In the name of Allāh, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful

Dr Naheed Anwar BA Hons., MA, PhD (Roehampton University)

Despite the intensification of characterising Salafi women as the ultimate Other in the West’s gendered War on Terror, Salafism continues to be one of the most successful agents of female conversion to Islam in the West. Yet the dominant framing of Salafism as a virulent religious ideology that predisposes its members towards violent extremism shows that it is also one of the most misunderstood ideologies of our time. Consequently, when viewed from the outside, the significant numbers of women who have converted to its orthodox, non-Western belief system is an enigma. Using my insider status as a Salafi woman and researcher, this study aims to fill a significant gap in understanding contemporary Salafism within Western scholarship. It achieves this by examining why a religion associated with violence and the repression and acute social control of its female members remains a popular lifestyle choice for demographically diverse women in the postcolonial and post-secular city of Birmingham, famous for being the ‘hub’ of ‘purist’ Salafi da‘wa in the West. It also demonstrates how the symbiotic relationship between creed and methodology within Salafism symbolises a vehement condemnation of terrorism of any kind. An analysis of the conversion narratives of 30 first-generation Salafi women reveals that contrary to crass stereotypes of hyper-visible Muslim women as brainwashed female cult victims destined to become jihadi brides, becoming and being a Salafi woman is a largely social act of gradual personal change––one that enables such women to turn their lives around using a religious problem-solving perspective. The rise of global Salafism and the emergence of a new hybrid Salafi identity not only signifies the changing face of religious belief and practice in contemporary Europe and globally but also reveals the significance of modern spirituality and the return to religion in a post-Enlightenment era.

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