Piety, music and gender transformation: reconfiguring women as culture bearing markers of modernity and nationalism in Bangladesh
Abstract The rise in an intense, textually-based piety, which has become increasingly prevalent in many circles in Bangladesh in the past decade, sees music as taking away from an ideal pious disposition, and therefore considers its removal from everyday life as a requisite to becoming a good Muslim. The removal of music is critically looked upon by secular Bengali Muslims, where singing, especially songs of the Nobel Laureate Tagore, is equated with cultural pride and Bangladeshi nationalism in the secular-liberal, especially the intellectual imaginary. The shunning of such music is thus tantamount to shunning ‘Bengaliness’ and a source of anxiety for the nationalist. In this article, through a deeper exploration of women’s struggles of and sense of achievement in giving up music, I argue that for the women in pursuit of piety, what the act of giving up music speaks to is inner changes that enable them to critically reflect upon roles and relationships that have long been the defining features of a particular kind of middle class, Bengali, feminine self. The paper argues that shunning music is taken as a medium through which women critically rethink their positions at home, reconfigure old roles and expectations and come out of the process with a greater sense of control and ability to write their own identities as Muslim wives and women.
Keywords: Islamic discussion circles, music, piety, textual Islam, jihad, women, gender roles.
Samia Huq is an anthropologist who earned her PhD from Brandeis University on Women and Religious Discussion circles in Dhaka. Currently Senior Research Associate at the BRAC Development Institute (BDI) at BRAC University, Samia’s interests lie in issues around religion and globalization, religious movements and their relationship to debates around modernity and secularism. Samia is currently involved in research and a book project exploring the emergence of the 21st century Bangladeshi woman through her straddling between religion, tradition, secularism and modernity. She has published both in Bangladesh and internationally. Samia’s other research projects include women in Islamist movements.