New Infrastructures for Religious Learning and Activism
IBA's Social Sciences Club held its first edition of the Faculty Presentation Series on the 14th of February, 2017. Dr. Faiza Mushtaq (Chair, Department of Social Sciences and Liberal Arts) talked about her research on Al-Huda International Welfare Foundation.
Al-Huda, a Pakistani institute founded in 1994, has grown internationally and now has schools in Canada, England, and the KSA along with its many schools here in Pakistan. It mainly targets the female population of the Pakistani diaspora and is handled largely by the department of education. Beginning her presentation with Dr. Farhat Hashmi, the founder of Al-Huda, Dr. Faiza talked about how the institute began, how it has grown, and what it does to attract its students.
During graduate school, Dr. Faiza started noticing salient changes in middle and upper-middle class Pakistani women during her visits to Pakistan and decided to research this phenomenon. Her research led her to Al-Huda.
Focusing primarily on the ethnographic method, she spent a period of 20 months with Al-Huda students and teachers, and observed their activities, what they talked about, their backstage conversations, etc. She also took semi-formal and semi-structured interviews, and performed textual analyses. Dr. Faiza explained that the aim behind the institute is not unique or unprecedented, rather it is similar to other global movements in history, like the ulemas from late colonial India. Al-Huda is a part of a larger Islamic movement to revitalize Islamic learning and to bring people back to Islam, she explained. It challenges cultural norms and shows that women can also be a part of these religious movements. It has invested a great deal of time to set up formal educational institutions and it runs like a corporate organisation so that women coming from the middle class who are working or stay at home can combine religious ethical reform as well as acquiring resources that give them symbolic capital.
These women often associate themselves with the "parha likha tabqa" because they are a part of a people who are learning the Quran in such an environment. What leads to its appeal? How does it engage people? To answer this, she had to look at the people as a group and not as individuals. One of Al-Huda's biggest selling points is to teach students Arabic so that they can understand the Quran without translations. Dr. Faiza explained that within the environment Al-Huda provides women make changes to their lives to show their commitment and in a collective setting, this leads other women to believe that one day they will also start to be/think like them.