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Anabel Inge, The Making of a Salafi Muslim Woman, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2017
In Great Britain, Salafism began to make proselytes amongst the young second-generation immigrants during the 1980s. From the 1990s onwards, the phenomenon assumed ever more significant proportions in London and Birmingham, above all, and amongst Somali and Afro-Caribbean converts, in particular. Today and to the detriment of other movements such as the Deobandis and the Barelvis, who constituted the most visible expressions of British Islam in the 1970s, the Salafis are the most rapidly growing current of Islam. Their force of attraction is demonstrated by the number of Salafi mosques that have been built across the channel over the last fifteen years: 28 in London alone and at least six in Birmingham (home to the well-known Salafi Publications, which also run a bookshop and both primary and secondary schools).
The Making of a Salafi Muslim Woman is the result of field research conducted within female Salafi circles in London by the young researcher Anabel Inge. The book focuses on the phenomenon of female conversions to Salafism, placing it within the framework of the transformations that the Islamic presence in Great Britain has undergone from the 1970s to date. Anabel Inge frequented the London Salafi circles for more than two years, investigating the reasons that push women to subscribe to this version of Islam, their religious, cultural and family backgrounds and their (frequently vain) attempts to reconcile the rigid rules prescribed by Salafi doctrine with a Western life-style. The author has favoured a qualitative approach over a quantitative one: indeed, her study was based on a limited sample of 23 women aged between 19 and 29, the majority of whom were of Somali origin. Almost all the young women selected frequent the Brixton mosque, which was built in South London in 1975 and has been the emblem of British Salafism since 1993. Also known as the “Jamaican mosque”, it is one of the first London mosques to be run by converts of mostly Afro-Caribbean provenance. Like other “black” mosques, it came into being in order to create “black-friendly” spaces (p. 33) that could welcome the immigrant communities from Sub-Saharan Africa and the Caribbean.
The research highlights how the journey in conversion to Salafism is anything but straightforward: indeed, often it is the result of a long and tortuous path full of uncertainties and second thoughts. The young women have to learn, first of all, to navigate the crowded and diversified British religious market: often they have to reckon with the incomprehension of their families of origin and sometimes they come up against the breakdown of longstanding friendships. One of the decisive factors in their choice is the widespread idea that Salafism constitutes the “authentic” Islam. Unlike the groups that seek to win proselytes by playing on political and social issues that are far removed from the everyday life of a young Londoner (the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, Palestine etc.), Salafis have a preference for religious training; an aspect that is of primary importance for the Muslims who have grown up in London and whose knowledge of Islam is often limited to what they have learned from their parents. The latters’ Islam is often popular in nature and tied to the traditions of their countries of origin and it is not understood by their children, who have grown up in a very different context. Salafism thus fills this gap by offering its followers the prospect of continuing training. Another aspect that is greatly appreciated by neophytes is the Salafi rejection of the four traditional Islamic Schools of Law. Indeed, what with the complexity of their arguments and the variety of their interpretations, the latter constitute a stumbling-block for neo-converts who become confused by those who are unable to respond to their need for existential certainties.
Anabel Inge’s book has the merit of shedding light on a phenomenon that is profoundly marking contemporary Islam, both in the Muslim-majority countries and in Europe. A phenomenon that, in the media, above all, is more talked about than truly known and understood.
To cite this article
Chiara Pellegrino, “Women seeking 'true' Islam”, Oasis, year XV, n. 29, September 2019, pp. 132-3.
Chiara Pellegrino, “Women seeking 'true' Islam”, Oasis [online], published on 16th September 2019, URL: https://www.oasiscenter.eu/en/women-seeking-true-islam