Female Salon Preachers in Heliopolis: Towards the Salafization of the Cairo Bourgeoisie?

By Sofia Nehaoua

"The “circles” or halaqat begun in the early nineties have found increasing success in the bourgeois neighborhoods of Cairo. Far from producing a new, progressive discourse, as one might expect of educated, activist women who are pioneers in the taking up of religious responsibilities, the Egyptian preachers spread a conservative message of moral discipline and patience in struggle. This expression of religious feeling takes place in large meetings in female prayer rooms, as well as in private meetings conducted by rich, pious women in Cairo's bourgeois neighborhoods. In conformity with their gendered and segmented notion of space, these women categorically refuse to insert themselves into public spaces, instead delegating these to men. Despite all this, however, these women hardly conform to the stereotype of the wife who is submissive to male supervision; they argue and dispute a variety of social subjects. Their dynamism, their political consciousness, and their increasingly central role in religious matters, lead us to redefine what role they really play in the public sphere as well as their function in of “re-Islamicizing” Egyptian society, a process which has been underway since the 1980s. Analyzing the discourse and practice of these women permits us to explore the notion of an “informal” feminism in female spaces."

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