An Islam of Her Own

Reconsidering Religion and Secularism in Women’s Islamic Movements

240 pages

April, 2011

ISBN: 9780814773048



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Sherine Hafez is Assistant Professor of Women’s Studies at the University of California, Riverside, and the author of The Terms of Empowerment: Islamic Women’s Activism in Cairo.

All books by Sherine Hafez

As the world grapples with issues of religious fanaticism, extremist politics, and rampant violence that seek justification in either “religious” or “secular” discourses, women who claim Islam as a vehicle for individual and social change are often either regarded as pious subjects who subscribe to an ideology that denies them many modern freedoms, or as feminist subjects who seek empowerment only through rejecting religion and adopting secularist discourses. Such assumptions emerge from a common trend in the literature to categorize the ‘secular’ and the ‘religious’ as polarizing categories, which in turn mitigates the identities, experiences and actions of women in Islamic societies. Yet in actuality Muslim women whose activism is grounded in Islam draw equally on principles associated with secularism.

In An Islam of Her Own, Sherine Hafez focuses on women’s Islamic activism in Egypt to challenge these binary representations of religious versus secular subjectivities. Drawing on six non-consecutive years of ethnographic fieldwork within a women's Islamic movement in Cairo, Hafez analyzes the ways in which women who participate in Islamic activism narrate their selfhood, articulate their desires, and embody discourses in which the boundaries are blurred between the religious and the secular.


  • “This unique study of the personal narratives of women active in Islamic charity organizations in Cairo allows us to glimpse the surprisingly complicated and contemporary meanings for them of ‘Islam as a way of living.’”

    —Lila Abu-Lughod, author of Writing Women's Worlds: Bedouin Stories

  • “A lucid account of the personal, community, and national forces that shape Egyptian Muslim women who engage in social activism as part of their commitment to religious ideals. This book seeks to go beyond the usual dichotomies that pit the secular and modern against the religious and traditional.”

    —Marnia Lazreg, author of Questioning the Veil: Open Letters to Muslim Women

  • “Emphasizing narratives that explore modern selfhood and identity politics among Islamic activist women, Hafez examines the many contexts that transcend an opposition between religion and secularism. This timely, excellent book formulates new methodological and theoretical approaches relevant to anthropology, religious studies, gender studies, and Middle East studies.”

    —Susan Slyomovics, co-editor of Women and Power in the Middle East

  • "An informative, critical engagement of the interplay of feminism and religion in a postcolonial society."

    —A. Madhi, Choice

  • "An Islam of Her Own makes important contributions to our understanding of contemporary forms of Islamic activism and will be of great use to students and scholars in the fields of women's studies, anthropology and Middle East studies."

    —Amira Mittermaier, European Association of Social Anthropologists

  • "This book makes an excellent contribution to Islamic social movement research by challenging the binary categories of "religion" and "secular" discourses that have been used to previously evaluate the goals and motivations underpinning Islamic activism."


  • "This is an excellent absorbing study of contemporary activism in educated professional Muslim women."

    The Muslim World Book Review

  • "A unique and thought-provoking study of women's Islamic activism in Egypt."

    —Nadine Muller and Claire O'Callaghan, The Year's Work in Critical and Cultural Theory