An Islam of her own
Reconsidering Religion and Secularism in Women’s Islamic Movements
Author(s): Sherine Hafiz
The book under review is the result of six years of field work that Sherine Hafiz conducted in Egypt, mainly with women of al-Hilal, a group of what she calls “pious women”. The use of the expression “pious women” creates a certain image in the minds of readers, what she perhaps means is women who are religiously committed and, at the same time, involved in social action.
This ethnographic study heavily depends on an anthropological understanding of religion, common in western scholarship. In chapter two she refers to interpretations of religion by well-known scholars such as E.B. Taylor (1858-1942), William James (1842-1910), Emile Durkheim (1858-1917), Max
Weber (1864-1920), Franz Boas (1858-1942), Bronislaw Malinowski (1884-1942) and Claude Levi Strauss (1908-2009). This is further extended to Clifford Geertz’s (1926-2006) ethnographic approach to religion as interpretation of symbols through contextualization, viewing societies as coherent universal symbolic systems (p. 27-41).
The basic problem of the ethnographical approach is the reduction of a complex phenomenon to one empirically measurable dimension, whether it is pre-scientific imagination, mana or symbols of power. Though Sherine expresses her admiration for John Esposito’s prolific research works on Islam, she refers to The Islamic Threat to understand how Esposito defines Islam instead of his other more relevant book Islam the Straight Path. Similarly her choice of Mark Juergansmeyer’s paper “The Global Rise of Religious Nationalities” (2001) cannot help much in leading to an appropriate definition of what Islam is because of its limited scope.