Transforming Faith is an exploration of Dr. Farhat Hashmis Islamic school for women, Al Huda International that was established in the 1990s and has slowly turned into something of a social movement. Literally, the name AlHuda translates to a School for Guidance. Armed with a particularly useful interview technique and access to the inner workings of AlHuda, Sadaf Ahmad, anthropologist and author of this book, puts together firsthand accounts of women and their experiences at AlHuda. Why are women in high heels flocking to AlHudaAnd how are they being made to leave their footwear at the doorThe book answers some of these questions and leaves the reader with many more.
The book is ambitious in an earnest way although there are moments of frustration, especially at the beginning of the book. This book is not a journalistic account of events, nor is it literature. One does wonder how the ideological positioning of the author affects her questions and analysiswhat she calls the contentious phenomenon of being a native anthropologist. But, one feels broadly that those questions typically dot the ethnographic topography and are sufficiently prominent. It is surprising, then, that the author chooses to preface so widely. It takes away from the tempo of the book. It would have been far less messy to push AlHuda to the front, presuming that contexts are wellunderstood, or underscoring them with later chapters. The pace of the book would have profited immensely from a different architecture.
Yet, it is interesting to note the schisms of feminist ethnography that Ahmad touches upon. In a reference to Judith Staceys work, Ahmad hints at the social meanings of sex and gender. The dialogue between ethnography and feminism is worth having, and indeed a substantial body of work on it has surfaced, but in the context of Pakistan, it is only Shahla Haeris No Shame for the Sun (2002) that puts a foot in the door as it bears testament to how womens lives are informed by a number of ideological frameworks. In that sense, Transforming Faith comes across as a successful project that achieves what it sets out to do, given the difficult analytical context that contemporary Pakistan provides.
One wonders if overlapping narratives in a psychedelic space such as the social context of Pakistan will ever find autonomy within themselveswill we be able to push away at arms length postcolonialism, tradition, religion, ethnicity, class and study ...
Table of Contents >>