ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Inhabiting or Interrogating Faith

Piety among Muslim Women in Mumbai

Against the growing literature on Muslim piety movements, this paper analyses the practices of faith among a young generation of educated middle-class Muslim women in Mumbai in the context of a liberalising economy, which offers them greater employment opportunities and draws them out of the ghettos to work and interact with people of different social and religious backgrounds. The paper shows that these women question and reason with their faith, while the earlier generation abides by a quieter piety. The findings are grounded in Mumbai’s specific history in which the riots of 1992–93 were a defining moment for Muslims. While focusing on everyday religiosity, it also connects with a larger canvas by arguing that piety movements, though located in society, are not unattached from the ways in which states may constitute secularity or define religious freedoms.

The data used in this paper comes largely from the fieldwork conducted by the first author as part of her doctoral work.

The practices of faith among young, middle-class Muslim women in Mumbai is analysed in this paper and it located within the broader domain of the “piety” literature in the anthropology of Islam.1 It also extends this literature in an unusual way by showing that a shift seems to be emerging between the practices of faith of young, educated professional Muslims and the generation of their parents. At first glance, this may seem unremarkable, but it is intriguing when placed against the changing politico-economic situation in Mumbai, with the riots of 1992–93 as a focal event, as well as the broader dynamics of relationships of religious communities in a majoritarian democracy constitutionally committed to freedoms of various kinds.

A second advancement lies in the theorisation of everyday religiosity. Though the focus on piety movements successfully turned the study of Islam away from a preoccupation with the state and the political domains, we argue that the latter cannot be altogether removed from the canvas. Apart from changing economic and political realities, which have their own implications for piety patterns, the state is imbricated with society in constituting what might be freedom or religion or the secular within any particular context. These complexities become clearer in a comparative framework. Thus, the paper illustrates the richer analytical possibilities of a regional and cross-cultural analysis, rather than only a narrow focus on local specificities of piety practices.

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