Modern Asian Studies

Research Article

Women, Politics and Islamism in Northern Pakistan1


a1 School of Oriental and African Studies


This paper explores the responses of women living in a small town in the Chitral region of northern Pakistan to the Islamizing policies of the Muttahida Majlis-e Amal, a coalition of Islamist parties elected to provincial government in the North West Frontier Province in October 2002. Its focus is on women in the region who vocally and publicly criticize Chitral's politically active madrasa-educated ‘men of piety’. Documenting the ways in which these women and the region's ‘men of piety’ debate with one another on matters concerning personal morality, comportment and self-presentation illuminates dimensions of small-town Muslim life that are rarely considered important in Pakistan's North West Frontier Province. In particular, by exploring these complex and multi-dimensional debates, I seek to emphasize the inherently unfinished nature of Chitralis’ responses to ongoing Islamizing processes, a growing and pervasive sense of disenchantment amongst many of the region's Muslims with the authenticity of public expressions of personal piety, and, in this context, the continuing emergence of new ways of being Muslim, modes of self-presentation and categories of Islamic public opinion forming figures.


1 This paper would not have been possible without the help, support and hospitality of many people in Chitral. I would like to thank in particular Nizar Wali Shah and Hussain Ali Shah and their families for their hospitality in Markaz during the summer of 2003. Research for this paper was undertaken with the support of grants from Trinity College, Cambridge, the University of Cambridge and the British Academy Society for South Asian Studies. It has benefited from insightful comment and criticism from Filippo and Caroline Osella, as well as Susan Bayly. Pseudonyms are used for all people and small places referred to in the text.