previous part
next part


What matters is that lives do not serve as models; only stories do that. And it is a hard thing to make up stories to live by. We can only retell and live by the stories we have read or heard. We live our lives through texts. They may be read, or chanted, or experienced electronically, or come to us, like the murmerings of our mothers, telling us what conventions demand. Whatever their form or medium, these stories have formed us all; they are what we must use to make…new narratives.

The spiritual and cultural reservations that the Oriental peoples may have toward our technology will avail them not at all. The effects of technology do not occur at the level of opinions or concepts, but alter sense ratios or patterns of perception steadily and without resistance.

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]

5. The Path of Clarification

All school culture is necessarily standardized and ritualized…by and for exercises of repetition and reconstitution which must be sufficiently stereotyped to be repeated ad infinitum under the direction of coaches…themselves as little irreplaceable as possible (e.g. manuals, summaries, synopses, religious or political breviaries and catechisms, glosses, commentaries, cribs, encyclopedias, corpuses, selections, past examination papers, model answers, compilations of dictums, apothegms, mnemonic verses, topics, etc.).

The Interpretation of Culture and the Culture of Interpretation

At the height of the Second World War, psychological anthropologist George Devereaux and his colleague Edwin Loeb, members of a generation of American scholars who found their civilization under the threat of an aggressive foreign military machine, wrote an article outlining the strategies a besieged culture might use to resist annihilation. One of these strategies, “antagonistic acculturation,” they described as the process of adopting lower-order practices and institutions from foreign cultures for the purpose of resisting adoption of their higher-order goals; essentially, adopting new cultural tactics to resist the adoption of new values.[2] The authors criticized the earlier trend of diffusionist scholarship by emphasizing the purposive nature of what they termed “autoplastic culture change,” and in an unusual literary conceit, they quoted from the Qur’an itself as the best possible summary of the human interest in setting boundaries: “And I shall not worship that which ye worship/Nor will ye worship that which I worship/Unto you your religion, and unto me my religion” (sura 109, al-Kafirun, 4–6).

The phrase “antagonistic acculturation” has not aged well, perhaps because of a vague semantic prejudice sparked by the alliterative terms, the latter recalling the stolid scientific neutralism of some colonial acculturation studies, and the former implying perhaps that indigenous resistance to “culture contact” was a matter of the stubborn native's impenetrable rejection of progressive change. But while the phrase has been all but forgotten by anthropologists, who now prefer the concept of resistance, the process it describes is a central feature of cultural flow in the colonial and post- or neocolonial world. As we saw in examining the development of European-style education in Egypt, this was the force behind the calculated military appropriation of schooling in the early nineteenth century. Since that time, the state's strategies for maintaining a Muslim identity while extending ideological influence over an increasingly urbanized and literate populace has included the transformation of Islamic institutions, beliefs, and values through altering the form and the context of their production and their inculcation. That context—the European-style school—works both through new principles of organizing interpersonal authority on a massive and centrally administered scale and through the use of new types of cultural production, particularly the imported form of the school textbook. This chapter addresses the specific mechanisms through which the textbook both furthers and expresses the functionalization of the Islamic tradition.

The process of altering cultural production to match, compete with, and fend off imported models, while simultaneously increasing its political usefulness, is obviously not confined to the Nile Valley. In his important book The Calligraphic State, Brinkley Messick has shown how Ottoman and Yemeni nationalist reformers of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries transformed the flexible and multivocal tradition of Islamic legal scholarship, the shari‘a, into a closed, self-contained, and relatively rigid set of “modern” legal codes. Ottoman reformers in the second half of the nineteenth century had likened the shari‘a to “an ocean without shores,” vast, difficult to access because of the specialized training required, and inappropriate for the times.[3] Criticizing its “lack of order” relative to European-style legal codes, they were concerned with making the law “known,” fixing it in structured form in numbered paragraphs, “making a portion of the shari‘a manageable and perusable,” and issuing works that contained “only the least contested and least controversial opinions and composed in a manner which would be sufficiently clear so that anyone could study it easily and act in conformity with it.” [4] At the same time that colonial translations of Muslim legal works were pulling together different versions to create authoritative Arabic texts, local elites as well as the colonial powers themselves endeavored to spread shari‘a consciousness to the hinterlands of Yemen, both because it was considered “ “tidier” and more predictable than custom” and because, according to contemporary sources, it “provides better political propaganda.” [5] With more recent reorganizations of Yemeni political life, responsibility for the production of a corpus of “Islamic law” has been removed from the hands of the ‘ulama and given over to public officials and parliaments.

The same sorts of processes have operated in Egypt through the production of both official textbooks and private sector childrens' literature. Textbooks are an offspring of print (as opposed to manuscript) culture, both because printing allows the creation of sufficient numbers of books to allow feasible mass instruction and also because of the uniformity of printed products. “With print,” Walter Ong writes,

for the first time, a teacher could stand before a class and say, “Everybody turn to page 48, fifth line from the top, third word from the left,” and everybody could find the word. In a manuscript culture the students might all have had manuscripts, but you would have had to pronounce the word and wait for them to locate it because it would be in a different position on a different page in virtually every manuscript.[6]

As we have seen in the classroom itself, the text recycling that springs from practical economic pressures means this is not always so, but the infinite standardization of the textbook does have the universal effect of flattening controversy and rigidifying current understandings of open questions as indisputable fact.

Moreover, and most importantly, by propagating a synoptic vision of Islamic belief and practice, sanctioned either by the state or by groups of “experts” working in the private sector, mass education and its pedagogical materials effectively create a new Islamic tradition derived from, but not identical with, the historical tradition (just as Yemen's “Islamic” legal codes drew on the corpus of shari‘a scholarship, while the latter drew directly on the Qur’an and sunna.) Furthermore, these materials automatically draw new populations into the field of cultural reproduction: not only the new elites of the Ministry of Education and the corporate boardroom, but, importantly, the students themselves, who are supposed to derive from their classroom training the ability to produce “correct” Muslim behavior. This installation of habitus, however, is complicated by the fact that it is an explicit, verbal inculcation that couches Muslim behavior in functionalist terms, terms that actively encourage students to draw connections between the world of life and the world of texts. Once the possibility of this sort of interpretation is opened, the construction of additional, or alternate, readings of Muslim practice is inevitable.

Encountering the Word

As one of their functions, elementary schools introduce students not only to the psychological and physical skills of reading and writing, but to the proper social and political use of official texts, and to the way in which texts are deployed by authorities, whether as books, assignments, examinations, instructions, or forms. Contemporary educators—inspired by the historical insistence that religious education further “moral” and not merely “ritual” ends—transform the sacred texts of the Islamic tradition into systematic, socially and politically useful products for mass socialization. The historical processes of functionalization we viewed earlier—in which personal and institutional relationships and then the social ends of the Islamic tradition itself were altered to underwrite changing understandings of the utility of religion—will be augmented here by a close examination of mass-produced texts themselves. With respect to the school textbook, functionalization is a process of reading and explicating the physiological, social, and political function of Muslim practices in such a way that these practices appear uniquely effective tools for the conduct of modern life.

The practices of memorization and recitation, question and response are taught from the very beginning of the school career, even before children have mastered the art of writing. As we have seen, children spend much class time reading their textbooks aloud, in unison or individually, as the teacher corrects mistakes of pronunciation and then breaks to expound on obscure points or to quiz students on past material. The task of reading aloud and memorization for repetition is a central feature of everyday student activity, motivated by the structure of official examinations and the desire of students and their families to obtain scores high enough to continue to higher grades and perhaps, eventually, to gain admission to the most prestigious faculties in university.

This is not to say that all pedagogical practices aim always at a single, consistent goal, or that these goals necessarily change predictably in response to political and social needs, independent of the structural constraints of educational institutions themselves.[7] The latter always exert pressures on curriculum design and teaching technique in order to satisfy internal aims as well as external ones. As an example, when Anwar Sadat called in 1977 for “teaching religion in a new style by which we can protect our forthcoming generations and face up to the problems of today,” his intent was rhetorical, for a new style had already overtaken religious studies in Egyptian schools. Inculcating proper social behavior has been a prime pedagogical goal long before the mid-1970s. If anything, some textbooks have become less vivid and more traditional than they were. For example, in the sixth grade religious readers for both 1976 and 1981 we find sura 58, 6, from the Qur’an:

Hast thou not seen that God knows whatsoever is in the heavens, and whatsoever is in the earth? Three men conspire not secretly together, but He is the fourth of them, neither five men, but He is the sixth of them, neither fewer than that, neither more, but He is with them, wherever they may be; then He shall tell them what they have done, on the Day of Resurrection. Surely God has knowledge of everything.[8]

But while the 1976 edition stresses this verse in isolation and asks the student to memorize it as a reminder of “God's Surveillance of what is Secret and what is Open,” the 1981 edition includes the verse in the context of the rest of its sura. The earlier edition not only defines difficult vocabulary items but includes three and a half pages of tafsir, or “explanation,” followed by a full page of review questions. In 1981 the sura is presented without tafsir at all, accompanying the text merely with lists of difficult vocabulary items and their definitions. The more recent book requires the student to memorize the entire sura, and is closer in spirit to older practices than is the earlier version, which picks a single verse and emphasizes the moral lesson to be drawn from it.

Similarly, both editions contain the following hadith, a saying of the Prophet Muhammad:

A person walks in the same path as his friend; so [a Muslim] pays attention whom he befriends.
The 1976 book placed the hadith within the context of a short story about the proper choice of friends and the relationships between parents, children, and the school:

Sa‘id's father was delighted. He saw his son Sa‘id advancing in his studies, and in his manners, and in his character, and in his behavior towards his playmates and teachers at school and his siblings at home. So his father said, “I am pleased with you, Sa‘id, for you've gotten much better than you used to be.”

Sa‘id said, “Yes, my father.”

“I notice that you changed your friends.”

“Yes, I left As‘ad and ‘Uthman and Ibrahim, because they didn't think about anything except playing, and weren't interested in their studies and didn't do their homework, and in thing after thing I became like them, and it seemed to me that I was lost, so I turned away from them and chose Ishraf and Hasan and Isma‘il, and I've learned from their earnestness and good manners and good taste.”

“Excellent choice.”

“Yes, and the school gets the credit for it.”

“How's that?”

“Father, I learned from it many things about friendship and friends. I learned that for each one of us there is treasure in friendship, because a friend talks to me and I to him, and I walk with him, and if I need anything I ask him for it, and if something hurt me, I complain to him about it. And He and I are like one person. I ask him things, and he asks me. I buy things for him, and he for me, and I know him by heart, and benefit from his knowledge and wisdom, and he benefits from me. And I learned that the person is changed by his friend. He is changed in his etiquette, and his behavior, and he takes on many of his characteristics; and I put this to the test myself, father. And I learned that one must proceed slowly in the choice of one's friends, and that their choice must be based on knowledge of their manners and habits, and not to take friends without checking them out.”

Sa‘id's father rejoiced, and his joy grew when he knew that [Sa‘id] applied the lessons of religion to [his] life, and that he memorized the following saying [of the Prophet] about the choosing of friends: “He said, may God bless and save him, “A person walks in the same path as his friend, so [a Muslim] pays attention whom he befriends.” ” [9]

The 1981 edition, on the other hand, merely cites the hadith, defines the difficult vocabulary, and summarizes its meaning thus:

From this hadith you learn:
  • That one is influenced by his friends, and copies their dispositions and character and perception, and follows in their paths.

  • That it is a Muslim's duty to go slowly and think and check a person out before making him a friend.

  • Among Islam's guidelines for choosing a friend: that he be well-mannered and clean-tongued, and careful of his appointments and his work and his religion, sincere in his friendship both in private and in public, and supportive in whatever way possible.[10]

Aside from eliminating the saccharin story format, the real change in the second version is the creation of an easy-to-memorize list of rules that can be repeated verbatim on an examination. In this case, logistical factors won out in the contest between embedding moral guidelines in a contemporary narrative that pictures their self-conscious application, or presenting them as objects of test-driven analysis and memorization. The same sorts of tensions continue to operate today.

Form and Content

The goals of contemporary religious education at the primary level are set out in the introduction to the first grade religion textbook, which reminds teachers that “religious education [al-tarbiya al-diniyya] is not material restricted to classrooms, but rather is a complete life curriculum, including the classroom milieu with all its activities and information and knowledge. It also includes the home environment, and society as a whole.” [11]

The classroom portion of this curriculum has several distinct goals: the planting (ghars) of Islamic morals and values in the psyche of the child, along with a grasp of the five pillars of Islam; the development of faith in God; acquainting the child with the biography of the Prophet; memorization of some verses and suras of the Qur’an; and knowledge and practice of the process of ablution and prayer. The authors explain that religion is related to other school subjects “like the Arabic language or science,” and that their selection of Qur’anic extracts “benefit[s] from the fact that the Qur’an can be understood at many levels.” They highlight a variety of instructional methods like the use of pictures and drawings, which help impart the meaning of abstract concepts and make the process of learning more enjoyable and attractive, “increasing [the pupil's] desire to learn.” [12] And finally, they draw attention to two developmental and social issues:

The importance of satisfying the needs of the pupil in this grade level for freedom in expressing his abilities and his reliance on what he touches and sees and hears at this stage of his life, and [his] proper response to life situations at home and in school and in society. [And] the importance of the social environment in which the pupil lives, in such a way that religious education has a role in the advancement and development of this milieu [tarqiyya tilka al-bi’a wa tanmiyyatiha].[13]

These themes are carried through in texts for the higher grades, which provide pupils with “Islamic religious information appropriate to their ages, springing forth from the glorious Qur’an and the noble traditions of the Prophet.” [14] These later books emphasize proper public recitation (tilawa) of Qur’anic extracts and urge teachers to have students memorize and explain designated passages, “extracti[ng]…the values and principles to which they point.” [15] Finally, they direct that children be taught diligence in their work, compassion for others and good manners in public places, for adab is part of “an integrated view of Islamic education that presents the meaning of Qur’anic verses and Prophetic traditions…through life situations” familiar to the child.[16]

By the end of the fifth grade, the industrious Egyptian schoolchild will have read hundreds of pages about Islam in her textbooks, memorizing most of them for repetition on year-end examinations. Teachers and principals place a great deal of confidence in their students' ability to memorize, a fact I learned firsthand, with a great deal of embarrassment, at the Nasr School, when I asked if they had spare copies of the textbooks. Pulling all but the fifth grade book out of a storage cabinet, Mme. Hala told me they didn't seem to have an extra there, but she knew where to get one. Leaving the room, she returned with the book two minutes later. Unlike the others, this one was well-worn and covered inside with penciled notes. She had simply gone to the fifth grade room and asked who had finished memorizing their book already, choosing one student among the three that raised their hand. Horrified, I insisted that she return the book to the student, who would certainly need it to study. “No,” she replied, pointing at her head, “she's already knows the whole thing.” She refused to let me return it.

The religion textbooks contain five broad categories of content: Qur’an and hadith; qawa‘id al-islam (the pillars of Islam); usul al-din (theology); sira (biographies of the prophets and famous Muslims); and adab (rules for behavior in public and private). These are crosscut by different media of presentation. Texts make use of direct quotations from the Qur’an and hadith; tafsir (consisting of definitions, explanations and clarifications of Qur’anic or traditional material in the voice of the text's authors); durus (sing. dars; or lessons, narrative presentations of material in the voice of the text's authors); anashid (sing. nashid; poems, songs, or recitations to be repeated aloud in unison); munaqashat (questions or topics for discussion); tadribat (activities such as matching exercises); tamthilat (short plays or dialogues for students to read or act out); and finally, pictures and drawings.

Most lessons use more than one format, combining pictures with narratives, discussion questions and anashid, for example. Pictures are meant to stimulate discussion or to be used as part of an exercise, but occasionally serve merely an illustrative function. Qur’an and hadith are both subject matter and media because each book contains, in addition to verses cited to illustrate the point of a lesson or ground it in scripture, a section of Qur’an to be memorized by the student for its own sake.

Table 3 shows the proportion of space devoted to each of the five subject categories in the primary-level religion textbooks used during the 1988–89 school year.[17] While the space allotted to basic theology and Prophetic biography rises and falls unpredictably throughout the years, the remaining categories show more definite trends. That devoted to Qur’an, hadith, and adab increases fourfold between the first and the fifth grades, while the volume taken up by the pillars of Islam declines by more than 60 percent. Including longer passages from the Qur’an is a function of the child's growing capacity for recitation and memory work, while moving from basic elements of faith and worship to the application of Muslim values to life reflects the growing importance of explicit moral training as children enter their second seven years of life and begin facing responsibility for proper behavior and the performance of religious duties.

3. Content of Primary School Religion Texts
(Rounded to the nearest one percent)
Grade Level
  1 2 3 4 5
Qur’an/Hadith 5 10 17 16 20
Qawa‘id 42 30 20 13 16
Usul al-din 26 15 22 29 14
Sira 21 26 20 17 29
Adab 6 17 20 25 20

The Transformation of Texts

Since political elites and professional educators alike see religious education as an important applied subject, textbook authors strive in various ways to emphasize Islam's place in the child's daily life. Even sacred history is made immediate by linking events of long ago and far away to the child's own familiar world. One of the earliest lessons in the Ministry of Education's first grade religion textbook is the story of the Prophet Muhammad's early life, and the names and kinship ties of the relatives who raised and cared for him. Introducing children to the Islamic tradition with the simple, accessible vocabulary of kinship terms, the text draws pupils into an immediate relationship with the Prophet, while drawing the family itself into the universe of discourse of the school. Before dealing in some detail with the way textbooks treat family and school as sources of moral authority, let us first examine how functionalization—which we have already examined with respect to institutional transformations—operates on a textual level.

In examining the form of Egyptian religious studies textbooks, functionalization appears as one of four textual processes, along with consolidation, grading, and reinterpretation, which help transform the larger written corpus of Islamic tradition (and local custom) into socially and politically useful forms for use in the public school.[18] Consolidation, like grading, is an editorial process stemming from the need to systematize and simplify the Islamic heritage for mass consumption. One of the more mundane differences between sacred revelation and classroom instruction is that the Qur’an is notoriously repetitive and meandering by contemporary pedagogical standards. Verses concerning a single subject, even a single person, are scattered throughout the twenty-two years of the Prophet's recorded mission, sometimes repeating information, sometimes adding new insights or taking different points of view. For example, in the Qur’an, the twenty-eight-verse chapter called Nuh (Noah) does not contain the most comprehensive account of the title character's life and works. The richer account is given in twenty-four verses in sura 11, Hud (25–49), although there is supplementary information scattered throughout thirteen other chapters as well, in blocks of between one and seventeen verses. The synoptic tale of Noah that the fourth-grader reads is an amalgamation and paraphrase of the Qur’anic revelation illustrated with pictures and a simplified vocabulary.

As important as textual organization is the temporal allocation of knowledge, the very essence of school hierarchy. Grading doles out age- appropriate wisdom at the same time that it reinforces lessons learned in earlier years and builds a foundation for the future. As an example, Egyptian first-graders greet Ramadan officially with a simple nashid:

Come on, brothers, let's come on,
Let's rejoice in Ramadan
Month of fasting and of alms,
In you, goodness and Qur’an
Yours the honor, Ramadan[19]

Next, they find a list of Ramadan activities: the scheduling of meals, listening to the Qur’an, helping the poor and unfortunate. They are reminded that “you learn the fast with your father and your mother,” and boys learn that “you go to the mosque with your father.” An exercise and a color drawing of a neighborhood mosque round out the youngest student's lesson.[20] The following year, Ramadan becomes the subject of a dialogue between a father and his two children, Fatima and Ali, who have all gone to the market on the night of the first day of the sacred month. The children ask how and why Muslims fast, and learn that one must refrain from eating, but also from quarrelling, and they must increase the frequency of prayers. Their father (anonymous, like all textbook parents) explains that “God directed us to fast during Ramadan because it cleanses our minds and accustoms us to patience and compassion for the poor and unfortunate when we feel hunger like them. And so we may all be saved from God's punishment when we enter heaven.” [21] He ends his lesson by quoting from the Qur’an, sura 2, al- Baqara,185: “Ramadan is the month/In which was sent down/the Qur’an, as a guide/To mankind, also clear (signs)/For guidance and judgement (Between right and wrong)./So every one of you who is present during the month should spend it fasting.” In the third grade, Ramadan takes the form of a series of descriptive phrases. Again citing verse 185, the book tells pupils that fasting “benefits the body and makes it strong,” and teaches them the customs and prescriptions that validate or invalidate the ritual. The lesson is completed, as always, by a block of exercises:

  • How does the fast benefit Muslims?

  • Recite the verse that indicates the fast is incumbent upon Muslims.

  • Put the following words into appropriate sentences:

    Fasting Ramadan suhur

  • Complete: Among the traditions of the fast is the acceleration of the ______ and the delay of the ______, by which the faster ______ his fast.[22]

The fourth grade text places Ramadan in the context of the Muslim ritual year, explaining in detail the conduct of the two Muslim feast days, ‘Id al-Fitr, commemorating the close of Ramadan, and ‘Id al-Adha, the Feast of Sacrifice during the month of Pilgrimage. The fifth grade book summarizes previous lessons and tells children who is required to fast. Reprising the theme of restraint, “because the fast is not simply a cessation of food and drink, but is indeed an act of worship that refines the character and brings the person to his lord through good works,” the book reminds students to eat the suhur meal (in effect, being moderate even in the fast itself), and to increase almsgiving, prayer, and study of the Qur’an. Then the primary school's treatment of Ramadan ends as it began, with a nashid—this one longer and far more complex—celebrating the growth of faith through contemplating the natural and celestial signs of God's existence and participating in the Ramadan fast.

In the early grades, the meaning and significance of Ramadan is expressed with the formal joy of classroom song and through the ritual fast's place in the life of the family. With time, students begin to learn more about the ritual details of the fast, personal restrictions that are balanced immediately by their beneficial effects on self and others. Next, fast and feast find their place in the yearly ritual cycle of Islam, their importance matched only by the celebration of sacrifice during the season of pilgrimage. And finally, as the child reaches the age of personal participation, learning about Ramadan becomes learning about individual and social responsibilities.

In contrast to the editorial processes of consolidation and grading, reinterpretation and functionalization are authorial processes, shaping the meaning of Islamic history and practice by interpreting them in fresh ways. Although the Qur’an contains its own explicit messages about God's intentions, the social and political use of the Qur’an can require that it bear additional semantic loads. In textbooks, the derivation of additional moral or political lessons from the Qur’an or sunna is accomplished in part through the transformation of sacred text into durus, or “lessons.” Retelling stories from the Qur’an in a straightforward narrative form allows textbook authors to make claims about reality in a way that insulates their own commentary from the sacred text itself. Their interpretations of the story are not tafsir in a strict sense, explanations that seek to illuminate the meaning of the Qur’anic verse in its context, but rather paraphrases and commentaries on the events and personalities that the verses describe.

Take, for example, the story of the prophet Joseph. The story of Joseph in the fifth grade textbook is a ten-page paraphrase of the 111-verse sura 12, Yusuf, in the Qur’an. Aside from shuttling introductory and concluding exhortations off into another section, the schoolbook version is a straightforward paraphrase of the Qur’anic story, with a simplified grammar and vocabulary. Because of his power as an interpreter of dreams and the favor he found with Pharaoh, Joseph was made minister of Egypt and saved the country from famine; even after being reunited with his father (Jacob/Israel) and brothers, he retained his mighty position in the country and instead of returning to Canaan invited his family to settle with him in Memphis. But at the end of the life story of Joseph in the Egyptian fifth grade book, the authors of the text have appended a short patriotic paragraph:

And thus Egypt has always been, and still is, a refuge for the prophets and the illustrious and outstanding people from the Arab nation and the Islamic world, who have been delighted to experience it, always sure of its welcome, and living within its family as beloved brothers.[23]

While Joseph was not an Arab, he was a Muslim, both as a prophet of God in his own right and as the great-grandson of Abraham, builder of the ka‘ba in Mecca (sura 12,101). With this brief paragraph the text's authors have effectively Islamized Egypt twenty-three centuries before Muhammad.[24]

While this reinterpretation constructs readings of history that legitimate the authority of policymakers, functionalization as a specific textual process harnesses divine intention to public policy itself, helping to bring religious instruction into the conscious service of independent social and political ends. To illustrate this process, we can look at the textbooks' use of science, technology, and medicine. On one level, the interdependence of Islam and science is stressed in order to avoid the pitfall of implying that secular knowledge is inseparable from secularism. On another level, though, the linkage is made to bless elements from the religious sphere with the elevated status of science's secular mystique. This interdependence of science and religion is a constant refrain in both public and private sector Islamic literature for all age levels, an important part of a technocratic approach to economic and social policy. It is handled in different ways for different purposes, depending on the nature of the audience, the medium, and the rhetorical goal of the author. But in general, there are three relatively well-defined techniques.

First, new technologies or techniques are used to help maintain the religious reference system. Using loudspeakers for the call to prayer, cassette tapes to record famous Qur’an reciters, or observatories to determine scientifically the exact times of dawn and dusk prayers are all pragmatic applications of science and technology to aid worship, education and da‘wa (Islamic outreach activities). Second, new technologies are legitimized by Islamic principles. This practice supports new medical technologies such as in vitro fertilization, plastic surgery, and birth control programs, which potentially threaten the integrity or function of God's creation. When properly bounded within certain limits, such practices can protect or further divine interests by correcting accidental errors or by satisfying other legitimate goals of the individual, the family, or the community.[25]

Finally, Islamic concepts and practices are corroborated by modern science. Scientific research, particularly from foreign countries or international agencies, is cited to show that secularists are finally discovering those truths that Muslims have known all along. This process is not limited to government-issued textbooks, but is a general feature of the production of contemporary genres of Islamic literature. Some of the best examples of the use of medical knowledge to further faith, in fact, are from the private sector, as in the following report in the July 1989 issue of Zamzam, the children's supplement to al-Mukhtar al-Islami (The Islamic Digest), a monthly magazine associated with the Muslim Brotherhood. Presenting a picture of an EKG chart, the article begins,

If you look carefully at this picture, you will see that it repeatedly draws a specific word; scrutinizing the letters of every word, you will see that every word is made of the letters A L L H, written in the Arabic language in raq‘a script; indeed, it is the term of Majesty.…And this picture that you see was not drawn by a human hand, but by a machine, a medical instrument made by a man who didn't know Arabic. The machine was not intended to write this word or any other, but is used to show the beating of the heart (that is, its pulsations) and to turn it into a picture on paper.…Scientists didn't know at first that this drawing resembled a word in Arabic, but finally the great discovery was made that every beat says, in this drawing that an EKG makes of every human heart, every beat says in the testimony of this electrical device, “Allah, Allah, Allah.” [26]

God has literally written His name upon the hearts of His creation, an act revealed by the use of technology. This natural theology attempts systematically to read God's presence and characteristics from those of the natural world which He created, using the hidden rhythms of the body itself as a measurable record of His existence.[27]

The use of science or natural phenomena to reinforce faith finds its way into the official religious studies curriculum as it did in the science curriculum, by binding science and religion to national progress. In the fifth grade class discussed in the last chapter, the class reading that was interrupted by the noon call to prayer had come from the section of the text on “cleanliness:”

Cleanliness is next to Godliness [al-nidhafa min al-iman], and…distinguishes a Muslim person, because our Islamic religion…impels the Muslim to it, even making cleanliness of the body and clothing one of the basic rules of prayer. Cleanliness includes that of the body and the clothing, and of food and drink, and cleanliness of the home and school, and mosque, and street, and so on. And on top of that Islam makes us desirous of personal adornment and sweet fragrances and the choice of good clean clothes. God (may He be exalted) says in verse 31 of Sura al-A‘raf, “Oh Children of Adam! Wear your adornment at every place of worship.” And the Messenger, may God bless and save him, used to wear white scented garments on Fridays and the two feast days, and he loved sweet-smelling things. Cleanliness… is a token of advancement and civilization, strongly bound to the progress of peoples, for advanced peoples are cleaner in their attire than others, and in their food and drink, and their streets. Islam had preceded all advanced nations by ages—in its call for cleanliness—and it made “cleanliness next to Godliness” when the Messenger, may God bless and save him, says “God is pleasant [tayyib] and loves pleasant things.” Perhaps the wudu’[ritual ablution before prayer] clarifies best the scope of Islam's interest in cleanliness, since it is part of prayer…and—there's no doubt—it cleans man's body, and the modern physician has established that the wudu’ a number of times a day brings health and keeps away skin diseases, just as he has proved that the istinshaq [the inhalation of water through the nostrils during the wudu’] protects people from the various respiratory diseases, and just as in rinsing there is a cleaning of the teeth guaranteed to freshen the breath; this had been mentioned in the noble Hadith: “Not to burden my people, I ordered them to use the siwak [a short stick for cleaning the teeth] at every prayer.” And that because in the use of the siwak or the toothbrush there are clear effects in the cleaning of the teeth and their whiteness, and in killing the germs that cling to them due to the food that is found between the teeth if they are not cleaned well, which has caused teeth to fall out, creating horrible breath. And among the manifestations of Islam's concern with cleanliness: that it calls on us to bathe for prayer on Fridays and on the two feast days.… And the modern physician agrees with Islam in this, for doctors call on us to bathe at least once a week, guarding the body's cleanliness and freeing it from diseases.…The conclusion is that whoever wants to maintain the teachings of his religion looks after cleanliness. And whoever wants people to love and respect him is neat and clean, for Islam is a religion of cleanliness, and therefore it's a religion of advancement and civilization.[28]

The passage is striking in its equation of the ritual purity of the wudu’ with the physical purity of a secular bath, a hygienic practice within the domain of the physician rather than the theologian. The sacred requirement of ablution has been functionalized, implying that the reason for the prescription is its presumed effect on health and well-being, rather than to mark a separation between sacred and profane.[29] The passage then forges further linkages between cleanliness (e.g., of streets) and civilization, creating a hierarchy of peoples in which the Islamic community is historically the first, and placing the sunna of the Prophet in the domain of the urban planner and the public health official.[30]

The treatment of the wudu’ throughout primary school texts consistently stresses its hygienic aspects. A note to the teacher in the first grade text, for example, advises her to demonstrate the ablutions to her pupils and watch them perform it, explaining “the benefits of the wudu’ and the importance of its repetition to the maintenance of cleanliness, that this cleanliness induces health and vitality in the pupil, just as it produces pleasure in social intercourse with people, and not estrangement from them.” [31] In the second grade, pupils learn that “the wudu’ is cleanliness”; that it “protects you from illnesses” and “invigorates the body and protects it from diseases.” [32] In the fourth grade pupils are introduced to the istinja’, the cleansing of the excretory regions of the body: “Islam… calls on us always to bathe twice, or at least once a week.…The person must purify himself of remaining traces of urine or feces, and clean their outlets, until there isn't an unpleasant smell, and one doesn't run the risk of diseases.” [33] Praising soap and water, the lesson ends with a set of exercises including these two items:

  • 7.

    Write the following statement in beautiful script: “The clean person washes his hands with soap and water when he emerges from the bathroom.”

  • 8.

    Your little brother exits the bathroom and hasn't washed his hands—what do you say to him?[34]

Presenting moral lessons in the context of activities or hypothetical situations is intended to raise them above the level of mere memorization, phrasing rules in terms that the child can not only remember, but remember to apply in everyday situations. Significantly, this specific equation of moral and hygienic behavior is of long standing in Egypt; both are considered applied subjects in which the real test is the conduct of life rather than performance on written examinations.[35]

Logically, if not psychologically, this functionalization is a two-step process. First, social functions (increased health, cleanliness, order) are attributed to Islamic practices. Then these functions are interpreted not only as effects, but as the primary intent of given practices, and therefore divinely sanctioned themselves. Moreover, as in the case of ablutions, additional terms can be added to the formula. In stressing cleanliness both as a contributor to individual health and a token of social progress (‘unwan al-ruqiy wa al-hadara), the text closes the causal circle. Since advanced civilizations are noted for attention to cleanliness and the Islamic community is the first among peoples, then physical cleanliness must be the primary function of the ablution.

If reinterpretation is an anachronistic reading of historical events, functionalization is in part a recontextualized rendering of divine intention. These two methods help shape the content of classroom texts, while consolidation and grading affect their format. There is, finally, a fifth process at work in the composition and use of these texts. That is the process of ritualization, which does not figure in the transformation of scripture into lesson, but in the resacralization of the lesson itself. Structured recitation and memorization of the textbook in anticipation of examinations, periodic in-class quizzing, the regular appearance of activities and exercises for which determined responses are often expected, and the implied double audience (text for students, footnoted instructions for the instructor) build around the textbook a congregation engaged several times a week in its ritual appreciation. The textbook provides the liturgy for ritual dramatizations of the moral authority of the state.

Family and School as Sources of Moral Authority

This authority is clear in the textbook treatment of the family and the school as sources of moral knowledge.[36] The image of the family in the contemporary textbook is ambiguous, for although parents, siblings, and other relatives are portrayed as central foci of the child's own moral duties, they are hardly ever portrayed as sources of moral enlightenment. That place has been usurped by the public functionaries of the school itself. As we saw at the end of the last chapter, this symbolic confiscation of moral authority feeds back into the constant media representation of the ideal family, making the family the target of moral development rather than the source. For the textbook to be used as an authoritative source of knowledge, it must help to define its institutional context as authoritative. We have already seen that lessons have sometimes been altered in newer textbooks to move away from stories and plays, but this has not been the case universally. It is still an important pedagogical strategy not to set out moral precepts in isolation, but to nest them within an image of idealized life, whether within the family, on the streets, or elsewhere.

Not surprisingly, such images often include the school as one of the primary characters, as we saw in the story of Sa‘id and his father earlier in this chapter. In these images the school is not only one of the arenas of the child's day-to-day life, it is portrayed as the source of the child's most elementary articulable moral knowledge, a knowledge that the child proudly carries back to his or her grateful family. In primary school textbooks it is also the sole representative of the state. The very first lesson on adab in the second grade book provides a fine illustration of this technique. In the story, ‘Abir returns from school to find that her mother is preparing food for her father and some of his friends, whom he is bringing home after work. ‘Abir volunteers her help with food preparation and cleaning the reception room, and volunteers her brother Muhammad to go to the store and pick up some things. When the evening is over, their father sits with them and commends their behavior, thanking them for cleaning, preparing, and for serving the guests.

‘Abir said, “This is my duty towards my mother and my father, and we learned in school today a great lesson about loving one's parents and cooperating with them, and we memorized [part of] the glorious Qur’an and a noble tradition [of the Prophet], and I want you to hear them, father, and you, mother. [God] said, may he be exalted, “Serve God, and join not any partners with Him; and do good to parents” [sura 2, 36]. “A man came to the Prophet, may God bless and save him, and said, O Messenger of God: what person is most deserving of perfect friendship? [The Prophet] said, Your mother. [The man] asked, Then who? [The Prophet] said, Your mother. [The man] asked, Then who? [The Prophet] said, Your mother. [The man] asked, Then who? [The Prophet] said, Your father.” ” [37]

The story is followed by a drawing of ‘Abir and Muhammad helping their parents with the guests, and a short nashid about loving one's parents: “What pleases God except what pleases [your] parents/What is the beauty of life but the affection of [your] parents/Love your parents to live in happiness/And [if you] offer [your] spirit as a sacrifice to them, you will find good reward.” [38]

Given the importance invested in the child's duties toward the family, it might seem surprising that parents are only rarely depicted as founts of religious or moral counsel. Children are advised always to help and obey their parents even if they have differences of opinion with them, “because [your parents] both love you and wish only the best for you always, and never think of anything but your happiness.” [39] But children are sometimes portrayed as the wiser parties in moral quandaries. A story in the third grade book tells of how ‘Umar Ibn al-Khattab, the companion of the Prophet and second caliph of the Muslim community, was wandering the streets of Medina before dawn one day when he heard a conversation between a mother and daughter. The mother instructs the daughter to water down the milk the girl has just brought, so they can sell it for a greater profit. The girl reminds her mother that Islam has prohibited such a practice, and what would the Commander of the Faithful say? The woman replies that neither the Commander of the Faithful nor anyone else can see what they are doing, but the girl counters that God can see them, and that they must please him both in secret and in public.


Do what I tell you, sweetheart.


Should I obey you and disobey God, dear mother? Certainly not.


If you don't mix the milk with water, we won't make any profit.


If we please God, he will bless us with profit and expand our subsistence.


God bless you, daughter. You are better than I, and have just taught me a great lesson.[40]

‘Umar is so pleased with the young girl that when he goes home to tell his sons the story, he asks which of them will marry her. His son ‘Asim volunteers, noting that ``such a girl will make a virtuous wife.'' The reward for virtuous behavior is material and immediate, as in the example below of telling the truth about a low mark at school.

Aside from the story about Ramadan discussed above, the only sustained example in this series of books of parents serving as a source of moral instruction occurs in the fourth grade. The story is an interesting one in that it combines several of the themes we have been discussing, and reminds us of the real-life story at the end of the last chapter, of the young girl's electronically mediated knowledge of the Qur’an. This story deals with Ahmad and his father.

Ahmad was used to turning on the [radio] broadcast of the Glorious Qur’an every morning upon waking up. For he loved always to begin his day by listening to some verses of the book of God (may He be exalted), and his father encouraged him in this good habit. A lot of times, Ahmad asked his parents, when the family gathered together over breakfast, about the meaning of some Qur’anic words and verses he had heard.[41]

This particular morning, Ahmad asks his father about verse 185 of the sura ’Al ‘Imran, “Every soul shall have a taste of death, and only on the Day of Judgment shall you be paid your full recompense.” When will the Day of Judgment come, he asks, and what will happen then? His father explains what the Day of Judgment is, but says that only God knows when it will be. Ahmad, assiduously thanking his father for each answer, still doesn't understand the meaning of one of the terms his father has used, “yawm al-ba‘th,” the Day of Resurrection, but his father doesn't have time to explain it before school, so promises Ahmad he will give him a book about it later that day.

After school Ahmad flips eagerly through the book and realizes that it contains all the information he needs about the resurrection and judgment. He agrees to his father's suggestion that he divide the book into sections, reading just one part each day for a week, so as not to interfere with his schoolwork. At the end of the week, he delightedly gathers excerpts to share with his classmates at school by publishing them in the class newsletter “so they would benefit from the good religious information he had.” [42] This story brings together the father, the Qur’an, radio broadcasts, religious publications, and the school newsletter as sources of religious instruction. The lesson ends by quoting Ahmad's excerpts on death, resurrection, and judgment, but its didactic purpose is not defined merely by their presentation. Like the newspaper story about the virtuous village family memorizing the Qur’an in the last chapter, this fable provides an idealized model of the Muslim family in which parents and children cooperate to strengthen family piety with the help of social institutions responsible for publishing books and broadcasting the Qur’an. This strength and motivation is then transferred to the public domain of the school, just as in the example of ‘Abir and her brother, moral lessons from school were transferred to the home.[43]

In the fourth grade book the school reappears in the very next lesson about a schoolteacher teaching his students about proper Muslim forms of greeting after having them practice their ablutions in the school mosque,[44] and then again where a section on the names and occupations of the angels is framed by a story about the teacher leading his pupils together in the noon prayer:

And the teacher had been used, from time to time, after doing the prayer, to give each one of them a book from the library of the prayer area, to read for a little while, then he directed a little talk and discussion about the topics they wanted to investigate and understand, and to answer their questions, and point them to those things that were right and beneficial in this world and the next.[45]

But the textbooks portray school not just as a place to discover ancient moral truths. School is, in proper Deweyan fashion, a miniature moral universe where looking after one's classroom and one's books, and remembering one's lessons, is one way in which the child serves God.[46] School is like life, with the year-end test differentiating justly between the diligent and negligent students just as God's just accounting on the Day of Judgment will differentiate between people who do good and those who do evil.[47] A section on telling the truth uses a school example to show the child that lying only hurts the liar, and that the rewards for good behavior are immediate and material as well as deferred and spiritual:

For example, if you got a low score on one of your subjects, you have to tell your parents, without exaggerating or minimizing; and you know that truth will benefit you in this case, because when your father learns that your score is low in a subject, he'll help you until you're strong in it, and you will excel among your classmates; truth makes you a winner, and lying a loser.[48]

This passage reveals an interesting idealization of parental behavior keyed to the middle-class home (where, to be sure, the parents are just as likely to hire the pupil's teacher to give after-school lessons, as to help the child themselves). Going to school is the child's job, just as the peasant, the truck driver, and the parent all have their employment, without which society, imagined as an organism very much like the human body in the differentiation and interdependence of its parts, could not function.[49] Islam is the charter for the function of modern society and requires attentiveness to work and mutual cooperation. Even the Prophet, one story shows, worked hard to accomplish group tasks, and refused to eschew manual labor or to be marked with special privilege.[50]

Supplements to Public Sector Instructional Media

There are a number of public and private sector publishing companies in Egypt that develop and market religious material for children. Stories about the lives of the prophets are particularly popular, as are manuals for adults on Islamic upbringing. During my stay in Cairo bookstalls carried, in addition to numerous general works on Islamic childrearing, at least four different manuals on prayer. One of these was for adults newly interested in fulfilling their Islamic obligations, one was for older children who could already read, and two were illustrated guides for parents and families on how to teach children to pray properly. Some companies are moving into a more upscale market as well, selling their products to private schools and through selected bookstores. The Safir Publishing Company was established in 1982 to do advertising and publicity (they placed advertising for, among other periodicals, the Muslim Brotherhood's monthly al-I‘tisam). In 1986 they opened a new operation, the design and publication of Islamic instructional material for younger children.

These materials are designed by the Children's Culture Unit (Wahda Thaqafa al-Tifl) in the company's main office in Muhandisin, a modern and prestigious area in Giza that has been the beneficiary of much of the new wealth of Sadat's post-1974 Open Door policy, which substantially liberalized regulation of foreign investment in Egypt. The company has a well-planned and aggressive sales policy, with representatives in each Egyptian governorate marketing their material to local bookstores and private schools. They also sell their products in other countries, both Islamic and non-Islamic (in Britain and the United States, for example), taking advantage of national, regional, and international book fairs.

Karim Shafik, whom we met briefly in the last chapter, had helped found the Children's Culture Unit at Safir before moving on to another publisher. He explained to me that the company had perceived a need for books concentrating on the preschool level, because all of the available ones were too simple. The basic idea behind Safir products was to provide a supplement (idafa) or an aid (masa‘da) for parents and for teachers in private schools, to give children a strong foundation in basic skills. The other goal of the company was to “Islamize the curricula,” since the basis of all knowledge is religion (haqiqat il-‘ilm id-din).

The company felt, he said, that books specifically about Islam should operate through “bab al-idah,” the path of clarification, attending to the child's nature and relying on “tabsit mafahim al-islam,” the simplification of Islamic concepts, by involving children in activities, like games. “I saw children playing some of the games of the kind you have had in America,” Karim said, “and how they concentrated on them and learned from playing them. That was the beginning of games like Battles of the Prophet,” one of the board games the company produced. When the government produces religious books, one member of Safir's staff complained, all they care about is al-hukm (authority, governmental control) and cost; and although Safir tries to produce economical materials, “it's not a charitable institution.” [51]

The company's pedagogical strategy, according to Karim, was rooted in the idea that

the child's capacity for memorization is much greater than his capacity for understanding. The memorization of the Qur’an can do a lot of things. It can improve pronunciation and diction, it can provide a basis for adab. But one thing that the memorization of the Qur’an cannot do, is to change your behavior or your comportment by itself. Because even if it's memorized, it's not understood, and the explanation of the meaning of the Qur’an requires a lot of work, and what modern methods do is to explain the context of the Qur’an in simple terms by breaking it down into principles and dwelling on those. So by the use both of memorization—and I myself have never memorized the Qur’an—and modern methods, we can fulfil all the aims we seek.

For example, we see that in the United States there are all kinds of social problems stemming from sexual excess and perversions, which lead to things like the AIDS epidemic, and we want to avoid that kind of thing here, but how do you explain such things to a child? The answer is that you start out by building a strong foundation based on clear, basic principles. Tarbiya has to do with the sound upbringing of the child (tanshi’a wa salihat it-tifl), to make an individual who is useful to society. You can think of da‘wa as the delivery of information (tawsil al-mafahim), whereas tarbiya is the formation of the human personality.[52]

Aside from acquiring specifically moral skills, the company expects children to benefit in other ways from using such products. In the introduction to one of their coloring book series, the editors explain that, since childhood is the time when the basic features of the human personality are set in place and the faculties of the child develop quickly, it is important to pay close attention to these processes. The use of these coloring books will “improve the capabilities of the child” through helping him develop nervous and muscular coordination, an appreciation of beauty, “a sense for the harmony of spaces and sizes and colors,” and artistic ability. Furthermore, it “plants divine doctrine in the child's emotional life by tying together the whole universe with its Creator, who has command over everything he created.” The job of the teacher or parent is to demonstrate to the child “God's abilities and his wisdom in the creation of the various creatures presented in [the] book.” And finally, by coloring the pictures himself, the child learns self-confidence, and the importance of caring for his own property.[53]

These goals are pursued skillfully in a number of series of books and other materials. Unlike cheap public sector religious textbooks, Safir's materials are of the highest quality, using well-printed colored pictures on slick paper stock, clear line drawings, and calligraphy. In addition to board games, of which the company produces at least three, there are several series of coloring books, flash cards, paper models of Islamic monuments, illustrated stories, books on adab and on the principles of Islam, capsule summaries of famous Islamic books, and workbooks for different subjects, from religion to arithmetic and English. Safir also sells Islamic jigsaw puzzles and produces posters with Islamic themes, all printed in color on heavy card stock, and a line of Islamic greeting cards. Various outside consultants, including educators, psychologists, and religious scholars cooperate in the conception, design, and writing of the books and other materials.

By and large, the books are quite close thematically to the products of the Ministry of Education. Stories illustrate basic rules of faith and behavior: put your trust in God during times of adversity, keep the streets clean, obey your parents. Model social practices are described in stories of model—and not so model—children as well. In one story a young boy learns through a painful experience not to disobey his parents.[54] In another, a series of annotated cartoon panels shows us “A Day in the Life of a Muslim Child.” Like the government, private sector publishers functionalize Islamic teachings and practices, reading divine intention from the shape of the social and natural worlds. Just as the government books teach that daily prayers “invigorate the body,” and “accustom the Muslim to organization, and respect for appointed times,” [55] Safir produces materials like the illustrated story book al-Sufuf al-Munadhdhama (Orderly Lines), which emphasize that “al-nidham min al-iman,” orderliness proceeds from faith. The book's pictures and text compare alternate realities on facing pages. On one page, a clerk at a service window waits on patient men standing in a neat, quiet line, while on the facing page an employee in a different office serves a pushy, unruly, and ill-mannered crowd whose own behavior undermines his ability to attend to their requests. The first line proceeds in an orderly manner, each petitioner's papers being processed quickly and efficiently, while in the second scenario, men butt into the front of the line, fights break out, a wallet is stolen in the confusion of pushing and shouting. Soon the first employee has finished his work and can break for lunch, while no work at all has been completed in the second case.

In the final illustrations, the clerk in the first picture steps out of his office and begins to lecture to the assembly on the facing page. “If only you knew the lesson that we learned from prayer,” he says. “During collective prayer we must straighten the rows, just as in all our lives, we must have order, order…” In the ensuing conversation he informs the crowd that God will not look favorably at prayer rows that are crooked, because Islam is a religion of order and discipline (al-islam din al-nidham wa al-indibat). Order saves time and ensures fairness, and the men of the crowd finally realize that God teaches us through everything, and that the straight rows of prayer teach us that order and discipline will help tranquility and satisfaction to prevail in all human endeavor.[56]

The proposition that “Islam is a religion of order and discipline,” and that the straight rows of prayer are part of a divine pedagogy, contrasts sharply with the colonial perception of Muslim ritual behavior (whether prayer or the rhythmic rocking during kuttab study) as a primitive feature of a backward faith. It places Islamic rituals on a par with the disciplinary technologies of the school, as described by Foucault and Mitchell, borrowing a modern European conception of self and projecting it backward in time, so that the Muslim umma becomes, once again, the historical antecedent and type specimen of civilized community. One interpretation of this statement might take it seriously in a Bourdieuian sense, and posit that the straight lines of prayer are one manifestation of a pervasive but implicit habitus that causes Egyptians to experience spatial and kinesic regimentation as natural, simply by living it in their everyday lives.[57] The mental habits and the physical skills of prayer, taught implicitly at home and then explicitly in the religion class, and displayed publicly there in the form of recitation, response, and even on-demand display of proper prayer positions (rehearsed and mastered, at least in pantomime fashion, in the first grade), could be seen as part of the habitus.

But things are not as simple as this. While the practice of prayer might install the habitus of prayer, there is no reason to believe that this habitus becomes a generalized behavioral template, extended indefinitely to other realms of experience. The significant feature of this discourse of order and discipline is, instead, its framing of ritual behavior as a code that should be read rather than merely a habit that should be cultivated. In learning that “Islam is a religion of order and discipline,” through the example of the straight lines of prayer, the child is prompted to interpret aspects of social reality as having meanings beyond those that they proclaim or manifest directly. I would argue that contemporary pedagogy implicitly instills this habit of interpretation, this tafsir of the phenomenal world, in effect democratizing the creation of political ideologies, even if this means merely bringing implicit assumptions into the realm of the spoken.[58]

Through the school, students learn to derive ideologies from the observation of social practices or natural phenomena. Egyptians do not carry the hexis of orderly prayer into other areas of their lives. It is context-bound, and only the symbolic elaboration that has come with the functionalization of the religious tradition allows the reading of a portable “order and discipline” into it.[59] In fact, as John Bowen has shown in the case of Indonesia, the Muslim prayer ritual “cannot be “decoded” semantically because it is not designed according to a single symbolic or iconic code. In particular times and places Muslims have construed the salat as conveying iconic or semantic meanings, but as part of particular spiritual, social and political discourses.” [60]

In any ritual there are a number of features that can be made to signify. In Bowen's Indonesian example, local communities, governments and Islamic reform movements make specific aspects of prayer (e.g., its formality and periodicity, its communicative functions, its public nature) express ideal models of society, political divisions, theological notions, and community structure. Muslims elsewhere sometimes interpret the straight rows of prayer as battle lines arrayed against the forces of evil.[61] The ritual is a rich source of alternative meanings that can be foregrounded and mobilized by specific groups. But underlying those specific mobilizations is the explicitness of the interpretive framework encouraged by an educational discourse centered on the abstraction of “principles” from the turath, the Islamic heritage.

Two things should be emphasized here with respect to the Egyptian case. The first is that the preoccupation with function is a general cognitive framework for the interpretation of social objects and events, an intellectual practice that is applied publicly both in strategic educational planning and in the mundane communication of subject matter in the classroom. Again, to take the example of ritual ablutions, educators use the connection between cleanliness and the Islamic tradition to encourage hygienic behavior, advising students that hygiene is the primary intent of the ritual. In learning this lesson, children learn both the explicit message that Islam looks after the individual's health and the implicit message that Islamic practices are to be examined for their latent functions and their social effect. In essence, the intertextual structure of “traditional” Islamic scholarship, which linked primary texts with written commentaries and glosses, has been broken. For in schoolbook discourse, sacred texts are linked with the observable world, both natural and social, as both their referent and their best proof. The ordinary educated Muslim need not master a complex body of legal or philosophical material in order to participate in functionalist discourse; the physician, the engineer, and the bureaucrat are equally well-equipped to bring their experiences of social, mechanical, and natural order into the discussion of God's nature.

Second, this functionalization occurs without the desacralization of the material, so that the process Durkheim described early in this century as one of the goals of the modern educational system is subverted.[62] Naturalistic and materialistic explanations coexist with supernatural ones, for Muslims perceive the two as noncontradictory. The “real” reasons for religious practices do not strip off their theological cloaks. Since God is concerned with the welfare of the Muslim community, the prescriptions of Islam are not only beneficial, but manifestly rational. What is left is to see how these utilitarian ideologies are consolidated and maintained in public culture after the child leaves the elementary school's moral assembly line.


1. Bourdieu and Passeron, Reproduction in Education, pp. 58–59. [BACK]

2. George Devereaux and Edwin Loeb, “Antagonistic Acculturation,” American Sociological Review 8, 2 (April 1943), pp. 133–47. [BACK]

3. Messick, The Calligraphic State, p. 54. [BACK]

4. Messick, The Calligraphic State, pp. 55–56. [BACK]

5. Messick, The Calligraphic State, pp. 65–66. [BACK]

6. Ong, Interfaces of the Word, p. 88. [BACK]

7. See, especially, Willis, Learning to Labour, pp. 171–76; also Williams, Sociology of Culture, p. 188. [BACK]

8. A. J. Arberry, The Koran Interpreted, vol. 2 (New York: Macmillan, 1955), p. 264. [BACK]

9. Yusuf al-Hamadi and Muhammad Shahhat Wahdan, Kitab al-tarbiya al-diniyya al-islamiyya, lil-saff al-sadis al-ibtida’i (Cairo: al-Hay’a al-‘amma li-shu’un al-mutabi‘ al-amiriyya, 1976), pp. 108–10. [BACK]

10. Yusuf al-Hamadi, Muhammad Mukhtar Amin Mukram, and Dr. ‘Abd al-Maqsud Shalqami, Tarbiya al-Muslim, lil-saff al-sadis al-ibtida’i (Cairo: al-Jihaz al-markazi lil-kutub al-jami‘iyya wa al-madrasiyya wa al-wasa’il al-ta‘limiyya, 1981), pp. 97–98. [BACK]

11. First grade religious studies textbook, 1988–89, pp. v–vi. [BACK]

12. Third grade religious studies textbook, 1988–89, p. 3. [BACK]

13. First grade religious studies textbook, 1988–89, p. v. [BACK]

14. Second grade religious studies textbook, 1988–89, p. 3. [BACK]

15. Third grade religious studies textbook, 1988–89, p. 3. [BACK]

16. Third and fourth grade religious studies textbook, 1988–89, p. 3. [BACK]

17. Table 3 summarizes an analysis of the proportion of the textbooks devoted to specific topics. The analysis was made easier by the fact that the texts are divided into sections with particular, labeled themes. Because of the way the text was organized, each page could usually be treated as a unit for the purpose of coding; i.e., there was not usually more than one kind of material covered on a single page. Where this was not the case, and a page had more than one category of material on it, an even fraction (one-quarter, one-third, one-half, etc.), was usually sufficient to express the proportion of space devoted to particular topics. Where material of one type was included in a section of text of another type (e.g., a story about the Prophet Muhammad in a section on the pillars of Islam), it was not coded differently from the section in which it was included; the authors' categorization of material is treated as primary. [BACK]

18. I should emphasize that these processes are derived from my own examination of the texts, and do not necessarily correspond to the conscious intentions or productive processes of their creators. [BACK]

19. First grade religious studies textbook, 1988–89, p. 65. [BACK]

20. Illustrating the Ramadan sections in the first, second, and fifth grade textbooks are what appear to be three different drawings of the same mosque, a medium-size structure set against the background of some multistory dwellings that could exist in any but the very smallest towns in the country. [BACK]

21. Second grade religious studies textbook, 1988–89, p. 40. [BACK]

22. Third grade religious studies textbook, 1988–89, p. 37. [BACK]

23. Fifth grade religious studies textbook, 1988–89, p. 89. There is a matching question in the section of review questions following the story, “What is the role and status of Egypt in the Arab and Islamic world?” From an Islamic rather than a political perspective, this is an odd interpretation of the story of Joseph. A. Chris Eccel points out that he has “rarely seen the ‘ulama’ refer to ancient Egypt except as a symbol for paganism, as it is treated in the Kur’an.” Egypt, Islam, and Social Change: Al-Azhar in Conflict and Accommodation (Berlin: Klaus Schwarz Verlag, 1984), p. 350. [BACK]

24. This is an astounding feat, given that even the Pharaoh Akhenaton's monotheism was at that point still at least three hundred years in the future. Yusuf ‘Ali's commentary on the Qur’an places the story of Joseph “somewhere between the 19th and the 17th century B.C.” The Holy Qur’an (Brentwood, Md.: Amana Corporation, 1983), p. 406. [BACK]

25. See, for example, discussions of plastic surgery (al-Liwa’ al-islami, 1 December 1988, p. 5), or conversations with the mufti on family planning (al-Ahram, 7 February 1989, p. 8). [BACK]

26. Zamzam (July 1989), p. 22. The discovery is credited to Dr. ‘Abd al-Nasir Ibrahim Muhammad Harara. [BACK]

27. One will occasionally find photographs in Muslim periodicals of honeycombs in which the bees have blocked off cells to spell the divine name, or “Allah” inscribed by natural blight on the surface of a leaf. In the summer of 1993 I found a particularly good example of this convention on the wall of a Cairo juice bar. The proprietor had taped up a double-page spread from a private sector religious periodical purporting to be a photograph of a grove of trees, the trunks of which had naturally grown into the shape of Arabic letters spelling the shahada: “There is no God but God, and Muhammad is His Messenger.” For similar understandings in Europe, see Michel Foucault, The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences (New York: Vintage, 1970), ch. 2. [BACK]

28. Fifth grade religious studies textbook, 1988–89, pp. 73–75. “Al-nidafa min al-iman” is a common proverb in Egypt, appearing painted (ineffectually) on trash receptacles in some parts of Cairo. The siwak itself has become, in the rhetoric of the ‘ulama, a symbol of Islamic alternatives to Western practices (e.g., al-Liwa’ al-islami, 13 October 1988, p. 7). [BACK]

29. See Mary Douglas, Purity and Danger (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1966). “Even if some of Moses's dietary rules were hygienically beneficial,” she wrote, “it is a pity to treat him as an enlightened public health administrator, rather than as a spiritual leader” (p. 29). Max Weber attributed such “reinterpretation of the ritualistic commandments of purity as hygienic prescriptions,” to “modernization.” The Sociology of Religion (Boston: Beacon, 1963), p. 93. [BACK]

30. Concern with the health implications of ablution is relatively recent. A century ago, in his “Report on the Medical and Sanitary Administration of the Government of Egypt,” H. R. Greene, surgeon major and under director of the Services Sanitaires d'Egypte wrote,

Mosques in town and country are all provided with a basin for ablution, in which the water is seldom changed oftener than once in three months. Around this basin are placed a number of foul latrines communicating with a common drain, which, in most instances, runs into a tank or canal from where the drinking supply of the neighborhood is obtained. An examination of most of the principal mosque drains in Lower Egypt last year showed that 73 per cent. ended in the Nile or its branches and that 23 per cent. flowed into stagnant ponds of which the water was used for drinking purposes. In Egypt the Deity is invariably held to be the author of all disease, which should accordingly be submitted to with resignation; nor should any attempt be made by remedying defects to endeavor to controvert the will of the Almighty. (Enclosure in item no. 19 in “Egypt” no. 15 [1885], “Reports on the State of Egypt and the Progress of Administrative Reforms,” Parl. Pap., 1884–85, vol. 89, p. 78)

Sanitary reforms have been treated briefly in Mitchell's Colonising Egypt, pp. 64–68; and extensively in LaVerne Kuhnke's Lives at Risk (University of California Press, 1990). [BACK]

31. First grade religious studies textbook, 1988–89, p. 44n. [BACK]

32. Second grade religious studies textbook, 1988–89, p. 28. [BACK]

33. Fourth grade religious studies textbook, 1988–89, p. 35. [BACK]

34. Fourth grade religious studies textbook, 1988–89, p. 36. [BACK]

35. F. O. Mann, who evaluated the Egyptian school system in 1929 at the request of the Egyptian Ministry of Education, complained that the

process [of examination and cramming] is objectionable in itself but most of all when applied to such subjects as hygiene and morals. Not only is examination in these subjects apt to confuse the essential issue but it attempts to test what obviously cannot be tested by the simplicities of question and answer. The dirtiest little boy ever born might easily get full marks in a written examination in hygiene, and the most doubtful juvenile ever conceived the first place in morality by sheer capacity for the reproduction of platitudes, in the one case physiological, in the other, ethical. (Report on Certain Aspects of Egyptian Education, Rendered to His Excellency, the Minister of Education at Cairo [Cairo: Government Press, 1932], p. 21)


36. The choice of this topic should be obvious from the theme of the book, but should not be interpreted to mean that this theme is “dominant” in the texts in the sense of the proportion of space allotted to it, or that it is singled out for attention by the authors. The discussion here is representative of all instances in the texts in which either the family or the school is recommended or shown to be a source of moral advice to the child. [BACK]

37. Second grade religious studies textbook, 1988–89, p. 73. [BACK]

38. Second grade religious studies textbook, 1988–89, p. 75. [BACK]

39. Fourth grade religious studies textbook, 1988–89, p. 54. [BACK]

40. Third grade religious studies textbook, 1988–89, p. 24. [BACK]

41. Fourth grade religious studies textbook, 1988–89, p. 13. [BACK]

42. Fourth grade religious studies textbook, 1988–89, pp. 14–16. [BACK]

43. The description of the trials and tribulations of ideal families was a central feature of the Victorian Sunday school textbook and the popular religious tract, a genre wonderfully parodied by Mark Twain in “The Story of the Bad Little Boy,” Complete Short Stories of Mark Twain, ed. Charles Neider (New York: Bantam, 1957), pp. 6–9. In Egypt, the rhetorical technique of depicting the school as one of the primary sources of moral and religious lessons matches alterations in the behavior of educated rural families, in which mothers tend to encourage their children to spend their time studying or playing by themselves, isolated from the feared “bad influences” of neighborhood children. Neither exposed to their local age-mates nor expected to care for younger siblings, such children are raised to be more ego-oriented and less concerned with family loyalties. Schoolbook lessons become increasingly more important as sources of social knowledge because notions of neighborliness and of filial piety, as well as of appropriately differentiated sex roles, differ substantially in educated families from those of the surrounding communities. Judy H. Brink, “Changing Child Rearing Patterns in an Egyptian Village,” paper presented at the Middle East Studies Association annual meeting, November 1990. [BACK]

44. Second grade religious studies textbook, 1988–89, pp. 78–79. [BACK]

45. Fourth grade religious studies textbook, 1988–89, p. 27. [BACK]

46. Second grade religious studies textbook, 1988–89, p. 21. [BACK]

47. Fourth grade religious studies textbook, 1988–89, pp. 20–21. [BACK]

48. Fourth grade religious studies textbook, 1988–89, p. 20. [BACK]

49. Third grade religious studies textbook, 1988–89, pp. 43–45; fourth grade religious studies textbook, 1988–89, pp. 75–76. [BACK]

50. Third grade religious studies textbook, 1988–89, p. 46. [BACK]

51. Karim Shafik, interview, 9 August 1989, p. 568. [BACK]

52. Karim Shafik, interview, 9 August 1989, p. 569. [BACK]

53. Al-Muslim al-saghir fi ‘alam al-talwin (Cairo: Safir, n.d.), p. 1. [BACK]

54. Muhammad ‘Abd al-Latif and Dr. Yahya ‘Abduh, Al-Udhun al-kabira (Cairo: Safir, n.d.). [BACK]

55. Second grade religious studies textbook, 1988–89, p. 29. [BACK]

56. ‘Abd al-Tuwab Yusuf and Dr. Yahya ‘Abduh, Al-Sufuf al-munadhdhama (Cairo: Safir, 1988), p. 14. [BACK]

57. Pierre Bourdieu, Outline of a Theory of Practice (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), pp. 87–94; see also Starrett, “The Hexis of Interpretation.” [BACK]

58. Bourdieu, Outline, pp. 167–69. [BACK]

59. “Order,” as Sami Zubaida reminds us in his review of Mitchell's Colonising Egypt, “…is not given in a particular situation, but read into that situation.” “Exhibitions of Power,” Economy and Society 19 (1990), p. 364. [BACK]

60. John Bowen, “ Salat in Indonesia: The Social Meanings of an Islamic Ritual,” Man, n.s., 24 (1989), p. 615. [BACK]

61. Fischer and Abedi, Debating Muslims, p. 291. [BACK]

62. Emile Durkheim, Moral Education (New York: Free Press, 1961). [BACK]

6. Growing Up: Four Stories

The youth of every nation are the secret of its strength, and the pillars of its rebirth, and the sign of its advancement; indeed, the believing youngster spends the period of his youth preparing himself for a noble life, and directs his energy toward useful works in building his future and raising his moral and intellectual level.

The processes reviewed in the last chapter transform the Islamic tradition not merely by molding it into a novel format—one could just as easily spend class time memorizing condensed legal manuals—but specifically by folding the child's phenomenal experience of the everyday into his understanding of the sacred, coaxing illuminations of God's will from the humble intersection of personal habit and the image of public good. Coded by age grade and supervised by the mechanics of the examination, these books (as well as children's literature produced by the private sector) act as supplementary revelation and updated sunna in which archetypal modern characters mingle with the prophets of the Qur’an and the exemplary citizens of Medina depicted in hadiths. The textbooks' wise fictional parents and teachers are messengers who bridge the imperfections of reality and the perfection of the divine. In the same way, the discoveries of science display God's will in an EKG pattern as surely as do Qur’anic evocations of the movement of the stars. In using the phenomenal world—both natural and social—as a framework through which divine truth is to be understood and in which it is to be applied, these texts continually renew divinity's instantiations to match human experiences at particular times and places.

Functionalization, as a set of discursive and social practices that provides both for the interpretation and the application of these divine truths, constructs not so much a single reading of Islam, but a framework in which Islam is to be read. Diametrically opposed positions can be derived from the same assumptions or observations, and disagreements then acquire the spurious appearance of fundamental difference when in fact they reveal a common set of understandings. As an example, compare the following three passages:

1. The renaissance of Islamic society stands upon the faith of individuals, and on the effects of this faith on their behavior.…[The Muslim] balances the demands of religion and the world, and works for [this] world as he does for the next, is precise in his work, and increases production without delay or indifference, until he has achieved prosperity, advancement and economic development for society.[2]

2. Work is a fundamental in the life of the individual, because it provides him with what he needs, and maintains his dignity and sets up for him and his family a respectable level of living, just as it is a fundamental in the life of society, because the wealth of the umma is a result of the work of its individuals, and there is no way to increase production without work in various fields: agriculture, manufacturing, trade, construction, teaching, and other profitable areas.[3]

3. There is in the Mahomedan religion itself a great want of encouragement to art, science, or industry. It does not give honour to labour. The book and the sword are the only two objects which it presents as worthy of the ambition or the reverence of its votaries. The Imams, who sometimes preach with the Koran in one hand and a wooden scimitar in the other, are living emblems of the present state of the Mussulman world—for the sword is powerless, and the book speaks in vain. Agriculture has no praise in the Koran, nor has manufacture nor commerce: it is the book of the desert, addressed to the inhabitants of the wilderness.…The Koran was addressed to warriors—to the fighting men of the waste. The Mahometan cultivator seems to accept and resign himself to a recognised condition of humiliation and inferiority—for him there is little comfort in the holy book.[4]

Despite their surface differences, the first two passages are essentially identical to the last in their understanding of the nature of religion. (The shorter passages are drawn from the Egyptian government's 1988 eighth grade religious studies textbook; the third is from the report on Egypt and Cyprus that Bowring submitted to the British government a century and a half earlier.) The extent to which Bowring's superficially distinctive passage is an ethnocentric representation of difference, a libel against Islam, and an offensive stereotype of the “indolent Oriental” is beside the point. What is significant is its agreement with the first two excerpts in their construction of the social categories into which religion in general is thought to fit. In this case, religion as a system of belief and practice should have something to say about work. There is, of course, no a priori reason why religious systems should pay any attention at all to productive or commercial activity, whether encouraging or discouraging it (although Islamic law, specifically, does have a long tradition of concern for commerce). What statements of this type do is not merely construct specific content—whether Islam does or does not honor work—but construct Islam as a whole by defining its extension, by defining work as one of the things about which Islam has something to say.

This discourse of work, as well as those of personal respectability, intellectual humility, and social accountability, are important and recurrent themes. Having seen in the last two chapters how adults structure religious communication with youngsters, we can continue to explore these themes by entering the religious environment of the older Egyptian child struggling to create his own personality while parents, politicians, and educators continue to guide him along various paths to adulthood. The stories teachers and parents tell their children in the process of forming them into responsible family members and useful citizens are obviously only a part—and arguably a very small part—of the stories they hear, the stories they live, and the stories they make for themselves.

We have seen in Islamic theory that the child passes through three stages of social and spiritual development. But alongside this religious progression lie other sets of age labels. Like its American counterpart, the Egyptian periodization of aging is imprecise and context-dependent. In rural Egypt, as in Yemen and elsewhere, children are often referred to as juhhal (sing. jahil), meaning “ignorant.” They are socially unformed beings in whom proper adab has to be cultivated.[5] Among middle-class urbanites, the word often used is tifl (pl. atfal), which means “baby,” a word that can refer to young babies specifically, or to children in general anywhere from birth to age eighteen or so, as can walad (pl. awlad), which means “boy.” Either term essentially refers to “kids.” Sibbi, “child” or “youth,” is sometimes used by teachers and psychologists for children between the ages of six and sixteen. Other terms are murahiq, “teenager” or “adolescent,” a learned word that applies to the older end of the age range, and tali‘a, which means, literally, “vanguard,” and is usually used in the plural, tala’i‘. Like sibbi, these last two terms are more commonly used in writing than in speech. Far more common is the social and age category shabb (pl. shabab), which begins between the ages of thirteen to sixteen or eighteen, and extends through the late twenties or early thirties. The shabab are essentially marriageable (or sexually mature) but unmarried young people. The word is used in much the same way as the English word youth, referring to a collective, almost as if it were an organized and independent social force. When pundits refer to the children or youth of the nation, they speak of awladna or atfalna, “our children,” and al-shabab, “the youth,” or shababna, “our youth.” This primary contrast set directs our movement from looking at the religious discourse aimed at children toward looking at that aimed at youth.

There are four areas where state interests intersect with the life cycle of the shabab: sexual development and marriage; the awakening of political consciousness and the beginnings of economic activity; the development of attitudes toward official religious institutions; and the role of educational and public outreach programs in the moral guidance of youth as they cross the threshold to adulthood and find their place in the worlds of family and work irrevocably altered. The stories people tell about this transition coexist, merge, and contrast in various ways with the stories they find ready-made for them in the increasingly Islamicized public environment. As we continue to explore these stories told by the textbook, the newspaper, and the radio, the political implications of this “mediated” Islam will become clearer. What we will see is that a religious authority based on the creation and utilization of mass literacy destabilizes the relationship between traditional religious elites, secular professionals, and the public. In Egypt as elsewhere in the Muslim world, religious messages become increasingly hard to govern the more intensely they are deployed.

It's Not Haram, But They Might Not Understand It

Samia ‘Abd al-Rahman's daughter, Nadia, was in the ninth grade when I first met her in 1989. She resembled Samia both in appearance and in dress, since she had been a muhaggaba since puberty. “Girls biyithaggibu [don higab] when they first get their period,” Samia explained, naturalizing her daughter's experience despite the fact that most Egyptian women today have made that choice later in their lives. Just as in her younger days, when learning about Islam was just as natural as getting tall, Nadia had always remained a good girl, her mother said, who never had to be coaxed or prodded to do the right thing. “Except,” she remembered,

about six months ago, she said to me, I have friends who are boys, why don't I call them on the phone, or have them call me. At first I said, don't call them, and don't let them call you. It's not haram, but they might not understand it, and might think the wrong thing.

And she said to me, well, you have male friends, and you talk to them on the phone, and they come over here and talk to you, why can't I do the same? I told her that it was because I had chosen these friends, and I trusted them, and that I am mature enough and experienced enough to know how to handle the situation if something isn't correct. She said to me, but in Islam, there's halal and haram, and if it's not the one, you shouldn't do it.

We went on like that, and I said that if she called them, the family of the boy might not understand, and so on. She finally solved the problem herself, by saying, I will not speak to him anymore, and he will not speak to me, because I think I love him, but he's in love with another girl. Now, since she's a teenager, she's very anti-men. They're all dirty, she says, and they just don't deserve to be paid attention to. Now she makes my days black, because when my friends call, she says I shouldn't speak to them!

I'm very frank in dealing with Nadia. I tell her things directly, and don't approach things by indirect ways. So I told her, it's haram to kiss boys or let them kiss you. And she said, Mama! How can you talk about things like this? But you know, at her age, boys and girls are always touching and pulling at each other, and slapping, and so on. She does shake hands with men. But on the schoolbus that she takes, she has seen some girls sitting in the laps of the boys, and was shocked by that.[6]

Nadia, turning against her mother the adolescent's universal sensitivity to discrepancies between theory and its application, was practicing with a rhetorical power aimed at asserting her own status as an arbiter of culture and custom.[7] Manipulating and experimenting with the discourse of absolutes, she claimed a position of superiority when her life circumstances changed and a plausible interpretation of Islamic gender segregation made a virtue of her necessity. Such disputes and negotiations over the nature of rules (“it's not haram, but…”), where rules apply (“she does shake hands with men”) and—most importantly—who can apply them (“now, when my friends call, she says I shouldn't speak to them!”), are as common between age grades as they are between political, ethnic, gender, or class rivals.

As in the home, schools deal with the potentials and problems of young teens by continuing to present them with models of proper behavior. Sex is approached gingerly in the religion curriculum for students like Nadia. It is confined, in the preparatory schoolbooks, to a single dialogue in which a teacher condemns youths' harassing comments to young women on the street.[8] Deeper consideration of sex and marriage is postponed until the final year of secondary school, when the issues of engagement, marriage, and the rearing of children enter the religion curriculum. In Cairo the average age of marriage for both men and women is rising steadily as it takes longer and longer each year for struggling families to save or borrow the money to finance a marriage. Marriage expenses include not only payments by the groom and the bride's accumulation of a suitable trousseau, but the celebration itself and the acquisition of an apartment in an artificially tight housing market. As Diane Singerman has shown, the investments families make in the marriage of their children are often the largest capital outlays of their lives. The prolonged period between physical maturity and marriage, together with family pressures that discourage the free association between young men and women, is stressful for everyone, particularly because families count on their reputations for upright behavior to attract suitable marriage partners for their children when the time comes.[9]

Since the reproduction of the family is at the center of everyday political and economic activities for most Egyptians, as well as being in theory the primary basis for a true Muslim society, schoolbooks depict marriage as one of God's principal intentions for humankind. Books advise young people to select their companions for religious and moral values rather than superficial qualities like looks or wealth.[10] While textbooks do not delineate the precise extent of parental responsibility in the choice of spouses for their children, they do advise that men and women at least be able to see each other before the engagement, even if the sunna restricts this viewing to the girl's face and hands, with conversation conducted in the presence of a mahram (a male relative of the woman not eligible to marry her).[11] In fact, although restrictions are hardly ever quite so draconian, the interactions of young people both before and after their engagements are closely monitored by relatives and constitute a frequent trigger for family quarrels, gossip, and public comment.[12]

Textbook discussions of family life cover the legal conditions of engagement and marriage, the legal rituals involved in their completion, and the respective rights of husband and wife. As in much of Islamic political writing, the rights of marriage partners are expressed as duties owed to them by other parties, in this case, their mates. Thus, the husband's rights include the expectation that his wife will obey him, manage the household, raise the children properly, and support the family emotionally. She bears the responsibility neither to leave nor to invite people into her husband's house without his permission (either general or specific), a custom of wrenching significance for women moving some distance from their extended families. The rights of the wife include her husband's payment of brideprice, and his financial support for her and her children, along with a suitable residence, sexual intimacy, sympathy, care and cooperation, all after the model of the Prophet's marriages. For young people who cannot marry for reasons of health, disposition, or finance, the Ministry of Education offers the Prophet's advice that fasting helps overcome carnal desires by strengthening control over the conscience and helping one transcend appetites that might otherwise lead to the sin of an unlawful “natural relationship” (‘alaqa tabi‘iyya).[13]

According to Egyptian pundits, the moral confusion responsible for premarital sexual activity, as well as social problems like street violence and drug use, can be traced to a variety of insidious influences. These include not only a staggeringly uneven economy where unemployment and inflationary pressures strangle family income in the face of continually rising expectations, but also the impact of globalized popular culture. Critiques of Egyptian cultural policy, which mandates the centralized monitoring and censorship of radio, film, television, and print production, and the regulation of imported films, videos, and music, cluster around three perspectives. While some critics decry the tendency to look abroad for popular culture when it could be produced more authentically at home, others target sex and violence in entertainment media either as psychologically harmful in general, or specifically as corruptions emanating from “the West.”

Arguing on the basis of economic as much as cultural independence, some newspaper columnists have asked, Why do Egyptians not manufacture girls' dolls named ‘Aisha to compete with Barbie? Why do Mickey Mouse and Tom and Jerry usurp the rightful place of Kalila wa Dimna (a popular pair of Arabic folktale characters)?[14] While Egypt is a prolific producer of soap operas,[15] most local products are outshone both in production quality and in popularity by American serials like Dallas, Knot's Landing, and Falcon Crest. Heavily edited for Egyptian viewing, these shows nevertheless saturate the airwaves with images of the wealthy, the decadent, and the promiscuous (albeit wealthy, decadent and promiscuous extended families often living in joint households, which partially accounts for their fascination: it is the social world of the Egyptian family with both its economic resources and its values precisely reversed). These shows are a constant subject not only of friendly conversations, but of newspaper editorials and letters, like this one in al-Ahram, written by the superintendent of geography at a private secondary school in Alexandria:

Great throngs of viewers have developed a powerful infatuation with [Falcon Crest], the proof of which is the increase in the length of commercials preceding it! It's certain that this series is nothing but a summons destructive and ruinous to every standard. For it deals, with great charm and detail, with how to murder one's brothers, and how to carry out wife-swapping with ease, and how to hatch every kind of vile and base plot! [It shows] how forbidden affections are open and public and acceptable to everybody, and practiced by everybody!! All this without any obstacle from religion or human nature or conscience.

After extolling the show's lavish production values, acting, photography, and the wardrobe of the stars, which is provided by “some of the trendiest fashion houses in the world,” the author demands,

Is this series a devastating cultural assault intended to infiltrate without awareness the subconscious of our youth and our daughters and our wives? Or is it a hidden appeal for the disintegration of values and the decay of society? And where is the supervision of all this? Of course I don't have official censorship in mind, for that has allowed its presentation…on the contrary, I contemplate supervision by the conscience of the nation [damir al-’umma] as represented by venerable men of religion and social scientists and the greatest intellectuals and writers and critics.…In general I call on all the viewers of this series to delve deeply into its contents and to perceive for themselves its danger and its aim: that it is, as I believe myself, deadly poison covered in the sweetest wrapping![16]

This sort of cultural critique, familiar to Americans in the conservative post-Reagan era, is an important reflection of a growing worldwide debate about the social, psychological and moral effects of market-based cultural production. Another columnist reminds the public that “We owe it to our children not to leave their enculturation to chance and dim-sightedness, and then to complain that among them are young addicts and deviants from our values.” [17] Medical experts counsel the public that media images can disrupt the balance between good and evil within a person, potentially triggering outbursts of random violence, as demonstrated by a press report of a young Australian man who wounded two dozen people in Melbourne after a rampage induced by seeing the movie Rambo. According to Dr. Muhammad Sha‘lan, professor of psychiatry at al-Azhar,

Sometimes artistic works contradict what is within a certain person living in certain circumstances, and the two are thrown together and cause an explosion…this doesn't mean that the artistic works are responsible, but if the works gave admirable models in leading roles, this person would have imitated a good model rather than a bad model like Rambo; these days violence is getting the better of us; violence in art and violence in life. We used to watch “Cinderella,” and now karate films are what we watch.[18]

Other mental health professionals concur. Dr. Sayyid Subhi, a professor of mental health and therapy at ‘Ain Shams, and chair of the Psychology Department at the College of Education in Medina in Saudi Arabia, argues that the victory of self-centered values in modern society, a condition he refers to as “moral retardation” (al-i‘aqa al-khuluqiyya; or “absence of conscience,” ghiyab al-damir), results from noncommitment to religious morals. It manifests itself in, among other things, the spread of drug addiction among Egyptian youth.[19] This is not a discourse rejecting “the West,” but a discourse questioning the nature of “modern society” as such. Often it contrasts a culture anchored in religious values with a culture that has lost its spiritual moorings, a culture become coarse, uncivil, and obsessed by cultural products organized around images of undomesticated (unmarried) sex and (nonmilitary and thus unpatriotic) violence.

The third critical response goes beyond encouraging cultural self- sufficiency or rejecting psychologically damaging entertainment, to foreground the specific cultural differences that distinguish an ideal Muslim society from the mores of Euroamerican society. Islamic critics, in particular, accuse the government of promulgating cultural and educational policies that are not only inconsistent, but positively harmful. While Islamic behavior is emphasized in religion textbooks and political speeches, it is obviously not a feature of Sylvester Stallone epics, nor, the critics say, is it even encouraged across the school curriculum. In a 1989 exposé in al-Nur, the weekly organ of Egypt's tiny Liberal Party, ‘Adil al-Ansari castigated the Ministry of Education and the administration of al-Azhar's secondary institutes for allowing the use of history books that delete mention of the great Muslim victories against the Mongols and Crusaders, and, even worse, the use of English language texts that portray “unveiling and the mixing of the sexes.” Al-Ansari reviewed several cases in which stories and dialogues present Egyptian and European women “unveiled and adorned”; parties and nights on the town in which men and women—both Egyptian and foreign—mix freely and stay out dancing “until three in the morning.” There were pictures of women at hairstylists, or sitting on the ground with hair and knees exposed, and in one instance a mosque in an illustration was complimented for its archaeological rather than its religious significance.

In a final example al-Ansari invoked a story told in the second-year secondary English textbook, in which an English businessman is invited to the apartment of Ibrahim, an Egyptian. Before coming to visit, the Englishman stops to buy flowers for the lady of the house, with her husband's full knowledge: “And when he goes to the home [of his friend], Layla the Egyptian opens [the door] to him and she is unveiled, and she greets this foreign man freely and he gives her the roses and she thanks him and brings him food amidst broad smiles.” [20] From the point of view of the religious activist, the breathless pornographic intent of these examples is clear. They are not merely descriptions of the interactions of English-speaking Egyptians and foreigners (some of the episodes take place abroad, in Lebanon and London, for example), but they are “a clear call to unveiling,” dancing, movie-going, and the mixing of the sexes. Description is perceived as exhortation. Critiques like this are commonplace in the popular press, arguing against the moral laxity of the elites who administer communications and schooling. In this particular case, the article referred to the use of these textbooks in al-Azhar secondary institutes, hinting that even the official religious elites do not have the nation's moral health at heart.

The discursive strategy of such critiques, and of much mainstream reporting as well, is what historian Laurence Moore has called “moral sensationalism,” [21] a strategy widespread in the nineteenth-century United States, where the growing market for written material stimulated publishers to attract wide audiences, and simultaneously drew a sharp response from Christian religious denominations who condemned the salacious content apparently demanded by the masses. In response, writers for mass audiences portrayed themselves as religious messengers and developed a hybrid style in which they could pander to public prurience by recounting in graphic detail the worst kinds of personal and social outrages (drunkenness, gambling, fornication, rape, and murder), for the purposes of criticizing lapses in public morality and the coarsening of public discussion. In both the Christian and Muslim traditions, this strategy has been one of the prime mechanisms moving public religious discourse from concern with doctrine and legal minutiae to concern with abstract moral questions.[22] No longer is religious writing expected to be purely exegesis, legal interpretation, or instruction in ritual performance. Now it can comment on political events, gender roles, or sensational crimes, and still bear a useful moral message. The economic imperatives of mass-produced print force a two-way syncretism in which religious themes benefit from the selling power of suggestiveness, while bawdy or violent themes are partly legitimized by their attendant religious critique. The market in cultural goods steadily alters the corpus of “Islamic” literature by predisposing some kinds of communications rather than others. Related to this transformation of journalistic style is the role university professors, physicians, and mental health specialists play in publicly and authoritatively encouraging religious adherence as a remedy for social and moral disintegration. Whereas in the last chapter we encountered the functionalization of religious practices in the context of teaching religion, here we find it in the context of explaining social and psychological problems. The same rhetorical process that lent medical legitimation to the wudu’ operates here as well: promotion of religion by disinterested secular professionals can be more compelling than the testimony of ‘ulama.

People Use Religion, Too

Because the child is not forever isolated within the family unit, and because of the complexity of modern society with its wealth of opportunities for distraction and corruption, children are exposed to influences that the pious family and the devout instructor can neither approve nor anticipate. Sometimes family standards even conflict with the moral vision of the school, but most busy parents, as concerned as they might be, lack the time to monitor the specifics of their children's school experience, trusting that their own models of adab will suffice, and that personal and family moral commitments will transcend the specific political biases of the state curriculum. Samia ‘Abd al-Rahman told me,

I've never read any of [Nadia's] textbooks, but I do try to correct misunderstandings that she gets from them. Like she might come to me and say, Mama, is it true that the Ottoman empire, or the Mamluk period was bad? I would correct these impressions, saying that the authors were biased in favor of nationalism or secularism, or so on. These two periods of our history are a target of those who want to attack Islam, but instead of attacking the religion of Islam, the rule of the shari‘a and so on, they attack the Ottoman Empire for the mistakes that it made. But we defend it as a frame for Islamic government [al-hukm al-islami]. [Nadia] would hear things here, and she would read In the Shadow of the Qur’an,[23] and other things by Sayyid Qutb, and she was brought up with discussions of Islam and the Islamic Republic and its revolution, and so on.

She tried to teach Nadia to be a critical reader and to focus her thoughts on a career. In 1993 Nadia was studying English and journalism at Cairo University in order, her mother said, “to serve Islam through the medium of English, and through writing.”

Samia herself came late to Islam, having been a socialist and Arab nationalist throughout her marriage to Nadia's father, and discovering only during the 1970s the spiritual significance of religion. On a January 1972 pilgrimage to Mecca she “ higabed” (the Egyptian word is “ithaggab” ), and

felt that it was khisara [loss, waste, pity] to lose it, to take off the Islamic cover. During the Hajj there's something that works inside of you, developing you, making progress in your feelings, making you really aware of the real things in life. And so I decided that for God I should be more obedient. Nothing is worth disobeying Him. Before this I didn't realize that not wearing Islamic garb is disobedient.[24]

During the late 1970s as Iran struggled to find its way around the sterile Cold War choices of capitalism and communism, she discovered the political significance of Islam as well, joining many more prominent Egyptian leftist and secularist intellectuals who made this journey and accrued the label “turathiyun judud ” (new adherents to the Islamic heritage), for their apparent “return” to an acknowledgment of the unique qualities of “Eastern” values as against “Western” cultural imperialism.[25] Personal journeys, while in many ways patterned systematically by the intersections of gender, class, and historical change, can be enormously unpredictable. With respect to religious commitment, both the bland universal truisms of formal instruction and the deeply personal images of the divine developed in the heart of the family can form a personal image of the sacred, which, “if it loses its meaning…can be set aside without being forgotten,” [26] and then regain its salience at another point in life. During periods in life when religious stories have no hold, their meanings are very different.

Muhammad Sulayman, like Samia, is a writer constantly struggling to maintain his standard of living despite holding a full-time job. An assistant editor for a small leftist publishing house in downtown Cairo, he published his first book—a slim black-and-purple volume of modernist poetry—at age thirty-six. Married, but with no children (“they need so much money to raise them. It's just too much to be responsible for”), he is from a town in the delta, where his father was one of the leaders of the local Muslim Brotherhood.

I grew up in a town in Minufiyya with 160,000 people, where the climate [manakh] was very religious. I used to pray [he holds his hands up beside his face and leans forward slightly to indicate prostration], and fast, and all that. Then when I was fifteen or so, my friends and I would go to the theater, and I started reading the work of a playwright named [Bertolt] Brecht, who was a socialist. And it was then that I learned that socialism was not just a book, a monolithic thing with only one idea to it, like there's a God and that's that. Socialism was wide [wasi‘], and it talked about poverty and solutions for poverty and the causes of poverty. Poverty wasn't caused by God, but by people, and people use religion, too. Brecht was full of ideas; tough, difficult ideas.

I wanted to be a director, and I read all of Brecht's plays, and when I understood them I became a leftist. Before that—this was around 1972 or 1973, when I was twenty years old, I was very religious [mutadayyin], but then I just left it altogether. Now, my father taught us everything about religion. He made me memorize the Qur’an. And I've really benefitted from knowing the Qur’an, especially out in the streets.

I was embarrassed when my father found out about my socialism. He said it was forbidden (muharram), and as soon as he learned of it there was a big argument and he kicked me out of the house, just like that, because he was convinced I was an atheist. I saw him just once after that, when he came to visit me in prison in 1977. Just that one time, and then afterwards he died. I have one brother, but he's gone; moved to Canada. And one sister, who's 28 now. She used to be a socialist, but now she's a religious muhaggaba. She's married to a businessman with a lot of money, and is concentrated on her work and on raising her kids. She's an assistant professor at the college of engineering, and is also getting her Ph.D there. My sister, we talk on the phone about once a year, but otherwise have no contact. You know how it is, we have relations of love because we're brother and sister, but not relations of friendship. She had taken on higab during the time I was in prison, because she was living in the house of my father.

In prison I met all kinds of people, including the religious ones, but they all thought I was a heathen [kafir] so although we had lots of discussions of things all the time, in terms of personal relations things never went beyond greetings. It's the same with my religious friends from childhood. They don't like to talk to me, because there's a verse in the Qur’an [he recites the verse] that says you're not supposed to associate with the kuffar.[27]

Muhammad's depressing story of estrangement from family and friends illustrates the suspicion with which different portions of the religious and political spectra view each other both then and now, as well as the paranoid politics of Sadat's regime, which imprisoned at one time or another nearly every dissenting voice in the country. The year during which Muhammad was imprisoned, 1977, was the year in which Sadat issued his call for a renewal of religious education in response to the January food riots, a call that underscored the importance accorded to this activity as a foundation of social and political stability. In the religion curricula of preparatory and secondary schools, political and economic concerns play a substantial role. In particular, there is a sustained emphasis on the role Islamic values and conduct play in the solution of problems like those that drove Muhammad Sulayman to socialism: the causes and effects of poverty. More than one-third of the eleventh grade textbook, in fact, is devoted to the presentation of Islamic prescriptions on lawful and unlawful gain, interest, usury, business practices, and spending on righteous causes. (This is also where the excerpts on Islam and work, quoted at the beginning of the chapter, are to be found.)

Religious studies textbooks for the preparatory school (roughly an American junior high or middle school, grades seven through nine) and secondary school (equivalent to grades ten through twelve in high school) are far more consistent in a formal sense than those in the primary curriculum. Each section of text regularly consists of a selection of Qur’anic verses or a Prophetic saying, followed directly by definitions of difficult vocabulary, an exposition of the meaning and intent of the passage, and a set of questions for discussion. Gone are the hymns, pictures, and matching exercises of the earlier grades. In their place are logical and legal arguments, beginning with ontological and teleological proofs of God's existence and power, based on two carefully distinguished sorts of evidence: rational and traditional (al-‘aql wa al-naql).[28]

Consistently emphasizing natural theology, books elaborate themes introduced in earlier grades, developing logical proofs from natural models of the necessity for the division of labor and the orderliness of society. So just as communities of ants, bees, and humans have leaders, the cosmos must have a supreme authority in God.[29] Expanding on the theme of authority and discipline, the requirement of prayer is adduced as traditional evidence for the necessity of order in society. Prayer is incumbent upon Muslims not only because God ordered it as a link between the divine and the created, but

because in prayer there is rising and bowing and prostration, all actions that invigorate the body, and the Muslim devotes himself to work with zeal and energy, and increases production and spreads the good, and promotes [the progress of] the nation.…[P]rayer accustoms us to order, and the keeping of appointments, and the binding together of Muslims with cooperative ties and love and harmony.…[C]ollective prayer binds society with ties of brotherhood and equality, as it acquaints every Muslim with the condition of his brothers.[30]

Moral behavior is closely linked not only with public order, but with economic development. The Ramadan fast, the books explain, reduces friction between the rich and poor by letting the wealthy experience the hunger and privation of the needy, prompting generous alms. This produces serenity in the hearts of the poor so that “everybody applies themselves to their work, and production increases, society becomes happy, and its economy develops.” [31] The fast also works indirectly by giving Muslims practice in willpower, helping to free them of “ugly habits like smoking, which takes its evil toll on the person's health, and then he can't do his work, and it reduces his productivity and reduces family income and causes the country's economy to slump.” [32]

Although humans are responsible for cooperating with each other to build and reform society, the process is still guided by God, who can override human effort as he pleases. Children are taught that the fulfillment of their own desires is secondary to the good of the society of believers, which God's wisdom safeguards. In the eighth grade children read the story of Ahmad, who

had wanted, after taking the General Secondary examination, to enroll in the College of Medicine, but his scores didn't enable him to realize his hope, and he enrolled in the War College. Emerging an officer, he had the honor of participating in the 10th of Ramadan War, whose heroes became eligible to be decorated because of their participation. He was most happy for this honor, as were his father and his family. Ahmad had wanted, and his father had wanted, and his family had wanted, but God does what he wants, and it was to the greatest good what He decided and willed.[33]

Elementary and preparatory schooling, a fictive teacher explains, provide technical education for every Egyptian so that he will have a vocation that will help him in “satisfying his needs and gratifying his desires.” Love for Egypt and for Islam requires everyone to seek responsible employment, which will promote “the honor of the nation and its citizens,” [34] but those who avoid honest labor are “weeds that suck up their nutrients to destroy useful plants and living things.” [35] A hadith of the Prophet condemning the destruction of shade trees in the desert is extended to all kinds of contemporary public facilities: means of transport such as buses and trains; means of communication such as telegraph, telephone, and mail offices; and public services such as schools, hospitals, libraries, museums, gardens and public restrooms. Students are warned against vandalizing or interfering with them, promising “those who would destroy them of a painful punishment on the Day of Resurrection.” [36]

Such discussions of work show how far the functionalization of religion can go toward wholly transforming religion's symbolic import. In its simplest form, the connection between Islam and labor may be expressed in a phrase from one of Safir's coloring books: “al-islam din al-‘amal” (Islam is a religion of work). More than the concrete notion that “Islam is a religion of cleanliness,” or the abstract one that “Islam is a religion of order and discipline,” the idea that “Islam is a religion of work” brings the whole weight of the religious heritage down behind a political program. It not only marks labor with divine intent, but marks the religious system with sociopolitical intent, and in so doing changes that system into something new. Function is a self-fulfilling prophecy, for once religion is perceived as useful in achieving given ends, it becomes used in prosecuting those ends (whether or not it does in fact achieve them), and that imputed functionality becomes in turn one of its empirical features.

I Had Some Friends There

Despite the relatively tight social controls Egyptian families impose on their children, many urban shabab, like the restless young hittistes (“wall-leaners”) of Algeria,[37] find ample opportunity for social and ideological experimentation in Cairo's broad shopping avenues, its backstreet drug subculture, its movie houses, schoolyards, and mosques. The spreading demands of the school, the workshop, or the office require that many young people be away from their families for long periods each day, and for the millions of unemployed the negative freedom of time opens up all sorts of opportunities that worry parents, politicians, and intellectuals alike. The cultural experimentation of youth—sometimes fickle and transitory, sometimes life-changing—unites across as well as divides along class and geographical lines. Brecht finds his way to the provinces, and inspired provincial youth flock to university or employment in the capital. Bedouin boys grow Islamist beards and receive impossible teasing from relatives, while bedouin girls, inspired by their teachers, show off school-bred religious knowledge to their elders and yearn to wear the urbane Islamist veil, one of the symbols of sophisticated Nile Valley modernity.[38] On city buses bald civil servants hunch over tiny copies of the Qur’an while behind them smudged shabab in tattered galabiyyas squint and struggle with moving lips to read articles about official corruption in the Muslim Brotherhood's al-Sha‘b newspaper; middle-class young women hidden behind face-veils and gloves ride the Cairo subway clutching popular manuals on Islamic gender roles, while lower-class women sit in mosque courtyards before weekly religious classes, debating the meaning of traditional rituals, amulets, and scriptural passages.[39]

While this seemingly collective intellectual experimentation with religion sometimes seems to be an ineluctable and unidirectional process, there are always gaps, reversals, and complications. Sometimes people outgrow intellectual inspirations; sometimes they are frightened away from them; and sometimes their penumbra persists in altered form. Almost like a mirror image of the leftist Muhammad Sulayman, Wafa’i Isma‘il was in many ways a “typical” American University in Cairo graduate, whom I met through an American acquaintance he was dating. Handsome, bilingual, well-to-do, and worldly, he studied political science at AUC, and later worked for his father's small architectural consulting firm in Ma‘adi, a wealthy bedroom community south of Cairo. Once he asked me about my own research, and when I mentioned that I had just visited the mosque of Anas Ibn Malik in Giza, he broke into a wide, embarrassed grin. Looking down at the glass of water he was holding, he chuckled,

Yeah, I used to go to Anas all the time. They have a lot of things going on there. I used to go there with my friends all the time to pray; there and a couple of little mosques, just tiny ones like the one you saw in [the documentary videotape] “The Sword of Islam”. You wouldn't think looking at me now, but I used to be into these kinds of groups, with some friends.

Probably from the time I was sixteen until I was twenty I used to be really religious, praying, and having all these kinds of discussions and whatever. None of my family is religious at all, and my family was very concerned about me; my father used to send people to talk to me. But I used to get up every morning to go pray at the mosque; sometimes I had to go out the window, because my father was against it.

I don't know, it's kind of what one of my professors was saying, that when you don't believe in something, and then you go to a place like this, and there are people there so friendly and caring and concerned about you. And you're so smart, and your father is so stupid and everything, and he doesn't pray, and he drinks and whatever, and you start wondering about your real identity.

But you go to one of these places and they're telling you, oh, the world is really horrible, and you're like, yes, yes, and they say that people are robbing each other, and it's so terrible, and you're agreeing, and then at the end they ask you to join, and of course you say, “sure!”. But I had some friends there, and we would have all kinds of discussions about sunna, and qadar [predestination], and this kind of stuff; this was all before Sadat [was killed]; then I stopped going. Three or four of my friends were arrested in September 1981, and then I knew some people arrested afterwards. But they soon got out.

Also I saw a lot of the stuff going on at the University, and I used to be involved a little in that, calling for the prayers and clearing the areas and stuff. I was in Commerce [at Cairo University] just for a semester before going to AUC. That was in 1982.[40]

This surprising revelation (“You wouldn't think looking at me now…”) helped make sense of one of his ruling interests in 1989: applying to graduate school at Cairo University and also in the United States, where he wanted to earn a degree in Middle East Studies with research on the politics of Islamist movements. An intellectualized response to his own former involvement, this desire was coupled with an alienation from Egyptian life that led him to question me persistently about why Americans came to live in his country, when all he wanted to do was go abroad.

Youngsters beginning more and more to move within the circle of their peers and to separate themselves from the enveloping bonds of the family experience a growing awareness of social injustices, political affairs, alternate viewpoints and role models, which subject them to conflicts both at home and elsewhere. The ideological success of small private sector Islamic groups among Egyptian youth depends partly on this disaffection and the consequent search for social and intellectual alternatives. These groups seem to have the tacit support of an enormous proportion of shabab, even those who never consider joining them. According to Samia Mustafa al-Khashab's 1988 survey, three-quarters of Cairo University students felt that the official religious establishment centered around the al-Azhar mosque was either partially or wholly ineffective in meeting the religious needs of Egyptian youth. Most of these felt that the institution needed to increase its activity in grappling with social problems,[41] and improve the performance of Islamic da‘wa, or outreach.[42] Almost all students felt that mosques needed to become more active in society, holding meetings for the religious enlightenment of youth (87 percent), establishing schools for religious instruction (66 percent), creating classes to fight illiteracy (60 percent), and setting up popular clinics for those who came to prayer (58 percent).[43] Each of these activities is currently provided by high-profile private sector social service agencies, whom students suggest the government emulate.

Overwhelmingly, students taking part in the survey were hostile to Sufi orders, which are often perceived by the middle and upper classes as sha‘bi: low class, popular, primitive, and fundamentally mistaken about the requirements of a true Islam. Although almost 85 percent of the students expressed ignorance of the goals of Sufism, they felt that Sufi orders were unnecessary (66 percent), and without positive roles in the solution of social problems (75 percent), in the political sphere (84 percent), or in spreading Islamic da‘wa (60 percent).[44] All these sentiments are strongly encouraged by the rationalistic modernism of the Islamist groups (despite the fact that leaders of the movement like Hasan al-Banna—not to mention Iran's Khomeini—had Sufi roots themselves). By contrast, a large majority of these students knew some of the names and goals of the Islamist groups ( “Takfir wal-Hijra,” al-Jihad, etc.) that operated in Egypt during the 1970s and 1980s.[45] Almost three- quarters believed that these groups take the feelings and opinions of Egyptian youth into account, and thought that some or all of Egyptian youth are sympathetic to them. They did not think that these groups should be eliminated (82 percent), because they are trying to change society for the better, and because they have contributed to the Islamic Awakening (al-sahwa al-islamiyya).[46] These feelings may have changed somewhat over the past decade as the government has waged its ever more intensive propaganda campaign against the Islamists, changing its label for them from “extremists” to “terrorists” since the beginning of the violent 1992 insurgency based in southern Egypt.

But by the late 1980s the state was responding through its schools. The theme of the Islamic education curricula for shabab—students in preparatory and secondary schools—was “Islamic Society,” and lessons clustered around “the three tightly interwoven themes of Faith, Morals, and Social Solidarity.” [47] The competition between public and private sector religious organizations for status and authority in the eyes of Egypt's youth lent particular urgency to the government's religious education programs, particularly at the primary and preparatory levels, where, according to newspapers, the religious curricula were being adjusted to create study materials that “translate knowledge into practice” (yatatarjamu al-‘ilm ila al-‘amal).[48] This holds true of the secondary curriculum as well, where, along with the principles of faith and social solidarity, textbooks and syllabi emphasized the role of legitimate authority in the government of Islamic society and the enforcement of Islamic conduct.

A ninth grade commentary on three verses in the Qur’an's sura 3, ’Al ‘Imran (103–5), outlines the state's theory of religious authority. The verses remind the new Muslim community of the blessing of their unification and warn them against disputation and divisiveness, laying out the advantages of “security and fidelity and stability.” If, according to the textbook, every person adheres to the sunna and “knows the limits of his responsibility,” then society “will be a strong, solid, cohesive, loving, cooperative, active and productive one whose strength and solidity no artful plot can weaken or disturb, whose unity no malicious sedition can sunder.” [49] The lesson goes on to say that the limits of individual responsibility for the enforcement of Islamic conduct are set by the Qur’an itself: “Let there arise out of you/A band of people/Inviting to all that is good,/Enjoining what is right/And forbidding what is wrong:/They are the ones/To attain felicity” (sura 3, 104).

The word umma, translated in this verse by A. Yusuf ‘Ali as “band,” or “group,” usually denotes an entire community, such as the community of believers. (A. J. Arberry, for example, interprets the verse this way: “Let there be one nation of you, calling to good/And bidding to honour, and forbidding dishonour;/Those are the prosperers.”) The textbook writers, however, have chosen to interpret umma in the phrase “wa l-takun minkum umma,” to mean “’ayy ta’ifa tad‘u ila al-khayr” (any group or class that calls [people] to what is right).[50] Glossed like this, the verse calls for one group of people within society, rather than the society as a whole, to bear responsibility for enjoining good and forbidding evil. “Calling [people] to the good lies in the domain of the teachings of the Qur’an and sunna, and no one can engage in this da‘wa except one who is an ‘alim of the book of God and the sunna of the Prophet. And the verse has conferred success upon this group, and their success is the success and righteousness of society.” [51]

Some of the discussion questions at the end of this lesson are essentially ideological tests that prompt teachers to gauge student feelings about religious unity and the specialized role of the da‘iya (the maker of da‘wa, or Islamic outreach). Questions ask students if they would like to be da‘iyas, and then enquire, “If your answer is yes, to what [objectives] would you call your classmates, the individuals in your family, and your neighbors?” Next the student confronts a hypothetical colleague whose ideas are not sanctioned by authoritative texts or persons:

  • 3.

    You observed a classmate frequently repeating statements and concepts that you haven't heard from a teacher or read in a book. Do you:

    1. Attack him and call him names and hit him?

    2. Correct his mistaken understandings and convince him of what is right through calm discussion?

    3. Incite your classmates to argue and break off their friendship with him?

    4. Advise him and show him books from which he can derive true information?[52]

On the other side of the equation, the Ministry of Education has recently begun requesting in its teacher-education exams, an essay on “The role of the teacher in combating terrorism,” the most recent gloss of the term extremism, which was used more commonly throughout the 1980s.[53] Such devices respond to the ideological competition of Islamist groups and the Muslim Brotherhood, whose lay members often harshly criticize state policy, both within and outside of the religious sphere. Most of the prominent and intellectually important Islamic activists in twentieth-century Egypt (and elsewhere) have been trained in fields other than Islamic studies. Hasan al-Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, was a graduate of Dar al-‘Ulum, in Arabic, and worked as a primary school teacher. Sayyid Qutb was trained as a literary critic and worked as a consultant to the Egyptian Ministry of Education. ‘Abd al-Salam Faraj, the ideological leader of the group that assassinated Anwar Sadat, was an electrician. The prolific writer and religious philanthropist Mustafa Mahmud was originally a physician.[54] Their movements and the institutions they built were the result not of an appeal to traditional forms of religious authority and discourse, but of mobilizing charisma and modern forms of organization, communication, and recruitment. By restricting the range of moral authority to the circle of scholars trained by the religious faculties of al-Azhar, on the other hand, the state hopes to limit the appeal of such groups, although there are many competent ‘ulama, like Muhammad al-Ghazali for the Muslim Brotherhood, and ‘Umar ‘Abd al-Rahman for the smaller Islamic radical groups, who can lend legitimacy to the opposition.

The state's third-party “calls to order” (to borrow a concept from Bourdieu's writings on class) with respect to interpretive authority suffuse public culture. The minister of religious endowments, in an interview published in the Ramadan 1409 issue of Egypt's official Sufi magazine, confirmed forcefully the need to leave religious matters to specialists, saying that Egypt's youth are basically good, but that they lack “direction and guidance.” When asked about the difference between “religion” (al-din) and “religiousness” (al-tadayyun), the minister replied,

Religiousness is open to everyone, to all young people—[it is] even expected of every man, woman, youngster and old person. As for religion—as it is understood as theology, applied ethics, and dogma—we need to leave these… to specialists in them, because…among them are men of distinction and scholars who studied them and specialized in them from childhood.… It's enough [for the shabab] to know the general principles in religious matters.…The shame of our youth is that they want to make judgements on everything, and as a result of this there has been killing in the name of religion and splintering in the name of religion and destruction in the name of religion and fear and alarm in the name of religion, all of which happened because they are ignorant of the essential nature of religion.[55]

The nation's youth have a right to be enlightened and instructed and corrected by people with knowledge about Islam,

a religion of reason and order and gentleness and sympathy and tolerance… our youngsters need to know the essence and greatness of Islam, a religion of kindness, even to animals, even with enemies, and in war with the armies of the enemy. In summary, our youth need to know the truth of Islam and that the truth of the Islamic religion lives within the purview of the ‘ulama.…Changing the abomination by the hand falls under the responsibility of the ruler and the [public] guardian, and on the rest of the people falls the responsibility of advice and guidance by the tongue, or to despise the abomination in the heart.[56]

As a way to help them winnow reliable from unreliable advice, advanced students receive guidelines for approaching the mass media through which so many ideological battles are fought:

Modern science has extended the scope of the influence of the word, and people have begun to read them in newspapers and hear them in broadcasts and other means of communication on an immense scale. It is the duty of the Muslim to weigh his words, to measure his speech and not to aim at slander and calumny or insults, not to reveal a secret, and not to spread indecency and not to stir up animosity, but to speak noble words that please God and his Apostle.[57]

They are reminded that God ordered mankind, “But say not—for any false thing that your tongues may put forth—`This is lawful, and this is forbidden,' so as to ascribe false things to God” (sura 16, al-Nahl, 116), and that He forbade “sins and trespasses against truth or reason; assigning/Of partners to God, for which/He hath given no authority;/And saying things about God/Of which ye have no knowledge”(sura 7, al-’A‘raf, 33). Such practices are the primary source of distortion in corrupted religions,

so no one should forbid anything for religious reasons to any servant of God, or require anything of him, except by a true text of God and his Apostle, and whoever assails that has set himself up as an equal [sharik] to God, and whoever follows him in it has made him his Lord, and God has renounced anyone who attributes any allowance or prohibition to his religion without proof.[58]

Truly obeying God necessitates not just hearkening to His instructions, but understanding who may be trusted to know what His instructions are, so “we should stay within our limits and leave independent judgement in religion to the knowledgeable scholars [al-‘ulama’al-‘arifin], who bring together the motives and the means of independent judgement [ijtihad].” [59]

Likewise, the enforcement of Islamic conduct falls to specialists. Although Islam operates largely through cooperation and mutual advice (nasiha), between the government and the governed as well as between individuals, nasiha in religious matters is, according to the textbooks, a fard kifaya (a duty not incumbent upon all the individuals in the community, as long as some one person or group of persons attends to it), which applies to the ‘ulama alone.[60] The government and the governed “cooperate together in obeying God and defending His book and tradition and Prophet,” so that if someone refuses to obey God's law, there is a graduated series of appropriate responses. First, notifying the person that he is in error; second, admonishing him to behave correctly; third, reprimanding him for his misbehavior; and finally, if he still desists from proper conduct, forcible prevention. This last remedy, however, is also a fard kifaya, entrusted only to those whose job it is to enforce the rules of society (al-qa’imin bil-’amr).[61]

Islam's commitment to human rights, according to the texts, includes freedom of belief and opinion and requires a cordial attitude toward the members of other religious communities. Precisely because of its cautious apportionment of responsibility, Egypt's experience with the religion of the Seal of the Prophets has been a special one. This is how the Ministry of Education concludes its twelfth grade book:

Islam was Egypt's choice, and the environment of Egypt—through its religious culture since the time of the monotheist Akhenaton—was prepared for Islam, and absorbed it all: doctrine and law, science, culture and conduct. Since then, Egypt's features have differed from other Islamic countries. Islam in Egypt is Islam without fanaticism, Islam without extremism, and it is remarkable that Islamic Egypt alone, through fourteen centuries, has never been linked with excess or extremism in its religious conduct.… Indeed, the Egyptian personality is moderate in its religiosity and behavior, middle-of-the-road in its thought and practice, neither excessive nor negligent, and from here were the riches of civilization.[62]

As with the work ethic, the sections on religious authority consist of statements that are neither empirical claims nor exhortations. Instead, they are performative utterances, “rituals of social magic” whose very statement alters the world, for they become true by establishing a normative background against which reality is to be judged by those setting the terms.[63] These are not abstract matters of theory, but practical matters that—as we will see in the next chapter—frame legal prosecutions, political purges, and police roundups. Despite progressive expectations to the contrary, the creation and dissemination of instructive truths by the school has not so much replaced the use of physical force, as it has provided new opportunities on which to use it.

This Wonderful Girl Who Wore the Higab

The closest most Egyptian youth come to an organized rite of spiritual passage is the series of examinations that punctuates their school careers and finally grants them their certificates. Their families, who press them to study and who scrape together money for tutoring; their teachers, who sometimes earn several times their salaries by doing that tutoring; the state, which outlaws that tutoring altogether as a conflict of interest; and private companies that produce condensed study guides and summaries for the tests, are all involved as players in the summertime ritual that takes its most intense form in al-thanawiyya al- ‘amma, the general secondary exams.

The short-term pressures of nationwide testing are powerful motivators for the principal actors in this drama. Ordinary Egyptians respect education and use schooling as a means of status enhancement (particularly for girls, who, it is believed, are more attractive marriage partners if they have a certificate and can not only bring in income from outside employment, but save money by tutoring their own children[64]). But in part because teaching is the lowest-paid professional occupation in the country—the salary of a public sector secondary school teacher in the late 1980s was about thirty-five dollars a month; that in the private sector about twice that, but still not a living wage—it often attracts idealists who want to make a difference in the lives of young people. Particularly at private religious schools, committed community members join teachers to volunteer for tutoring work, help with bookkeeping, coach sports, and perform other tasks out of a sense that Islam is calling them to work with young Muslims.

Layla al-Shamsi was the head of the Literature Department at a private Islamic language school in Masr al-Gidida, the “New Cairo” northeast of the city center. The area—founded just after the turn of the century as a planned community for expatriates and well-to-do locals—is a modern and expansive area where military installations, airports, government agencies and factories are mixed with private mosques, villas, shopping centers and apartment blocks. In contrast to Samia ‘Abd al-Rahman's zayy islami, which consists of a long-sleeved dress and a designer scarf covering her hair and neck (called tarha), Layla wears khimar, which is one step more conservative. “I've been a muhaggaba for seven years now,” she said.

Before that I was really a Muslim in name only. I was educated in a Christian school—the English missions school. I consider myself that I was a non- Muslim then. I was an airline hostess for Saudia airlines, and travelled all over the world; to Europe, and Asia. I've spent a lot of time in England, and I was an English major [in college]. I don't have a teaching degree, or an advanced degree in anything, but I'm very good with children. I love working with children.

I'm 33 now. But seven years ago, when I was around 25, I began wearing higab. I had met this girl, this wonderful girl who wore the higab, and she began to tell me about Islam, and about being a real Muslim. And for a while I kind of felt both ways. While I was working, I really used to admire Western ways, and was very impressed with the West and their way of doing things, and thought, like a lot of you do, that women who wear the higab are oppressed by men, or retarded, socially or mentally retarded somehow. It wasn't a decision I made, really, it's not like there was some sudden inspiration from Allah or anything; but God always puts someone in our life, sets this person in our path to guide us, and for me it was this wonderful girl.

I started reading the Qur’an, but at first I did it with a critical eye, like you might, understanding it but not believing everything it said, trying to keep some kind of critical distance. And at the same time I was living in my old way—oh, I used to fast during Ramadan, and that kind of thing, but really I was a Muslim in name only—but I would go out with friends, even when I didn't drink anything, I would go to discos with people, where there was alcohol around, and I would try to sit there and have a good time, but started thinking that this really is a bad thing to be doing. I started feeling guilt. And believe me, I had never felt guilty about this kind of thing before! But I slowly began reading more and more, and deciding that I was living the wrong way. It took about a year between the time I met this girl, and the time I put on higab.

By 1989, Layla had taught at the school for four years, and was beginning her fifth. Strongly devoted to her students and to the institution, she told me that “when you work at this school, you're working for Islam. I have a lot of work here—when you're working for Islam you don't just say, “that's not my job”; you do a lot of different things for the good of the school.” [65] In her previous teaching job, which was not at an Islamic school, she says that the students were “very naughty,” but that here, they are well-behaved. “They've gone here, most of them, since they were in kindergarten, and they know that you should respect people, and be well-behaved. I really think that it's Islam that makes them so well-behaved. They know that for everything they do, they are accountable to God.” [66] She was quite sensitive to her own accountability, and worked inside and outside of class to lead her students down a different path than the one she herself had been made to travel.

I'm not married. I am too busy working with the children, and trying to plan things at the school, and have no plans to get married, because I have my own ideas about marriage and Muslim men. I love working with our children here, and that's the important thing to me. A Muslim woman keeps her own name, and her own economic resources, and keeps her own personality, her own individuality. I think that it's very important to work with children here, not to increase the number of Muslims in the world, but to work with the Muslims that are here already, to extend da‘wa to them and teach them how to be more than Muslims in name only. And I think it's very important to teach children about being Muslims so that they don't have to go through the kinds of things that we had to go through, not knowing about how to lead a good life. Because Islam isn't just the rituals; those are important, but Islam includes all aspects of life as well.[67]

I have small study groups, mostly with girls and women, but I've got one with some boys. Usually they say that men teachers should be teaching boys of this age, but since they were my pupils anyway.…But I picked these five boys out of one of my English classes to talk to them more about religious things, and about Islamic ways of life. Boys of this age are really very impressed by things they see in the movies or on television about the West, things they see in Knot's Landing and so on, and I try to teach them about the right alternatives. I really had no special criterion for choosing these five except I felt that they were closer to me, and we understood each other.[68]

On a visit to Egypt in 1993 I found these study groups had been discontinued because of Layla's marriage to an oil company executive who expected her to spend her time at home caring for their young son. When I tried to set up an interview appointment, she put me in touch with her husband, who, she assured me, could tell me anything I wanted to know. He explained that her new role is primarily to take care of the family and “to have things ready for me—whether it's food, or sex, or anything else.” While she still performed some administrative work at the school, she was trying very hard to restrict her interactions with people outside her family, particularly men. “She really doesn't mix with men,” her husband confided, “and it's not because of me, it's just the way she is.” Marriage appears to have shifted Layla's sense of accountability quite radically. Beginning her adulthood as an airline stewardess, the stereotypical specimen of female liberation and (literally) jet-setting mobility, she entered on a journey of slow but steady introspection and circumscription of activity. Accountability to herself, expressed as a love for travel and experience and pleasure, was superseded by concern for living right, and for being a Muslim in more than name only. So her sense of accountability—the acknowledgment that one is responsible for providing for the rights of others—shifted first to her students, whose right to their heritage she worked to protect, and then to her husband and child. But this shift was a difficult and unexpected one. Even draped in her long khimar in 1989 she expressed no desire to marry, but instead contravened even her own convictions about gender segregation by reaching out to young men to serve as a model, a habit that made her marriage and seclusion appear all the more dramatic.

In a sense, accountability to God and to the Islamic heritage is expressed as a complex series of accountabilities to other human beings. Sometimes the balance between accounts is a delicate negotiation, as when different sets of auditors—family, peers, the state—are in conflict, as they were for Muhammad Sulayman, Wafa’i Isma‘il, and Layla al- Shamsi. Layla lamented that parents send their children to her school “because they want their children to grow up as good Muslims,” but sadly, some parents “only stress the interior aspects” of Islam and let their daughters, for example, take off the uniform higab after school.[69] Inner piety without the strength to display proper public behavior is a serious flaw, because although God can monitor inner intentions, God's community cannot. Therefore displays of responsible behavior are vital, and the accountability of young people to their families, to their schools, and to their nation is ceaselessly reiterated in the press. Although youth have been receiving increasingly bad press in recent years, as concerns about their moral degradation and political dangerousness are aired, they are regularly redeemed through annual celebration of their struggle through high school exit exams.

Following Foucault (not to mention the lower-grade textbook that compares God's Day of Judgment with the school examination), we can highlight the sense in which the school imposes “a principle of compulsory visibility” [70] upon its students not only through a forced display of signifying dress and daily discipline, but through “highly ritualized” examinations in which “are combined the ceremony of power and the form of the experiment, the deployment of force and the establishment of truth.” [71] The examination, at the critical point of the final secondary exam, is not, however, a closed and secretive ritual. It is, in some ways, a highly public drama. Every summer newspapers publish analyses and debates about testing policy, and page after page of numerical listings detail the results that qualify for entrance into university. The religious press, for its part, uses the occasion to represent Islamic values as the key to academic accomplishment. Parents of students who excel in the general secondary exam extol the role of the family in the student's success. One father allocated 80 percent of his son's achievement to a supportive home environment and 20 percent to what he learned in school.[72] Pious students attribute high scores to higher powers. Sahar Ahmad Fikry, who scored eighth in the nation in the literature section, told a newspaper that she “performed the prayers, and read what she could of the Qur’an every day before beginning her studying and after finishing it…prayer was for her the only escape, to achieve rest and serenity and self-confidence, and gave her the opportunity to organize her time in relation to her studying.” [73]

On 11 June 1989, on the second day of the general secondary examination, almost one-quarter of a million Egyptian students sat for one and a half hours to answer five questions about Islam, questions that would help determine whether or not they would be able to attend university, and which field they could enter. For the first time, “objective” (also known as “American style”) questions were to be used on the examination. As with almost every decision taken by the government, this change was criticized in the opposition press. In the fortnight preceding the examinations, professors of education complained about the new style of question, which they conceded might be appropriate for the sciences or engineering, but which, when applied to religion, would not allow the student “the opportunity to express his views,…to reveal and explain his perspective, and if he had read any other sources or not.” [74]

Reprising the educational discourse of a century before, pundits admitted that while the old method of essay testing might have contributed to “a culture of memory,…of accumulation and retrieval,” the new method, although it would reveal the student's ability to apply scientific methods of thought to theoretical information in the curriculum, would not reveal his “interpretation of values and morals, and the connection of Qur’anic verses and Prophetic sayings to daily life.” [75] (In the end, the only question on the religion section of 1989's general secondary examination that actually included an objective portion was a question about sex: specifically, about the Prophet's advice for cooling the ardor of young celibates.)

Although students didn't find the exam particularly difficult,[76] some of them criticized the religious studies curriculum as weak in general, complaining that the subject, often occupying the last class of the school day, was easily skipped or ignored, and that it would be better taught by “specialized ‘ulama.” [77] For the following academic year, the Ministry of Education, jointly with the Ministry of Religious Endowments, had planned to place “religious visitors” in schools to organize religious meetings and discussions with students.[78] Criticisms of al-Azhar and other official religious institutions for dereliction of duty toward the country's youth—evident in al-Khashab's survey results—have led to public pleas by officials all the way up to the Shaykh of al-Azhar University, that religious scholars listen carefully to the concerns of the young and enter with them into constructive dialogue, so as to avoid the inevitable consequence of defection to alternate sources of inspiration.

Persuasion Beyond the Classroom

One way to engage in this dialogue and to reach citizens no longer in school is through public meetings and forums arranged through youth centers, universities, and summer camps. In recent years officials of the Ministry of Religious Endowments, the Office of the Mufti and the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sport have embarked each summer on an extensive spiritual chautauqua circuit referred to as “The Religious Awareness Caravan” (qawafil al-taw‘iyya al-diniyya). While the locations change, the themes remain largely the same, continuing the discourse of work, responsibility, humility, and accountability introduced in the school curriculum. During the second week of July 1989, for example, senior officials kicked off a new summer program at a youth camp at Abu Qir in Alexandria, answering questions late into the night and trying to “enlighten young people to the dangers that threaten them, like intellectual extremism that wears the cloak of religion, and [drug] addiction that leads to ruin.” [79] The Caravan planned to tour seven governorates in Lower Egypt and the Sinai. The minister of religious endowments announced that the purpose of the meetings was both to “alert youth to the dangers and temptations coming at us from without,” and to correct mistaken religious ideas (tashih al-mafahim al-diniyya al- khati’a). Explaining to an audience in Alexandria that acts of worship are not required by law in Egypt, because its people are “steadfast and religious by nature,” he summoned Egyptian youth to use the strength of religious conviction “for the sake of building and prosperity and increasing production.” [80]

Convention of official meetings and forums—sometimes televised—with groups of young people, professionals, workers, and students is not restricted to the summer months. In late March 1989, religious experts met for three days with students at the University of Sohag, answering questions about higab, the application of Islamic law in Egypt, the perceived gap between al-Azhar and popular concerns, and other matters.[81] The minister of religious endowments announced a program of public meetings to begin during the month of Ramadan, in which religious scholars and officials could “answer the inquiries of citizens and simplify religious matters for them.” [82] In April the minister met with students at the University of Minufiyya[83] and along with the mufti staged a week-long tour of the villages of Upper Egypt.[84] Later he counseled the youth of Damietta.[85] After the summer Caravan, public visits, meetings, and ceremonies continued as officials opened two mosques and answered the public's questions in the governorate of Behera.[86]

Aside from occasionally answering questions on the debt crisis or foreign affairs, officials return regularly to a set of common themes. The first theme is Islam's attitude toward work and production, with the mufti and the minister of religious endowments each warning audiences that “flight from the domains of work and production is a crime that the truth of Islam cannot forgive.” [87] At the same time, a Committee for Religious Affairs chaired by Dr. ‘Abd al-Mun‘im al-Nimr, a specialist in the religious and social problems of youth, announced the need for

deepening religious understanding among children and young people, since these understandings exalt the value of work in all its forms, and this is what we need in the coming stage, to shake mistaken social concepts that are firmly established, like the constant desire for [guaranteed] work with university certificates, and the avoidance of gainful [vocational] employment;…if Islamic values were deeply held, every citizen would honor any work, regardless of its nature.[88]

Almost two years later, under a new plan by President Mubarak to organize “meetings with various portions of the shabab in every workplace and production unit in the governorates, to clarify the view of Islam on the nature of mankind and the call to increased production in conformity with the summons of the Islamic religion,” the theme of work and production was maintained. “Egypt,” according to the minister of religious endowments, “is now living in a period of economic construction that demands the close cooperation of the efforts of the shabab, who hold fast to the true principles of their religion in order to pass through this economic crisis, and provide them with an appropriate life far from the extremism that leads to deviant behavior.” [89]

The second theme of the meetings is that of the dependence of Egyptian youth on the specialized knowledge of the ‘ulama. At the end of August 1989, students at Alexandria University heard the minister of religious endowments, Muhammad Ali Mahgub, warning them away from “merchants of religion who try to achieve their political goals in the name of religion, even if they turn Egypt into seas of blood.” Educated youth are to be makers of da‘wa only, not fuqaha’ (jurists) as well; “Don't mix up these subjects or confuse these practices,” Mahgub warned them. “And don't let the extremists slip into your ranks to achieve their political goals.” Knowledge should be obtained from the knowledgeable (yatalqa al-‘ilm min al-‘ulama), and not to do so is “the cause of violence and terrorism and extremism.” Firing a shot directly at the Muslim Brotherhood, the minister declared,

There's a pretty slogan, “Islam is the Solution” [al-islam huwa al-hall, the campaign slogan of the Muslim Brotherhood]. I say in all frankness: Yes, Islam is the solution to all political, economic, and social problems. But it demands calm, reflective planning, and is far from application until we have calmly, rationally ascertained the means we desire.[90]

A week later in Mansura, he reiterated that “there are things in religion that are not suitable to the comprehension of the shabab, and they need to leave debate about them and judgements on them to specialized scholars so as not to divide the umma or [threaten] its unity.” [91]

The third theme the public meetings share with the Ministry of Education's curricula is the rehearsal of Egypt's pacific heritage. Appeals are made “not to turn to the tools of violence and hatred, nor to the means of destruction and sabotage, and not to turn a stable and secure Egypt into a pit of struggle.” “For all its long history,” students in Alexandria were reminded, “Egypt has been a nation of tolerance and peace, and has never been a nation for extremist ideas, and the state and the shabab are one entity…the duty of the religious youth is to protect Islam's reputation and stay away from extremism; they should be religious in da‘wa only, and not in judging or commanding.” [92]

Throughout the religious campaign the statistical idiom pioneered by Cromer's contemporaries fixed social reality for public consumption. Port Said was assured in early August 1989 that all of the pillars of Islam are observed in Egypt, and that “ninety-five percent of the shari‘a of God…has been applied” as well.[93] Fewer than three weeks later, Alexandrians had to content themselves with the thought that only “ninety percent of the Islamic shari‘a is applied in Egypt,” [94] although a month earlier they had been assured “that moderate ideas now represent more than eighty percent among the shabab, and that the problem of extremist thinking has almost disappeared from Egypt through constructive dialogue.” [95] The Orwellian tint of such statistical formulations is striking, although in this case they do not mask a sinister truth, but merely clothe unverifiable pronouncements in the cloak of numerical certainty, a mode of discourse made possible only by the preparation afforded by the modern school. Even as estimates, the significance of such numbers lies not in their magnitude, but in the fact that the public is receptive to thinking about religious questions quantitatively, as if obedience to God were a variable that the state could measure and adjust like the production of electricity or the tonnage of fertilizer imported each year.


The ruling class is and will continue to be the class of decision makers. Even now it is no longer composed of the traditional political class, but of a composite layer of corporate leaders, high-level administrators, and the heads of the major professional, labor, political, and religious organizations.

What becomes clear from the study of these themes is not only the tension between the country's youth and its official religious establishment, but a tension at the very heart of the state's effort to maintain the authority of that establishment. On the one hand, in order to be considered legitimate spokesmen of the Islamic tradition, the ‘ulama must maintain a distinctive identity through a specialized program of training and socialization with a long history of its own. But on the other hand, in order to make use of this legitimacy they must rely on other professionals—journalists, scientists, secular academics, educators, and government officials—to help frame that tradition in socially useful terms. The dilemma of the professional religious class is that the thinner the tradition spreads itself over social, political, and economic problems—the more useful the tradition is—the more control over it they have to concede to others.

At the other end of the authority relationship stand the students, who are expected to learn to exclude themselves from the practice of ijtihad, independent reasoning about religious questions. In the words of Bourdieu and Passeron, schooling becomes, on this expectation, “the imposition of recognition of the dominant culture as legitimate culture and… of the illegitimacy of the cultures of the dominated groups or classes.” [97] They go on to claim that

one of the least noticed effects of compulsory schooling is that it succeeds in obtaining from the dominated classes a recognition of legitimate knowledge and know-how (e.g. in law, medicine, technology, entertainment or art), entailing the devaluation of the knowledge and know-how they effectively command…and so providing a market for material and especially symbolic products of which the means of production (not least, higher education) are virtually monopolized by the dominant classes (e.g. clinical diagnosis, legal advice, the culture industry, etc.).[98]

The curious feature of the Egyptian case is that the path to cultural legitimacy is not sequential to compulsory schooling, but parallel to it. Within the sphere of religious legitimacy, the holders of authority have an entirely different training from those who do not hold authority. The exclusivity of “higher” education is therefore irrelevant, and in fact the religious programs at al-Azhar tend to attract students from lower socioeconomic strata than many secular university programs. In order for compulsory schooling to relay knowledge of “legitimate” religious culture sufficient to attain its goal of social control, it must use pedagogical techniques that work to undermine the authority of the holders of religious legitimacy by marginalizing the means of cultural production that they possess. But at the same time, religion has been reformulated to apply broadly to areas of social planning that are outside the competence of the religious specialist. One of the results of mass religious instruction is thus to prepare students just enough to question the authority of the keepers of the Muslim tradition, and to question their own exclusion from its manipulation.

This dilemma is a special case of a distinction Raymond Williams has drawn between restricted cultural production, intended for other culture producers, and large-scale cultural production, intended for the general public.[99] It is a special case because traditionally trained religious scholars are charged both with the maintenance of their legitimate and legitimizing Islamic discourse, and also with the production—through very different means—of belief for the general public. The complicating factor is that groups and institutions that are more effective at the latter—schools and the market—can outcompete the traditional scholars and overwhelm their production, based in part on new organizations of knowledge production (the committee, the Children's Culture Unit, the interdisciplinary team of experts). This kind of knowledge-produced- for-exchange is what Lyotard labels “postmodern”; it is knowledge whose claim to attention is its social efficiency and the speed with which it is produced, rather than its place in a metanarrative of progress or salvation.[100] The state-subsidized intellectual production techniques of the ‘ulama, protected from market forces, are made to represent a standard against which “innovation” is measured,[101] and is thus forced into an appearance of false uniformity and spurious completeness (it is “the Islam”).

Rather than benefiting from its patronage of the ‘ulama, the state has suffered from the public realization that there are, empirically, a number of alternatives available on the market, and that the state version hardly looks like the most disinterested. “One of the difficulties of orthodox defence against heretical transformations,” according to Bourdieu, “is the fact that polemics imply a form of recognition; adversaries whom one would prefer to destroy by ignoring them cannot be combatted without consecrating them.” [102] Claiming their own return to sacred sources, lay religious intellectuals combat the subsidized ‘ulama by capitalizing on their access to market-oriented organizations and technologies and working to create a new and enlivened tradition of religious literature.[103]


1. Ninth grade religious studies textbook, 1988–89, p. 181. [BACK]

2. Eighth grade religious studies textbook, 1987–88, p. 140. [BACK]

3. Eighth grade religious studies textbook, 1987–88, pp. 198–99. [BACK]

4. Bowring, “Report on Egypt and Candia,” p. 5. [BACK]

5. For the Yemeni understanding of maturation, see Messick, The Calligraphic State, pp. 77–84; for rural Egypt, see Ammar, Growing Up in an Egyptian Village, pp. 125–26. [BACK]

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

7. For an exemplary treatment of this theme, see Anna Tsing, In the Realm of the Diamond Queen (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993). [BACK]

8. Eighth grade religious studies textbook, 1987–88, p. 166. [BACK]

9. Diane Singerman, Avenues of Participation: Family Politics and Networks in Urban Quarters of Cairo (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1995). [BACK]

10. Twelfth grade religious studies textbook, 1989–90, pp. 44–45. [BACK]

11. Ninth grade religious studies textbook, 1988–89, p. 97. An explanation of the mahram had been provided in the ninth grade in the context of the Pilgrimage. [BACK]

12. Singerman, Avenues of Participation, pp. 85–94. [BACK]

13. Twelfth grade religious studies textbook, 1989–90, pp. 51–55. [BACK]

14. Dr. ‘Abd al-Subur Shahin, al-Akhbar, 1 July 1989, p. 8. [BACK]

15. L. Abu-Lughod, “Finding a Place for Islam.” [BACK]

16. Wadi‘ Thaluth Luqa, al-Ahram, 17 October 1988, p. 7. Significantly, the writer is a Copt, not a Muslim, indicating how widespread is the horror—and the attraction—of these shows. [BACK]

17. Al-Jumhuriyya, 13 September 1989, p. 5. [BACK]

18. Al-Ahram, 6 February 1989, p. 3. [BACK]

19. Al-Ahram, 9 June 1989, p. 13. [BACK]

20. Al-Nur, 12 September 1989, p. 3. [BACK]

21. The term is from R. Laurence Moore's analysis of religious publishing in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century America in his Selling God: American Religion in the Marketplace of Culture (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994). [BACK]

22. Moore, Selling God, p. 22. [BACK]

23. This Qur’an commentary was banned in Egypt. [BACK]

24. Samia ‘Abd al-Rahman, interview, 24 July 1989, p. 522. [BACK]

25. Alexander Flores, “Egypt: A New Secularism?” Middle East Report, no. 153 (July–August 1988), p. 27. [BACK]

26. Rizzuto, Birth of the Living God, p. 202. [BACK]

27. Muhammad Sulayman, interview, 7 August 1989, pp. 559–60. [BACK]

28. Seventh grade religious studies textbook, 1986–87, p. 40. [BACK]

29. Seventh grade religious studies textbook, 1986–87, pp. 40, 83, 87–88, 156. [BACK]

30. Seventh grade religious studies textbook, 1986–87, p. 158. [BACK]

31. Eighth grade religious studies textbook, 1987–88, p. 133. [BACK]

32. Eighth grade religious studies textbook, 1987–88, p. 133. [BACK]

33. Eighth grade religious studies textbook, 1987–88, p. 48. [BACK]

34. Eighth grade religious studies textbook, 1987–88, p. 205. [BACK]

35. Eighth grade religious studies textbook, 1987–88, p. 205. [BACK]

36. Eighth grade religious studies textbook, 1987–88, p. 188. For a similar example from another “new nation,” see Robert J. Foster, “Take Care of Public Telephones: Moral Education and Nation-State Formation in Papua New Guinea,” Public Culture 4 (1992), pp. 31–45. [BACK]

37. Meriem Verges, “ “I Am Living in a Foreign Country Here”: A Conversation with an Algerian “Hittiste,” ” Middle East Report, no. 192 (January–February 1995), pp. 14–17. [BACK]

38. L. Abu-Lughod, Writing Women's Worlds, pp. 236–37; “Finding a Place for Islam,” p. 495. [BACK]

39. Evelyn A. Early, Baladi Women of Cairo: Playing with an Egg and a Stone (Boulder, Colo.: Lynne Reinner Publishers, 1993), pp. 46, 118, 121–25. [BACK]

40. Muhammad Sulayman, interview, 4 August 1989, 552–53. [BACK]

41. 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), p. 77. [BACK]

42. Al-Khashab, Al-Shabab, pp. 136–37. [BACK]

43. Al-Khashab, Al-Shabab, p. 80. [BACK]

44. Al-Khashab, Al-Shabab, pp. 104–5. [BACK]

45. Al-Khashab, Al-Shabab, pp. 116–17. Interestingly, most of their knowledge of these groups came from specialized religious books and general-interest newspapers and magazines: 16.9 percent had gotten their information on Islamic groups from classmates who were members; 28.2 percent from religious meetings; 59.6 percent from specialized religious books; and 52 percent from the press (p. 123). [BACK]

46. Al-Khashab, Al-Shabab, p. 118. [BACK]

47. Ninth grade religious studies textbook, 1988–89, pp. 3–4. [BACK]

48. Al-Ahram, 2 April 1991, p. 5. [BACK]

49. Ninth grade religious studies textbook, 1988–89, p. 189. [BACK]

50. Ninth grade religious studies textbook, 1988–89, p. 188. [BACK]

51. Ninth grade religious studies textbook, 1988–89, p. 189. [BACK]

52. Ninth grade religious studies textbook, 1988–89, p. 191. [BACK]

53. Al-Akhbar, 27 July 1993, p. 7. [BACK]

54. For a good review of the social origins of prominent Muslim political activists, see Valerie Hoffman, “Muslim Fundamentalists: Psychosocial Profiles,” in Fundamentalisms Comprehended, vol. 5 of The Fundamentalisms Project, ed. Marty and Appleby (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995), pp. 199–230. [BACK]

55. Al-Tasawwuf al-islami 11, 4 (Ramadan 1409 [April 1989]), pp. 18–19. [BACK]

56. Al-Tasawwuf al-islami 11, 4 (Ramadan 1409 [April 1989]), pp. 18–19. [BACK]

57. Tenth grade religious studies textbook, 1986–87, p. 38. [BACK]

58. Tenth grade religious studies textbook, 1986–87, p. 83. [BACK]

59. Tenth grade religious studies textbook, 1986–87, p. 84. [BACK]

60. Twelfth grade religious studies textbook, 1989–90, p. 78. [BACK]

61. Twelfth grade religious studies textbook, 1989–90, p. 78. [BACK]

62. Twelfth grade religious studies textbook, 1989–90, pp. 130–31. [BACK]

63. Pierre Bourdieu, “Authorized Language: The Social Conditions of the Effectiveness of Ritual Discourse,” in Language and Symbolic Power (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1991), pp. 109–11. [BACK]

64. Singerman, Avenues of Participation, p. 164. [BACK]

65. Layla al-Shamsi, interview, 24 September 1989, p. 656. [BACK]

66. Layla al-Shamsi, interview, 24 September 1989, p. 658. [BACK]

67. Layla al-Shamsi, interview, 9 August 1989, pp. 574–77. [BACK]

68. Layla al-Shamsi, interview, 9 August 1989, pp. 574–77. [BACK]

69. Layla al-Shamsi, interview, 24 September 1989, p. 655. [BACK]

70. In a literal as well as a figurative sense, it turns out. In May 1996 the Egyptian Constitutional Court upheld a 1994 decree by the minister of education banning girls from wearing the face-covering niqab to school. [BACK]

71. Foucault, Discipline and Punish, pp. 186, 184. [BACK]

72. Al-Nur, 16 August 1989, p. 3. [BACK]

73. Al-Nur, 16 August 1989, p. 3. [BACK]

74. Dr. Fathi Yusuf Mubarak, Professor of Curriculum and Teaching Methodology at the College of Education, ‘Ain Shams, quoted in al-Ahali, 23 May 1989, p. 10. [BACK]

75. Dr. Hasan Shahata, assistant professor of education at the University of ‘Ain Shams, quoted in al-Ahali, 23 May 1989, p. 10. [BACK]

76. Al-Akhbar, 12 June 1989, p. 1. [BACK]

77. Al-Nur, 16 August 1989, p. 3. [BACK]

78. Al-Ahram, 5 August 1989, p. 8. [BACK]

79. Al-Wafd, 10 July 1989, p. 2. [BACK]

80. Al-Ahram, 10 July 1989, p. 8; 7 July 1989, p. 6. [BACK]

81. Al-Wafd, 31 March 1989, p. 6. [BACK]

82. Al-Ahram, 28 March 1989, p. 8. [BACK]

83. Al-Ahram, 8 March 1989, p. 8. [BACK]

84. Al-Ahram, 17 April 1989, p. 8. [BACK]

85. Al-Ahram, 27 April 1989, p. 8. [BACK]

86. Al-Jumhuriyya, 16 September 1989, p. 7. [BACK]

87. Al-Akhbar, 31 July 1989, p. 6. “The Minister of Waqfs said that flight from the domains of work and production are destructive to society.” Al-Ahram, 2 September 1989, p. 8. [BACK]

88. Al-Ahram, 22 July 1989, p. 9. [BACK]

89. Al-Ahram, 2 April 1991, p. 5. [BACK]

90. Al-Akhbar, 25 August 1989, p. 3. [BACK]

91. Al-Ahram, 2 September 1989, p. 8. [BACK]

92. Al-Ahram, 25 August 1989, p. 8. [BACK]

93. Al-Ahram, 5 August 1989, p. 8. [BACK]

94. Al-Akhbar, 25 August 1989, p. 3. [BACK]

95. Al-Akhbar, 21 July 1989, p. 6. [BACK]

96. Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition, p. 14. [BACK]

97. Bourdieu and Passeron, Reproduction in Education, p. 41. [BACK]

98. Bourdieu and Passeron, Reproduction in Education, pp. 41–42. [BACK]

99. Pierre Bourdieu, The Field of Cultural Production: Essays in Art & Literature (New York: Columbia University Press, 1993), p. 115. [BACK]

100. Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition, pp. 52–53. [BACK]

101. Williams, Sociology of Culture, pp. 106–7. [BACK]

102. Bourdieu, Field of Cultural Production, p. 42. [BACK]

103. Bourdieu, Field of Cultural Production, pp. 83–84. [BACK]

previous part
next part