Gender and Public Piety in Shi’i Lebanon

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Gender and Public Piety in Shi’i Lebanon

In his Shi’i Muslim community’s depiction, Deeb examines various ways in which both individual and collective piety understanding and expressions have been debated.  Women tend to take the focal stage in this process because of their visibility within the community. They also associate themselves with Western ideas, thus claiming to be modern subjects. By underlining the modernity notions and the Muslim way of life, Deeb underscores the inseparability of piety and traditions in the lives of Al-Dahiya women. The paper reflects on the Lebanese Shi’i Muslim community, analyzes how women in Al-Dahiya claim to be modern subjects, and defines what discursive structures are being disrupted by their effort at visibility.

As Hirschkind (35) draws from his ethnographic Egypt experiences, while modernization played a significant role in changing the terrain upon which listening acts take place, its incomplete character helped in opening up new possibility spaces in the Middle East. The axis of modernization status tends to function in various ways. In fact, the modern women’s status in the Islamic nation signifies the national progress levels that have been achieved to date. The fact that women receive education shows evidence of this transformation as part of state transformation and modernization (Deeb, 182). On the other hand, the women’s status tends to signify the national culture preservation. An example of such transformation and civilization status axis is the women’s movement away from barbarism and state of backwardness.  In this case, Shi’i women simultaneously expressed a sense of responsibility by effectively representing the civilizedstatus of the Al-Dahiya community. Additionally, pious Shi’i women also reproduced civilizational binarism whereby they had the signifier’s role.

Further, it is evident that Al-Dahiya women are claiming to be modern subjects by entering the public sphere (Deeb, 184). These women tend to believe that they have progressed from the state of backwardness and are now in modernity. In Al-Dahiya, women tend to have a co-dependence of ideas regarding piety and modernity. In fact, women in Al-Dahiya are primarily responsible for inhibiting and demonstrating moral position that relate to both modernity and piety in the contemporary society. Thus, the status of women in Al-Dahiya is currently viewed as an indicator of the Al-Dahiya status itself.  Women claim that they are modern subjects by demonstrating modernity in both spiritual and material registers. They also link political activism and piety together in a subject formation process that was hypothesized as self-improvement. Their increased participation in the public arena is also a form of self-improvement in as much as it is not exclusive to Islamic social welfare organizations.

Al-Dahiya women’s increased public engagement relates to their attempts to conduct changes in the Lebanese Shi’i community and to make the public notice them (Deeb, 182). First, the changes tend to demonstrate the organizational network development through which welfare activities in the community can take place. Second, the changes demonstrate the concurrent development of a modern model of ideal womanhood morals for pious Lebanese women (Deeb, 182). These models tend to emphasize various forms of publicly cultivated piety and expreessed piety as important models of being considered an urbanized person.

As Gole (62) indicates, it is commonplace in the modern society to discuss transnational public spheres. Islamic public spheres often include diaspora, especially in the global public sphere, and the idea of modernization raises problems (Gole, 63). On the other hand, the public sphere concept is established to understand the communication flow and not to develop a normative political democracy theory.  With the modernization presumptions, it was evident the women’s efforts at visibility were disrupting certain discursive structures. The common discursive structure that women disrupted was the social powers, which always remained a property of relationships between social formations, classes, and groups in the Islamic nation. The presence of more women in the sociological dynamics led to losses in power structures. It also resulted in the disruption of the already established structuring debates that were common in the public sphere. In their effort at visibility, women also disrupted the existing assumptions that were common in Lebanon. In his article, Euben (365) claims that such disruptions are likely to result in political violence.

In conclusion, the opposition of the authenticated Islam modernity remains a problem in Shi’i Lebanon. Women are supposed to follow the existing traditional practices, which conveys a historical and essentialist traditional past image. However, by entering the public sphere, Al-Dahiya’s women prove that they are modern subjects. At the same moment, in their effort at visibility, they disrupt various preexisting discursive structures.

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