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Book: Madrasas and the Making of Islamic Womanhood

This ethnography provides a theoretically informed account of the educational journeys of students in girls’ madrasas in India.

It focuses on the unfolding of young women’s lives as they journey from home to madrasa and beyond. Using a series of ethnographic portraits and bringing together the analytical concepts of community, piety, and aspiration, it highlights the fluidity of the essences of the ideal pious Muslim woman. It illustrates how the madrasa becomes a site where the ideals of Islamic womanhood are negotiated in everyday life. At one level, girls value and adopt practices taught in the madrasa as essential to the practice of piety (amal). At another level, there is a more tactical aspect to cultivating one’s identity as a madrasa-educated Muslim girl. The girls invoke the virtues of safety, modesty, and piety learnt in the madrasa to reconfigure conventional social expectations around marriage, education, and employment. This becomes more apparent in the choices exercised by the girls after leaving the madrasa, highlighted in this book through narratives of madrasa alumni pursuing higher education at a central university in Delhi. The focus on journeys of girls over a period of time, in different contexts, complicates the idealized and coherent notions of piety presented by anthropological literature on women’s participation in Islamic piety projects. Further, the educational stories of girls challenge the media and public representations of madrasas in India, which tend to caricature them as outmoded religious institutions with little relevance to the educational needs of modernizing India. Mapping madrasa students’ personal journeys of becoming educated while leading pious lives allows us to see how these young women are reconfiguring notions of Islamic womanhood.

About the Author

Hem Borker has completed her D.Phil. from the University of Oxford, UK. The everyday fascinates her and is her inspiration. As a part of her doctorate she studied everyday life of Muslim students studying in girls’ madrasas in India. Broadly she is interested in themes of gender, youth, education, and social exclusion. She has a previous graduate degree in Social Work and BA History from University of Delhi, India.

Table of Contents


Situating Madrasa Education for Girls

Journeys of Madrasa Students: Understanding through Ethnographic Portraits

In-between Spaces: Locating Madrasa Jamiatul Mominat

Making of Kamil Momina: Girls’ Madrasas and the Fashioning of Moral Community

Becoming a Kamil Momina: Girls’ Lives Inside Madrasa Jamiatul Mominat

From Madrasa to University: Changing Aspirations, Boundaries, and Horizons

Conclusion: Brainging Together the Educational Journeys of Madrasa Students

Coda: Policy Reflections

Bibliographic Information

Title: Madrasas and the Making of Islamic Womanhood

Author(s): Hem Borker

Publisher:  Oxford University Press

 Language: English

Length: 352 pages

ISBN: 978-0199484225

Pub. Date:  12 July 2018

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