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Learning about God
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4. Learning about God

Psychologically, God is not the creation of the child alone. God is found in the family. Most of the time he is offered by the parents to the child; he is found in everyday conversation, art, architecture, and social events. He is presented as invisible but nonetheless real. Finally, most children are officially introduced to the “house of God,” a place where God supposedly dwells one way or the other. That house is governed by rules very different from any others; the child is introduced to ritual, to the official behavior he is expected to exhibit there, and to other events in which the encounter with God is socially organized and prearranged.

Education is not, of course, confined to the classroom. The whole manufactured environment that humans create and in which we live is both a record of our ultimate concerns and a silent instructor in constant attendance. Egypt's public environment is swamped with the signifiers of religion: on signs, billboards, murals, advertisements, radio and television programs, public events, the covers of books and magazines for sale on every streetcorner, and in the style of public dress and grooming.[2] The ubiquity of religious messages is one result of a decades-long struggle between the state and the forces of the Islamic “revival,” whose more spectacular manifestations are splashed across the covers of international news magazines and scholarly journals alike under the heading of “fundamentalism,” “fanaticism,” and “extremism.” The rise of political opposition movements has contributed to this deepening hegemony of Islamic discourse and been attributed variously to a primitive mentality, to cynical political manipulations, to the frustration of youth, to the disillusionment of the middle-aged, or to poverty, anti- Western hysteria and the rage bred by political impotence or persecution. But to allow the Islamic Trend (al-tayyar al-islami),[3] in Egypt or elsewhere, to be defined by its most violent or exotic manifestations, is to allow the geopolitical security concerns triggered by the 1979 Iranian Revolution and the 1992 Algerian coup to act as a conceptual filter for one's examination of the changing Egyptian religious landscape.

Doing so results in a serious misreading of reality. Sadat's 1981 assassination by the Jihad organization, a continuing series of attacks on government ministers, intellectuals and tourists in the capital, the recent guerrilla insurgency in Upper Egypt and its savage police response, have drawn an enormous amount of international attention. But these are not, arguably, either very typical events, or very important for understanding the Islamic Trend's social origins, manifestations, or long-range significance. Focusing solely on these events is as senseless as to construct a roadmap on which only freeway cloverleafs are drawn, unconnected and isolated from each other by wide blank spaces that mask the smaller but more important routes that bear the mundane commerce of everyday life. Given this, much of Euroamerican popular (and elite) perception of Islamic movements in the Middle East either confuses them for “Islam” itself, or denies that these movements could have arisen except for the operation of entirely pathological processes, as if the freeway cloverleaf were an anomalous knotted inflammation on a seamless plane rather than a regular intersection of rectilinear paths.

Egypt's Islamic Trend, far from being an essentially violent fringe political movement, is pervasive, persistent, and normal, an immense counterculture whose effects on individuals and society do not remain confined to the immediate adherents of specifically political movements and organizations.[4] Its most characteristic manifestations are not unpredictable outbreaks of sectarian violence, bombing conspiracies, or the angry denunciation of creative artists (whether Salman Rushdie or Neguib Mahfouz), but rather the manifold changes it has created in the way educated Egyptians practice, apprehend, and represent their religious heritage. Nevertheless, the Trend's signs are often striking, and even partially quantifiable. Between 1981 and 1987, for example, while the enrollment in arts and humanities faculties at Egyptian universities increased by a total of 8.2 percent overall, the number of students in the Faculty of Islamic Law at al-Azhar increased by 42 percent, and the enrollment at the Faculty of Theology increased by slightly more than 70 percent.[5] Between 1983 and 1986, the number of monthly public sector religious periodicals published in Egypt increased from four to five, but their circulation more than tripled, from 181,000 to 558,000.[6]

At the national universities, student attitudes reflect the extent to which religious questions have become living concerns for educated youth. Dr. Samia al-Khashab's 1988 survey of Cairo University students indicates that they perceive the official religious establishment to be derelict in its duties and ineffective in meeting the religious needs of young people, while being optimistic about the role of private sector religious organizations for fulfilling such needs. Over 80 percent of the 450 students she interviewed (randomly chosen from the university's several faculties) told her that they thought higab (modest dress in which the head and arms are covered) should be required of all Muslim women, and more than half (some estimates range as high as three-quarters) of Cairene women over the age of puberty actually dress this way.[7] More people are praying, more people are reading about Islam and listening to its preachers, more people are discovering consciously the salience of religious ideas and practices to their private and public lives, than did a generation ago.

If we are to make sense of these developments within the institutional context of Egyptian society, we cannot dismiss religious concerns as benighted survivals of earlier social stages, or merely “inflammations” symptomatic of social pathology and political strife.[8] Instead, we must see them as perennial questions that persist in an active manner, adapting and reproducing themselves within and between generations through increasingly complex interactions with institutions and communications media whose own advent was supposed to reduce rather than increase the influence of religious ideas in society. One of these institutions has been compulsory popular schooling. As we saw in the last chapter, the growth of the secular education system in Egypt has encouraged rather than discouraged attachment to Islamic culture, contrary to the expectations of educational theorists who encouraged schooling as a remedy to “traditional” mentalities. The Islamic content of mass schooling is just one aspect of the general process through which Islam and secularism have embraced one another. But it contributes to making that embrace a mutual choke hold that won't allow either to escape again unharmed. On the one hand, every one of the major political parties in the country has been scrambling for the support of the partisans of the religious awakening since it became apparent that catering to religious concerns delivers votes.[9] Once having committed themselves to Islamic rhetoric, it may be difficult for any of them to pull back from promoting an Islamic future for Egypt. On the other hand, the sacred tradition has also committed itself fully to the products and processes of secular life, a retreat from which might be even more threatening. The more firmly entrenched those ideas are in public space, the more difficult it is to dispose of them, and the more pervasive their influence. Islam makes full use of the communications revolution and the industrial economy to manifest itself in every conceivable medium, saturating the physical environment with messages, objects, structures, and signs whose power emerges from the “reciprocation of thought in worked matter, and of worked matter into thought.” [10] Objects and images that become the foci of human interaction evoke enormous social energy, which feeds back into their continued production and elaboration.

In fact, the shape and the sensory content of the public environment is central to the question of how social reproduction is culturally mediated. The Islamic messages in Egyptian public space, including those within the walls of the school, are not merely manifestations or examples of the hegemony of Islamic discourse in Egypt—they are one of the historical and psychological sources of that hegemony. They have created for themselves a public need, which Marx recognized as one of the processes through which goods and their manufacture transform the world:

Production…creates the consumer. Production not only supplies a material for the need, but it also supplies a need for the material.…The object of art—like every other product—creates a public which is sensitive to art and enjoys beauty.…Thus production produces consumption (1) by creating the material for it; (2) by determining the manner of consumption; and (3) by creating the products, initially posited by it as objects, in the form of a need felt by the consumer.[11]

More recent European sociology recognizes the same processes in family and institutional pedagogy, which “consecrat[e] religious or cultural goods of salvation as worthy of being pursued, and…produc[e] the need for these goods by the mere fact of imposing their consumption.” [12] In other words, education that is aimed at implanting specific beliefs in the minds of the young, such as religious indoctrination in schools, not only creates a specific ideology, but creates the very need for one.[13]

On a practical level, education and technological innovation both widen the influence of public religious messages, expanding the range of individuals who can enter the ideological trade either as producers or consumers. As a result of this, Eickelman has suggested, a “great transformation” is taking place in the way that religious authority is distributed in the Muslim world, as

socially recognized carriers of religious learning are no longer confined to those who have studied accepted texts in circumstances equivalent to those of the mosque-universities, with their bias toward favoring members of the elite.…The carriers of religious knowledge will increasingly be anyone who can claim a strong Islamic commitment, as is the case among many of the educated urban youth. Freed from mnemonic domination, religious knowledge can be delineated and interpreted in a more abstract and flexible fashion. A long apprenticeship under an established man of learning is no longer a necessary prerequisite to legitimizing one's own religious knowledge. Printed and mimeographed tracts and the clandestine dissemination of “lessons” on cassettes have begun to replace the mosque as the center for disseminating visions of Islam that challenge those offered by the state.[14]

Technological innovation helps make ideas that were formerly restricted to the literate directly available to the masses of the nonliterate as well (through audiotapes, television, radio, videotape), after being filtered through intermediaries who select, interpret, and comment upon the ideas that were previously the domain of the specialist. Participation in this mass-media culture is one of the nationalist rituals of the modern age, fulfilling both the communication functions and the group solidarity functions that anthropologists have attributed to ritual of other sorts (it was Hegel, Benedict Anderson informs us, who first identified newspaper reading as a substitute for morning prayers).[15] Particularly in the context of group- and party-sponsored media, the reading of a newspaper can act as a rite of communion as well as a public signal.

But despite the predictions of modernization theorists that the spread of media would hasten the development of a “modern” consciousness in the Middle East by “enlarg[ing] a person's view of the world (“opinion range”) by increasing his capacity to imagine himself in new and strange situations (“empathy”),” [16] it is clear that media exposure can and does act as a powerful tool of propaganda as well, restricting or confirming as easily as broadening one's perspective. The growth of book publishing in the Arab world resulted in, among other things, at least five different editions of the infamous European anti-Semitic tract “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” being available for sale on the streets of Cairo in 1989.[17] The medium is not the only message.

Postmodern Knowledge

Communications media and educational institutions of all types are interactive, not only in the sense that they act together in creating an environment that helps shape us as individuals, but in the sense that each incessantly feeds on the imagery and discourses of the others. As we will see, Egyptian mothers talk about didactic moral stories they have heard on the radio and passed on to their children. School textbooks portray eager parents guiding their youngsters' moral development with the aid of Qur’anic quotations. Television programs interview young children at work memorizing the Qur’an in afterschool programs. Religious scholars trained in the “traditional” atmosphere of al-Azhar issue fatwas (nonbinding legal opinions) on the use of pre- recorded calls to prayer, through the venue of weekly newspaper advice columns.

New communications media and new technologies of intellectual production do not drive out old ones, but merely alter their use and significance, often bolstering older forms on which they depend (as computers depend on printed manuals to explain their function). Even in reinforcing and extending the role of written communication, electronic media also subtly alter the social significance of writing. Once the primary privileged technology of communication, because it requires specialized training for both the producer and the recipient, writing has been bypassed in terms of prestige and ease of control by broadcast (though not, significantly, audio- or videotaped) communication, because the latter requires large capital outlays and technical expertise, thus allowing relatively tight control on production. For the recipient, however, electronic media are far more democratic, obviating the special training needed for reading written or print communications. New media have not replaced old ones, but have merely “complicated everything endlessly.” [18]

Two of these complications are of potential interest. The first is the phenomenon of “secondary orality,” the use of oral communication fostered not by the absence of writing and print (as in societies without written languages), but by the advent of the electronically mediated voice.[19] As Brinkley Messick has shown in a series of works on the culture of writing in Yemen,[20] Islamic scholarship in the Middle East has historically been centered on the importance of authorial presence, meaning that the production of written documents (whether in scholarship or legal practice) has always been secondary to memory, recitation, and the reproduction of the authoritative presence of the human voice. Texts, considered unreliable and ambiguous without human interpreters or witnesses, were byproducts of legal and pedagogical practice rather than their focus. Teaching relied on the oral transmission from master to student of key texts and their commentaries. Writing was seen as an alienation of that relationship, and required living testimony for its validation. As the culture of print communications spread through the Middle East in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, this unique relationship had largely been lost, as printed communication—through its status as the voice of the modern state—began to acquire its own unique authority. With the advent of radio, television, audio and video recording, and newer computer technologies, some of the dynamic of oral communication can be recaptured and “appear…to restore presence, which for the alternative advantages of record and durability writing systems had moved away from.” [21] The political effectiveness of taped copies of Ayatollah Khomeini's sermons in immediately prerevolutionary Iran testifies to the power—both logistical and motivational—of technologies that can capture some of the features of oral communication missing in print.[22]

On the eve of the Second World War British colonial officials took new oral media seriously enough to use them consciously—like all governments since—as instruments of rule. In the early days of radio broadcasting in Egypt they quickly recognized the special nature of the new technology, so that in 1939 His Majesty's Ambassador wrote, in a confidential memorandum on the B.B.C.'s Arabic broadcasts, that

I am…inclined to agree with the body of opinion which favours talks on Arab-Muslim history, literature and civilization generally.…The possibilities of educational broadcasts is…immense, but development of the programme on these lines should be cautious and tentative.…Owing to the struggle in the East between the new and the old, between the supporters of Western and Eastern cultures, the Egypto-Arab world is passing through phases of hesitation and complexity, and in this realm we must be cautious not to rush in where even Orientals fear to tread. For instance, it is not to Great Britain's interest to encourage the reactionary obscurantism of the Islamic movement in Egypt encouraged by the Palace and cynical Muslim clerics for obvious political reasons. This movement leads to increased xenophobia and has an adverse effect on Anglo-Egyptian cooperation. Too much pandering…to the Islamic theological and cultural past would be as dangerous as entirely to ignore the aspects of Arab-Muslim history and civilization which appeal strongly even to the “westerners” in the Egypto- Arab world today. In other words, attention should be paid to these aspects of Arab civilization which have a universal appeal and are not in contradiction to the modern Eastern movement towards Western civilization.[23]

Some things have changed little in fifty years. Today, Egyptian film and television producers generally ignore religious issues in most dramatic production, segregating them—with the partial exception of Ramadan programming—into a ghetto of religious chat shows, songs, and televised sermons. But the pedagogical outlook remains much the same. Egypt's director of television film and serial production told Lila Abu- Lughod in 1990 that

Egypt is one of the developing nations and we as a country are very concerned with the cultural education of our people.…Our most important goal in relation to the citizens is to help individuals become cultured. We must educate them, teach them the basics of morality and religious duty. The individual needs direction. He needs information and we need to inculcate the spirit of patriotism, morality, religion, courage, and enterprise. We have found that the best means to reach the individual is through drama. It works like magic.[24]

Part of the magic of this broadcast drama is its portability. Like us, Egyptians carry with them the transistorized machines that relay it, taking their radios to the beach, fixing them in their cars, placing television sets in positions of honor in their homes, offering them like sweets to visiting guests. Like the scattered village kuttabs of the nineteenth century, the infrastructure is in place wherever there are people. Bedouins in the Sinai draw on Saudi radio programs for folklore, news, and for the epic tribal poems they no longer memorize themselves. The same is true of the western desert, where Abu-Lughod's hosts explained, “If you don't tell the stories you forget them. Now that there are radios, we don't tell stories anymore.” [25] Instead, bedouins listen to taped and broadcast Qur’an recitations and Islamic lessons from Cairo or from Arabia, and are drawn—particularly the younger people, even over the opposition and the cynicism of their elders—to the “twin faces of modernity,” secular urban life and the Islamic Trend.[26]

The second complication of the new media is the fact that communications are commodities, and thus enter into the asymmetrical dynamics of market relations, state licensing and control, and popular taste.[27] In his outline of the character of “postmodern knowledge,” Jean-François Lyotard announced that

the relationship of the suppliers and users of knowledge to the knowledge they supply and use is now tending…to assume the form already taken by the relationship of commodity producers and consumers to the commodities they produce and consume—that is, the form of value. Knowledge is and will be produced in order to be sold, it is and will be consumed in order to be valorized in a new production: in both cases, the goal is exchange. Knowledge ceases to be an end in itself, it loses its “use-value.” [28]

Though the notion of an altogether devalued and commoditized information is seductive, we are not yet at the point—particularly given our interest in the functionalization of religious knowledge in the Egyptian school—where knowledge has entirely lost its rhetorical and persuasive function, its use value. Politics is not yet wholly subsumed by the market. But Lyotard's suggestion does point toward one of the mechanisms responsible for the dilemma faced by Egypt's political and cultural elites. The operation of a market in cultural goods, information, and knowledge triggers multiple conflicts between it and the state (and the state's “official reproductive institutions” like the school). In capitalist or state capitalist societies, politically sanctioned institutions of cultural reproduction have an interest both in the reproduction of market relations and also in constraining the specific content of cultural products that might threaten established institutions or populations of culture producers.[29] In Egypt, the authority of the ‘ulama, the “traditional” state- trained and subsidized religious scholars, is under threat by a new market-driven economy of religious commodities produced by private sector companies, secular intellectuals (psychologists, lawyers, physicians, and academics), and independent movements like the Muslim Brotherhood and the smaller Islamic groups, which are the political and military vanguard of the Islamic Trend. The state under Mubarak has responded to this new informational economy not by restraining it heavily, but by entering the fray with products carrying the invisible imprimatur of al-Azhar, the Ministry of Religious Endowments, the Supreme Council on Islamic Affairs, and subsidiary organizations.[30] Later we will examine some of the political repercussions of this strategy. But we will begin here at the beginning, by sketching the multiple social contexts in which parents and their growing children are treated to stories—verbal, written, or electronic—about Islam.

Religious education participates fully in the urban sprawl of the postmodern world, and thus one of its chief characteristics is its practical decenteredness. Socialization is a diffuse set of processes that has multiple sources, and whose outcomes are as various as the patterns of intersecting ripples in a pond, always moving and changing. This decenteredness is reflected here as a series of vignettes, each situated in a different social arena: the home, the school, the public agency, the holiday celebration, the pages of the newspaper. In presenting these vignettes, I wish less to claim that they are “typical” or representative than to show how they exemplify the rhetoric of moral instruction as developed by Egyptian educators over the last century. We will begin, as Egyptians do, with the family.

Just Like Getting Tall

About the time Egyptian Minister of Education Neguib el-Hilali Pasha was championing a new mode of moral instruction in Egyptian schools, Samia ‘Abd al-Rahman entered the first grade in a public school near her home in Alexandria. Graduating from high school in 1956, the year of the Suez crisis, she left Egypt for the first time to attend university in the United States, first at a large land-grant institution in Indiana, then moving east to take a master's degree at Boston University. Returning to Egypt, she began work as a journalist, then taught in one of the Gulf states for several years before coming back to Cairo to stay. She lives in a worn but comfortable apartment in Giza with her daughter, Nadia (fifteen in 1989), and writes on culture and the arts for various magazines.

Samia calls herself a “committed Muslim,” and wears what is colloquially known as higab, modest dress, although she herself prefers to reserve that term for face-veiling, calling her dress “al-zayy al-islami,” Islamic dress. Like many of Egypt's journalists and intellectuals, she has spent time in prison, the last episode during Sadat's September 1981 roundup of suspected subversives. To this day, she bears gratitude toward the small militant group that assassinated Sadat on 6 October of that year, and still recounts to friends the dramatic story of how the joyous news reverberated down the concrete halls of the women's prison on that day. These days Samia struggles, like other middle-class Egyptians, with the difficult economic climate. She spends a lot of time on the phone with colleagues and editors, discussing meetings, conferences, story deadlines, payment. In the crowded sitting room of her fourth- story flat, she does her writing—by hand—and receives guests, to the sound of the buses rumbling down the street below. She will not shake hands with men but will converse, argue, query, and joke with them about topics as diverse as international politics, women's rights, and the Philips stereo system she just bought while at a conference in Denmark.

I asked Samia about how she herself experienced the history of the school in Egypt in the 1940s, a country still under British military occupation; a country less congested, quieter, but still in the process of making sense of its multiple identities as its foreign and domestic political elites, its indigenous bureaucracy and working classes, and its multinational commercial, technical, and professional establishments fought over the soul of the country. In the 1940s, the high point of the power of the Muslim Brotherhood as well as of the vision of a secular postwar internationalism, was there such a thing as “Islamic education” taught in the schools? “Yes and no,” she replied.

You must understand that in my generation my country was trying to practice European education and European tarbiya [upbringing], thinking that this might be the better way to do it, what they called the modern way. There were some things then that were referred to as frangi or afrangi [foreign]. Like bathrooms, for example. In my house now I have two bathrooms, one afrangi, and one baladi, or local. And the baladi is really more sanitary, you know, because you clean off with water. Buildings that are built nowadays, though, only have afrangi bathrooms. But in my generation, if you did something according to the European way, it was called “à la frangi,” spelled the French way with the “à” and the “la” [i.e., rather than the Arabic ‘ala]. We would never wear very short dresses, of course, or anything without sleeves, but neither did we think of covering our faces or our hair; this was the time when women were taking off their higab, which really refers to the veil over the face, although they now call it niqab. In school we learned the Qur’an and Hadiths, and adab; that's what they called tarbiya islamiyya then. And also at that time, the teacher would tell us that we should cover our heads, but unfortunately nobody heeded her.

During my generation, Islamic education was something obvious. You did it because that was just the only way to raise children. I grew up in a house where I saw my parents fasting and praying, and I learned from that. My parents were raising me without having to say that it was Islamic education. Now, when I'm raising Nadia, I have to be sure that what I'm doing is Islamic. When I was a girl the only alternative was new, and was considered a shame, like wearing sleeveless dresses. My parents still talked about things being permitted [halal] and forbidden [haram]. We weren't allowed to have friendships between men and women. So when my brother's friends, my older brother's friends would come to the house, I would answer the door, because I was just a little girl, but then when we saw who it was I had to make sure that my older sisters had all gone to the back part of the house so they wouldn't be out with these boys. That was the only way.[31]

Her ambivalence about westernized Egyptian and authentic Islamic cultures was expressed in the most fundamental way, by referring to bodily function, disposition, and display. Gender segregation, clothing, hygiene, fasting and prostration are the outward and visible signs of a socially unobjectified Islam that was “the only way.” On one level, her story distinguishes sharply between the public domain of the school (“my country was trying to practice European education and European tarbiya, thinking this might be the better way to do it”) and the private domain of the home (“Islamic education was something obvious. You did it because it was the only way to raise children”). But on another level it invokes the Europeanization that has penetrated quite literally into the most intimate parts of the home. The ambiguity persists in that her own family's standards of dress were contradicted by her teacher, a public functionary who counseled modest dress despite her representing a “European tarbiya.” Changes and conflicts penetrate the public and private spheres indiscriminately and inconsistently.

But clearly the practical assimilation of everyday adab precedes the doctrinal formulations of religion both in the daily activities of the family and in the mind of the child, whose first exposure to life as a Muslim is within the family. Samia's story illustrates in both empirical and in ideal terms the primary importance of parental practices, and the child's imitation, taqlid, in religious socialization. When I asked, she denied that her own daughter Nadia ever asked her specific questions about Islam, because it was such a natural part of the home environment: “This development in her was so natural, it was just like getting tall. Everything was so normal to her, that I never remember discussing anything with her in order to convince her to do something.” [32]

Taqlid, Egyptians say, is the most important agent of religious education in the early years of childhood. Before the age of seven or so, they make little effort to teach children about religious duties or practices; children are portrayed as naturally taking on the habits of their parents.

And of course the children imitate, so that when they see the parents doing prayers, the child will put something over her head and join in naturally. And at the same time you'll be teaching the child right from wrong, and things that are allowed and things that are prohibited. Like sometimes in America you'll make a small pig, as a toy, for example, or have a little pig in a story. But here pigs are forbidden [haram], pigs are dirty, so to pigs you say “ixxs!” We say fil [elephant] instead. I remember once I was telling Nadia a story that I had heard on the radio when I was a child, about an elephant, a frog, and two pigeons. Now, the story goes that the elephant was very cruel, and was destroying the nest of the pigeons, and saying, Oh, I'm going to crush and destroy this nest and destroy you both! But the pigeons escaped, and along with the frog they planned to make revenge. The frog would distract the elephant, and then the two pigeons would come over and peck out both its eyes. But when I got to this part, Nadia screamed and said, “la! la! fil halal! fil halal!” [No, no! Elephants are OK!] So I had to change the end of the story so that the elephant apologized for destroying the pigeon's nest, and in the end the pigeons and the frog forgave him, and Nadia said to me, “ aywa, fil hilw!” [Yeah, elephants are sweet]. We say fil, or we say qutt [cat], because qutt is all right, but kalb [dog], we never use kalb because it's ixxs like the pig. When the child sees a dog in the street, then, they shy away, because they know the dog is haram. So all these things, like knowing what's haram and what's halal, and imitating and prayer, these things are just like learning to walk, it's all learning matter-of-fact, like learning to walk.[33]

“I remember during Ramadan,” another Egyptian writer recalls, “that I would try to fast, my sister and I, in imitation of the grownups, but the truth is that we couldn't hold out for long because we were so young at that time.” [34] Children begin to practice fasting in earnest beginning at age nine or ten, usually for a few days at first, then adding more each year until the age of twelve. For children whose parents also fast on Mondays and Thursdays during the months of Sha‘ban and Ragab, the two months before Ramadan, there is extra practice, but “whether children fast at all depends on whether their parents do; some children just never learn to do it.” [35] One Egyptian communist told me that he was having to take care of his four children alone for the first time, during Ramadan 1409 (1989), since his wife was on the ‘umra in Saudi Arabia. He fretted that he was having to be extra careful around the kids now, since the oldest one, at age twelve, was fasting for the first time that year, and he didn't want the boy to know that his father didn't fast. “I think he knows anyway,” he added, shaking his head.[36]

Theoretically, parental influence operates through two separate channels, al-wiratha, “heredity,” and al-tarbiya, “upbringing.” With respect to the former, educated Egyptians believe that the child's inborn nature as a moral being has two sources. The first is its status as a human created by God.

Every child is born ‘ala fitra. There's a famous saying [hadith] of our Prophet—God's peace and blessings upon him—where he says that every child is born ‘ala fitra, with a certain nature, a certain essence, and that essence is Islam. Later, it's the parents that make it Jewish or Christian, or whatever. If the mother is well educated—Islamically, I mean, not in the university—then she's picking up the child and saying “In the name of God” [bismillah], and “thank God” [subhan allah], and when the child burps she'll say “praise be to God” [al-hamdu li-llah], and if it coughs, “I take refuge in God” [a‘uzu bi-llah]. And so the first words that the child hears are about Allah, and Allah is one of the first words the child learns to pronounce, along with mama and baba. And actually, you know that the first words that are supposed to be pronounced into the child's ear after it's born is the first part of the call to prayer [izan]: “God is great, God is great, there is no God but God!” [allahu akbar, allahu akbar, la ilaha illa-llah!]—but very softly, not loud! [“Not through a loudspeaker?” I asked jokingly. “No, not through a loudspeaker!” she laughed].[37]

The second innate source of children's moral character is the unique moral character of the parents, at least part of which is transmitted hereditarily to children.[38] This theme is a favorite of religious writers who encourage young people to select their mates on the basis of personal morality, manners, and knowledge of Islamic duties. The advice, according to these writers, is derived not from the science of genetics, but from the traditionally attested behavior (sunna) of the Prophet, which has been corroborated only recently by modern research in biology and psychology. The most widely cited hadith to this effect is the saying of the Prophet, “Choose for your sperm, for blood will tell.” [39]

This selection that the Messenger of Islam (God's peace and blessings upon him) addressed, numbers among the greatest scientific truths and educational theories of the modern age…for the science of heredity demonstrates that the child takes on the qualities of his parents, moral, physical, and intellectual, from birth.…And when sound hereditary factors are combined in the child with superior upbringing, the child attains the summit of religion and morals, and is exemplary in strength and virtue, well-behaved and noble.[40]

In addition to inherited factors, character is influenced by all the social practices that fall under the heading “ tarbiya.” The word tarbiya is derived from the causative form of the Arabic root rbw (to make or let grow, to raise, rear, bring up, teach, instruct, or breed). Tarbiya differs from ta‘lim because “ ta‘lim just means education, teaching people knowledge. But tarbiya includes upbringing, and raising people to have values and adab. Ta‘lim is included within the meaning of tarbiya.[41] Once the child is born, mothers and fathers bear different types of responsibility toward it, based largely on the child's age. Karim Shafik, a young father in his early thirties, worked in the creative department of an Islamic publishing house near Samia. When I asked him if he used any of the material his company produced in raising his own children, he told me,

My oldest child is only five years old. And I really believe in the division of the child's life into three stages. During the first seven years, the child needs to be free to explore, to look at things and try things without any restrictions. If I gave them things like this, they might be interested in them, and they might not be, but I wouldn't be able to force them on them. During the second seven years, though, that's the time when you start to teach the child right from wrong, and correct from incorrect, and to discipline them and start to get them to pray, and so on. It's really that during the first seven years, the child should be the child of his mother, and she should take care of him and develop an emotional attachment to him, and supervise him as he plays and explores. And that, of course, is why we use women to take care of children in the nursery schools. But during the second seven years the child needs to be the son of his father, and learn things from him in a structured and more serious way.[42]

This three-stage division of childhood derives from a saying of the Prophet, “Play with your son [for] seven [years], then discipline him [for] seven [years], then be his friend [for] seven [years], then give free rein to him.” [43] The hadith is widely quoted in literature on Islamic childrearing, and is recognized by educated people who, even if they don't cite the hadith itself, describe their own childrearing practices in its light. According to educational pundits the age from birth to seven years is “the stage of the cultivation of faith in the human psyche,” [44] before the child is required to master and perform the ‘ibadat (acts of worship). The mother's role in tarbiya is vital since she is the primary caregiver for younger children; it is the father's duty later to teach the child the Qur’an and, at age seven, begin to require him or her to do the daily prayers; this derives from another hadith, “Go through the prayers with your children [at] seven [years], then impose it upon them [at] ten, and separate them in their beds,” the latter referring to the segregation of male and female children before the onset of puberty.[45] “They should start [praying] by age seven,” an elementary school teacher told me, exemplifying this hadith,

That's when the parents should really teach the children—both boys and girls—to pray, and then after they're ten, they should do the prayers on their own, and if they don't, the parent can make them, compel them to do the prayers. But my own children, when they see me doing the prayers, they imitate me, and learn to do the same motions, at a much earlier age than seven, when they're just little. It's the parents' job to be a good model for their children, because then the children will learn by seeing with their eyes and doing the same thing.[46]

School as the House of God

But as we have seen, parental responsibility for the moral education of children is not exclusive, and has in many particulars been assumed by the state. The parents' or community's contribution to socialization has long been recognized as incomplete, as affirmed by the colonial conception of the school as a place designed “to equip the pupil with sufficient knowledge to take care of his own interests in his own station of life.” And since “the school-centered authority of the nation- state” [47] in Egypt revolves around a nucleus of ideas including that of Islamic legitimacy, the school becomes the first, and in some ways the primary, public institution “in which the encounter with God is socially organized and prearranged.”

When I asked an elementary school teacher why schools teach Islam, when that should be the parent's responsibility, she immediately repeated the reasoning of earlier educational theorists who equated religious study with hygiene and civics:

It's a basic subject, like science or English or anything else. Of course it's the responsibility of the parents to teach the kids the most basic things about Islam, like how to pray, and this is right, and this is wrong, and to do this, and not to do that. But beyond that, the school teaches them about it, because not all parents, not all families, can do this, or know enough themselves about the religion.[48]

Apart from the rather general aim of teaching children right from wrong, educational planners in Egypt have more specific political goals for religious study in primary schools, because “the Primary stage is the basic framework for the formation of the personality and ideas of young people [al-shabab], and we need more than anything else to strengthen this framework through true religious education which fortifies them against surges of extremism [al-tatarruf] and epidemic intellectual trends.” [49] As part of the continuing functionalization of the religious tradition, Islamic curricula from the primary level on up have been targeted, since the mid-1980s, at reducing young people's susceptibility to “political Islam,” another shorthand term for the oppositional aspect of the Islamic Trend.

It is here that matters become more complicated, for although there is, in theory, something like a unified curriculum (or at least a single set of approved textbooks), the country had, in the late 1980s, five different kinds of primary schools. Apart from the schools of the foreign communities (where a few Egyptian children attend along with the children of German, British, French, and American expatriates), all satisfy the curriculum requirements of the Ministry of Education, and lead to the conferral of the primary certificate after the fifth or sixth grade.[50] Three types of schools are administered by government agencies: general primary schools are administered by the Ministry of Education, as are the relatively new “experimental language schools,” which teach some subjects in Arabic and others (usually math and science) in a foreign language, generally English or French. Al-Azhar maintains its own system of primary, preparatory, and secondary schools, which feed students into al-Azhar University.[51] Experimental language schools enroll only a tiny number of Egyptian students: in 1986, fewer than twenty-four thousand at all educational levels from the primary through secondary grades. Significantly, the al-Azhar system has continued to expand more rapidly than the general primary system during President Husni Mubarak's tenure in office; the number of al-Azhar primary institutes increased by 85 percent, and the number of students by 125 percent, in the six years after Sadat's death.

Enrollment in primary education is extensive but not universal in Egypt. The Egyptian Fertility Survey, based on information collected between 1976 and 1979, indicated that 75 percent of Egyptian children (63 percent of girls and 88 percent of boys) of primary school age were actually enrolled in school. Between 1976 and 1986, the population between ages five and fourteen increased by almost a third, while the number of pupils enrolled in primary schools increased by nearly half due to an energetic program of school-building and promotion. Unfortunately, the rate of increase in the number of students has been nearly double the rate of increase in the number of schools and classrooms, leading to a steady increase in average class size and the institution of split shifts in schools around the country. The government has claimed, dubiously, that over 96 percent of eligible students are enrolled in primary school.[52] Most studies show wide disparities in enrollment between boys and girls, between urban and rural areas, and between Upper and Lower Egypt.

Finally, there are private schools. Unfortunately, statistics are not published regularly on Egypt's more than sixteen hundred private schools, which are under the nominal supervision of the Ministry of Education. Often criticized for their high costs and occasionally nontraditional curricula (some private schools offer subjects like horseback riding or Montessori-type programs),[53] private schools are popular with Egyptian families who can afford to pay for a higher quality of education than that available at most public schools. Property owners, businessmen, military officers, and government officials are particularly likely to enroll their children in private schools, and even minor public sector employees will make extra sacrifices to scrape together tuition money. Charging tuition ranging from a few hundred to a few thousand pounds per year, private primary schools in Egypt are often language schools, offering part of their curricula exclusively in foreign languages, like the government's experimental language schools. Some of them also offer costly training that public institutions cannot afford, like computer literacy courses from very early grades. Though private schools follow the Ministry of Education's curriculum, administer standard tests, and are regularly inspected by governorate-level educational bureaucrats, they are exempt from the public school's requirement that they hire only members of the teacher's union, that is, people with degrees in education. Many private school teachers are only secondary school graduates, or have university degrees from science, arts, or commerce faculties.

The Nasr Language School

The history of the school represents a routinization of institutional charisma. Historically, and from the perspective of social planners, the school is a unique tool for the achievement of social equilibrium, political progress, and prosperity. But from the perspective of its clients, it is either an important status granting institution or an unremarkable and sometimes unavoidable staple of the life cycle. Because local ministerial oversight and the worldwide culture of schooling both limit the range of variation, the reestablishment of a tradition of private schooling has done little structurally to differentiate the public from the private school, either in Egypt or anywhere else. The differences between public and private sector institutions in Egypt lie primarily in funding level, while the differences between individual institutions depend upon the background, energy, and commitment of owners, principals, and staff. Their gatekeeping function ensures that a single accepted model of education characterizes both public and private schools. But private schools have a marginal advantage over public in preparing students for success on state examinations and in private sector hiring. In an ironic twist stemming from the fiscal and logistical problems of extending state primary education universally, private sector efforts have gained back the prestige that state schools once enjoyed over unstandardized, unlicensed kuttabs.

The Nasr Language School in the eastern suburb of Masr al-Gadida occupies a three-story 1940s-vintage villa at the intersection of two quiet, tree-lined streets, across from a tiny bookstore and a Mercedes-Benz repair shop. In 1988–89, Nasr was owned by Mme. Hala Sharif, the tall, elegant, chain-smoking wife of a senior official in the Ministry of Defense. She had inherited the property from her father but had never lived there, so when, in the mid-1970s, her husband began traveling outside of Egypt as a military attaché, she rented the villa on a long-term lease to a man she assumed was planning to live there himself. After returning to Egypt in 1986, she found that the renter had turned the building into a private primary school, and when the lease expired she faced the choice of buying the school from him, or moving him out entirely and facing the expense of reconverting the villa into a residence. Though she had never run a school, she did have some business experience, and decided to make a go of it.

Like the owner of a private company, the principal of an Egyptian private school is its absolute master, answerable only to the inspectors who visit from the Ministry of Education to check the books and year- end grade sheets. The teachers at Nasr, without degrees in education, and thus not eligible to join the national Teachers Union, were employed entirely at her discretion, a fact that was to cause a great deal of trouble some months after my first visit. Two weeks before the 1989–90 school year was to start, Mme. Hala, tired of being a school principal and contemplating a move overseas, sold the school to a pious electrical engineer, who summarily fired all of the teachers because the school was an English language school and none of the teachers had degrees in English. Though still collecting their pay—the younger teachers made between £E 70 and £E 150 ($28 to $60) a month—until new teachers could be hired, the former staff were eligible for none of the social security benefits available through membership in the Teachers Union, and feared that they would be without any employment for the coming year. The new owner himself had no previous school administration experience but was intensely interested in education and had spent the previous few years studying the subject in his spare time.

The facility he bought worked well enough. While Mme. Hala owned the school, sun porches and bedrooms had been converted into classroom space. The sitting room was now the principal's office and the wide hallway at the foot of the staircase provided display space for children's artwork. A former walled garden now served as a dusty playground and assembly yard where children began the school day with a civic ritual imported a century ago by the British: physical education in the form of military drill.[54] Each morning the age- and size-graded ranks of children marched in place while saluting the flag and singing a shrill version of the national anthem, “My Country,” followed by a pledge of allegiance and the rhythmic chanting of “Gum-huriyya—Masr al-Arabiyya! Gum-huriyya—Masr al-Arabiyya!” (A-rab Repub-lic of E—gypt!)

For most grades, religion was taught every other day, alternating with Arabic. Mme. Mona Hamdi taught the fifth, third, and second grade religion classes. In her mid-forties, she was one of the older Muslim teachers, and the only one who did not cover her hair, which she wore in a short permanent. Her small fifth grade class—thirteen girls and two boys—met in a tiny room built from a converted porch, with a green corrugated fiberglass roof. The space was separated from the large fourth grade class next door only by a row of rust-colored wooden shutters. There was room for ten low two-pupil desks arranged one behind the other on either side of an aisle only slightly more than a foot wide. Strips of wallpaper with drawings of wide-eyed children and posters made from newspaper clippings about the president shared the walls with Arabic translations of Disney comic books suspended by the crease over strings tacked into the plaster. Behind the teacher's desk a poster diagrammed the heart in red and blue magic marker; a section of wall between two sets of shutters bore a carefully hand-drawn map of Egypt in black, and some posters illustrating simple English sentences: “What is this for?” “It is for sugar.”

I first visited Nasr in Ramadan 1409 (April 1989), and the students were already familiar with the material. Some of the children had memorized their entire books in preparation for year-end examinations. Teachers spent class time going back over material that had been learned, having children read aloud, either alone or in unison, correcting their pronunciation, asking questions and expounding upon points raised in the lesson. Mme. Mona talked to the children about Ramadan. She followed the outline of the book, but added points, freestyle, as they occurred to her: Ramadan is the month in which the Qur’an descended from heaven, but the Qur’an was written down only later, during the time of the Caliph ‘Uthman, although the number of daily prayers had been fixed by the Prophet Muhammad after his journey through the seven heavens.

“Who has to fast during Ramadan?” she asked suddenly. Students shot their hands up and clamored to answer. For some of them, this was the first year during which they themselves were fasting. A girl rose and replied that the sick do not need to fast, nor do travelers. Mme. Mona nodded, adding rapidly that pregnant women and the insane do not fast either, and asking the class, “What are the pillars of Islam?” After another student replied, she had the entire class repeat them again in unison. “Who can tell me about the zakat? ”Another girl stood and said that it is money paid by all Muslims for the support of the poor and the needy, the collectors of the alms themselves and for recent and potential converts to Islam, for the freeing of slaves, for aiding debtors and those who do good works for God and country, and for indigent travelers. Mme. Mona reminded students about the percentage due on different categories of property, and that the money was due before the celebration of the ‘Id al-Fitr, otherwise it is not considered zakat.

At the teacher's command, the class stood and read from the textbook Qur’anic sura 78, or “The good news,” forty beautifully rhyming verses on the structure of creation, earth, hell, and heaven; the afterlife's reward for the faithful and the horrible fate of those who do not fear God but instead argue vainly against the notion of an eventual resurrection and judgment. After the reading Mme. Mona talked about al-hisab (the accounting or reckoning of deeds) and al-jiza’ (God's recompense to humans based on their actions). Qur’an readings were performed without tajwid (rhythmic cantillation), consistent with the modern practice of “reading without the rocking, and in a very simple manner” (see p. 69). In the fourth grade class, two or three of the boys rocked slightly when reading the Qur’an, a skill acquired either at home or from extracurricular study at a mosque or kuttab.

During the next recitation, this one from the text itself, the students stood individually to read, the teacher stopping them every few words to explain a difficult vocabulary item, expound on the point being made, or recapitulate the text. Well-worn books had passages underlined and extra voweling marks added by the children themselves, although well over half the words were already at least partially voweled (written and printed Arabic consists of consonants only, with voweling diacritics above and below the letters customarily added only in Qur’anic and other texts where ambiguity cannot be allowed). Some students in the second grade class were using textbook editions from previous years, hand-me-downs from older brothers and sisters; this can make life difficult for the student who is told to turn to page 40 and read the story of Isma‘il, only to find that in his copy the story begins on page 54. (Students are not alone in recycling books; the government does the same, removing the covers for reuse—the cover of my copy of the seventh grade religious studies textbook was the inside-out cover of a 1984 vocational crafts workbook—and sending the texts themselves off for use in the Sudan.)

During readings, Mme. Mona corrected mistakes in voweling only. Although education in Egypt is supposedly conducted in fusha (Modern Standard Arabic, the formal descendant of the Qur’an's classical Arabic), there are few Egyptians, even adults, who can consistently avoid colloquial pronunciation when reading aloud. Even when reciting the Qur’an, for example, consonants retain their colloquial pronunciations when there are equivalent words in local dialect, so jism (body) is gism and dhanb (sin) is zanb. With the letter qaf in words such as Qur’an, qal (he said), iqra’ (recite) or khalaqa (he created), which are important and often repeated in the shorter suras that children learn early, pronunciation usually retains its classical value when the Qur’an is read or recited, but pronunciation is inconsistent otherwise, sometimes shifting to a glottal stop in reading from the textbook proper. Perhaps one student in ten uses the classical pronunciation most of the time when reading aloud. In general, girls are far more fluent readers than boys in the same class.

About halfway through the text, the squawk of a loudspeaker on a nearby building broke into the lesson with the noon call to prayer. The fifth grade classroom was generally quite noisy, both because of the large fourth grade class next door, muted only by the wooden shutters, and from the noise of the younger children from the kindergarten playing out in the yard on the other side. But the call to prayer disrupted work entirely, and the class sat quietly, waiting for it to end. Mme. Mona tapped her foot softly. One girl in the front row held her hands out close in front of her with palms upward just below the chin (as if cradling a small open book), in an attitude of prayer, but after a little while she looked about surreptitiously and, noticing that none of her classmates was doing likewise, put her hands back in her lap. The class endured the idhan with the same resigned patience of teachers and students waiting for the end to the principal's squawk-box announcements in an American homeroom. Mme. Mona made no attempt to encourage her students actually to heed the call to prayer, although all of them were old enough to be compelled. (She could not have led the prayers herself in any case, as, ironically, the male children in the room would have been entitled to that duty before her. At some schools, provision is made for daily prayer, with an interior courtyard doubling as a play yard—complete with basketball hoops—and as a misalla, an open place for prayer. One section of the inner wall might be lined with porcelain sinks and faucets for performing the ablution (wudu’), and used also by school custodians for water for mopping floors.)

The reading resumed shortly, and when it was done Mme. Mona instructed her class to turn to page 78 of their texts and read aloud the story of the prophet Joseph, which lasted until the end of the period. During this reading the teacher was getting tired. It was after noon during the first week of Ramadan, when people were still struggling to adjust to the new schedule. She took her seat after standing up for most of the class period, propping her left elbow on the scarred green desk and resting her cheek in the palm of her hand, looking bored. From this position she continued asking questions, instructing the readers when to switch, correcting pronunciation. By 12:15 the pupils were getting restless and impatient for the class to end. One of the girls at the desk in front of me kept checking the next page in the book to see when the story would be over.

Children in the lower grades were more boisterous, due in part to their age and to the larger size of the second, third, and fourth grade classes, and in part to the fact that some of the fifth-graders were tired from fasting for the first time. In Mme. Mona's second grade class, the children competed with each other for who could shout the Qur’an louder during collective readings, forcing a teacher from the adjoining room to come in and complain about the volume. Children jumped to their feet with their arms raised, yelling (in English), “Miss! Miss! Miss!” when she asked a question. The passing of notes earned one student a stern rebuke, “‘eeb!” (shame!); another got his ear twisted for laughing, and a third prompted the exasperated Mme. Mona to scold, “haza hissa-ddin!” (This is a religion class!) In the meantime, she quizzed them on the relatives of the Prophet Muhammad and they read the story of Isma‘il out loud.

Students are taught, in religion class as elsewhere, to memorize and to perform. As in American classrooms, the better students are keenly competitive when it comes to currying the teacher's favor and answering questions, and the poorer students try to avoid being chosen to read, recite, or answer. Ahmad, one of the brighter students in Mme. Fayza's large fourth grade class was particularly energetic; after he had shouted out the answers to three of the teacher's last four questions, she called on Hisham, the student sitting in the row behind him to answer the next one, about how many rak‘as (repetitions of the ritual cycle of body movement and recitation) occur in each of the five daily prayers. When Hisham hesitated and began stammering, Ahmad turned half-way around in his seat and crouched down with his face almost resting on Hisham's desk, whispering the answer insistently to his classmate (“the fajr has two, the dhuhr has four…”) and fidgeting in an effort to contain his frustration at not being able to continue displaying publicly his mastery of the material.

Islam Outside the Religion Class

The shape of the formal religion curriculum does not exhaust the religious content of the school day. Obviously the amount of religion to which students are exposed at school depends on the nature of the school and the personality of the teacher, who can encourage or discourage religious expression on the part of pupils. The first grade religion teacher at Nasr, for example, insisted that pupils begin all of their answers to questions with the basmallah, “In the Name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate,” a practice ignored by the other instructors (at some schools, pupils are taught to begin all written communication, even telephone messages, with the basmallah). On my second visit to Nasr, the arts and crafts teacher, Mme. Fatima, started talking to me about my studies, and we spent a little while talking about which mosques I had visited. Suddenly a dreamy look came across her face and she beckoned me to lean down toward her, whispering in my ear, “Sayyida Nefisa!” She closed her eyes and nodded. “When I'm not feeling well, I go to Sayyida Nefisa.” Then she asked if I had been to the mosque of al-Rifa‘i (a large, airy structure rebuilt near the beginning of this century, al-Rifa‘i is the final resting place of the founder of an important Sufi order and, coincidentally, of the late King Faruq and his family, and Muhammad Reza Pahlavi, the last shah of Iran). When I said I had, she put her left hand to her breast and drew in a deep breath to indicate the emotional power of the place. A muhaggaba (a woman who wears modest Islamic dress) in her early fifties, Mme. Fatima's piety emerged in the activities of her pupils. Religious themes often suffuse her students' art projects, which hang on bulletin boards in the first- floor hallway: a watercolor painting of six or seven men praying in a mosque; several paintings prominently featuring mosques and minarets (by themselves or in the context of other Egyptian landmarks); paintings of the ‘arusa al-mawlid—a kind of sugar doll that has for centuries been distributed to Egyptian children at the time of the Prophet's birthday—posted outside the front door of the school; a tiny weaving spelling “Allah” in light blue yarn on a background of yellow, red, and green; a sheet of paper with pistachio-nut shells glued to it to spell “Allahu akbar” (God is great); and another spelling just “Allah,” with shells individually wrapped in aluminum foil, surrounded by four leaf-shaped decorations from the same material. Posted high on the wall of the second grade classroom, an art-class poster depicted a sturdy tree with its five branches labeled for the “qawa‘id al-islam al-khamis” (the five foundations of Islam).[55]

Islam does not respect disciplinary boundaries. It enters the curriculum in areas entirely removed from questions of language or history. In primary school science texts, sections dealing with the animal kingdom treat the close fit between animals and their surroundings implicitly as the result of design rather than evolution. The authors place science both in a religious context, where scientific activity reveals and fulfills God's design (since He gave senses and reason to human beings), and in a nationalistic context in which science, as a force for economic and political progress, helps elevate the status of its Arab practitioners. The introduction to the 1988–89 sixth grade text Science, for experimental language schools (written in English by Egyptians for the Ministry of Education) reads in part,

We have also cared for a number of educational targets as to exel [sic]the role of the scientists in serving science and specifically the arab scientists. We also study how to take care of the organs of sensation and the nervous system, and how to keep the whole body healthy. Then we show that the progress, un [sic] man's life and in the discovery of the secrets of this universe, is a gift of God. This makes us praise and glorify the creator. Finally, the success of this programme in schools depends on the teacher's constructive role, and his sincere efforts to help this, and future generations, in their search for knowledge. May God grant success.

Other primary school materials, like reading books, have long contained Qur’anic verses and prophetic sayings. Under its current head, Husayn Kamal Baha’al-Din, the Ministry of Education has been seen as secularizing the curriculum by reviewing the religious content of general education textbooks. But such reviews are of long standing. In late March 1989, for example, press reports began to circulate that the Ministry of Education had ordered the omission of certain verses and traditions from reading books. The resulting outcry from some sectors of the religious and educational establishments, concerned that the connection between the Arabic language and its classical roots was being breached, forced Dr. Ahmad Fathy Surur, then minister of education,[56] to convene hastily a “High Islamic Commission” to consult on the inclusion of Islamic materials in reading texts at all levels. Led by Egypt's mufti, or chief religious official, Dr. Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi,[57] along with the former minister of religious endowments, the general counsel of the Arabic Language Academy, the director of the Office for the Preservation of the Glorious Qur’an at al-Azhar, and others, this commission was to aid “students at all levels with the acquisition of linguistic proficiency, and the deepening of values and morals and sound perspectives based on the choice of verses and traditions that help plant commendable values without being tied to doctrines and rituals.” [58] After several weeks, the mufti and the minister of education appeared on television to explain and justify the proposal. The verses and traditions in question were merely to be moved to the religion books, explained the Mufti, leaving in the reading books only those “pointing to values shared by all religions, such as honesty, for example.” In reaction, the Islamic press linked the proposed changes to the mufti's acknowledged efforts to combat extremism in the schools through curriculum changes, and speculated about the source and timing of the decision to remove some Islamic material from reading texts:

We haven't heard that the doctrinal and ritual verses in the books under study—from the viewpoint of their safety—have led to grievous accidents or deaths or the spread of epidemics and diseases, or even factional strife. But it appears that [outside] agencies bent on interference [have chosen] this of all times to set this process in motion. It's obvious that these are the same agencies that fund and direct notions of educational procedure at the present time, and their domestic allies. A short time ago we heard a high official laud an American aid foundation which furnished the government in recent years with school buildings, opening a [new] school every day. This is the same foundation that funds elementary education programs and provides them with maps carrying the name of the Zionist Entity [Israel]. Perhaps they and other agencies have begun to disburse money for schoolbooks and curriculum preparation…having as a result that this foundation could specify conditions on the content of these books, and naturally these specifications wouldn't be Islamic.[59]

Continuing to criticize the government books, al-Sha‘b, the organ of the Socialist Workers Party, and one of the major outlets for the ideas of the Muslim Brotherhood, printed a photograph of one of the illustrations in the second grade reading textbook, showing a male schoolteacher acting as the imam of his class during prayer. Standing in the second position of the first rak‘a of prayer (in which the individual recites selections from the Qur’an, with head bowed and hands clasped at the waist), the imam and his class were depicted with their left hands covering their right, when in truth the right hands should be covering the left. The drawing thus inverted a gesture of prayer (probably the result of reversing one of the photographic negatives during the preparation of the books). Attributing the reversal to malice rather than mere incompetence, the paper charged that “the alleged curriculum development proclaimed by the Ministry of Education has turned into a mockery of legitimate doctrines and their violation; it's not development, but an organized plan to obliterate the Islamic nature of our society.” [60]

Incidents like this one demonstrate the extent to which the public school system is identified by Egyptians—including the Islamic opposition—as the primary public force in the reinforcement and transmission of Islamic culture. It eclipses all other institutions, programs, and facilities, including the mosque, the home, radio and television broadcasting, and print in the importance attributed to it as a publicly directed Islamizing force. There are two reasons for this. First, it is the only institution in which the participation of all citizens is compelled by law. Although the literacy rate in Egypt is below 50 percent and enrollment is by no means universal—in 1979, 28 percent of males and 61 percent of females between twenty and twenty-four years of age had never been enrolled in school at all—the school still represents the most widely utilized public service in the country, consuming an enormous portion of the government's annual budget. Having a captive audience, the school represents an ideal laboratory for social engineering, particularly if the knowledge imparted to children is taken home to their families.[61] But it also represents, in itself, the nation and the idea of national social, economic, and technical progress. Although the Ministry of Education operates with some independence from—and with some influence over—the religious ministries and the official religious elite, it is charged with a religious function and by that token is open to criticism and to political influence by groups who feel the focus of its religious curricula is inappropriate. Few would have the ministry relinquish its role as a purveyor of Islam. Its influence and its influenceability are too valuable.

Second, schooling is invested with great personal emotion by parents and students. As one of the primary rationers of social status, schools are sorting machines that separate individuals into socially validated status categories based on the type of school certificate earned. For those lower in the social scale, schooling represents a genuine and highly valued means of upward mobility. Umm Samira, the cleaning woman who worked in my apartment, was terribly anxious and preoccupied on the final day of her daughter's preparatory school exams because the subject was the one that she was dreading most: science. She told me how much she wanted Samira to get good marks on the tests so that she could get into general secondary school, because with a high school diploma she could “do anything, work in a bank, or an office, ” whereas with a diblum (preparatory certificate) only, the best she could hope for would be “shughl basit bi-murattab basit” (simple work for simple pay). If she passed the high school test after three years, her mother concluded, she could go on to university and become a doctor, a businessperson, or anything else: “That's the way up.” [62] In the end, Samira's scores were not high enough to qualify her for general secondary school, and since her family was unable to afford a private tutor (widely assumed to be indispensable for success on examinations), it was unlikely that she would be able to pass the tests on a second try. Her score was good enough, however, to enroll her in one of the commercial institutes that would teach typing, business arithmetic, and supplementary skills that would qualify Samira to work, for example, as a shop-girl at a salary of £E 50/month (about $20).

The motivation to acquire education as a mark of status, even independent of actual financial rewards, invests subjects with a visceral importance they would not otherwise have. It leads to constant reexamination and criticism of curricula from all sides, since everyone has an interest in the operation of status-conferring institutions. On the one hand, the religion curriculum is touted by the government as a “basic subject” that must be mastered by all in an attempt to preserve, if not raise, the general moral level of society. On the other hand, it is chided from all positions on the political spectrum as being incomplete, intentionally corrupting, or vacuous. Wafa’i Isma‘il, a recent American University in Cairo graduate whose family supports the Wafd, an opposition party associated historically with landowners and businessmen, dismissed the entire religion program in the schools as hollow.

They [religion classes] didn't affect me at all. Not one bit. It's just another subject that you learn for the test and then forget afterward. Besides, nobody listens to anything the government says. The NDP [National Democratic Party] has to make everybody think that it's so big and powerful and has so much support, but really it's nothing.…The books they give you in school, they don't say anything. It's like, who sends the light in the morning? It's God. Really nothing.

When I asked him why, if nobody listens to what the government says, they spend so much time and effort saying it, he waved his hand and sneered, “Because, I mean, they're aiming at people who don't know anything.” [63] This is, of course, precisely the point. Even for people who do “know something,” the most useful communication is that whose source is forgotten, so that it becomes something one feels one has always known, something it is pointless, trite, and annoying to restate. Far from being unaffected by the religious curricula of the schools he attended, Wafa’i absorbed an enormous amount from them, but regards the information either as false, as self-evident, or as misdirected. “Learning,” according to Bourdieu, “is an irreversible process…and the habitus acquired at school conditions the level of reception and degree of assimilation of the messages produced and diffused by the culture industry.” [64] The information and mental habits developed during the school career render students influenceable at subsequent stages in their lives, able to recognize and participate in the official discourses of Islam.

Reviving the Kuttab

The government's responsibility for religious education does not end at the back cover of the twelfth-grade religious studies textbook. Among other things, the Ministry of Education is charged by the Constitution and by Law no. 139 of 1981 with the inculcation of religion in Egypt's youth. In a country where Islam is the religion of the state, and Arabic its official language, this means that some special attention must be devoted to the Qur’an, the source of both. Proclaiming that “religious education is a basic subject in all educational stages,” and specifying the passing score in religion examinations, Law no. 139 requires the Ministry of Education to “organize periodic competitions for recital of the Holy Qur’an; and winners are to be given awards and incentives according to the system to be established by the Higher Council of Education.” [65] Various schemes for encouraging Qur’an memorization and recitation outside the classroom have been proposed, including the notion of reviving kuttabs. But the Ministry of Education has not been eager to involve itself in the construction of new kuttabs, instead searching for other ways to encourage and facilitate Qur’an memorization. In September 1989, ‘Atif ‘Amir, an Islamic education expert at the ministry, submitted a proposal detailing a “new, evolved approach to the work of the kuttabs, which were widespread not so long ago, and had positive effects on the educational process.”

The project would use existing Ministry of Education facilities, which are “the appropriate place for the study and memorization of the Glorious Qur’an.” Recommending that Qur’an programs be run during summer vacation, with volunteer teachers and students receiving small monthly fees, ‘Amir pointed out that “there exists within the Ministry the technical apparatus for the pursuit and supervision of the project in an advanced, scientific manner, since it is fully provided with the modern equipment and media for the inculcation of the Qur’an and its public recitation by audio-visual means.” [66] In sharp contrast to the historical drive to secularize kuttabs because of the allegedly harmful cognitive effects of reliance on memorization, plans such as this seek to revive the subject matter while altering the venue or the methodology of inculcation. The use of modern technology to pursue a traditional goal would allow the ministry to cater to the desires of the pious while avoiding criticism that its teaching techniques are outmoded.[67] Other intellectuals ignore the methodology and focus instead on the psychological and social benefits of Qur’an memorization, linking it with the domains of personal success and international economics rather than technology. In a newspaper interview, Dr. Rushdie Fakkar, an Egyptian professor of psychology at Muhammad V University in Morocco, attributed his success at the Sorbonne to having learned the Qur’an as a child in the small village of Karnak in Upper Egypt, crediting the linguistic skills he learned in the kuttab with the subsequent ease with which he picked up European languages. “Egypt is in need of an educational revolution,” he said, “and it's necessary that a system of kuttabs for the memorization of the Holy Qur’an returns to her, for our real crisis has to do with the poverty of education, and it must restore principles and substance to the child's mind in order [for the child] to become an Egyptian person able to compete in the twenty-first century.” [68] Invoking competition, development, and the future, such language recalls the Egyptian Second Five- Year Plan's linkage of individual and social achievement (see p. 86). But it approaches the problem differently, implying that the state's interventions are powerless without the revival of an institution that is emphatically not one of the achievements of the modern age.

In fact, the establishment of pre-school and after-school kuttabs and youth organizations has been one of the primary strategies used by the Ministry of Religious Endowments to revive Qur’an study. During the official Ramadan speeches in 1989 that marked Laylat al-Qadr, the anniversary of the descent of the Qur’an to the Prophet Muhammad, President Mubarak announced at the al-Ahmadi mosque in Tanta that he was earmarking one million Egyptian pounds for Qur’an memorization and study, an activity which, according to Muhammad ‘Ali Mahgub, the minister of religious endowments, “is the guardian of Youth against deviance and extremism” (al-‘asim li al-shabab min al-inhiraf wa al-tatarruf).[69] This money was targeted for the construction of new kuttabs in Egypt's smaller villages and cities, beginning in the governorates of Qalyubiya, Daqahliya, and Minufiya, an effort to which the popular preacher Shaykh Muhammad Mutawalli Sha‘rawi later pledged a million pounds.[70]

Clubs and Contests

Just a few days after the celebration in Tanta, Mahgub announced that he had authorized “a plan to revive and popularize kuttabs in every Egyptian Governorate,” placing the project under the supervision of the ministry's counselor for Qur’anic affairs, who was already leading activities designed to strengthen Islamic culture among Egyptian children. As the president of the Muslim Family Association and the Little Muslim Club (nadi al-muslim al-saghir), the counselor, Mr. Marzuq Hilal, helped direct the religious education of the latter organization's six thousand members. Founded for “the Islamic preparation of the little Muslim from many angles, the cultural, the social, and the educational,” the club published a monthly illustrated magazine, The Little Muslim, with articles on science, nature, history, geography, and literature as well as religious topics (proper Qur’an recitation; stories of the prophets; a column of fatawa, the judgments of a religious scholar responding to children's letters). It organized field trips to historic Islamic sites, and had an Islamic theater troupe that performed scenes from the life of Muhammad and from Islamic history. But the club's main activity was encouraging study of the Qur’an and hadith, “especially those which teach the child Islamic conduct”; it organized an annual Qur’an recitation competition, the prize total for which reached twenty-two thousand Egyptian pounds ($8,800) in 1988, and whose winners could compete in the annual competition sponsored by the Ministry of Religious Endowments during Ramadan, or the annual World Competition in Mecca.[71]

Created to draw attention to the virtues of soup mixes and candy, the lure of cash and the creeping thrill of competition and chance has made such contests (musabqa or musab’a) increasingly popular devices for attracting public attention and participation. Quite substantial prizes and sums of money can be involved. In late May 1989, for example, the Supreme Council for Population and Family Planning sponsored a contest on family planning information, which it advertised in the religious weekly al-Liwa’ al-islami and other government newspapers. Ads invited readers to answer five simple questions—including one concerning the divine sanction for family planning—to qualify for cash prizes ranging from £E 15 to £E 1000 (up to $400, several times the monthly salary of most public sector employees).[72] In the Ministry of Religious Endowments's annual Qur’an competition, the 339 prizewinners were granted all-expenses-paid pilgrimages to Mecca for the hajj or ‘umra pilgrimages, and cash prizes ranging from £E 200 to £E 1000, depending on how much of the Qur’an they had committed to memory.[73] Local and regional contests are held throughout the year on the occasion of national holidays. The previous February a seven-year-old Nubian boy had been honored by the governor of Aswan for his memorization of the entire Qur’an. His prize was the deed to an apartment worth £E 18,000, donated by the Construction Bank of Aswan.[74]

Social Service Agencies and Charitable Organizations

If these competitions treat the internalization of the Qur’an as a rare feat of personal enrichment, an embellishment of manners and of personal refinement, other institutions treat it as part of the social safety net, to be provided along with pension checks and low-cost medical treatment. Public and semipublic social service agencies and private charitable organizations are proliferating in Egypt, which now has as many registered Private Voluntary Associations as all other Arab countries combined.[75] Some of Cairo's larger private mosques in well-to-do areas, such as Anas Ibn Malik and Mustafa Mahmud, both in Muhandisin, have large and well-established social service agencies administered and funded privately (some also receive grants from foreign governments, both Muslim and non-Muslim, for specific programs). These might include free medical clinics for the poor, equipped with expensive high-technology diagnostic and treatment devices, adult literacy training programs, Qur’an memorization and religious study groups, youth programs, kindergartens, and other social services such as counseling, charitable distribution, and so on. During clinic hours scores of people, many of whom have traveled for hours on buses, come to take advantage of the services provided. Organized religious study programs, which take place in the evenings, are offered at a number of levels.

Less impressive public social service centers are heavily utilized as well, offering the distribution of social security payments to the elderly and disabled, maternal and child welfare, care for the aged, vocational training and family planning. The number of such multiple-service “social care societies” increased by over a third in the early 1980s, to nearly three thousand. While the average multipurpose public center only provides two or three of the programs mentioned above, some offer all of them, and more than three-quarters offer “cultural, education and religious services,” the category including Qur’an memorization. Almost 40 percent of the nearly six thousand single-purpose public centers specialize in cultural and religious outreach.[76]

Like other government buildings, public and ruling party–sponsored social service centers are coated inside and out with the signifiers of benevolent authority, heightening the irony of the statement such facilities make about the depth of the country's economic malaise and bureaucratic inertia. Huge images of the president in bold billboard colors compete with immense green handpainted signs advertising Qur’an memorization, family planning, child care, vocational education, and sports programs for youth, sanctioned with the seal of their Ministry of Social Services registration numbers. Glossy presidential photographs usher clients past gray rooms full of sewing machines or ping-pong games popping in time to the car horns outside. At the ruling National Democratic Party-sponsored Gam‘iyya al-Rahman li-ri‘aya al-usra (The Rahman Society for Family Care), near the Presidential Palace complex in downtown Cairo, the assistant director outlined the center's mission.

This is a lower middle-class and lower-class neighborhood, with a lot of children, and the parents often need help with the care and education of the kids, as well as being in need of some of our services themselves. So we have a nursery for children from 3–6 years of age; not so many during the summer—we've got thirty or forty here now—but during the year we may get 80 or 90 kids every day, in four different sessions. We try to teach them the alphabet, and the names of animals, and things like this, and also, for example, simple words in English, like the numbers, and animal names, just so they have a sense of sounds outside their own language. For the older children who are already in school, we have some other things to supplement their education, because often after several years in school they still can't read or write, because there are just too many children in each room and some of them get lost or ignored, and don't learn anything.

As for the workshop, there are lessons in sewing, and operation of some kinds of sewing machines, so that when they grow up and go to work in a factory, they'll know how to do this kind of thing. There's a family planning program, too, but the flow in and out of there isn't steady. Sometimes the people there will sit all day with nobody coming in, and then suddenly there will be five or six women coming in saying that they want to stop having children—they're twenty-five and already have four or five kids.

Now, the reason we have the Qur’an memorization program, is because we want these people to know about both this world and the next [ad-dinya wal-’akhir], so we bring in responsible people from the universities to teach them about religion. If there are Christian kids, we find someone to teach them about Christianity, but most of the children are Muslim. In this program, the students are mostly very young: from four or so all the way up to, maybe, fifteen. It's very important, because the love of religion brings the whole world together.[77]

The society's Qur’an program in the mosque next door used one of the scores of earnest, emaciated student shaykhs that al-Azhar sends out each summer to teach at the city's social service agencies as part of the university's summer outreach campaign.[78] An hour before midday prayers the shaykh gathered his students in the mosque (built around 1910, the assistant director joked with me, it was “older than America”) and distributed copies of the Qur’an from a small table next to the mosque's library. The library was actually a glass-domed bookcase full of dusty volumes on sunna and hadith leaning on the wall a few feet from the mihrab that marked the direction of Mecca. Each day the students memorized ten verses or a short chapter, reading from the Qur’an while the teacher recited the verses out loud several times. Responsible for committing the verses to memory at home that night, they were quizzed the following day, reciting the assigned section without looking at the text. As in traditional kuttabs, and very unlike their experience in school, children learned here the elements of tajwid, the proper cantillation of the text and other rituals surrounding al-tilawa (the public reading of the Qur’an). (Teaching these skills is also a goal of organizations like the Little Muslim Club, whose magazine occasionally publishes short articles on these topics.[79])

Models and Media

The term usually used in Arabic for learning to recite the word of God is tahfidh al-Qur’an, tahfidh being a verbal noun derived from the causative form of the verbal root meaning “to preserve, protect, guard, commit to memory.” The phrase thus means “inculcation of the Qur’an” rather than “memorization.” It is spoken and written of in the causative, so one does not generally memorize the Qur’an on one's own, one has it inculcated in one by others, as Muhammad had it inculcated in him by the angel Gabriel. In theory, the primary force behind this activity is the family, particularly the father, who has the traditional duty to teach his sons the Qur’an, or to send them to competent masters who can. The ideal that the family is the center of social and religious life is constantly invoked in the media, in political speeches, and at public events. During Ramadan 1409, for example, at the ceremonies marking the Ministry of Religious Endowments' annual Laylat al-Qadr[80] Qur’an recitation contest, a family of six from an eastern delta village was singled out for media attention because each one of them had memorized the entire Qur’an. Mahmud Mahdi, marveling at this unusual feat of family devotion, wrote in al-Ahram that

this family began their journey with the Glorious Qur’an twelve years ago, as the father, ‘Abd al-Ghaffar ‘Abd al-Khaliq al-Zalbani (42 years old) told me. He added that after he memorized [hafadha] the Qur’an he undertook inculcating it in his wife [qama bi-tahfidhihi li-zawjatihi], then the two of them participated in inculcating it in their four children, two twin boys and two twin girls, all of whom are members of the Little Muslim Club, which they frequent every Friday, and to which belongs the credit for encouraging their children in the memorization [hifdh] of the Qur’an.[81]

In this media celebration of the family, the path of the sacred book runs initially along the family's internal lines of authority, from husband to wife and from husband and wife together to the children. But then the autonomy of the family is ruptured symbolically along generational lines by a state-sponsored organization claiming partial credit for the children's accomplishments. Even in the midst of showcasing the self-sufficiency of a model family, the protective envelope of the home is opened to admit the benevolence and support of public institutions. No family is an island, the story says.

And in fact, life is not divided between analytically discrete scenes or sources of religious socialization. Parents and relatives, the school, the mosque, the social service agency, the Ministry of Religious Endowments, programming on television and radio, government and private youth organizations, publications aimed at children; all of these shower religious language on the child like a cascade of boxes tumbling off the top shelf of an overcrowded closet. Once the door is open the avalanche is inescapable. Public representations of model families and model children whose accomplishments are to be admired and emulated by their peers are a central feature of the complex environment of textbook and media Islam. These models of everyday uprightness and piety update the stories of Islamic history by placing ordinary citizens in the role of model personalities. During my fieldwork, Channel Two on Egyptian television had a short weekly program in which young children memorizing the Qur’an were asked about why they love studying it, and given the opportunity to recite some of what they have learned. One of the parents of a student at the Nasr Language School, a military officer in his forties, told me a story about one of the children he had seen on this program, explaining that religious education comes

in many forms. This past week I saw on television a little girl, only four years old, and she had memorized three parts [out of thirty] of the Qur’an. Three parts! But she was from a family that was a bit religious [mutadayyina shwayya], and she heard this all day, and listened to [cassette] tapes and the television, broadcasts of the Qur’an.[82]

Before her introduction either to the mosque or to the school as the official house of God, this little girl was introduced by her family to electronic mediations of the voice of God, and listening, was quite literally drawn into them to become a public image of the ideal child. What she would encounter upon entering school—as we will see in the next chapter—would be a further series of idealizations purveyed by textbooks: idealizations of herself, her family, and her nation.


1. Ana-Maria Rizzuto, M.D., The Birth of the Living God: A Psychoanalytic Study (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979), p. 8. [BACK]

2. See my “The Political Economy of Religious Commodities in Cairo,” American Anthropologist 97, 1 (March 1995), pp. 51–68; and “Signposts along the Road: Monumental Public Writing in Egypt,” Anthropology Today 11, 4 (1995), pp. 8–13. [BACK]

3. This phenomenon is also referred to, by its participants, as “al-sahwa al-islamiyya” (the Islamic awakening), and by its critics as “al-islam al-siyasi” (political Islam), among other labels. I prefer “Islamic Trend” as a relatively neutral term that captures both the political sense of the recent “Islamism,” which emphasizes political ideology, as well as the quiet but deepening spiritual engagement of large parts of the Egyptian population. [BACK]

4. See Andrea Rugh, “Reshaping Personal Relations in Egypt,” in Fundamentalisms and Society, vol. 2 of The Fundamentalism Project, ed. Martin Marty and R. Scott Appleby (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993), pp. 151–80; also Gehad Auda, “The “Normalization” of the Islamic Movement in Egypt from the 1970s to the Early 1990s,” in Accounting for Fundamentalisms, vol. 4 of The Fundamentalism Project, ed. Marty and Appleby (1994), pp. 374–412. [BACK]

5. Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (CAPMAS), Statistical Yearbook, Arab Republic of Egypt, 1988 (Cairo: CAPMAS, 1988), pp. 174–78. [BACK]

6. CAPMAS, Al-Ihsa’at al-thaqafiyya: Al-Idha‘a wal-sahafa 1983 (Cairo: CAPMAS, 1985), p. 28. I want to thank Sayyid Taha of CAPMAS for going out of his way to provide me with the unpublished information for 1986. [BACK]

7. Samia Mustafa al-Khashab, Al-Shabab wa al-tayyar al-islami fi al-mujtama‘ al-Misri al-mu‘asir: Dirasa Ijtima‘iyya midaniyya (Cairo: Dar al-thaqafa al-‘arabiyya, 1988). [BACK]

8. Gilles Kepel, Muslim Extremism in Egypt (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985), p. 22. [BACK]

9. For example, in the 1984 elections to the Egyptian People's Assembly, candidates supported by the Muslim Brotherhood won seven seats in an alliance with the Wafd Party, an alliance that captured a total of 65 of the 455 places in the Assembly. In the 1987 elections, the Brotherhood broke its alliance with the Wafd and instead ran its candidates with two smaller parties, the Liberal and the Socialist Workers Parties; Brotherhood candidates captured 35 of the 60 seats won by that coalition. Saad Eddin Ibrahim, “Taqdim,” in Nemat Guenena's Tandhim al-jihad: Hal huwa al-badil al-islami fi Misr? (Cairo: Dar al-huriyya, 1988), p. 16. Considering the fact that Egyptian elections are always fixed in favor of the ruling National Democratic Party, these results probably underestimate the strength of political sympathy for the Muslim Brotherhood and other representatives of the Islamic Trend. [BACK]

10. Michael Taussig, The Nervous System (London: Routledge, 1992), p. 126. [BACK]

11. Karl Marx, “The Grundrisse,” in The Marx-Engels Reader, ed. Robert C. Tucker (New York: Norton, 1978), p. 230. [BACK]

12. Bourdieu and Passeron, Reproduction in Education, p. 38. [BACK]

13. Lambert Kelabora, “Assumptions Underlying Religious Instruction in Indonesia,” Comparative Education 15 (1979), p. 333. [BACK]

14. Eickelman, Knowledge and Power in Morocco, p. 168 [BACK]

15. Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities (London: Verso, 1983), p. 39. [BACK]

16. Daniel Lerner, The Passing of Traditional Society (New York: The Free Press, 1964), p. 96. [BACK]

17. The “Protocols” are a famous series of anti-Semitic tracts with a tangled and horribly fascinating history; see Norman Cohn, Warrant for Genocide (Brown Judaic Studies 23) (Chico, Calif.: Scholar's Press, 1981). [BACK]

18. Walter Ong, Interfaces of the Word: Studies in the Evolution of Consciousness and Culture (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1977), p. 90. [BACK]

19. The concept is Walter Ong's, from his Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word (London: Methuen, 1982), p. 135. [BACK]

20. In addition to Messick's The Calligraphic State, see his “Legal Documents and the Concept of “Restricted Literacy” in a Traditional Society,” International Journal of the Sociology of Language, no. 42 (1974), pp. 41–52; and “The Mufti, the Text and the World: Legal Interpretation in Yemen,” Man, n.s., 21 (1986), pp. 102–19. [BACK]

21. Williams, Sociology of Culture, p. 111. [BACK]

22. Annabelle Sreberny-Mohammadi and Ali Mohammadi, Small Media, Big Revolution: Communication, Culture, and the Iranian Revolution (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1994). [BACK]

23. “Official reports on the Arabic broadcasts (Strictly Confidential),” item 7361, James Heyworth-Dunne Collection, Hoover Institution Archives, Stanford University. [BACK]

24. Lila Abu-Lughod, “Finding a Place for Islam: Egyptian Television Serials and the National Interest,” Public Culture 5 (1993), p. 500. [BACK]

25. Lila Abu-Lughod, Writing Women's Worlds (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993), p. 183. [BACK]

26. L. Abu-Lughod, “Finding a Place for Islam,” p. 495; “The Romance of Resistance: Tracing Transformations of Power through Bedouin Women,” American Ethnologist 17, 1 (1990), p. 52; Smadar Lavie, The Poetics of Military Occupation (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990), pp. 96, 169, 246, 295, 349, 350, 353. [BACK]

27. Williams, Sociology of Culture, pp. 99–100. [BACK]

28. Jean-François Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984), pp. 4–5. [BACK]

29. Williams, Sociology of Culture, pp. 102–3. [BACK]

30. None of these institutions has an imprimatur in the sense that the Roman Catholic Church does, but their reputation stands as legitimation for products issued under their supervision. However, academics who collect clandestinely produced Islamic material in Egypt tell me that the way to tell whether it is “hot,” i.e., likely to get the author arrested, is to check the end pages for the registration number for Dar al-Kutub, the national library. If it's not registered, it's been judged by its producers too controversial to bring to the attention of the state. [BACK]

31. Samia ‘Abd al-Rahman, interview, 26 July 1989, pp. 521–22. [BACK]

32. Samia ‘Abd al-Rahman, interview, 26 July 1989, p. 525. [BACK]

33. Samia ‘Abd al-Rahman, interview, 16 February 1990, pp. 282–83. [BACK]

34. Amina al-Sa‘id, al-Wafd, 7 April 1989, p. 6. [BACK]

35. Umm Samira, interview, 27 April 1989, p. 363. [BACK]

36. This conversation was particularly ironic as it took place in a bar on the last day of Ramadan, where he had had one of his Egyptian friends, a dual citizen with a Swiss passport, order an extra drink for him. Egyptians may not purchase alcohol during Ramadan, unless they can prove they're not Egyptian (p. 367). [BACK]

37. Samia ‘Abd al-Rahman, interview, 16 February 1989, pp. 281–82. Based on this hadith, some American Muslim converts “refer to themselves as reverts, arguing that every child is born a Muslim.” New York Times, 13 November 1990, p. A12. [BACK]

38. Ahmad Rabi‘ al-Hamid Khalaq Allah, Al-Fikar al-tarbawiy wa tatbiqatihi laday jama‘at al-ikhwan al-muslimin (Cairo: Maktaba Wahba, 1983), pp. 133–34. [BACK]

39. “Takhiru li-nutfikum, fa’inna al-‘araq dassas,” al-Liwa’ al-islami, no. 357, 24 November 1988, p. 17; ‘Abdallah Nasih ‘Alwan, Tarbiya al-awlad fi al-Islam (Cairo: Dar al-Islam, 1985), pp. 42–43. [BACK]

40. ‘Alwan, Tarbiya al-awlad, p. 43. The author adds that marriage with close relatives is not recommended; exogamy protects the child from “infectious diseases [and] hereditary ailments, widening the circle of family familiarity, and developing social ties.” Citing two hadiths of the Prophet (for which, he notes, he is unable to find sources): “Don't marry a relative, or the child will be created scrawny,” and “Marry outside, and don't debilitate,” he reiterates the agreement of modern scientific findings with the ancient wisdom of Islam: “The science of heredity has proven as well that marriage with relatives makes weak progeny…and that the children inherit blameworthy moral qualities and disapproved social habits. This truth was established by the Messenger of Islam (God's peace and blessings upon him), fourteen centuries ago, before science could say the same thing and bring his truths to light for those who can see it” (p. 44). [BACK]

41. Samia ‘Abd al-Rahman, interview, 16 February 1989, p. 280. [BACK]

42. Karim Shafik, interview, 9 August 1990, pp. 570–71. [BACK]

43. Quoted in the editorial of al-Liwa’ al-islami, no. 357, 24 November 1988; and by Dr. Ahmad Fu’ad al-Sharbini during a United Nations conference on the Rights of Children the previous week, in al-Ahram, 23 November 1988, p. 3. [BACK]

44. Silwa Mashhur, in al-Liwa’ al-islami, no. 357, 24 November 1990, p. 18. [BACK]

45. Al-Liwa’ al-islami, no. 357, 24 November 1988, pp. 1, 17. [BACK]

46. Interview, 12 June 1989, p. 447. [BACK]

47. This phrase is Timothy Mitchell's, Colonising Egypt, p. 132. [BACK]

48. Interview, 12 June 1989, p. 447. [BACK]

49. Mahmoud Mahdi, al-Ahram, 24 March 1989, p. 13. [BACK]

50. During the academic year 1988–89, the sixth grade was abolished in a reorganization mandated by the Ministry of Education, resulting in the combination of the sixth and seventh grades. In 1995, this resulted in a doubling of the entering class at the already overcrowded Cairo University. The ministry is considering reversing its decision. [BACK]

51. In August of 1989, the Shaykh of al-Azhar, Jad al-Haqq ‘Ali Jad al-Haqq, agreed to submit to al-Azhar's High Council a Ministry of Education proposal that would bring the curriculum at al-Azhar primary institutes into line with the curricula of the Ministry of Education beginning the following academic year. The aim of the plan was the “raising [of] the practical educational level at al-Azhar and its adaptation to the spirit of the age, tying it to the solution of social problems.” Al-Jumhuriyya, 26 August 1989, p. 6. [BACK]

52. Wolfe, trans., Egypt's Second Five-Year Plan, p. 143; Statistical Yearbook, 1977, p. 146; Statistical Yearbook, 1988, p. 158; Susan H. Cochrane, Kalpana Mehra, and Ibrahim Taha Osheba, “The Educational Participation of Egyptian Children,” World Bank Discussion Paper, December 1986. [BACK]

53. The average Egyptian's image of proper education is very much tied to the “bookishness” derided by school reformers. Aisha Rafea, in an article on the Pyramids School in Giza, quotes a concerned mother:

“I am determined to transfer my son to another school by the beginning of the new school year,” said one mother who expressed great dissatisfaction with the fact that children are given no assignments at the Pyramids School, and are not taught the alphabet while children at their age at other schools start learning how to write at KG1 level. “Compared to his sister who is the same age but goes to the Ramses College, my son hardly knows how to write,” she added, saying that in her opinion the year at the Pyramids School was a total waste of time. Yet she admitted that her son loves his school and his sister doesn't. The reason for that, she thinks, is that “his school is like a club while hers is a real place of education.” (“The School of No Homework,” Cairo Today, February 1989, pp. 46–47)


54. Cromer wrote in his Report for 1903 that

the Egyptians, as a race, are somewhat inclined to sedentary pursuits, and until recent years the educational system confirmed, rather than corrected, this tendency. A few years ago, physical drill and English sports were introduced into the curriculum of the Government schools. The effect upon the physique and character of the pupils has been so manifestly beneficial that their advantages are now generally recognized, even in quarters where their introduction was at first opposed. (Parl. Pap., 1904, vol. 111, p. 267)

On the physical education movement in Europe, see J. S. Hurt, “Drill, Discipline and the Elementary School Ethos,” in Phillip McCann, ed., Popular Education and Socialization in the Nineteenth Century (London: Methuen & Co. Ltd., 1977), pp. 167–92. In addition to tightening school discipline, the physical education movement was motivated by the fear of bodily degeneration associated with urbanization. For a contemporary view, see Lord Brabazon, “Decay of Bodily Strength in Towns,” The Nineteenth Century 21 (1887), pp. 673–76. Aside from obvious humanitarian motivations, physical education, hygiene, and nutritional programs were called for in Egypt for political and economic reasons. Egypt's minister of education wrote in 1943 of assertions “that the rising generation is weaker in body, possesses less fortitude, and is more impatient with life than the preceding generation. Landowners bitterly complain of the indifferent health of agricultural labourers and their physical debility which has adversely affected their productiveness to a marked extent.” El-Hilali, Report on Educational Reform, p. 48. [BACK]

55. This poster was inspired by a similar picture on page 5 of the first grade religion textbook. [BACK]

56. Dr. Surur later became—as of 1994—Speaker of Egypt's People's Assembly. [BACK]

57. As of March 1996, Tantawi is the new Shaykh of al-Azhar, replacing the recently deceased Jad al-Haqq ‘Ali Jad al-Haqq. [BACK]

58. Labib al-Saba‘i, al-Ahram, 31 March 1989, p. 13. [BACK]

59. Dr. Muhammad Yahya, al-Sha‘b, 23 May 1989, p. 7. On the subject of maps bearing the name of Israel, Dr. Ahmad Fathy Surur, minister of education, promised the Majlis al-sha‘b on 14 May 1989 that “all maps not bearing the name of Palestine would be burned.” Al-Wafd, 16 May 1989, p. 1. [BACK]

60. Al-Sha‘b, 23 May 1989, p. 11. [BACK]

61. Janet Abu-Lughod, “Rural Migration and Politics in Egypt,” in Rural Politics and Social Change in the Middle East, ed. Richard Antoun and Ilya Harik (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1972), p. 326. [BACK]

62. Umm Samira, interview, 2 June 1989, pp. 415–16. [BACK]

63. Wafa’i Isma‘il, interview, 7 August 1989, p. 554 [BACK]

64. Bourdieu and Passeron, Reproduction in Education, p. 44. [BACK]

65. Article 6 in Qanun al-ta‘lim raqam 139 lil-sana 1981 (Cairo: al-Hay’a al-‘amma li-shu’un al-mutabi‘ al-amiriyya, 1986), p. 3. [BACK]

66. Al-Jumhuriyya, 22 September 1989, p. 7. [BACK]

67. Even given new techniques of inculcation, some Egyptian Christians argue that reliance on the Qur’an as a text has a negative effect on the Egyptian educational system in general. A recent graduate of ‘Ain Shams University told me, “The essays that people write [in school] are repetitive and unorganized, because the Qur’an is that way, and people are taught, even if indirectly, to mimic that style, held up as a model of the best there is. We have no multiple-choice tests here.” Jihan al-Manar, interview, 17 October 1988, pp. 81–82. [BACK]

68. Interview conducted by Hamid ‘Izz al-Din, al-Akhbar, 18 August 1989, p. 4. [BACK]

69. Al-Ahram, 3 May 1989, p. 6. [BACK]

70. Al-Akhbar, 16 June 1989, p. 1; al-Ahram, 13 August 1989, p. 8. [BACK]

71. Mahmud Mahdi, al-Ahram, 12 May 1989, p. 13. [BACK]

72. Sometimes the financial incentives are not quite as compelling; the magazine al-Tasawwuf al-islami (Islamic Sufism), for example, sponsored a contest in which individuals qualified for prizes by answering a few questions about Sufism; the prizes ranged from £E 50 ($20) for first prize to a year's subscription to the magazine, for those placing thirteenth to twentieth. [BACK]

73. Al-Ahram, 3 May 1989, p. 6. [BACK]

74. Al-Ahram, 10 February 1989, p. 11. [BACK]

75. Denis Sullivan provides a comprehensive analysis of these institutions in Private Voluntary Organizations in Egypt: Islamic Development, Private Initiative, and State Control (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1994). [BACK]

76. CAPMAS, Statistical Yearbook, 1988, pp. 135, 137. [BACK]

77. Samir Shawqi, interview, 5 August 1989, p. 541. [BACK]

78. Al-Wafd, 20 July 1989, p. 6. [BACK]

79. Al-Muslim al-saghir, September 1988, p. 32. [BACK]

80. Laylat al-Qadr (The night of power) is the anniversary of the date during Ramadan when Muhammad first began to receive revelations from God through the angel Gabriel. [BACK]

81. Al-Ahram, 12 May 1989, p. 13. [BACK]

82. Interview, 16 August 1989, p. 585. [BACK]

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