Politics of Piety: The Islamic Revival and the Feminist Subject

Politics of Piety is a groundbreaking analysis of Islamist cultural politics through the ethnography of a thriving, grassroots women's piety movement in the mosques of Cairo, Egypt. Unlike those organized Islamist activities that seek to seize or transform the state, this is a moral reform movement whose orthodox practices are commonly viewed as inconsequential to Egypt's political landscape. Saba Mahmood's compelling exposition of these practices challenges this assumption by showing how the ethical and the political are indelibly linked within the context of such movements.

Not only is this book a sensitive ethnography of a critical but largely ignored dimension of the Islamic revival, it is also an unflinching critique of the secular-liberal principles by which some people hold such movements to account. The book addresses three central questions: How do movements of moral reform help us rethink the normative liberal account of politics? How does the adherence of women to the patriarchal norms at the core of such movements parochialize key assumptions within feminist theory about freedom, agency, authority, and the human subject? How does a consideration of debates about embodied religious rituals among Islamists and their secular critics help us understand the conceptual relationship between bodily form and political imaginaries? Politics of Piety is essential reading for anyone interested in issues at the nexus of ethics and politics, embodiment and gender, and liberalism and postcolonialism.


"Mahmood's book is a tour de force that provides an alternative prism through which we may understand the women's mosque movement in Egypt."--Cynthia Nelson,Middle East Journal

"The book is of great importance regarding the position of women within the Muslim piety movement in Egypt. It is of interest for those dealing with Islamic revival and women issues not only in Egypt or the Middle East and North Africa but also to those dealing with the role of religion in life and gender issues worldwide."--Rachel Simon, Ph.D., Digest of Middle East Studies


"This very timely book opens doors into spaces of Islamic piety that shatter the stereotypes which dominate thinking in the West. Mahmood carefully unpacks the distortions that common modes of liberalism and feminism impose on the Muslim world. She combines richness of description with theoretical sophistication to provide insight into the struggle of some Muslim women to live their faith, often in the face of not only Western liberal influences but also Arab nationalism and political Islamism. The reader is forced to face dilemmas that cannot be easily resolved. This is social science at its most illuminating.."--Charles Taylor, Board of Trustees Professor of Law and Philosophy, Northwestern University, author of Sources of the Self: The Making of the Modern Identity