Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Z. Fareen Parvez's "Politicizing Islam"

Z. Fareen Parvez is Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Politicizing Islam: The Islamic Revival in France and India, and reported the following:
From page 99:
In turn, mosques and madrasas gave back to the community in important material ways. During Ramadan, Masjid Arabiya frequently provided iftar dinner, the meal to break the daily fast, to the neighborhood children. I would see volunteers light lamps, roll out carpets on the street, and bring out large vats of rice and curries, which the children hungrily devoured as they sat on the rugs. Madrasas also generally provide free lunches for their students, an enormous benefit to the many families who might otherwise send their children to beg on the street or work odd jobs.

Because prayer is required five times every day, mosques also provided physical space and respite for many poor residents. Most families in slum or low- income neighborhoods lived in cramped, one-room, rented homes. Mustafa, an elderly resident of Shanthi Colony, attended Masjid Arabiya every day. After decades of supporting his family as an auto- rickshaw driver, Mustafa suffered a stroke and partial paralysis. He was one of seemingly many men in the neighborhood left unable to work after suffering an injury or medical crisis. Most of these men could not afford the costs of proper treatment or rehabilitation. Mustafa’s seven-person family lived in a one-bedroom home. Masjid Arabiya played an important role in his life, as he hobbled to the mosque five times daily. There, he prayed, enjoyed the qhutbas, and begged for money. Because everyone at the mosque bore a responsibility to give him small amounts, he received enough money to survive.

Mustafa’s daily routine at the mosque also had an important gendered aspect. When men went to the mosque to spend hours with the community, women enjoyed more privacy and physical space in the home. While his wife, daughters, and daughter-in-law appreciated his brief absences, I could also see that Mustafa’s daily routine of walking to Masjid Arabiya provided him with a sense of independence in an extraordinarily emasculating and dependent state.
Politicizing Islam: the Islamic Revival in France and India presents an ethnographic study of how minority Muslim communities struggle to improve their lives in the era of the War on Terror. It draws on two years of participant observation and interviews among observant Muslims in the French city of Lyon and the Indian city of Hyderabad. Both cities have experienced vibrant Islamic revival movements, including sectarian forms of Islam such as Salafism (often labeled vaguely as “radical Islam”) that states attempt to regulate and monitor. Yet, despite this similarity, the communities I knew developed very different relationships to politics. The book describes and explains four different types of movements taking place across the two cities and across class.

Middle-class and elite Muslim activists engaged politics in a more traditional sense, by seeking economic and religious rights from the state. But poor and subaltern Muslims actually withdrew from the state. In Lyon’s urban periphery, the religious women I knew retreated into the private sphere and did not have a lot of hope for their futures. In contrast, in low-income neighborhoods in Hyderabad, Muslim women, especially, took part in “political communities” based on various projects to better their lives and strengthen the wider community.

Page 99 takes readers into one of these low-income neighborhoods in Hyderabad and shows them how small mosques and madrasas benefit these communities suffering from poverty. Men and women take on different roles here, but both benefit from these neighborhood institutions.
Learn more about Politicizing Islam at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue