Al-Huda: The story of "Islamic" revivalism amongst urban Pakistani women

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Susan S. Wadley


Al-Huda, Revivalism, Pakistani, Women, Islam, Urban women

Subject Categories

Religion | Social and Cultural Anthropology | Women's Studies


The last decade has witnessed an increasing number of middle- and upper-class urban Pakistani women actively turning towards Islam via Al-Huda, an Islamic school for women created by Dr. Farhat Hashmi in Islamabad in 1994, that aims to transform the women who engage with its discourse into "pious" subjects. This school turned social movement's uniqueness lies in the fact that it has been able to make inroads into the middle and upper classes of the urban areas of Pakistan, a feat other religious groups have been unsuccessful at accomplishing. It was in order to understand why these women were engaging with it---transforming their behaviour, relationships, and ideology in the process---that I conducted ethnographic research in Islamabad from the year 2003 to 2004.

I suggest that the authority of the discourse and the pedagogies of transformation that women are exposed to at Al-Huda have built upon women's faith in Allah and the Qur'an as the word of Allah, and play a critical role in helping them to discipline themselves into becoming pious subjects. Their growing love for Allah and desire to please Him further facilitates the process, as does Al-Huda's propensity to draw upon cultural codes---ideologies, values, beliefs---that pre-exist in the socio-cultural landscape of the country. The multiple ways women find meaning in religion and religious spaces as they function from their own particular positions within both their local society and the larger world adds further meaning to their journey and facilitates their increased engagement with Islam.

By infusing the individuals who engage with it with particular Islamic principles Al-Huda aims to create subjects who are infused with a unitary consciousness. How successful they are in accomplishing this is dependent upon the strength and nature of women's prior religious beliefs, the strength of alternative ideologies in their life, and their motives for engaging with this religious discourse. However, its current success amongst women has significantly contributed to the increase of a particular Islamic discourse in society, one that is impacting it on a number of different levels.


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