Sunday, June 10, 2018

Book Review: The Making of a Salafi Muslim Woman

The Making of a Salafi Muslim Woman: Paths to Conversion - written by Dr. Anabel Inge

"The Making of a Salafi Muslim Woman" began as a thesis and ended up as a fully-fledged book. This book is unique in that it takes a long, detailed look at the daily reality of Salafi Muslim women in the UK, not from the informal perspective of a Muslim experiencing complicated intra-community politics, but as a non-Muslim woman included in the private confidences of the women whose stories are being told.

Dr. Inge's approach is refreshing, not least because she does not seek to push forth a particular agenda or perpetuate a deliberately negative image of the Salafi community (which does enough to give itself a bad reputation). Rather, as she states in the very beginning of her book: "I assumed that... Salafi women have agency and power over their lives like anybody else."

Reading this book as a self-identifying Salafi woman, this statement gave me the reassurance that the stories of the women would not be twisted and used to suit a certain agenda or to fear-monger. Instead, there was a sense of genuine sincerity regarding the author's choice to study this particular demographic.

The Introduction lays the foundation for all readers - Muslim and nonMuslim alike - to understand the context of discussing Salafiyyah as both an ideological movement and a Muslim sub-culture of sorts operating within a post 9/11 political environment. There is a clear distinguishing between Salafiyyah and those whom they are often lumped with, such as Al-Qaeda, ISIS, and other Khawaarij groups that many feel no hesitance in conflating with one another.

The first chapter of the book acts as a mini history lesson in the development and rise of Salafiyyah in the UK;  as a Muslim reader from Canada, where Salafiyyah's history and current existence is far different from that of our cousins in the UK, I found this particularly interesting. It is rare to find a semi-academic account of inter-Muslim-community histories, which we as Muslims tend to neglect in our pursuit of keeping up with the times.

Am LOLing at her first exposure to "inshaAllah means no" and women cancelling plans bc "my husband said no" (aka most convenient excuse ever). Even more LOLing at her first cowife proposal hahaha (I'm sorry I am so not being an academic reviewer, I'm enjoying this too much!)

Speaking of academia, I am very appreciative of her detailed introduction where she discusses how she gathered the material for her book and the challenge of being a researcher on a specialized topic with a community that is rightly suspicious and protective of their spaces. I always find it interesting when "outsiders" share their observations/experiences with our communities - how they view our quirks & habits.

Random tidbit: educated young Somali women make up a significant portion of UK's (female) Salafiyyah.

I love her brief history of Salafiyyah in the UK - ya3ni Umar Lee's Rise and Fall series gave us an insider view of Salafiyyah in the States but for young un's like me who only know what the Muslim blogosphere imparted to us, this stuff is great.

Back to the book: I find it fascinating that "being Muslim" (or at least looking the part) was (is?) a legit trend in certain areas. The part where London gangsters were trying to use Islam as some kind of branding makes me want to read some Muslim gangsta urban fiction. What's interesting to note is the factors that led many women to choose Salafiyyah in spite of its own bad rep: akhlaaq, knowledge of Deen, and persistence in da'wah without fixating on Salafiyyah's labels or PDF reputations or other cliched silliness.
It's definitely not rocket science - it's the basic principles of da'wah, the Sunnah of RasulAllah himself - but it's an excellent reminder that those of us who would purport to be Salafi should be keeping in mind and which, unfortunately, many do not - and then bitterly wonder why folks would rather go join other groups instead. Ukhuwwah is a vital ingredient of da'wah, and not in a clique-ish, cult-ish manner.

Of note is that for some women, it made all the difference to be welcomed by fellow Muslims who didn't look down at them for their pasts. Piercings or pregnancies out of wedlock, so long as one was choosing to return to the Deen, there was no issue.

The most important part of these women's choice to turn to Salafiyyah, however, was intellectual conviction. And *that* is what I also identify with: the clear, fitrah-centric approach to Tawheed and emaan. Kitab atTawheed aside, it's honestly the basic facts abt Tawheed that are most reassuring; the freedom from depending on wazifas and peer saabs and worrying that one's relationship with Allah isn't good enough to count, or to matter.

Still making my way through @Anabel_Inge's book, and what I feel it has done most for me is give me a greater appreciation for what and how Salafiyyah comes off as to an outside, objective observer who doesn't share our emotional baggage. Whether it's things like trying a little too hard to be "Salafi enough" - particularly with regards to outward markers - to the emphasis on Tawheed and purifying oneself of bid'ah, it's refreshing to recognize those aspects of ourselves that are both praiseworthy and otherwise.

Particularly poignant is the chapter highlighting the practical inconsistencies of Salafi socio-religious standards/ expectations for women. Seeking knowledge is fardh 3ayn, but the ever-present insistence on a woman's domestic duties presents a challenge that Muslim women still face - esp when it is drummed into our heads that even preparing a husband's meal is waajib and more of a priority than anything else.

*Extremely* well-written, thoughtful, well-researched. To me, being completely unfamiliar with Salafiyyah in the UK, it was a fascinating insight into how the culture of Salafiyyah is both same anddifferent in various geographical regions.

The chapter on the history of Salafiyyah in the UK was particularly appreciated, as well as the observations regarding the ethnic demographics of Salafiyyah in certain regions (she focuses on more Somali/ other African populations).
I deeply appreciated the recognition that for many Salafi women, the pull to Salafiyyah was/ is very much both an intellectual and spiritual journey. It reminded me that while the culture of Salafiyyah can often be obnoxious and unreasonable, there is something deeper that does call to and attract those who search for something deeper - for those who genuinely want the Haqq, who look for something more.

Yes, it is very idealistic and Salafiyyah as it is doesn't always fulfill this - but there is a reason it has developed.
And yes, Salafis are pretty obnoxious judgmental fluffs when it comes to being a social group and this is probably the main reason behind people dropping the label. I don't blame them at all.

What this book highlighted, and what I thought was so important about it, is that it focused on the lived experiences of Salafi women... which are very, very different from those of Salafi men.

Whether in terms of the culture of the community, or how Islam is taught and internalized, to the challenges of finding a spouse and contending with things not working out, to struggling with both family tensions and challenges in the academic world/ work force... what women go through is so, so different, and so often ignored and underappreciated.

Obviously, the book is not exhaustive of *all* aspects of being a Salafi woman, nor does it necessarily touch on how the culture of Salafiyyah has evolved, esp recently.

Nonetheless, I highly recommend it. UK peeps will probably understand certain nuances better or identify possible inaccuracies, but overall I very much enjoyed the research shared and feel that it is a valuable first insight for those who might never have considered learning about Salafiyyah in outside of a cliche Muslim-men-and-politics-and-oppressed-veiled-women perspective.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Assalam Alaikum Sister.
I am in Itikaaf and I just read your blog about Laylat ul Qadr. Your knowledge and the way you use your words is amazing Subhan Allah. I am impressed. Your article is so blood warming and I hope I'll make the most of the remaining days and nights of Ramadan.
Sister. I have a request, I'd love to be in contact with you after Ramadan, I need some guidance as well.
My email ID is Dua.e.noor@hotmail.con
Please send me an email.
Jazaak Allah.
May Allah Bless you. Aameen.