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  • Aaron Rock-Singer

This article traces the emergence of the early afternoon ẓuhr prayer as a key project of subject formation during the second half of the Anwar al-Sadat period (1976–81). Drawing on three Islamic magazines of differing ideological orientation (Muslim Brotherhood-Islamist, Salafi-Islamist, and state-sponsored), all containing letters to the editor and fatwa requests, it charts contestation among religious elites and the reception of their programmatic visions. Specifically, the article explores the performance of this daily prayer as a hybrid practice that disrupted the temporal and spatial claims of a state-sponsored bureaucratic order to produce national subjects within public schools and bureaucratic institutions, even as it reproduced the state's emphasis on temporal precision and social order. Based on these texts, this article challenges previous scholarly narratives that place Islamist projects of subject formation on the fringes of secularism and previous studies of Islamist mobilization that posit a separate social universe of Islamist activism.

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Corresponding author
Aaron Rock-Singer is a Visiting Scholar at the Institute for Religion, Culture, and Public Life, Columbia University, New York, N.Y.; e-mail:
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Author's note: I am thankful to the readers whose comments pushed this article forward, including Vaughn Booker, Susanna Ferguson, Cara Rock-Singer, Christian Sahner, Cyrus Schayegh, Daniel Stolz, Muhammad Qasim Zaman, and the IJMES editors and anonymous reviewers.

1 “Akhbar al-Shabab wa-l-Jamiʿat,” al-Daʿwa, September 1981/Dhu al-Qaʿda 1401, 50–51.

2 Eid al-Fitr marks the end of Ramadan while Eid al-Adha falls on the tenth day of Dhu al-Hijja and honors the Prophet Ibrahim's willingness to sacrifice Ismaʿil to God.

3 For an example of this focus on the Friday prayer, see Gaffney, Patrick, The Prophet's Pulpit: Islamic Preaching in Contemporary Egypt (Berkley, Calif.: University of California Press, 1994), esp. 194–207; and Gaffney, “The Changing Voices of Islam: The Emergence of Professional Preachers in Contemporary Egypt,” Muslim World 81 (1991): 27–47. While Friday mosque attendance is important for its inclusion of both communal prayer and a sermon that, implicitly or explicitly, affirms or denies the ruler's political authority, it has received a disproportionate share of scholarly attention. This focus on the Friday prayer is mirrored by a particular concern with the Friday sermon (and its reproduction through mass and small media). See, for example, Hirschkind, Charles, The Ethical Soundscape: Cassette Sermons and Islamic Counterpublics (New York: Columbia University Press, 2006). In the work of both Gaffney and Hirschkind, the “battle” over mosques is a contest to define the Friday sermon and is measured by the balance between “official” and “popular” (i.e., Islamist) mosques.

4 For more on the emergence of the Islamic Revival under al-Sadat, see Aaron Rock-Singer, “Guiding the Pious to Practice: Islamic Magazines and Revival in Egypt” (PhD diss., Princeton University, 2016).

5 Notwithstanding this range, there is also a strain within the Sunni legal tradition that emphasizes the performance of prayers at the earliest possible time. See al-Tirmidhi, “Ṣalāt,” in A. J. Wensinck, “Mīḳāt,” Encyclopedia of Islam, 1st ed. (1913–36), ed. M. Th. Houtsma, T. W. Arnold, R. Basset, R. Hartmann (Brill Online, 2015), accessed 16 July 2015,

6 Al-Daʿwa circulated between 60,000 and 80,000 copies per issue, while al-Iʿtisam distributed roughly 20,000 copies per issue. Minbar al-Islam’s circulation fell somewhere between its two Islamist competitors. For al-Daʿwa, see al-Daʿwa, January 1977/Safar 1397, 17. For al-Iʿtisam, this figure was cited by Muhammad Madbuli, former subscriptions administrator of al-Iʿtisam, interview with the author, 24 February 2013. The March 1980 issue of Minbar al-Islam cited a survey of Islamic magazines conducted by the Egyptian Union for Radio and Television that had ranked it as the second most popular religious publication in Egypt. See “Kalimat al-Tahrir,” Minbar al-Islam, March 1980/Rabiʿ al-Thani 1400, 1. Though magazine editors undoubtedly excluded letters to the editor and fatwa requests that challenged their basic approach, they were well served by including reader correspondence detailing both the successes and challenges of this project.

7 Sūrat al-nisāʾ (4:103) reads: “And when you have completed the prayer, remember Allah standing, sitting, or [lying] on your sides. But when you become secure, re-establish [regular] prayer. Indeed, prayer has been decreed upon the believers a decree of specified times [italics added].” It was revealed during the Medinan period when the nascent Muslim community was first able to practice and preach Islam publicly.

8 See Rock-Singer, Aaron, “A Pious Public: Islamic Magazines and Revival in Egypt, 1976–1981,” British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies 42 (2015): 427–46.

9 Asad, Talal, Formation of the Secular: Christianity, Islam and Modernity (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2003), 199.

10 See Hirschkind, , The Ethical Soundscape, esp. 117–18 and 137–38; and Mahmood, The Politics of Piety: The Islamic Revival and the Feminist Subject (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2005), esp. 113–17. See also Gauvain, Richard, Salafi Ritual Purity: In the Presence of God (London: Routledge, 2013).

11 Hirschkind, The Ethical Soundscape, 138–39.

12 Mahmood, The Politics of Piety, 35.

13 Ibid., 78.

14 This is distinct from highlighting the ways in which Islamists have “captured” official positions (such as that of leadership of student unions) within state institutions. See al-Arian, Abdullah, Answering the Call: Popular Islamic Activism in Sadat's Egypt (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014); Kandil, HazemInside the Brotherhood (Walden, Mass.: Polity, 2015); Rosefsky Wickham, Carrie, Mobilizing Islam: Religion, Activism and Political Change in Egypt (New York: Columbia University Press, 2002); and Wickham, , The Muslim Brotherhood: Evolution of an Islamist Movement (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2013), esp. 4675. This limitation applies to scholarship on Islamism outside of Egypt as well. See Clark, Janine A., Islam, Charity and Activism: Middle-Class Networks and Social Welfare in Egypt, Jordan and Yemen (Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University Press, 2004); White, Jenny, Islamist Mobilization in Turkey: A Study in Vernacular Politics (Seattle, Wash.: University of Washington Press, 2002); and Wiktorowicz, Quintan, The Management of Islamic Activism: Salafis, the Muslim Brotherhood, and State Power in Jordan (Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York Press, 2001).

15 Mahmood mistakenly attributes the popularization of daily (presumably ẓuhr) prayer in the Islamic Revival to the proliferation of “Islamic schools” in Egypt since the 1970s. Mahmood, The Politics of Piety, 48.

16 Mitchell, Timothy, Colonizing Egypt (Berkley, Calif.: University of California Press, 1991).

17 Fahmy, Khaled, All the Pasha's Men: Mehmed Ali, His Army and the Making of Modern Egypt (New York: AUC Press, 2002).

18 Shehata, Samer, Shop Floor Culture and Politics in Egypt (Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York Press, 2009), 4.

19 For example, ties between the Brotherhood leadership and the emergent al-Jamaʿa al-Islamiyya were often kept secret so that both parties could avoid being seen as threatening al-Sadat. See Abu al-Futuh, ʿAbd al-Munʿim and Tammam, Husam, ʿAbd al-Munʿim Abu al-Futuh: Shahid ʿala Tarikh al-Haraka al-Islamiyya fi Misr, 1970–1984 (Cairo: Dar al-Shuruq, 2010), 75.

20 Following Roxanne Euben and Muhammad Qasim Zaman, I define Islamism as referring to “contemporary movements that attempt to return to the scriptural foundations of the Muslim community, excavating and reinterpreting them for application to the present-day social and political world.” Euben and Zaman, Princeton Writings in Islamist Thought (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2009), 4. Throughout the article, I refer to al-Iʿtisam as “Salafi-Islamist” because it balanced between the Salafi-inspired ritual and theological emphasis of al-Jamʿiyya al-Sharʿiyya and a Brotherhood-style commitment to sociopolitical transformation.

21 al-Zanira, Najah, al-Majlis al-Aʿla li-l-Shuʾun al-Islamiyya: Nafidhat Misr ʿala al-ʿAlam (Cairo: Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, 1995), 105.

22 Al-Jamʿiyya al-Sharʿiyya often sheltered Muslim Brothers during the al-Nasir period and received permission from the Ministry of Endowments in 1971 to maintain its network of mosques independently. Muhammad ʿAbd al-Aziz Dawud, al-Jamʿiyyat al-Islamiyya fi Misr wa-Dawrha fi Nashr al-Daʿwa al-Islamiyya (Cairo: al-Zahra li-l-Iʿlam al-ʿArabi, 1992), 151.

23 For related studies of the importance of mediation to religious thought and practice, see Hirschkind, The Ethical Soundscape; and Spadola, Emilio, The Calls of Islam: Sufis, Islamists and Mass Mediation in Morocco (Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University Press, 2014).

24 Daniel A. Stolz, “The Lighthouse and the Observatory: Islam, Authority, and Cultures of Astronomy in Late Ottoman Egypt” (PhD diss., Princeton University, 2013), chap. 6.

25 Law 157 of 1960 granted the Ministry of Endowments the authority—and responsibility—to supervise and financially support all Egyptian mosques over the coming decade. These attempts, all-encompassing as they may have been, were defined by practical limitations that confronted the Ministry of Endowments: in 1961, only 17.5 percent of the 17,224 mosques in Egypt were staffed and funded by the Ministry of Endowments; by 1975, the number of mosques had increased to 28,738, but the proportion of government mosques was 17.9 percent. To put it differently, the number of mosques administered by the government had increased by 71 percent (from 3,006 to 5,163), but the government's share of mosques had hardly budged. Gaffney, Patrick, “Changing Voices of Islam,” Muslim World 81 (1991): 3040.

26 On Indonesia, see Pohl, Florian, Islamic Education and the Public Sphere: Today's Pesantren in Indonesia (Münster, Germany: Waxmann Verlag GmbH, 2009), 64. On Pakistan and Malaysia, see Reza Nasr, Seyyed Vali, Islamic Leviathan: Islam and the Making of State Power (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), 123–38.

27 Mitchell, Colonizing Egypt, xi.

28 Ibid., 71.

29 See Fahmy, All the Pasha's Men, esp. 199–238; and Shehata, Shop Floor Culture in Egypt, 58–93.

30 Starrett, Putting Islam to Work, 77–86.

31 Ibid., 62. Jeffrey T. Kenney notes the proliferation of self-consciously “Islamic” self-help manuals since the 1970s, which “entangle[d] the [Islamic] tradition in new discourses and practices that facilitate the emergence of distinct understandings of what it means to be Muslim.” Kenney, “Selling Success, Nurturing the Self: Self-Help Literature, Capitalist Values and the Sacralization of Subjective Life in Egypt,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 47 (2015): 665.

32 Gaffney, Patrick D., The Prophet's Pulpit: Islamic Preaching in Contemporary Egypt (Berkley, Calif.: University of California Press, 1994), 266–67.

33 Starkey, Paul, “Modern Egyptian Culture in the Arab World,” in The Cambridge History of Egypt, ed. Daly, M. W. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 424.

34 Charles Hirschkind notes this dynamic in 20th-century Egypt more broadly. Hirschkind, The Ethical Soundscape, 41. Emilio Spadola makes a similar observation for contemporary Morocco. Spadola, The Calls of Islam, 7.

35 In 1952, 350,000 Egyptians worked in the public sector; by 1969–70 , the number stood at 1.2 million. This nearly 70 percent increase came during a period in which both employment generally and population growth remained below 20 percent. Ayubi, Nazih M., Bureaucracy and Politics in Contemporary Egypt (London: Ithaca Press, 1980), 243–44. Between the 1952–53 and 1972–73 academic years, the number of Egyptians studying in higher education institutions increased from 42,485 to 334,000. Erlich, Haggai, Students and University in Twentieth Century Egyptian Politics (London: Frank Cass, 1989), 176, 200. Similarly, primary education between 1952–53 and 1965–66 expanded from 1 to 3.5 million. Further, between 1956 and 1961, preparatory (iʿdādī) enrollment increased from 8,000 to 42,000 and secondary enrollment jumped from 22,000 to 75,000. Richards, Alan, “Higher Education in Egypt,” Policy Research Working Papers (Washington, D.C.: Education and Employment Division, 1992), 8.

36 Miliji, Al-Sayyid ʿAbd al-Sattar, Tarikh al-Haraka al-Islamiyya fi Sahat al-Taʿlim (Cairo: Maktabat Wahba, 1994), 13.

37 Al-Iʿtisam initially served as the mouthpiece of al-Jamʿiyya al-Sharʿiyya, but from the mid-1960s was officially independent, even as its editors remained leading members of the group.

38 Technically, this period begins when the sun reaches true noon as it crosses the celestial meridian. At this point, it is precisely between sunrise and sunset.

39 For more on Brotherhood efforts to cultivate al-Jamaʿa al-Islamiyya, see Dasuqi, Mustafa and Ramadan ʿAbbadi, al-Saʿid, Tarikh al-Haraka al-Tullabiyya bi-Jamaʿat al-Ikhwan al-Muslimin 1933–2011 (Cairo: Muʾassasat Iqraʾ li-l-Nashr wa-l-Tawziʿ wa-l-Tarjama, 2013), 144–45.

40 See Ong, Aihwa, Spirits of Resistance and Capitalist Discipline: Factory Women in Malaysia (Albany, N.Y.: State University Press of New York, 1987), 111–12, 203, 234.

41 Hull, Matthew S., Government of Paper: The Materiality of Bureaucracy in Urban Pakistan (Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 2012) 6768.

42 Ozgur, Iren, Islamic Schools in Modern Turkey: Faith, Politics and Education (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012), 7475.

43 Bringa, Tone, Being Muslim the Bosnian Way: Identity and Community in a Central Bosnian Village (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1995), 165.

44 Barak, On, On Time: Technology and Temporality in Modern Egypt (Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 2013), 5.

45 Ibid., 4–5. As Daniel A. Stolz notes, however, Egyptian scholars in the 18th and 19th centuries drew on a premodern tradition of miqāt to respond to the popularization of mechanical timepieces and claims by state institutions in Ottoman Egypt. Stolz, “Positioning the Watch Hand: ʿUlamaʾ and the Practice of Mechanical Timekeeping in Cairo, 1737–1874,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 47 (2015): 489–510.

46 Ibid.

47 Egypt functioned as a British protectorate between 1922 and 1952 even as it was officially ruled by the Egyptian monarchy.

48 Takfīr is the practice of declaring another Muslim to be an infidel (kāfir). It was used by Islamists in Egypt who took Sayyid Qutb's Maʿalim fi al-Tariq (Milestones), first published in 1964, as a guide and later by Salafi-Jihadi groups across the Middle East and South Asia.

49 For more on this, see Shepard, William E., “Sayyid Qutb's Doctrine of Jahiliyya,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 35 (2003): 521–45.

50 For more on al-Sadat's claim to meld science and faith, see al-Sadat, Anwar, The Public Diary of President Sadat: The Road to Diplomacy (London: E. J Brill, 1979), 2:534.

51 The latter part of the verse reads: “For such prayers are enjoined on believers at stated times.”

52 Rashid Rida, Muhammad, Tafsir al-Manar (Cairo: Dar al-Manar, 1948), 5:362–83.

53 al-Banna, Hasan, Nazarat fi Kitab Allah (Cairo: Dar al-Tawziʿ wa-l-Nashr al-Islamiyya, 2002), 179.

54 Sayyid Qutb, Fi Zilal al-Qurʾan (Riyadh: Minbar al-Tawhid wa-l-Nur, n.d.), 4:268.

55 Mahmud Hijazi, Muhammad, al-Tafsir al-Wadih (Cairo: Dar al-Fikr al-ʿArabi, 1969), 419–22.

56 For example, see Minbar al-Islam, March 1976/Rabiʿ al-Awwal 1396, 97.

57 “Al-Iftaʾ,” Minbar al-Islam, May 1976/Jumada al-Uwla 1396, 170.

58 ʿAbd al-Latif Mushtahiri, “Aqwal al-Suhuf,” al-Iʿtisam, December 1976/Dhu al-Hijja 1396, 40.

59 Salih ʿAshmawi, “Ayna al-Salat fi Dawlat al-ʿIlm wa-l-Iman?,” al-Daʿwa, March 1977/Rabiʿ al-Thani 1397, 41.

60 Ibid.

61 For example, see Muhammad ʿAbd al-Quddus, “Mawqif al-Sihafa min Qadiyyat al-Takfir,” al-Daʿwa, September 1977/Shawwal 1397, 46. Along similar lines, see Jabir Rizq, “al-Sihafa al-Misriyya fi Qafas al-Ittiham,” al-Iʿtisam, September 1977/Shawwal 1397, 4.

62 “Akhbar al-Shabab wa-l-Jamiʿat,” al-Daʿwa, July 1977/Shaʿban 1397, 44.

63 Ibid., 45.

64 “Akhbar al-ʿAlam al-Islami,” al-Waʿi al-Islami, May 1977/Jumada al-Uwla 1397, 113.

65 ʿAbd al-ʿAzim al-Matʿani, “Min Ajl al-Nuhud bi-Risalat al-Azhar,” al-Daʿwa, November 1977/Dhu al-Hijja 1397, 31.

66 “Barid al-Daʿwa,” al-Daʿwa, November 1977/Dhu al-Hijja 1397, 63.

67 “Barid al-Daʿwa,” al- Daʿwa, June 1979/Rajab 1399, 64.

68 “Barid al-Daʿwa,” al- Daʿwa, February 1980/Rabiʿ al-Awwal 1400, 64.

69 “Barid al-Daʿwa,” al-Daʿwa, June 1980/Rajab 1400, 64.

70 “Barid al-Daʿwa,” al-Daʿwa, April 1981/Jumada al-Ukhra 1401, 60.

71 “Akhbar al-Shabab wa-l-Jamiʿat,” al-Daʿwa, December 1976/Muharram 1397, 38.

72 “Akhbar al-Shabab wa-l-Jamiʿat,” al-Daʿwa, January 1978/Safar 1398, 46.

73 “Barid al-Daʿwa,” al-Daʿwa, April 1977/Jumada al-Uwla 1397, 62.

74 Al-Matʿani, “Min Ajl al-Nuhud bi-Risalat al-Azhar,” 31.

75 “Barid al-Daʿwa,” al-Daʿwa, December 1978/Muharram 1398, 64.

76 “Barid al-Daʿwa,” al-Daʿwa, February 1979/Rabiʿ al-Thani 1397, 64.

77 “Barid al-Daʿwa,” al-Daʿwa, March 1980/Rabiʿ al-Thani 1400, 65.

78 In 1979, al-Sadat shut down summer camps at Alexandria, Cairo, and Zaqaziq Universities. Clashes also occurred in Minya and Asyut, both on and beyond university grounds. See Kepel, Gilles, The Roots of Radical Islam (London: Saki Books, 2005), 153–61.

79 Muhammad Yahya, “Kalima La Budda minha hawl al-Muʿaskarat al-Islamiyya fi al-Jamiʿat,” al-Iʿtisam, July 1978/Shaʿban 1398, 19.

80 “Akhbar al-Shabab wa-l-Jamiʿat,” al-Daʿwa, September 1980/Shawwal 1400, 60.

81 Ibid. This verse is traditionally used to denote the exclusive sovereignty of God, rather than man, over the world.

82 Ibid., 61.

83 “Akhbar al-Shabab wa-l-Jamiʿat,” al-Daʿwa, September 1980/Dhu al-Qaʿda 1400, 40.

84 The Thamud were a pagan people in Arabia prior to the advent of Islam. The Qurʾan (7:73–74) exhorts the people of Thamud to worship Allah lest they face a “painful punishment” (ʿadhāb ʿalīm).

85 This is a reference to sūrat al-burūj (85: 17–22). The reference to Pharaoh therein was hardly innocuous: ʿAbd al-Salam Faraj, author of al-Farida al-Ghaʾiba (The Hidden Obligation) and leader of the organization Jihad, referred to Egypt's ruler by this designation. On 6 October 1981, al-Sadat's assassin exclaimed, “My name is Khalid Islambuli, I have killed Pharaoh, and I do not fear death.” See Kepel, The Roots of Radical Islam, 198.

86 ʿAbd al-Fattah al-Ghawi, “Nahwa Minhaj Afdal li-Tadris al-Tarbiya al-Iniyya,” Minbar al-Islam, March 1980/Rabiʿ al-Thani 1400, 126.

87 Ibid.

88 ʿAbd al-ʿAlim Mahdi, “al-Masajid li-Llah,” Minbar al-Islam, October 1981/Dhu al-Hijja 1401, 50.

89 Ibid., 52.

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