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.

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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 their perversions individually, so they might not mitigate each other under a microscope. By clubbing them all together, are we dismissing the evils of one system as a preexistent and preunderstood evil of anotherIs social science merely a tool to distinguish one frame of reference from another to show how they form a collective bedrock for the world we live inOr is it a filter through which these different frames might be scrutinized and held accountable for their consequences, individually

Ahmad deals with some of these issues and shows how a common pattern found in Muslim nationstates is how traditionoften createdis held on to and propagated as a means to resist colonialism and how this tradition is then mapped onto [their] bodies, frequently in the form of a veil. Indeed, the chapter on veiling is illuminating in a way where the readers smugness in their familiarity with the veil is slowly deconstructed and quickly discarded. It is a quiet and effective method that leaves the reader slightly embarrassed.

Ahmad claims that third world women are often perceived as monolithic subjects living ahistorical lives, a perception that is particularly prevalent for Pakistani women because apart from belonging to the developing world, the majority of them are also Muslimanother label that seems to allow many to forget that womens lives are historically and culturally heterogenous. The uniqueness of AlHuda lies in the fact that it has been able to make inroads into the middle and upper classes of the urban areas of Pakistan, a feat other religious groups have been unsuccessful at accomplishing. Spaces such as JamaatiIslamis womens wing, TehrikiIslam, Tablighi Jamaat provide alternative educational opportunities but havent seen comparable success.

On the contrary, AlHuda is now increasingly popular with Pakistani diaspora and across a larger crosssection of society within Pakistan. While coming to terms with this appropriation of the meaning of Islam by AlHuda, Ahmad attributes this success to the larger hegemonic religionational discourse that most women internalised while growing up in Pakistan. Ahmad claims that while other spaces are available, AlHuda has caught the pulse of this particular section of society by appealing to their multilayered identity and by identifying them as urban, upper class, Muslim, Pakistani women. As the nation itself engages with questions of identity in an ongoing struggle between a South Asian or Middle East Asian characterization, AlHudas technique finds more social resonance and easy appeal.

Although there are serious shortcomings in terms of political analysis, especially in the section on Global Wars, the author doesnt hesitate to ask awkward questions about the founding values of Pakistan and its religionational discourse. The people of Pakistan or more specifically, the students and staff of Al Huda are not likely to be the targeted readership of this book, but they should be. Not because the book derides them or calls for introspection, because it doesnt, but because it is a call to rationality, which as Ahmad concedes, is a space AlHuda has brought into the socioreligious milieu of urban upper class women in Pakistan. Farhat Hashmi receives no personal attentionindeed, the only description of her is used as an illustration of AlHudas emphasis on rationality, which Ahmad discusses as an ungoverned space in any religious landscape.

One wonders if the elevation of religiosity to the status of morality is a theme Hashmi has engaged with. It is most definitely a constant preoccupation with Ahmad. If Hashmi were to follow the logic of her convictions, she would read the book. Maybe she has already, but where is the counternarrativeFeverish inspection of various AlHuda websites led me to an article on the dangers of Valentines Day and to many other sensible sections, one of which titled products greatly appealed to my consumerist senses. Ahmad observes how she was once told in an uncomfortable situation that You can try to understand it, but you cannot question it. Such euphemisms reveal the deliberate nature of the AlHuda project. Equally disturbing is the discussion of how unaffected AlHuda is by the meansends dialectic. In an ironic example, Ahmad recalls bumper stickers in Islamabad that say, Smile! Allah loves you! Innocuous at first glance, many such anecdotes drive home the point that AlHuda might be the start of a movement that is truly the obverse of Saids orientalism.

Swapna Kona Nayudu is a Research Associate at the Centre for Policy Research (CPR), New Delhi.