Shifting Allegiences

I should start by saying that although I tremendously enjoyed reading Shifting Allegiances: Networks of Kinships and of Faith, I have no expertise in anthropology, just some very strong personal connections to the book.
So I won’t say much here. Just that this is an in-depth look at a unique setting – a women’s program in a mosque, prior to the onset of the conflict in Syria. From 2005 to 2007 Dr Dale attended lectures and religious celebrations, visited some of the women in their homes, and became, at least to some extent, part of that community.
The rich depth of this research gives a fascinating insight into another world, that is relayed in a way that reflects an attention to detail, and a care for the people and the relationships that are part of the research. That there is a personal connection here is evident; but Dale also thinks carefully, and reflexively, about the relationship between people in a community, a visitor, and the visitor’s roles as an individual and as an ethnographer.
There’s a lot in the book, but I’ll just quote one footnote that stuck out to me:

A frequent, almost unconscious gesture from Anisah Huda and the women, was to check the perimeter of the scarf round the face for any strands of hair that might need tucking back. I found myself doing the same. 

The book is packed with the in-depth research that underpins the central thesis. This is well set out in the final conclusion to the book. I won’t try to paraphrase or recapture it, but just quote one of the passages that highlight the complex interrelationships that make up identity, and why that matters:

The women’s mosque movement can be understood in terms of shifting allegiance from kinship community to the wider Muslim ummah, as it finds local realization within the mosque sorority. This change of allegiance is strong enough to challenge certain traditional norms of kinship loyalty, cultural compliance, and obedience to government authorities. 

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