Sixteen empirical case studies trace the processes of moving in or out of Islam in Western and Central Europe, the United States, Canada, and the Middle East. Going beyond fixed notions of conversion or apostasy, the contributors focus on the ambiguity, doubts, and nonlinear trajectories of both moving in and out of Islam. They show how people shifting in either direction have to learn or unlearn habits and change their styles of clothing, dietary restrictions, and ways of interacting with their communities. They also look at how communities react to both converts to the religion and converts out of it, including controversies over the death penalty for apostates. The contributors also cover the political aspects of conversion, including debates on radicalization in the era of the Òwar on terrorÓ and the role of moderate Islam in conversions.
Karin van Nieuwkerk is an anthropologist and professor of contemporary Islam in Europe and the Middle East at the Radboud University Nijmegen. Her many books include Women Embracing Islam: Gender and Conversion in the West, Peforming Piety: Singers and Actors in Egypt’s Islamic Revival, and Islam and Popular Culture.
In this vanguard study of gender and conversion to Islam, leading historians, sociologists, anthropologists, and theologians investigate why non-Muslim women in the United States, several European countries, and South Africa are converting to Islam. Drawing on extensive interviews with female converts, the authors explore the life experiences that lead Western women to adopt Islam, as well as the appeal that various forms of Islam, as well as the Nation of Islam, have for women. The authors find that while no single set of factors can explain why Western women are embracing Islamic faith traditions, some common motivations emerge. These include an attraction to Islam's high regard for family and community, its strict moral and ethical standards, and the rationality and spirituality of its theology, as well as a disillusionment with Christianity and with the unrestrained sexuality of so much of Western culture.
The contributors to this volume investigate the historical and structural conditions that impede or facilitate the emergence of a "post-Islamist" cultural sphere. They discuss the development of religious sensibilities among audiences, which increasingly include the well-to-do and the educated young, as well as the emergence of a local and global religious market. At the heart of these essays is an examination of the intersection between cultural politics, performing art, and religion, addressing such questions as where, how, and why pop culture and performing arts have been turned into a religious mission, and whether it is possible to develop a new Islamic aesthetic that is balanced with religious sensibilities. As we read about young Muslims and their quest for a "cool Islam" in music, their struggle to quell their stigmatized status, or the collision of morals and the marketplace in the arts, a vivid, varied new perspective on Muslim culture emerges.
This paradox forms the starting point of Karin van Nieuwkerk's look at the Egyptian entertainment trade. She explores the lives of female performers and the reasons why work they regard as "a trade like any other" is considered disreputable in Egyptian society. In particular, she demonstrates that while male entertainers are often viewed as simply "making a living," female performers are almost always considered bad, seductive women engaged in dishonorable conduct. She traces this perception to the social definition of the female body as always and only sexual and enticing—a perception that stigmatizes women entertainers even as it simultaneously offers them a means of livelihood.