Globalizing Female Muslim Piety: Transnational Networks of the Qubaysiyyat

The project examines the Syrian Qubaysiyyat movement, which is a women-only Islamic revivalist movement that emerged in the 1960s in Damascus. With over 100,000 followers among Syrian women (Omar 2013), the Qubaysi leadership is believed to control around 40 per cent of the mosque-going congregations in Syria (Bano 2017). With such an influence within society, Bashar Al-Assad tried to co-opt the movement in the context of the fall of the Ba’ath regime in Iraq after 2003 and the increased social and political unrest in the region up to the beginning of the civil war in Syria in 2011. Over the last 50 years, the movement emerged as one of the most powerful Islamic movements in Syria that also spread to other Arab countries in the region including Lebanon, Jordan, and Kuwait. The war in Syria led to a split within the movement between a pro-regime faction that remained in Syria and an anti-regime faction among Syrian refugees. The large-scale influx of Syrian refugees to Europe in particular, led to the transnational spread of the movement outside of the Middle East. Based on our CARA-funded pilot study conducted this year with Qubaysiyyat members in exile in Turkey, our interlocutors believe that the Qubaysiyyat remains one of the most powerful Islamic movements among Syrian refugee communities. It seeks to empower Muslim women and to increase their knowledge of Islam so that they do not need to rely on male Muslim authority figures for religious guidance. While very little research on its activities in Syria before 2011 has been conducted, nothing is known about the movement’s transnational expansions in the Middle East and its continuous relevance and influence among Syrian Muslim women living in Europe and beyond. This project seeks not only to fill this research gap but also to contribute to a perspectival shift in our understanding of Muslim revivalist movements by including the vital role women play in shaping the religious make-up of Syrian society in Syria and of Syrian refugees in the Middle East and in Europe where refugees have settled. By focusing on the Qubaysiyyats in Turkey, Germany, Sweden, Kuwait and Lebanon, this qualitative project engages with both members as well as former members of the movement. A life-story approach will be used to examine the following areas:

  • analysing the transformation of the movement’s religious and gender discourses as a result of its expansion.
  • emphasising the position of the movement as a new transnational actor after its split following the Syrian Civil war.
  • investigating new modes of cultural production in the form of a modern female piety articulated through transnational religious practices.
  • examining the use of new media, outside of the surveillance of the Assad regime, but also during COVID-19 in the production of a transnational religious knowledge transfer.

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