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The Salafi Mystique: The Rise of Gender Segregation in 1970s Egypt

In this article, Aaron Rock-Singer, traces the emergence of gender segregation within contemporary Salafism, focusing on Egypt as a case study to examine the interaction between textual hermeneutics, ideological cross-pollination and political competition.

Drawing on two Egyptian Salafi magazines, alongside a variety of pamphlets and lay-oriented works by Salafi and non-Salafi authors alike, the writer challenges a majority view that claims gender segregation as a long-established religious principle and practice, while historically contextualizing a minority view that gender segregation arose out of contemporary political calculations. Specifically, although the core anxieties of women’s presence in public were not new, the attempt to comprehensively regulate women’s presence in state institutions and on mass transportation was a response to contemporary intellectual trends, particularly the project of State Feminism and leading Muslim Brotherhood thinkers during the Nasser period (1952–1970), and to political competition with the Brotherhood during the 1970s.

In 1951, a luminary of contemporary Salafism, Muḥammad Nāṣir al-Dīn al-Albānī (d. 1999), declared that women must cover their heads but are under no obligation to conceal their faces or hands as they move outside the home. By the mid-1970s, however, this had become a minority position among Salafis, who argued that women not only must cover their head, face and hands but also must observe strict gender segregation in public. How did this drastic change occur and what implications did it have for the access of Salafi women to education and professional employment?

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Bibliographic Information

Title: The Salafi Mystique: The Rise of Gender Segregation in 1970s Egypt

Author: Aaron Rock-Singer

Published in: Islamic Law and Society, Volume 23: Issue 3, 2016

 Language: English

Length: 27 pages

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