Everyday Conversions: Islam, Domestic Work and South Asian Migrant Women in Kuwait
Everyday Conversions examines the widespread but little known phenomenon of migrant domestic workers’ Islamic conversions in the Arabian Peninsula and Persian Gulf region as a way to think more broadly about emergent transnational forms of gendered subjectivity, affinity, and belonging in our contemporary world. Based on extensive ethnographic fieldwork conducted in Kuwait, other Gulf states, and parts of South Asia, and vividly illustrated by descriptions of domestic workers’ everyday activities, encounters and utterances, the book argues these women’s experiences constitute a form of everyday conversion that complicates conventional understandings of both religious conversion and the feminization of transnational labour migration.
These women experience religious conversion not as an eventful moment, but as an ongoing process rooted in the everyday where differences between their preexisting and newfound religious practice, and the outcomes of the conversion process are not evident at the outset. Domestic workers’ adoption of Islam is not characterized by the rejection or renunciation of their preexisting lives, but as a gradual reworking thereof. Their experiences foreground a particular gendered space of the everyday—household relations and activities—as not only productive and reproductive of their existing familial networks and ethno-‐national belongings, but as also engendering newfound possibilities and transformations marked by their Islamic conversion.
These women’s everyday conversions underscore how transnational processes are marked not simply by the diffusion or extension across borders of kinship networks, ethno-national forms, and religious movements, but how transnationalism constitutes a dynamic field in which gendered, religious, occupational-class, and ethno-national differences are invoked and reworked, configured and reconfigured together, a field generative of everyday conversions. Here the everyday functions not just as a space of routine and continuity, but of contingency, emergent possibility and ongoing conversion.
Attiya Ahmad is an Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the George Washington University. Her research focuses on the interrelation between gender, labor migration, diasporic formations, cosmopolitanism, and Islamic movements crosscutting the Arab Gulf States and South Asia. Ahmad is also developing a project focusing on halal tourism networks spanning the Arab Gulf States, the United Kingdom, and Turkey. Her work has appeared in the Asia Pacific Journal of Anthropology, Cultural Anthropology, and edited volumes focusing on labor migration, diaspora, and religion in South Asia and the Gulf Arab States. She is the author of Everyday Conversions: Islam, Domestic Work, and South Asian Migrant Women in Kuwait. She obtained her PhD in Cultural Anthropology at Duke University, and was a postdoctoral fellow at the Center for International and Regional Studies at Georgetown University.