In the first chapter The Subject of Freedom, Saba Mahmood states her thesis that will be discussed: “I will explore some conceptual challenges that women’s involvement in the Islamist movement poses to feminist theory in particular, and to secular-liberal thought in general, through an ethnographic account of an urban women’s movement that is part of the larger Islamic revival in Cairo, Egypt” (Mahmood 2012, 2). Moreover, Saba Mahmood also mentions that the term “Islamic revival” is crucial to our understanding which refers to states or political groups that have recently become more prevalent in Islamic societies. In addition, Saba Mohammad also discusses the term agency and that it refers to individuals realizing facts about their own interests in retrospect to society with discussions on “customs, traditions, transcendental will, or other obstacles (individual or collective)” (Mahmood 2012, 8). Furthermore, Saba Mahmood also mentions two types of freedom, negative and positive. She mentions that negative freedom refers to “the absence of external obstacles to self-guided choice and action, whether imposed by the state, corporations, or private individuals, whereas positive freedom is understood as the capacity to realize an autonomous will, one generally fashioned in accord with the dictates of universal reason or self-interest and hence unencumbered by the weight of custom, transcendental will, and tradition” (Mahmood 2012, 10-11). The first theorist that Saba Mahmood mentions is Foucault. In this chapter, Mahmood also discusses Judith Butler who not only helped to back up many of her arguments but also was an important theorist in the study of poststructuralist feminism.
Furthermore, she mentions that Judith Butler focuses on the fact that acts regarding sex and gender are considered to be performative. On the other hand, Saba Mahmood argues against the point that Butler is saying by saying it isn’t acts of sex or gender that are performative, instead it is norms. that Whereas, in the second chapter Topography of the Piety Movement, Mahmood is providing readers with the sites that have been formed for her fieldwork. In addition, she states that there are three mosques, Umar, Ayesha and Nafisa which all are different based on two aspects of diversity, the dress code and the socio-economic background of their attendees. Moreover, she mentions the topic of secularism which is defined by two ways: (a) “separation of religion from issues of the state and (b) increasing differentiation of society into discrete spheres (economic, legal, education, etc.) (Mahmood 2012, 47).
The last thing that she mentions in this chapter is the concept of Da’wa. She provides readers with the actual definition saying it means to call, appeal or summons, but it has its roots back to the Quran in which it refers to Allah calling to both his prophets and humanity to follow Islam which is considered to be the true religion (Mahmood 2012, 57). As a second-time reader of this book, I have come to many realizations when approaching the two chapters that have been analyzed in this critical response paper. The first time I read these two chapters, I was very confused about what Saba Mahmood was talking about as I was looking at it from a theoretical perspective instead of a feminist perspective. However, as I went through these two chapters, I felt like I was finally able to understand what Saba Mahmood was trying to say. Moreover, the reading really opened my eyes to see what society is like today and also resonated with me on a personal and cultural level. When I went to India 10 years ago, I was very curious into finding out what the ancestry of my family was in terms of the socioeconomic backgrounds of my parents.
My mom and dad are from two different cultures, my mother was raised more in a small house with a farm which only permitted her to go to temples that were very small, however my dad was raised in a large house with no farm which allowed him to go to the more higher-class temples. In retrospect to this reading, it was very interesting to learn about the different socio-economic backgrounds of the attendees of the mosques as it reminded me that even India, a place that my parents call home had these socio-economic divisions in their places of worship as well. Moreover, it was also fascinating to learn that many of these temples had female teachers relaying the message to their attendees and that many of them are women. It was interesting to hear that as I have only ever seen male teachers at the temple teaching the devotees the right way of rituals, which is also in a way kind of skewed as we are learning the male perspective which is deemed to be right instead of learning the equal perspective between the two genders. One of my favourite parts of the reading was when Saba Mahmood mentioned how feminism has a diagnosis and a prescription.
Saba Mahmood mentions “feminism, therefore, offers both a diagnosis of women’s status across cultures and a prescription for changing the situation of women who are understood to be marginalized, subordinated or oppressed” (Mahmood 2012, 10). In my opinion, this was an interesting part brought upon by the author as it is important to acknowledge the fact that feminism exists and it is something that needs to be discussed in society as it is a problem that has been plaguing the world for a long time in terms of social, political and economic contexts.