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Journal for Islamic Studies

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On being South African Muslims, Islamists and women: Expressions of agency and religious construction through the lens of biographies

Gadija Ahjum

Abstract


Exploring the lives of women Islamists through the lens of biographies reveals elements of their experiences which tend to be overlooked if the focus is only on moments of explicit activism. Existing studies of Islamists often focus on leading voices within movements, while studies which focus on piety and self-cultivation obscure ambiguities encountered within the lives of Muslim women. There is an implied denial of their agency as ordinary but active participants within both the private and public space. This paper argues that women made choices based on their deepening understanding of Islam (in general) and Islamist discourse (in particular). Furthermore, their capacity as agents cannot be viewed outside of their social, political and cultural context. Taking seriously the multiple forces within which they exist, and which operate on them, allows a more nuanced image of the actions of Muslim women activists to emerge.



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