Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

Portraits of Believers: Ahmadi Women Performing Faith in the Diaspora

Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

Portraits of Believers: Ahmadi Women Performing Faith in the Diaspora

Article excerpt

Abstract

This paper is a look at how South Asian Ahmadi women in Southern California express their agency through their religious performance in the diaspora. This paper also tries to dispel the notion of a homogenized Muslim people and an Islamic faith in the USA. Western feminist work reflects diverse women's lives and experiences. A study of immigrant women who organize their lives along ethnic (South Asian) and religious (Islam/Ahmadiyyat) prescriptions will contribute to western feminism by expanding its scope, while at the same time challenging its perceived static hegemonic status. Ahmadi women, while cognizant of the gender hierarchy and the "holy patriarchy" of their faith, are willing to "compromise" their own need for autonomy in an endeavor to fulfill their spiritual needs and the security their prescribed roles bring about.

Key Words: Ahmadi women (sect of Islam), diaspora, autonomy and agency

Introduction

Temples, mosques and religious gatherings have mushroomed across the U.S. landscape. Since the 1980s, not only have religious organizations among South Asian communities in the USA emerged, but also there is a trend towards the redefinition of South Asian identity by conflating Indian culture and religion. This raises questions about gender dynamics in immigrant South Asian households. This paper is a look at how South Asian Ahmadi women in Southern California express their agency through their religious performance in the diaspora. Through this ethnographic research, my intention is to articulate how a religious framework is used to protect a beleaguered religious minority in the USA, and to show how women are the main proponents of this faith.

Another attempt here is also to dispel notions of a homogenized Muslim people or an Islamic faith in the USA. While a number of studies on Muslims in North America have been conducted, (Haddad 2002; Haddad and Smith 1993, 2002; Smith 1999; Haddad and Esposito 1998; Metcalf 1996, 1999; Aswad and Bilge 1996; Khan 2000, 2002; etc.) some minority Muslim communities have not received adequate attention; the Ahmadiyya community is one of these. I want to highlight the diversity that exists among Muslims generally, and specifically among Muslim immigrants from South Asia by describing how Ahmadi women negotiate their identity in a potentially alienating South Asian immigrant and North American culture.

Since 9/11, Muslims in the USA have become much more cognizant of their faith and location in American society. There has been a visible rise in attendance in mosques, head covering and reclaiming of identity based on Islam. For Ahmadi women strict adherence to their faith in the USA and worldwide precedes 9/11, but where 9/11 has made a difference is in the Ahmadiyya community's attempts at distancing themselves from mainstream Muslims to establish that their sect is non-violent, peace loving, and tolerant of other belief systems. An example of this was the immediate meeting of the national Ahmadi leader with the president of this country after the 9/11 incidents to clarify their stance on issues of terrorism.

In this paper after giving a brief outline of the background of the Ahmadiyya community, and the methodology, I will engage in a discussion on feminism and religion and the issue of agency among Ahmadi women within the parameters of their religion. This will be followed by a dialogue with the women themselves for whom communality defines their individuality and simultaneously their safe and comprehensible location within the community and the larger society. Where as the need to conform to the Ahmadiyyat is driven by multiple factors, here I will focus primarily on how Ahmadi women negotiate and express agency through the performance of their faith. This research is conducted among women in Southern California, but resonates with Ahmadi women's sentiments in the rest of the country.

Who are the Ahmadis? …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.