Performing Piety

[ Middle Eastern Studies ]

Performing Piety

Singers and Actors in Egypt's Islamic Revival

By Karin van Nieuwkerk

Tracing the Islamization of Egyptian celebrities and their fans and the emergence of an Islamic aesthetics, this book offers a unique history of the religious revival in Egypt through the lens of the performing arts.

October 2013


33% website discount price

This is a print-on-demand title. Expedited shipping is not available.


6 x 9 | 332 pp.

ISBN: 978-1-4773-0225-5

In the 1980s, Egypt witnessed a growing revival of religiosity among large sectors of the population, including artists. Many pious stars retired from art, “repented” from “sinful” activities, and dedicated themselves to worship, preaching, and charity. Their public conversions were influential in spreading piety to the Egyptian upper class during the 1990s, which in turn enabled the development of pious markets for leisure and art, thus facilitating the return of artists as veiled actresses or religiously committed performers.

Revisiting the story she began in “A Trade like Any Other”: Female Singers and Dancers in Egypt, Karin van Nieuwkerk draws on extensive fieldwork among performers to offer a unique history of the religious revival in Egypt through the lens of the performing arts. She highlights the narratives of celebrities who retired in the 1980s and early 1990s, including their spiritual journeys and their influence on the “pietization” of their fans, among whom are the wealthy, relatively secular, strata of Egyptian society. Van Nieuwkerk then turns to the emergence of a polemic public sphere in which secularists and Islamists debated Islam, art, and gender in the 1990s. Finally, she analyzes the Islamist project of “art with a mission” and the development of Islamic aesthetics, questioning whether the outcome has been to Islamize popular art or rather to popularize Islam. The result is an intimate thirty-year history of two spheres that have tremendous importance for Egypt—art production and piety.



Part One. The 1980s: Celebrating Piety

Chapter 1. Dreams, Spirituality, and the Piety Movement

Chapter 2. Repentance, Da`wah, and Religious Education

Chapter 3. Veiling and Charity

Part Two. The 1990s: Debating Religion, Gender, and the Performing Arts in the Public Sphere

Chapter 4. The Islamist (Counter)public

Chapter 5. The Secular Cultural Field

Chapter 6. Changing Discourses on Art and Gender

Part Three. The New Millennium: Performing Piety

Chapter 7. Art with a Mission and Post-Islamism

Chapter 8. Halal Weddings and Religious Markets

Chapter 9. Ramadan Soaps and Islamic Aesthetics






Karin van Nieuwkerk is an anthropologist and professor of contemporary Islam in Europe and the Middle East at the Radboud University Nijmegen in the Netherlands. She is the author of "A Trade like any Other": Female Singers and Dancers in Egypt and editor of Women Embracing Islam: Gender and Conversion in the West, and  of, Muslim Rap, Halal Soaps, and Revolutionary Theatre: Artistic Developments in the Muslim World.

“Any ethnographic study that brings to light the intersection of women, performance, and religion in the Muslim world is extremely important. . . . The single most profound strength of this book is that the author gives voice to a great number of performers and women performers from Cairo who would remain unknown to the Western world and to an English-language readership. Karin van Nieuwkerk has the perspective of three decades of fieldwork with performers in Cairo! Rather than dealing only with the political aspects of a religious movement, the focus of this work is on cultural production, and particularly the performing arts—music, dance, theater. The study highlights the ways in which cultural production, rather than merely reflecting what happens in society, foreshadows and directs social change and the creation of meaning.”
—Anne K. Rasmussen, Professor of Music and Ethnomusicology and Director of the Middle Eastern Music Ensemble, the College of William and Mary

“This is a great book, very important, [that] advances the state of knowledge in several fields—anthropology, ethnomusicology, and cultural studies among them. . . . It breaks significant new ground and does not have a significant competitor in the field.”
—Mark LeVine, Professor of History, University of California, Irvine

"…an invaluable contribution to the anthropology of performing piety, in general, and the study of Islamic revival and Muslim piety movement in Egypt, in particular....The interviews with artists make the book enjoyable and accessible to non-specialist readers."
—El-Sayed el-Aswad, Middle East Media and Book Reviews Online

"Van Nieuwkerk provides a finely detailed contribution to the study of elite public cultures in the Middle Eastern and North African region. . . An inventive analysis of the circulation of taste in a fractured media environment."
—Kendra Salois, American Journal of Islamic Social Sciences