by JULIE POUCHER HARBIN, EDITOR, ISLAMiCommentary and TIRN on JULY 20, 2015:
“One of the most visible public faces of the 2011 revolution in Egypt was Asmaʾ Mahfouz, a young woman who posted a video blog on Facebook calling for the January 25 protest in Tahrir Square “so that maybe we the country can become free, can become a country with justice, a country with dignity, a country in which a human can be truly human, not living like an animal.”
She describes a stark imbalance of power: a lone girl standing against the security apparatus of the state. When she initially went out to demonstrate, only three other people came to join her. They were met with vans full of security forces, “tens of thugs” (balṭagiyyīn) that menaced the small band of protesters. Talking about her fear (ruʿb), she epitomizes the voice of righteous indignation against the Goliath of an abusive military regime.
“I am a girl,” she says, “and I went down.” The skinny, small, pale girl bundled up in her winter scarf and sweater speaks clearly and forcefully, despite a slight speech impediment, rallying a political community to action against tyrannical rule.
Mahfouz’s vlog is not necessarily famous for actually sparking the revolution, as some have claimed in the revolution’s aftermath. Rather, she visually embodies and vocally advocates what the Islamic activist Heba Raouf Ezzat calls “soft force,”al-quwwa al-nāʿima.” Raouf Ezzat uses the term to refer to nonviolent protest, or what she calls “women’s jihad,” wielded against “tyrannical government.” — beginning of the Introduction to “Soft Force: Women in Egypt’s Islamic Awakening” (Princeton University Press, May 2015) by Ellen Anne McLarney
In Soft Force: Women in Egypt’s Islamic Awakening Duke University professor Ellen McLarney argues against the misconception of Muslim women as “oppressed by Islam,” with her “in depth, nuanced, and careful” examination of the lives and activism of women who write about Islam as liberating them from sexual and political oppression, ignorance, exploitation, and dominance.
Focusing on writings spanning the last six decades in Egypt — and especially Egypt’s Islamic awakening — McLarney charts a genealogy of women’s writings on gender relationships in Islam. These popular religious texts have circulated widely in Egypt and reached audiences as far away as Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Indonesia, Malaysia, Turkey, and France through republication and translation.
These writers include scholars like Heba Raouf Ezzat and Bint al-Shati, preachers like Niʿmat Sidqi, television personalities like Kariman Hamza, actresses like Shams al-Barudi, activists like Zaynab al-Ghazali, cultural critics like Safinaz Kazim, and journalists like Iman Mustafa. Continue reading