

[6] Leila Ahmed, A Quiet Revolution. 2012: 121.


A Map of Home (a novel) 



We see how Nidali (my struggle) is a name given to her by her father, which certainly upset her mother who wanted to change it because she thought, “I’m not forecasting this girl’s future and calling her my struggle; she’ll be my treasure, my life, my tune.” (6). But this argument is based on the assumption that the “I” at the end of her name is a reference to her parents. However, just because she is their daughter and her father had named her, does not mean that her name is a constant reference to them, why can’t it be that the “I” is in reference to her, therefore, meaning that she is her own struggle, or that life is her battle?


What could be called “parental ownership” is common in the Arab world, and the concept of masculinity in crucial to its materialization, yet it is a role not only restricted to fathers; mothers are often seen to be the ones who discipline, hit, and yell out orders to their children. However, it has eventually become so normative that the parent beating the child would not even recognize it. Thus, regardless of my opinion of it as a form of abuse, providing a critical analysis of this act is difficult, specifically with my background being rooted in that culture. We can see that when Nidali “flinched and stepped back thinking he was going to slap [her]… Baba I thought you were going to hit me.” “Why would I do that?” “Because you hit me a lot.” “No, I don’t… I’ve hit you five times in my life.” (132).


In this novel, Nidali’s father is a supporter of Abdul-Nasser; he also names his son Gamal, which in itself is a symbol of his political views in relation to the British people, and religious affiliations that could be identified as liberal. However, his understanding of gender roles is very much in contradiction; he wants his daughter to become a professor, not to get married until she becomes an accomplished woman (her accomplishment is his accomplishment), but restricts her and controls her in so many ways, and treats her mother with complete humiliation and disrespect. He expects her to cook and clean the house, since that’s a woman’s responsibility. We could also see a constant longing for this masculinity that keeps the mother from getting a divorce, it is almost like she desires it, like she deserves it, “I wondered how Baba could want me to win a boy’s contest and behave so cruelly to Mama, who’s a girl, like me, and I wondered why Mama let him.” (66). This could be a result of generational differences and the circumstances that did not allow him to pursue his dreams, which he mirrored onto his daughter, and which also allowed him to belittle his wife for simply being a “woman” without any substance or accomplishments to back her up.


Nidali deconstructs the surroundings that envelope her more than any of her parents do. Nonetheless, it is always challenging to have an adult author write a story from the perspective of a seven-year-old child, because one could question whether these threads of thoughts, complex narratives, and adult-like explanations are the child’s own or the author’s way of embodying a child’s mind.

The Casting of an Emancipated Self Through Religious Agency 


These manifestations were disclosed in the readings through characters’ speech, articulated thoughts, and actions. In novels, unlike real life observations, the reader is able to attend to the characters’ thoughts and reflections, which in real life is often limited to what is visible, unless articulated in a spoken manner. Henceforth, in this paper, I intend to argue through the presentation of a character’s personal experience that agency comes in different forms, which not necessarily conform to mainstream definitions of emancipation that entail behavioral change as evidence and that conversion is a personal experience that requires a deeper investigation than the surfaced behaviors to study its effects on the convert. In the examples I present; I aim to surface the character’s concept of herself across her conversion experience highlighting her subjective understanding of emancipation as a testimony of empowerment. This paper will focus on the concept of agency as portrayed in Laila Aboulela’s novel, Minaret, generally, and specifically on the notion of religious agency as a form of emancipation and identity formation, which is told through Najwa’s conversion experience.

Before I begin presenting my argument that religion could be an agent for developing a mature concept of one’s own self, I will first shed light on my intention behind this presentation which stems from my belief that without including the person’s self concept in the equation, many people can assume knowledge that would explain observed practices and put them into already conceived categories of modern, backward, liberal, conservative and so on and so forth. However, because I consider one’s self concept to be a foundation for studying visible behaviors, and phenomenology[1] to be an important asset of this study, this knowledge often fails to include a crucial element and so presenting a partial portrayal rather than an entire picture. Therefore, addressing the role this conversion plays in shaping a person’s character, and by that I mean the person’s concept of her/his self, will help ascribe a glocal[2] understanding of certain phenomena, such as the concept of emancipation, and project it into a universal one relevant across a global framework, with all its diverse localities. Consequently, my attempt to include it in analyzing Najwa’s conversion, which although built her character and developed a better awareness of herself, and although Anwar, her first love who will be tackled in more detail shortly, led marches and gave talks to empower people, her source of maturity was threatening, one that resembled a state of backwardness to him.


[1] Phenomenology: A scientific method that takes into consideration or focuses on a person’s direct and subjective experience.


[2] Glocal: A term that combines local values and conceptions with global ones, assuring the formation of a synched understanding rather than one viewed from a single framework and neglects the other.

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