In addition to their struggle against the state's attempts to copy Western modernity, people struggle against efforts of extremist groups who try to impose restrictions on how they appropriate certain aspects of modern life. Nuha expresses her religiosity in adopting the khimar, which is considered by many Islamic activists as the “real Islamic dress.” She hears things on the radio, in the mosque, and from her friends and then lets her “heart and mind judge what to follow.” At the same time, she opposes many of the restrictions that extremists try to impose on people, such as forbidding men to wear pants and prohibiting eating with a spoon because, as some argue, the Prophet did not do these things. She believes that had these things existed when the Prophet was alive, he would have used them. So it is not a sin (haram) to eat with a spoon, but if one chooses to eat with the hands, one will get extra rewards. Just like Nuha, many people continuously struggle to define the practices and traditions that are Islamic without threatening their religious beliefs or imposing unnecessary restrictions on their daily life.
The rejection of many of the ideas that are circulated by some extremists is clearly manifested by the struggle over some consumer goods such as televisions and VCRs, which are rapidly becoming signs of distinction. Many families try to solve Ramadan riddles (these are usually presented throughout the fasting month by popular Egyptian performers) and collect the covers of tea bags and chocolate bars to mail to the manufacturer in the hope that they may win a VCR, a washing machine, a gas stove, or better yet, a “dish,” a familiar English word in daily life that refers to the
To understand the struggle over the television set, one should look at how this medium is being used in people's daily lives. Except for very few households with extreme religious beliefs, no housing unit is without a television set. Each family, regardless of its income, owns a television set (whether black and white or color, small or big) that is cherished by family members and visitors. The television set is a powerful medium that conveys to viewers many experiences and stimulates new desires and expectations. On the one hand, it connects people of al-Zawiya with other Muslims whom they have never met and who are not assumed to be duplicates of the self but are identified as Others closely connected with the self. It brings them the news of Muslims who fight in Bosnia, Afghanistan, and Chechnya. Young men who were frustrated with the state's restriction on their participation in fighting with the Bosnian Muslims circulated stories about God's help and support of the Bosnians. People talked about invisible soldiers (angels) and about unidentified white planes that bombed the Serbs. The television set brings global concerns into the homes of Abu Hosni and Noha and communicates Egyptian news and struggles to the rest of the globe. On the other hand, television is blamed by Islamic groups for corrupting the people, silencing them, and distracting their attention from God as well as from what happens in their country and the rest of the world. Some religious people subvert the word tilifisyon (“television” in colloquial Arabic) and pronounce it as mufisidyon (from the root fasada, which means “to corrupt”). “The government does not want us to talk politics,” Ali, a twenty-year-old worker in a shoe factory, emphasized. “Sadat warned that he will send
Despite Ali's feelings and views regarding television and its role in supporting the control of the state, he and the rest of his family spend many hours every day watching it. His mother tries to restrict her watching of TV to some soap operas and religious programs. Ali and his sisters prefer to watch music and dancing programs. This creates tension between them and their mother, who repeatedly emphasizes that it is haram to watch such performances. She expresses her embarrassment and guilt when she finds herself watching and sometimes singing or enjoying the music. The tension between what religious groups are calling for and how people feel about TV was clearly manifested when Samah, a woman in her mid-thirties, visited one of her friends in another neighborhood. Samah is very proud of her relationships with some women whose religiosity is manifested in wearing the niqab (a garment that covers the hair and the face) and their regular visits to mosques in different parts of Cairo. She tries hard to keep up with their recommendations regarding which sheikh she should listen to and which mosque to attend. But Samah came back bored and depressed from a two-day visit to one of these friends. “They do not have a television set,” Samah kept repeating to us. “They think that it is haram. I tried to tell them that Quran and religious programs are played also on TV, but they did not listen. Thank God, I am back. I could not have taken it one more day.” TV continues to be the main source of entertainment for Samah, especially while she is doing her housework, which takes most of her day.