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Re-negotiating the secular and the religious: young Hamas women in the West Bank

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journal contribution
posted on 2023-06-09, 19:32 authored by Giorgia BaldiGiorgia Baldi
In the 2016 Bir Zeit university elections, Hamas’ women have launched two videos in which un-veiled western-dressed young girls call to vote for Hamas. The videos sparked a passionate debate whereas religious forces accused them to be ‘westernized’ and to abandon the Islamic norm of modesty, while secular forces accused them to promote a form of women’s empowerment linked to their success in accommodating religious values to secular ones. The debate mirrors scholarly works on Islamist women’s subjectivity which tend to adhere to the dominant liberal analytical frames and lack a clear problematization of the relationship between Islam, gender, and new forms of liberal and secular sensitivity: as Islamic practices, secularization, and neo-liberal projects are seen as opposed, most of the literature that analyses women within Islamist movements overlooks the historical and economic trajectories that have operated a shift in the study of the relation between gender, sexuality and religion. In 2017, I have conducted an extensive field research in the Occupied Palestinian Territories with Hamas women to unwrap the relationship between Islamism, secularism, and neo-liberalism in the West Bank. By taking a distance from the assumption that religion and secularism are opposing poles of a binary, the paper gives an understanding of Hamas women’s shifting subjectivities in the encounter with new forms of secular modernity: this encounter has signified a shifting understanding of the category of secular and religion, which this paper analyses through a new understanding of women’s every day practices. Hamas women’s understanding of their own practices reveals their embodiment of Islamic and secular values and norms, which are framed and mediated by secular/neo-liberal mode of self-governance.


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Categories of Religion and the Secular in Islam


University of Oxford

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Religion as a Changing Category of Muslim Practice

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University of Oxford

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  • Sussex Centre for Human Rights Research Publications

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