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Beyond Preaching Women: Saudi Dāʿiyāt and Their Engagement in the Public Sphere

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A prevalent notion among researchers working on gender politics in Saudi Arabia is that women’s engagement in the public sphere is restricted by the official interpretation of Islam, which only allows women to engage in issues presumed to be “feminine.” Based on an anthropological fieldwork exploration of al-dāʿiyāt al-muthaqqafāt (traditional female preachers belonging to the intellectual sphere in Riyadh), this article challenges this common assumption. It seeks to understand in what ways these women are a part of the public sphere and how this came about. One key factor is how the religious concept of “commanding right and forbidding wrong” has been expanded to adapt to changing circumstances, circumstances that have necessitated women’s presence in the public sphere. Examples from prominent intellectual female preachers such as Nawāl al-ʿĪd and Ruqayya al-Muḥārib demonstrate how leading dāʿiyāt in Riyadh engage in issues affecting Saudi society beyond gender-specific issues and encourage women to take a greater part in the public sphere.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Culture Studies and Oriental Languages, University of Oslo,


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