On 2 August 1981, a reported 250,000 Egyptians flocked to ʿAbdin Square in the center of downtown Cairo to perform the Eid al-Fitr prayers marking the end of Ramadan. This square was a central site of political authority: it stood in front of a palace of the same name, built by Khedive Ismaʿil between 1863 and 1874 to replace Cairo's Citadel as an official home and workplace for Egypt's ruler. These prayers, by contrast, were organized by groups that sought to overturn the existing political order: in an event convened by al-Jamaʿa al-Islamiyya (the Islamic Student Movement) and aided by the Muslim Brotherhood, Brotherhood theorist Shaykh Yusuf al-Qaradawi (1926–present) gave an hour-long sermon (khuṭba) analyzing the landmark events of the previous century of the Islamic calendar. Following Qaradawi, the commander (amīr) of al-Jamaʿa al-Islamiyya, Muhammad al-Rawi, questioned the recent crackdowns on the Brotherhood mouthpiece, al-Daʿwa magazine, and mocked calls for “national unity” (al-waḥda al-waṭaniyya).Footnote 1
The gathering in ʿAbdin Square was the latest in a series of holiday prayers turned political rallies. Al-Jamaʿa al-Islamiyya had organized similar events for both Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-AdhaFootnote 2 in this square and at an athletic stadium in Alexandria since 1976, and used the growing attendance to index their support within Egyptian society in the absence of access to the ballot box. The pious masses in ʿAbdin Square on Eid al-Fitr served as a visual reminder to both ruler and ruled of the contrast between the state-sponsored political order and the Islamist opposition.
Yet the central site of ritual competition in Anwar al-Sadat's Egypt was neither the annual Eid prayers nor even the weekly Friday prayer.Footnote 3 Instead, as Egyptian men and women increasingly oriented their lives towards worship of the Divine and new political commitments, competition revolved around the daily ẓuhr prayer.Footnote 4 Though “merely” one of five daily prayers—which could be performed between roughly noon and three in the afternoonFootnote 5—the ẓuhr is the only prayer to fall directly in the middle of both the official work and school days, thus offering Islamists a novel means by which to insert their vision of religious piety into the clocks and corridors of Egyptian state institutions. While state planners and educators inculcated obedience and order through control of the spatial and temporal structure of state institutions, leading figures within the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafi-Islamist al-Jamʿiyya al-Sharʿiyya mobilized middle-class Egyptians to pray at certain times together with their pious peers, thus challenging the claim of bureaucratic and educational institutions to temporal and spatial primacy over religious ritual. Islamic magazines from this period, which were a central form of religious outreach, reveal the role of leading Islamists, student activists, and sympathizers within state institutions in spearheading a project whose legacy has endured even as the Muslim Brotherhood has been driven underground.Footnote 6
This article begins by contextualizing the Islamist transformation of the ẓuhr prayer within a longer history of state efforts to form industrious and loyal citizens through governmental institutions and mass media. In doing so, it highlights the models of spatial and temporal order with which religious elites sought to organize Egyptians, how state planners framed religious practice within nationalist political objectives, and how theory and practice frequently diverged. Turning next to previous conceptions of prayer as a temporally defined act, the article examines the history of “religious” time in Egypt and 20th-century interpretations of sūrat al-nisāʾ (4:103), the key Qurʾanic verse that commands prayer at defined times.Footnote 7 The second half of the article shows how Egyptian Islamists reconstructed the ẓuhr prayer into a means of political challenge that combined prior conceptions of Islamic temporality with a state-sponsored concept of order. On this basis, leading figures within the Muslim Brotherhood, al-Jamʿiyya al-Sharʿiyya, and al-Jamaʿa al-Islamiyya, alongside middle-class readers of Islamic magazines,Footnote 8 established prayer within bureaucratic schedules and claimed ritual space within state institutions to facilitate its collective performance.
This analysis of the popularization of the ẓuhr prayer within state offices and schools casts light on the cultivation of pious subjectivities in Egypt's Islamic Revival as well as the relationship between planning and practice within state institutions. The “secular” project of subject building, as Talal Asad notes, seeks to lay claim to broad swaths of society, and, in doing so, constitutes a distinct “religious” sphere.”Footnote 9 Working from within Asad's conceptual framework, Charles Hirschkind and Saba Mahmood have emphasized the existence of Islamist projects of subject building that are primarily centered on an Islamic tradition of ethical cultivation rather than on secular modes of subject formation.Footnote 10 Hirschkind notes that “we might say that Egypt's Islamic counterpublic is inscribed within the government rationalities and institutions of national public life but also oblique to them, incorporating orientations and modes of practical reason that exceed or cut across modern normativity.”Footnote 11 Along similar lines, Mahmood states: “Piety activists seek to imbue each of the various spheres of contemporary life with a regulative sensibility that takes its cue from the Islamic theological corpus rather than from modern secular ethics.”Footnote 12 Yet even as Mahmood notes that the Islamic Revival's practices are “deeply indebted to the logic of secular-liberal governance,”Footnote 13 both she and Hirschkind tell a story of Islamist piety that places these projects of subject formation on the fringes of secularism.
This article argues that “government rationalities” and “the logic of secular-liberal governance” are central, rather than peripheral, to these processes of Islamist subject formation. Indeed, the Islamist popularization of the ẓuhr prayer represents a hybrid of bureaucratic logic and Islamist piety. Islamism, while challenging state institutions, emerges among people who stand at the center of critical state institutions and operate very much within their logic. Specifically, although this endeavor challenged the primacy of work over prayer time and the state's vision of the correct relationship between national and religious identity, it shared the state's basic assumptions of order, discipline, and temporal precision. Far from the tardy cousin of the “rationalized” state schedule, Islamist claims to temporality, represented through the ẓuhr prayer, were a model of prompt practice that would make state planners proud.
Just as importantly, this article demonstrates that the spatial bounds of the Islamist project must be broadened. Abdullah al-Arian, Charles Hirschkind, Hazem Kandil, Saba Mahmood, and Carrie Wickham have focused exclusively on “Islamist” sites of cultivation, rightfully highlighting the importance of local networks formed around mosques and college campuses.Footnote 14 This scholarship, however, neglects the imbrication of these projects with state-allied religious elites and their geographic location within state institutions.Footnote 15 Indeed, the performance of daily piety cannot be separated from the lived experience of the pious in “non-Islamic” spaces that they traverse daily. Far from marginal sites of religious practice, educational institutions and government offices—along with their particular ideological missions—shaped the performance of Islamist piety.
Finally, this article contributes to scholarship on the relationship between technocratic discourse and practice within Egyptian state institutions. Timothy Mitchell has argued that early 19th-century state building in Egypt brought about new methods of control and subject formation, thus providing a frame of order through which Egyptian society and state came to function.Footnote 16 This approach productively casts light on the logic of state practices and the ways in which state planners sought to construct and monitor society. In complement, Khaled Fahmy, in his examination of the rise of the Egyptian army in the 19th century, has shown how bureaucratic practice often departed from army blueprints due to everything from haste to miscommunication to dishonesty to soldier disobedience.Footnote 17 Most recently, Samer Shehata's ethnography of shop floor workers’ culture within two state-owned textile factories in Alexandria emphasizes the “arsenal of strategies and tactics, techniques and methods, [that workers] employed often quite successfully to control and regulate when and how hard they worked.”Footnote 18 This article, in turn, shows how it is not only those seeking material gain or a lesser workload who can subvert institutional structures, but also their ideologically committed peers. Through a close study of participants in one such ideological project, it sheds light on how mid-level bureaucrats, teachers, and students both undermined and reproduced the temporal and spatial vision of state planners.
PRAYER, RELIGIOUS SUBJECTIVITIES, AND NATIONAL IDENTITY PRIOR TO 1976
The prominence of Islamist leaders on this early August day in 1981 would have been hard to imagine even eleven years earlier. The Muslim Brotherhood had re-emerged tentatively following al-Sadat's ascension to power in 1970, yet challenges to activism remained: the Brotherhood initially had to work quietly with al-Jamaʿa al-Islamiyya leaders due to restrictions on propagating its message on campuses or within independent mosques.Footnote 19 Under the leadership of Supreme Guide ʿUmar al-Tilmisani (d. 1986), the group's mouthpiece, al-Daʿwa, returned to publication in July 1976 following a twenty-two-year hiatus.
Restrictions on grassroots organizing pushed the Brotherhood to focus on carving out a position for al-Daʿwa in a competitive marketplace of religious periodicals. Upon the return of this periodical, it allied with al-Iʿtisam (Adherence), a magazine published by leading figures within the Salafi-Islamist al-Jamʿiyya al-Sharʿiyya. Though the latter's emphasis on theology and ritual precision distinguished it from the Brotherhood, both shared a commitment to religiously based social and political transformation.Footnote 20 These Islamists, however, had competition: the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (al-Majlis al-Aʿla li-l-Shuʾun al-Islamiyya) within the Ministry of Endowments (Wizarat al-Awqaf) published a periodical titled Minbar al-Islam. Though all three claimants to leadership sought to mobilize their readers in distinct religious projects, their opportunities differed: while Minbar al-Islam had access to state-controlled mosques,Footnote 21 and al-Iʿtisam to al-Jamʿiyya al-Sharʿiyya's national network of mosques,Footnote 22 the Brotherhood looked to new sites of contestation.
The significance of Islamic magazines stemmed not only from their role in facilitating specific projects, but also from the dynamics of mediation and authority within the magazines themselves. Unlike other popular media forms, whether print (pamphlets and books), audio (cassette tapes and radio), or audiovisual (television), regular letters to the editor and fatwa sections provided editors and writers the opportunity to gauge the reception of their efforts and provided readers the opportunity to shape the direction of this particular project by chronicling local setbacks and successes.Footnote 23 Just as the expansion of mass education and cheap print products in Egypt under Jamal ʿAbd al-Nasir (r. 1952–70) and al-Sadat (r. 1970–81) facilitated the rise of Islamic magazines as a tool of religious elites, so too did the interactions between editors, writers, and readers in these periodicals necessitate a discursive and practical shift that foregrounded the participation of middle-class readers in the formation and development of projects of piety.
Yet even as the Brotherhood's move to politicize the ẓuhr prayer through the medium of Islamic magazines was new, the effort to define ritual practice and space in order to produce particular religious subjects was not. Most notably, the Ministry of Endowments had worked since the 1920s to regulate prayer timesFootnote 24 and since the 1940s to extend physical control over Egyptian mosques, while Muslim Brothers and Salafis had sought to retain their own sites of ritual practice.Footnote 25 Such contestation was not limited to Egypt: competition between government and Islamist forces to control mosques occurred in Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan, and elsewhere in the Islamic world.Footnote 26
The battle between state institutions and Islamist organizations also emerged out of the Egyptian state's late 19th-century modernization project. Alongside its goal of strengthening Egypt politically and economically in the face of European encroachment, this project sought to achieve “political order” through the creation of institutions—most notably, the army, the school, and the factory—which would produce “the modern individual. . . . as an isolated, disciplined, receptive and industrious political subject.”Footnote 27 State planners used schools in particular to model social order more broadly as “students were kept moving from task to task, with every motion and every space disciplined and put to use.”Footnote 28 At the same time, though, practice frequently deviated from state planners’ hopes; whether within army barracks or state factories, Egyptians evaded the demands of supposedly inescapable disciplinary systems.Footnote 29 Both al-Sadat and the institutions under his control, as well as his Islamist competitors, were heirs to this project of order and disorder.
State institutions not only sought to impart a particular conception of order but also to subordinate religion to political exigencies, most notably the promotion of nationalism or signature ideological campaigns. As Gregory Starrett has shown, late 19th-century British-led educational reforms involved a process of “objectification” that rendered Islam as a concrete set of pronouncements. This objectified religious tradition was then utilized in the service of concrete political goals: the British used it to socialize the population against political revolt, al-Nasir to justify scientific socialism, and al-Sadat to argue that the state, and not the Islamist opposition, possessed an authoritative claim to religious legitimacy.Footnote 30 This process of functionalization, by which religion came to be associated with particular social and political ends, produced a new understanding of religion itself: “The ideas, symbols and behaviors constituting ‘true’ Islam came to be judged not by their adherence to contemporary popular or high traditions, but by their utility in performing social work.”Footnote 31 The state-sponsored religious subject was a citizen whose religious obligations mirrored nationalist priorities and regime interests.
The expansion of mass media complemented state institutions’ emphasis on the nation-state by creating a mass-mediated space in which religious discourse and practice were debated. Taking advantage of the spread of television in the early 1970s, al-Sadat staged televised “public dialogues” in which a state-approved representative—whether from al-Azhar or even a lay preacher—had the opportunity “to set out the issues properly for the benefit of those confused or ill-informed Muslims who might have come under the unhealthy influence of fanatics.”Footnote 32 Similarly, radio functioned, as it had under al-Nasir, as a means of outreach, religious or otherwise, to a population among whom roughly 60 percent were illiterate.Footnote 33 In both cases, mass media served to reinforce the “nation” as the primary frame of identity and to reaffirm the religious credentials of the ruling elite.Footnote 34 In the shadow of a mass-mediated nation in which bureaucratic planners sought to define the national community to organize society, and religious interpretation and practice served to affirm the legitimacy of political elites, multiple religious projects took shape.
How can we explain the timing of this particular effort to institutionalize the ẓuhr prayer? This was certainly not the first time that a contradiction between the ẓuhr prayer and state timetables had arisen; the expansion of both bureaucratic employment and education in Egypt over the 20th century suggests that this was a longstanding tension.Footnote 35 Yet there is little indication that prior to the 1970s either Muslim Brothers or Salafis lobbied for government institutions to structure their schedules to accommodate this ritual practice. Though the number of “popular” mosques functioning outside state supervision increased under al-Nasir, those who prayed daily in public fashion were a distinct minority. Indeed, a memoir by Muslim Brother al-Sayyid ʿAbd al-Sattar Miliji recounts that during the 1930s and 1940s, the Brotherhood struggled to attract more than ten students to any of its mosques at universities around Egypt.Footnote 36
If there was any constituency likely to pray the ẓuhr prayer in spite of logistical obstacles, it would have been members of Egypt's leading Salafi organizations, including al-Jamʿiyya al-Sharʿiyya. Yet even as numerous issues of al-Iʿtisam throughout the al-Nasir period featured fatwa requests from readers regarding prayer—whether the conditions under which one could postpone prayer, the sites at which one could pray the Friday prayer, or situations that spoiled ritual purity (wuḍūʾ)—there was no mention of a conflict between state timetables and religious ritual.Footnote 37 Elites and rank-and-file members within al-Jamʿiyya al-Sharʿiyya, though aware of the temporal tension between the ẓuhr prayer and the schedule of the state bureaucracy, could sidestep this challenge to prompt prayer by praying within its roughly three-hour window between noon and three in the afternoon, rather than immediately when the call to prayer sounded.Footnote 38 While Salafi men and women enrolled or teaching in primary and secondary schools—in which it was difficult to pray if a specific time was not set aside—would have struggled to fulfill this obligation, others likely performed this prayer during breaks in the workday, thus engaging in a project of piety on the margins of the state temporal order.
It was only during the second half of al-Sadat's rule that Egyptian Islamists came to focus on the ẓuhr. This focus reflected not only a tension between ritual practice and state timetables, but also available political opportunities. The Brotherhood had sought a project that would facilitate its popularity within state institutions without appearing to directly challenge al-Sadat. The attractiveness of focusing on this ritual practice increased as the Brotherhood began to cultivate the students of al-Jamaʿa al-Islamiyya, themselves disproportionately affected by state-enforced schedules.Footnote 39 By contrast, the Brotherhood's opportunities to mobilize at Friday prayer were circumscribed due to efforts by state security to monitor and even dictate the content of Friday sermons.
In their focus on the ẓuhr prayer, Egyptian Islamists were not alone. In the late 1970s, female workers in Malaysian factories lobbied the government for the right to pray during work hours and for the provision of a prayer room; the government responded by extending lunch breaks to encompass the ẓuhr prayer.Footnote 40 Similarly, government employees in Pakistan have used a variety of tactics to obtain time and space to pray, ranging from successfully persuading their superiors to authorize the construction of a mosque on office grounds to simply spreading “reed mats out in the little-used lobby of one of the office buildings.”Footnote 41 An exception to such piecemeal accommodation is the Imam-Hatip school system in Turkey, which sets aside time for ẓuhr, yet this option is available only to the minority of students in Turkey who attend these schools.Footnote 42 Still others coped with government timetables by abstaining temporarily from their ritual obligations: a study of Islam in Bosnia notes that Bosnian Muslim government employees in the 1980s postponed regular performance of the ẓuhr prayer until after their retirement from “the ‘secular’ (and ‘Yugoslav’) public workplace.”Footnote 43 Yet the demands of Egyptian Islamists also reflected local specificity, particularly the emergence of a self-consciously “Islamic” temporality in Egypt during the first half of the 20th century.
THE TEMPORALITY OF PRAYER: THE CONSTRUCTION OF RELIGIOUS TIME AND THE LAG OF QURʾANIC COMMENTARIES
The transformation of the ẓuhr prayer into a temporal challenge to the state's claim to define its citizens is inseparable from the history of British colonial efforts to institute European-style conceptions of time and the subsequent reproduction of this project by postcolonial Egyptian rulers. In his study of the history of temporality in modern Egypt, On Barak traces how new means of transportation and communication produced both a “European” emphasis on “expediency and promptness” and “‘countertempos’ predicated on discomfort with the time of the clock and a disdain for dehumanizing European standards of efficiency, linearity, and punctuality.”Footnote 44 It was in this context that “‘Egyptian time’ retroactively sprouted roots in the Islamic tradition and rural folklore” and the religious calendar came to represent a “sacred” or “authentic” time.Footnote 45
Temporality also emerged as a key site of political dissent. As Barak notes, the Arabic press in the 1880s used “train schedules and other technical concerns . . . to broach (techno-) politics without directly deploying the language most associated with illicit ‘politics’—that of Egyptian nationalism.” Put simply, the British colonial project claimed a modernizing efficiency that it contrasted with Egyptian indolence. Egyptians, in turn, accepted the broad importance of British-imported technology, even as they highlighted the contradictions within it—“[incorrect] timetables, train malfunctions, and the exposure of inefficiencies”Footnote 46—to challenge colonial authority. Though British rule had receded by 1922 and ended officially in 1952,Footnote 47 the temporal claims it made and stimulated would march on under the postcolonial Egyptian state.
These claims, however, would also be transformed by al-Nasir's religious identity and ambitions. After 1952, the conflict was no longer between “European” time and “Egyptian” countertempos—or, for that matter, a European ruler and an Egyptian population—but was rather an intra-Egyptian affair. Just as debates over takfīr Footnote 48 within Muslim Brotherhood splinter groups involved a struggle to devise a religious justification of violence in the face of an outwardly Muslim leader,Footnote 49 so too did the Islamic identity of the ruler necessitate a more subtle, though no less effective, exploitation of “Islamic time.”
Whereas al-Nasir largely repressed political opposition, al-Sadat provided the Muslim Brotherhood with the opportunity to use religious temporality as a wedge issue with its constituency. Most notably, al-Sadat's claim to meld “science and faith” (al-ʿilm wa-l-imān)Footnote 50 and self-depiction as the “believing president” (al-raʾīs al-muʾmin) meant that he could hardly deny the obligation of daily prayer for those who sought to fulfill it while studying or employed in state institutions. Islamist elites and the readers of their periodicals would challenge and negotiate the disjuncture between state claims to uphold religious law and this basic practice as they sought to produce themselves and others as pious Muslims.
As the 1970s dawned, however, there was little precedence for such a challenge. Qurʾanic commentaries popular in Egypt during the early and mid-20th century did not deal with this question. Most notably, Rashid Rida (d. 1935), in his discussion of sūrat al-nisāʾ (4:103), did not treat daily prayer as a pressing question,Footnote 51 though he did devote twenty-one pages of his Tafsir al-Manar (The Lighthouse Commentary) to, for example, questions of prayer requirements during travel or when an individual fears for his or her life (generally in the context of war).Footnote 52 Similarly, Hasan al-Banna (d. 1949), in his commentary Nazarat fi Kitab Allah (Glances in the Book of God), said little about regular prayer, merely enumerating the ethical and social benefits of ritual obedience.Footnote 53
This state of affairs did not change as the 20th century proceeded. In Fi Zilal al-Qurʾan (In the Shade of the Qurʾan), Sayyid Qutb (d. 1966) took a strict position regarding prayer during war—he advocated praying in shiftsFootnote 54—but did not consider the ordinary circumstances that restricted ritual practice for many of his readers. Similarly, the Azhari shaykh Muhammad Mahmud Hijazi (d. 1973), author of the popular 1962 commentary al-Tafsir al-Wadih (The Straightforward Commentary), devoted his discussion of prayer to the complications of travel.Footnote 55 The silence of these commentators on the question of daily prayer, particularly the ẓuhr, was not due to lack of commitment to ritual practice; rather, they saw the obligation to be so obvious that there was little need to discuss it as a legal matter, and they did not consider prayer a political project. During the second half of the al-Sadat period, however, prompt performance of the ẓuhr would vault forward in textual and political prominence alike as Islamist elites, state employees, and students participated in a project that would transform previous models of religious temporality.
THE PRAYER PROJECT: STATE CLAIMS AND ISLAMIST COUNTERCLAIMS
As al-Sadat used the state's religious and educational institutions to transmit a nationalist vision in which religious piety and political loyalty went hand in hand, he could not simply silence Islamist voices. In fact, his claim to faith depended on allowing the opposition to speak and even mobilize. Al-Sadat thus sought to shape the debate over prayer through Minbar al-Islam, a monthly magazine published by the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs.
To meet al-Sadat's ideological needs, Minbar al-Islam emphasized the centrality of prayer to the everyday lives of its readers. Each issue of the magazine contained a prayer chart setting out the times of the five daily prayers (mawāqit al-ṣalāt) for the coming month.Footnote 56 Alongside this roadmap to timely prayer were multiple fatwas by Shaykh of al-Azhar ʿAbd al-Halim Mahmud (d. 1978) in which he made clear that performance of the five daily prayers constituted “the most important pillar [rukn] of Islam aside from the declaration of faith [al-shahāda].”Footnote 57 Prayer was to structure the daily life of Egyptian believers.
Yet this conception of prayer also affirmed existing political order. In this vein, Minbar al-Islam chronicled the president's January 1976 visit to al-Sayyid al-Badawi mosque in Tanta, noting the “citizens praising and hailing the life of their leader” (tahlīl wa-takbīr al-muwaṭinīn li-ḥayāt al-qāʾid). Though Friday prayer had always involved an affirmation of the legitimacy of the current ruler, this iteration doubled as a political rally: instead of reciting God's praises—the usual context in which the honorific chants of tahlīl and takbīr are used—Egyptians were to trumpet al-Sadat's rule.
Leading voices within al-Jamʿiyya al-Sharʿiyya were the first to explicitly challenge the subordination of religious ritual to bureaucratic schedules. In the December 1976 issue of al-Iʿtisam, al-Jamʿiyya al-Sharʿiyya leader ʿAbd al-Latif Mushtahiri (d. 1995) praised Muhammad Saʿid Ahmad, a member of parliament from the Delta textile center of al-Mahalla al-Kubra, for praying the ẓuhr prayer in the midst of an afternoon parliamentary session and then the ʿaṣr and maghrib prayers as the day of deliberations dragged into evening. For Mushtahiri, this was proof of the need for an alternative schedule:
The principles of the religiously committed [mabādīʾ al-multazimīn] do not change based on time and place . . . this is the first time in the history of parliament that the papers have noted that a Muslim man has announced the rituals of his religion at their appointed time [shaʿāʾir dīnihi fī mawāqītihā] in a place in which hundreds have neglected the obligation of prayer and followed their desires . . . we salute the member of parliament Doctor Muhammad al-Saʿid, a physician and the president of the Mahalla al-Kubra branch of al-Jamʿiyya al-Sharʿiyya . . . and we place no one above God [lā nuzakkī ʿalā Allāh aḥadan].Footnote 58
Yet, for reasons that are unclear, this public challenge of piety among leading figures of al-Jamʿiyya al-Sharʿiyya receded into the background after the publication of this article in al-Iʿtisam by a leading figure.
Several months later, al-Daʿwa editor and leading Muslim Brother Salih ʿAshmawi (d. 1983) revived the issue of prompt prayer. His March 1977 article, “Where Is Prayer Performed in the State of Science and Faith?,” mocked the al-Sadat regime's claim to piety by underlining the impossibility of full ritual observance within governmental institutions. For ʿAshmawi, prayer was particularly incumbent upon rulers (al-ḥukkām wa-wulāt al-umūr), who should serve as models for the people. Accordingly, he reasoned, it must be performed five times daily at the presidential palace as well as in the parliament, cabinet, ministries, and judiciary, in educational institutions, and in professional offices, whether private or state owned. The obligation to pray was also a social equalizer: it applied to every level of employee, whether white or blue collar, the most senior or most junior. It was this social reach that enabled the ẓuhr prayer to serve as an effective challenge to the state's efforts to discipline the individual citizen.
In wielding prayer as a pointed instrument of religious challenge, ʿAshmawi singled out members of both parliament and employees of the educational system. In his article, the Brotherhood leader asked rhetorically why the speaker of the People's Assembly—none other than the al-Sadat regime's public proponent of the application of shariʿa, Sufi Abu Talib (d. 1981)—had not decreed that parliamentary meetings would be paused for ten minutes during prayer time. Just as dangerously, he pointed out that state-sponsored civil education (al-taʿlīm al-madanī) was useless without moral education (tarbiya). ʿAshmawi thus called on “all university administrators and deans of faculties and of primary and secondary schools to stop lessons during prayer times and to go down from their offices to the prayer hall [muṣalla] to join professors, teachers, white-collar workers [muwaẓẓifūn], and students, both male and female.”Footnote 59 Neither should practical obstacles stand in the way of this prayer project. As ʿAshmawi explained, “there are those who claim that the timing and work that has to be performed [are incompatible]. . . . [and thus] do not allow prayers to occur in this fashion [i.e., at the correct time] . . . but this is about action [al-ʿamal], and action alone is the strongest truth and most demonstrative evidence.” Indeed, the implementation of the ẓuhr prayer in all state-controlled institutions represented no less than “the serious path to the application of the Islamic shariʿa . . . leading to the establishment of an Islamic society” (iqāmat al-mujtamaʿ al-islāmī).Footnote 60 At stake was not only the application of Islamic law, but also the reorganization of society's temporal rhythms to accord with piety rather than productivity.
By the summer of 1977, the call to reorganize state schedules to accommodate timely prayer led to concrete, albeit limited, policy achievements. At this time, al-Sadat's relationship with the Islamist opposition was frayed, but not severed: despite deep dissatisfaction with the trials of the Brotherhood splinter group al-Takfir wa-l-Hijra (Excommunication and Emigration),Footnote 61 elites within the Brotherhood and al-Jamʿiyya al-Sharʿiyya had yet to dismiss cooperation with the regime. Accordingly, the Brotherhood allied with local branches of al-Jamaʿa al-Islamiyya as they petitioned the Ministry of Education to provide breaks for prayer time at Egyptian universities. The July 1977 issue of al-Daʿwa included an article written by two students at Asyut University's Faculty of Agriculture. Titled “A Pioneering Experiment at Asyut University's Faculty of Agriculture,” the article detailed how classes during the 1976–77 academic year had paused for the ẓuhr prayer.Footnote 62 According to the two authors, the faculty's dean had issued orders for all departments to allow students and white-collar employees (muwaẓẓifūn) to perform prayers in timely fashion within the faculty mosque.Footnote 63 Neither was Asyut the only success story. Only three months earlier, Salah al-Din Hasan, the deputy of the Ministry of Education in Sharqiyya, ordered primary and secondary principals to adjust the class schedule to account for the early afternoon obligation.Footnote 64 The goal of anchoring Islamization within the daily practices—and schedules—of state-controlled institutions was clear.
With Asyut as an early model, writers and readers in al-Daʿwa argued for restructuring class time within al-Azhar's nationwide network of primary and secondary religious institutes, acknowledged by the regime and Islamists alike as key sites for the transmission of religious knowledge in Egypt. In November 1977, the Azhar-trained daʿiya (preacher) ʿAbd al-ʿAzim al-Matʿani penned a column in al-Daʿwa in which he called for the “revival” (nuhūḍ) of this central system of Islamic education through the reorganization of class time around prayer, with teachers joining their students in this ritual practice. This reorganization, in turn, would instill “virtuous morals and praiseworthy behavior” (al-khulq al-fāḍil wa-l-sulūk al-ḥamīd).Footnote 65 Yet, as readers reminded Islamist elites, this problem was not limited to al-Azhar's institutes: a letter from the same month, titled “Studying and Prayer Times,” demanded that al-Azhar University's classes stop for prayer times as the university president had promised.Footnote 66 The failure of religious institutes and al-Azhar University—let alone public schools—to stop for prayer was not merely a matter of ritual rectitude (or lack thereof), but symbolized a sense of moral decay that the Brotherhood and al-Jamaʿa al-Islamiyya would exploit.
Despite Islamist efforts, the reorganization of school schedules would be piecemeal and incomplete. As readers sought to form themselves into pious Muslims who prioritized ritual over bureaucratic obedience, they filled the mailbox of al-Daʿwa with letters that revealed the gaps. In June 1979, a reader from Damietta noted that the governorate's general director (mudīr ʿāmm) for the Ministry of Education had ordered primary and secondary schools to coordinate prayer and class times, yet this had not yet occurred. The reader then urged “all those responsible for education in our country to take this faithful model” as a template for their actions.Footnote 67 Similarly, in February 1980, Ashraf ʿAbd al-Hakim Mujahid, a student at the ʿAli Mubarak secondary school in Daqahliyya, complained about “students not responding to the call to prayer, whether in the afternoon [al-ẓuhr] or at other points of conflict with class times.” This reader proceeded to ask the obvious question: “Why can't teaching break during times of prayer and why can't teachers, in cooperation with their students, perform the prayers at this time . . . as we are in a state of science and faith.”Footnote 68
Yet teachers did not necessarily disagree with their pious students. A June 1980 letter from a secondary school teacher in Daqahliyya, titled “Oh Ministry of Education: What about Prayers?,” complained that teachers should, like their students, have the opportunity to perform prayers during the school day.Footnote 69 While al-Sadat claimed to apply the shariʿa, students and teachers reported how he had fallen short and questioned the equation of nationalist and religious fidelity.
In the face of the clear limitations of al-Sadat's claims to piety, Islamist lobbying sometimes bore fruit. In the April 1981 issue of al-Daʿwa, a reader recounted how, since the previous month, classes at the Faculties of Theology (Kuliyyat Usul al-Din) and Preaching (Kuliyyat al-Daʿwa al-Islamiyya) at al-Azhar university ceased when the time of ẓuhr arrived, with teachers and students directed by loud speaker to gather in the faculty mosque. In response, al-Daʿwa congratulated the professors of these two faculties and called on other Egyptian university faculties to follow their lead.Footnote 70 If Islamization could be anchored within the heart (and clocks) of state institutes, prayer in state space could become a norm rather than a minority practice.
While the leading thinkers of al-Jamʿiyya al-Sharʿiyya hesitated to use prayer to challenge al-Sadat's hold over state institutions, the Brotherhood worked with al-Jamaʿa al-Islamiyya to transform the ẓuhr. Their success was less in educational policy—limits to implementing prayer times in schools are underscored by letters from readers in state and Islamist magazines alike—than in documenting a gap in the state's religious claims, which was easily observable to a mass audience, educated and uneducated alike. In the process, they had cornered the al-Sadat regime, which acknowledged the daily obligation of prayer and thus had difficulty resisting the Brotherhood's lobbying.
Just as importantly, “Islamic temporality” had taken a decisive turn. Though the performance of the ẓuhr prayer had previously been less prompt than the requirements of bureaucratic timeliness, the demands to pray immediately following the call to prayer now compared favorably with the habitual lethargy of government offices and schools. For Islamist opposition groups though, temporal accommodation was insufficient; this opposition front also required access to mosques to facilitate the formation of specifically Islamist subjects.
WHEN TIME IS INSUFFICIENT: MAKING DAILY PRAYER COLLECTIVE
The Muslim Brotherhood and al-Jamaʿa al-Islamiyya sought not only time to pray, but also the space to do so collectively. Accordingly, the two organizations teamed up to lobby for access to ritual space at the core of state institutions. In doing so, the Islamist opposition attempted to anchor their project of pious cultivation within space ostensibly controlled by the state.
It was students who led the charge by appealing to employees within state institutions. A December 1976 letter from Cairo University's Faculty of Humanities (Kulliyat al-Adab) detailed student negotiations with upper-level administrators to provide space for regular collective prayer: a student explained that the school's mosque could hold no more than fifteen students at a time, thus requiring students to pray in successive groups. Accordingly, this reader, a member of al-Jamaʿa al-Islamiyya, called on the dean of the faculty to “provide a broader space for prayer . . . [which also includes] room for women.”Footnote 71 Yet the problem persisted: a January 1978 unsigned column from a student at Cairo University, titled “Seven Years . . . and the Mosque Has Yet To Be Finished,” noted that while promises for a university mosque had first been made during the 1970–71 academic year, the Ministry of Endowments had apparently halted the project by refusing to pay the Arab Contractors Company to finish it. The student expressed hope that the university, headed by al-Sadat-ally and Speaker of the People's Assembly Sufi Abu Talib, would complete a spacious mosque in short order.Footnote 72 At this point, al-Jamaʿa al-Islamiyya saw a possibility for accommodation with the al-Sadat regime and viewed it as a potential ally for mosque construction rather than as a direct threat to the sanctity of ritual space.
This effort to institutionalize daily prayer was not limited to university students. In April 1977, a group of students from the Azhari secondary institute in Alexandria explained, “we cannot find a place to pray . . . [because] the institute's mosque has become a soccer field . . . will those responsible for the institute [within the state bureaucracy] listen to us?”Footnote 73 It is unclear whether the Ministry of Education responded to this call, but al-Daʿwa’s ʿAbd al-ʿAzim al-Matʿani grasped its importance. In the November 1977 issue, he declared that al-Azhar's renaissance (nuhūḍ) depended on the coordination of class time and prayer time as well as the existence of a prayer hall (muṣalla) in all Azhari institutes.Footnote 74 These young Azharis struggled to reconcile their institute's educational mission with the practical obstacles it posed to collective ritual practice.
As Islamist readers worked to affect change within their own institutions, al-Daʿwa’s editors and writers gave comparatively little attention to questions of access to spaces for performing the ẓuhr prayer. For the members of al-Jamaʿa al-Islamiyya who wrote in the Youth and University News (Akhbar al-Shabab wa-l-Jamiʿat) section of the magazine and the readers in high schools across Egypt who reported the local challenges of collective prayer, the obstacles to piety were clear. In response, al-Daʿwa’s elites shifted towards a focus on collective prayer within university mosques.
The conflict between state institutions and collective (Islamist) prayer began within these schools as students clashed with low-level administrators and state security forces alike: Hisham Mahmud, a secondary student at the National Model School in Alexandria, reported that he had been repeatedly physically assaulted by Central Security (al-Amn al-Markazi) for performing the call to prayer at school. This reader, however, also challenged the Muslim Brotherhood to support his efforts: “As al-Daʿwa attacks the enemies of Islam in Somalia, Burma, Eretria, and Ethiopia, I ask it to face the enemies of Islam from those who identify themselves as Muslims.”
In response, al-Daʿwa’s editors did not mince words as they criticized repression by state institutions and defended themselves:
This [action by the security services] is terrorism [al-irhāb] . . . they instill fear in the youth of Islam . . . carrying out the plans of the enemies of Islam . . . but God most high will bring victory to those who support him. . . . we hope that these people will remember, if only for a second, that they belong to Islam and will return to it. We call on Dr. Hasan Ismaʿil, minister of education, to investigate this matter so as to determine the validity of the complaint . . . and to extend the secure hand of supervision . . . to private schools.Footnote 75
Though we have no record of the results of a subsequent investigation by the minister of education, the challenge to repression of the ẓuhr prayer did not abate as these readers entered the mosque.
Once entrenched in the mosques, students frequently used their bodies to protect their claim to ritual space. A February 1979 letter from Amal Zayn al-ʿAbdin, a secondary student at a girls’ school in Alexandria, described how, on 24 November 1978, a male teacher had entered the prayer hall (muṣalla) and expelled all the female students who had come to perform the ẓuhr prayer because it conflicted with the school schedule (niẓām al-madrasa). This student was in the midst of prayer and thus ignored her teacher's demand; in response, the teacher entered the mosque without removing his shoes and dragged her outside by her hair. When another female student came to her aid, this teacher began to assault the second student and expelled her from the prayer hall, too.
This was not merely a case of faculty brutality. As the student noted, the principal of the school and her deputy were both Christian and the teacher in question was a Muslim man who had touched a woman unrelated to him. In response, al-Daʿwa noted sarcastically:
We have not been aware previously that the presence of female students in the school's prayer hall [muṣalla] could be considered a disruption of the school system [niẓām al-madrasa]. . . . This constitutes audacity against God [al-tajarrūʾ ʿalā Allāh] and an attempt to destroy the mosque . . . at a time when there is no authority figure at the school who is ready to prevent such behavior. Once again, we call on the minister of education to investigate this new incident and to determine what occurred.Footnote 76
Educational intermediaries, though likely also involved in more quotidian struggles over authority, were fearful of a project of piety that threatened to overturn the Ministry of Education's claim to order and the subordination of religious practice within its institutions to imperatives of nationalist education. While they could not deny the time of prayer, they could seek to regulate it within the daily schedule of schools under their purview. Conversely, as students pursued piety, they used their bodies to challenge the authority of their teachers and state security forces alike.
Students did not stand alone in their attempts to perform the ẓuhr prayer; at times, they had the support of their teachers. In the March 1980 issue of al-Daʿwa, a former teacher at Qasr al-Nil secondary school in Cairo complained that he had lost his job for leading students in the ẓuhr prayer. When the school principal warned him that he was not to do so, he made clear that “there are no limits on who can perform or supervise prayers . . . the students need someone to guide them to the path of God and to protect them from deviation [al-inḥirāf].” In response, the principal cautioned him: “Don't forget that there are monitors [ruqabāʾ] in our school . . . [and] we want to continue earning a living in peace [nurīd luqmat ʿaysh bi-l-salām].” The teacher saw no solution other than to resign. Taking aim at the state, he asked rhetorically: “If we are living in a state whose slogan is science and faith [al-ʿilm wa-l-imān] and if the name of the Ministry is that of Education. . . . and if we are supposed to guide to truth [al-sawāb] and good [al-khayr], then who is making the mistake here?!”Footnote 77 High schools were a key site of state control and the Ministry of Education sought to use the implicit threat of government surveillance to prevent the emergence of a new generation of Islamist youth. This teacher's story also suggests, however, that the state's employees often disagreed with, and even subverted, the directives of their superiors, thus opening up new (if temporary) spaces of socialization for this Islamist project.
Ultimately, the most significant clashes and repression would occur on the campuses of Egyptian universities, particularly Cairo University,Footnote 78 near the end of the 1979–80 academic year. It was during this period that the Islamist opposition not only laid claim to ritual space but also vocally challenged al-Sadat's negotiations at Camp David. Of course, al-Jamaʿa al-Islamiyya organizers had faced restrictions previously: a crackdown by state security forces at Cairo University at the end of the 1977–78 academic year had forced student participants in one of al-Jamaʿa al-Islamiyya's summer camps (muʿaskarāt) to flee the university campus to a nearby mosque.Footnote 79 By the the 1979–80 academic year, the conflict had escalated significantly as state security entered Cairo University's Faculty of Medicine (Kuliyyat al-Tibb) on two different occasions. The latter occasion, on 3 July 1980, involved security forces surrounding the campus mosque for female students.Footnote 80
The scene, as described by a member of al-Jamaʿa al-Islamiyya, was mayhem. The mosque library was ransacked and copies of the Qurʾan and other Islamic books were removed. Most symbolically, security forces reportedly tore down a banner bearing sūrat al-jinn (72:18), which states: “The mosques are for Allah, so do not invoke anyone alongside Allah.”Footnote 81 This “criminal act “(ʿamal ijrāmī) had prevented worshippers from fulfilling their religious obligations; accordingly, there could be no doubt that those who had committed it had engaged in “injustice” (ẓulm). The student cited sūrat al-baqara (2:114) rhetorically: “And who are more unjust [wa-man aẓlamu] than those who prevent the name of Allah from being mentioned in His mosques and strive toward their destruction.” Whereas the students were the emissaries of God and His party (awliyāʾ Allāh wa-ḥizbihi), their opponents awaited great punishment (ʿadhāb ʿalīm) in the hereafter.Footnote 82 The precise identity of these opponents, however, remained unspoken.
With students spearheading the claim to mosques, al-Daʿwa’s mufti, Muhammad ʿAbd Allah al-Khatib (b. 1929), elaborated the religious implications of the crackdown at Cairo University's Medical Faculty. Textually, al-Khatib took a similar line to the students, citing both sūrat al-jinn (72:18) and sūrat al-baqara (2:114). Yet the mufti had additional targets in mind: he castigated al-Azhar for the “silence” (sukūt) of its scholars in the face of such “aggression” (ʿudwān). He then appealed to the rank and file of the security forces: “Those troops who stand ready to defend Satan . . . they should prepare to defend their umma, to regain Jerusalem, and to struggle against [the forces of] atheism and aggression that face every Islamic community whose inviolable sites are being violated and holy objects stomped upon.”Footnote 83 Citing the Qurʾan in rhetorical fashion, he asked: “Have you heard the story of the soldiers of Pharaoh and Thamud?Footnote 84 But they who disbelieve are in [persistent] denial while Allah encompasses them from behind. But this is an honored Qurʾan [inscribed] in a preserved slate.”Footnote 85 Khatib had taken the rhetoric of al-Jamaʿa al-Islamiyya one step further: the troops of the security services were those of the pagan civilizations of Pharaonic Egypt and Thamud, and their leader was equally beyond the pale.
It was left to the elites of Minbar al-Islam to respond to the accusations of clear inconsistencies in the state's claims to religious legitimacy and to the potent claim to place religious temporality and identity before their respective bureaucratic and nationalist counterparts. On the discrete question of daily prayer, there was little use arguing. Minbar al-Islam’s Muhammad al-Ghawi acknowledged that prayer was a central component of Islamic education (al-tarbiya al-islāmiyya) and that “the most important aspect of [religious education] is the timely performance of prayers during the school day.”Footnote 86 Yet al-Ghawi sought to push back against claims that the state had failed to provide proper ritual space:
Let us be honest: the mosques in schools or university faculties are abandoned [maḥjūra] or nearly so . . . few students go there . . . and indeed, [these] mosques sometimes serve as places for students to flee from lessons . . . rather, all students should go to the prayer hall [muṣalla], as it is a class period [ḥiṣṣa] in the day like any other.Footnote 87
That al-Ghawi sought to make prayer a “class period” like any other only underscores the success of the Islamist challenge of the previous half decade. This representative of the Ministry of Endowments now placed the ẓuhr prayer within a state-sanctioned temporal and spatial order.
Although school prayer had arrived, cooperation with the Islamist opposition was short-lived. The year 1981 saw the arrest of thousands of leftists and Islamists alike and the shuttering of not only dozens of mosques in Egypt but also, in the late summer of 1981, the offices of al-Daʿwa and al-Iʿtisam. In this environment of far reaching repression, and less than one week before al-Sadat's 6 October assassination, Minbar al-Islam’s ʿAbd al-ʿAzim Mahdi authored an October 1981 opinion piece titled “Mosques Are for God.” This piece attempted to reappropriate Islamist claims to the inviolability of university mosques by describing the religious opposition as a source of social disorder (fitna), in contradistinction to the security and well being provided by the state.Footnote 88 Accordingly, mosques represented the center of the state's focus: whereas radicals (al-mutaṭarrifūn) sought to use mosques to foment social discord by transforming them into “dens of Satan” (awkāran li-l-shayṭān), the regime sought to reassert control over them to “realize peace and avoid bloodshed.”Footnote 89 This supposed control and the avoidance of bloodshed would not last long, however, as al-Sadat was assassinated only a few days later by a Brotherhood splinter group.
Between 1976 and 1981, leading members of the Muslim Brotherhood and al-Jamʿiyya al-Sharʿiyya challenged al-Sadat's religious legitimacy by transforming the ẓuhr prayer into a tool for altering the temporal and spatial arrangement of state institutions. Leaders from al-Jamaʿa al-Islamiyya and Islamist readers supported this effort by reporting the contradictions between the regime's claims to religious observance and the reality of its educational institutions. Individual prayer was insufficient to resolve the contradiction, leading to efforts by Egypt's Islamist opposition to acquire space within state institutions to support collective ritual performance through lobbying, protest, and bodily resistance. Far from walled off citadels, the offices, classrooms, and courtyards of state institutions were key sites of Islamist activism. State writers and institutions, in both word and deed, had little choice but to concede to many of this project's demands. Schools were instructed to cease instruction during prayer times and new mosques were built in both schools and government offices.
Yet this is not solely the story of an Islamist takeover of state institutions. Though leading figures within the Muslim Brotherhood and al-Jamʿiyya al-Sharʿiyya successfully teamed with student activists to entrench the ẓuhr prayer within state institutions, they also adopted their opponent's vision of order and discipline. While the temporality of this Islamist project ostensibly emerged from the “natural” rhythm of daily prayer, it ultimately constituted a striking replication of their adversary's logic.
The hybrid temporality of the prayer project also casts light on how state institutions both shape and are shaped by those who work and study within them. The story of the ẓuhr prayer is one of neither straightforward resistance nor cooptation and compromise. It reveals how Islamist leaders, professionals, and students were shaped by state-sponsored conceptions of time and space, even as they consciously and unconsciously reappropriated these concepts and reshaped institutions to serve new ends. Just as importantly, it highlights the internal diversity of a state whose employees had differing preferences and priorities. The regime might not have approved of how Central Security carried out its directives, while teachers and principles often found themselves on either opposite sides or to be members of other ideological factions and religious communities with little stake in this battle.
The success of this hybrid project of pious cultivation through a transformed ẓuhr lies in its ubiquity in contemporary Egypt. Whether at the National Archives, in parliament, or in the cavernous Mujammaʿ, it is the norm rather than the exception to allocate time and space to the collective performance of the ẓuhr prayer. While this project began as an Islamist endeavor to occupy state institutions under al-Sadat, its diffusion has been accompanied by a comparative dilution of its Islamist undertones. Indeed, contemporary Islamists and their opponents alike brandish their ritual piety: both jailed Muslim Brotherhood president Muhammad Mursi and his successor and jailor ʿAbd al-Fatah al-Sisi proudly sport the “prayer bump” (zabība), and al-Sisi regularly appears on television engaged in prayer. That Egypt's first democratically elected president and his successor are both products of this shift not only points to the shared logic that binds state institutions and Islamist organizations, but also underscores why representatives of each work so hard to deny this shared history. Within a polarized political landscape, the story of how the ẓuhr prayer first spread throughout society is easily forgotten.