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Identities and agency in religious spheres: a study of British Muslim women's experience

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This article examines the ways in which British born South Asian Muslim women engage with Islam through study circles, using data drawn from participant observation of, and interviews with, 25 women in two major cities in northern England. I argue that the religious spaces within which the women participate allow them to assert various identities, as well as agency, as they collectively search to comprehend Islam. In particular, I demonstrate that in traversing these religious spheres, women transform them from male dominated sites to spaces wherein feminine, political and cosmopolitan identities are expressed. Scholarship on Islamic feminism in western contexts has focused on visible symbols such as the veil and little attention has been given to the social processes that Muslim women may engage in order to better understand and practise Islam. For the women who formed part of this study, the veil was only one aspect of their religious identity. In examining religious spheres such as the mosque, I argue these are not disembodied sites where only religious rituals are performed, but are created, discursive spaces and social networks that allow women to feel empowered within British society.

Keywords: British Muslim women; identities, agency; mosques; religious spheres

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09663690903003850

Affiliations: Department of Humanities, Fylde Building, University of Central Lancashire,

Publication date: August 1, 2009

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