Everyday Conversions

Islam, Domestic Work, and South Asian Migrant Women in Kuwait

Everyday Conversions

Next Wave: New Directions in Women's Studies

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Book Pages: 288 Illustrations: Published: March 2017

Author: Attiya Ahmad

Anthropology > Medical Anthropology, Gender and Sexuality, Middle East Studies

Why are domestic workers converting to Islam in the Arabian Peninsula and Persian Gulf region? In Everyday Conversions Attiya Ahmad presents us with an original analysis of this phenomenon. Using extensive fieldwork conducted among South Asian migrant women in Kuwait, Ahmad argues domestic workers’ Muslim belonging emerges from their work in Kuwaiti households as they develop Islamic piety in relation—but not opposition—to their existing religious practices, family ties, and ethnic and national belonging. Their conversion is less a clean break from their preexisting lives than it is a refashioning in response to their everyday experiences. In examining the connections between migration, labor, gender, and Islam, Ahmad complicates conventional understandings of the dynamics of religious conversion and the feminization of transnational labor migration while proposing the concept of everyday conversion as a way to think more broadly about emergent forms of subjectivity, affinity, and belonging.


"This book is an engaging and worthwhile read for scholars interested not only in Islam and conversion, but also in labour migration, women’s studies, the Indian Ocean world, households as sites of ethnonational formation and reproduction and the productive theorisation of the everyday." — Dannah Dennis, LSE Review of Books

"[T]his study offers new insights into the inner-workings of migration and breaks from static readings of religious conversions. . . . Bridging the gap between religion and migration is an important direction in scholarship on transnationalism, and Ahmad’s work markedly joins other projects on this urgent venture." — Sasha Sabherwal, Anthropological Quarterly

"Everyday Conversions is a poignant and patient engagement with the gendered spaces and relations that are easy to overlook but are vital to state formation, social reproduction and religious life in multiple countries." — Leya Mathew, Contemporary South Asia

“An enormous contribution. Everyday Conversions will be of interest to a variety of people—those interested in Islam, migrant experiences, the Indian Ocean world, and gender studies, especially.” — Keely Sutton, Reading Religion

Everyday Conversions is not only a valuable addition to the growing literature on Gulf identities, but also to the wider literature on religion, belonging and identity.” — Idil Akinci, Ethnic and Racial Studies

"Beautifully written . . . Attiya Ahmad’s groundbreaking research sheds light on the complex process of conversion and the ways that South Asian migrant women domestic workers in Kuwait rework their lives and reshape their sense of self and belonging." — Claire Beaugrand, Journal of Middle East Women's Studies

"This beautifully written book . . . skillfully weaves together women’s stories, which are contextualized within the history of the Indian Ocean trade, the feminization of Kuwait’s labour market, and the Islamic revival movement. A
significant addition to scholarship on foreign workers in the Gulf, Attiya Ahmad’s volume adds ethnographic material that is missing from other studies: details of private religious lives." — Mara A. Leichtman, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

"Everyday Conversions was very enjoyable to read; it was very thoughtful and thought-provoking in making sure that these women spoke their own truth. . . . The book expresses the intricacies of navigating one’s conditions between doing what one must do with meeting one’s basic human needs." — Mirna Lattouf, Journal of Women of the Middle East and the Islamic World

"Everyday Conversions makes original and insightful contributions to multiple bodies of literature: transnational migration, gender and labour studies, and the anthropology of Islam. The narration of entangled biographies is a valuable methodological turn towards literary ethnographic research and writing." — Radhika Gupta, Contributions to Indian Sociology

"Overall Everyday Conversions is an excellent ethnography for scholars interested in examining how work, Islam, gender, and kinship are recast in transnational arenas. The book is an outstanding demonstration of how household activities are in fact embedded in transnational dynamics, as gendered, racialized, and religious subjectivities are reworked in this surprisingly turbulent space." — Schuyler Marquez, Anthropology Book Forum

"In this brilliant book Attiya Ahmad captures the stories of her informants with great subtlety and sympathy while rendering the complexities of domestic work, showing the domestic space as riven with power, hierarchy, and precarity. Beautifully written and argued, with persistent focus on the dynamics of conversion as everyday practice, Ahmad’s work illuminates this important contemporary phenomenon, outlining the ways in which power operates to make these migrant women domestic workers into subjects of new Islamic pieties." — Inderpal Grewal, author of Transnational America: Feminisms, Diasporas, Neoliberalisms

"Everyday Conversions is an excellent and nuanced portrayal of conversion to Islam among migrant domestic workers in Kuwait. Interweaving multiple theoretical strands, Attiya Ahmad analyzes these conversions in the context of gendered domestic and reproductive labor, discourses about South Asian female malleability, and social relationships in spaces of transnational migrant labor." — Lara Deeb, coauthor of Anthropology's Politics: Disciplining the Middle East


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Attiya Ahmad is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at The George Washington University.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments  ix
Introduction. Everyday Conversions  1
1. Temporariness  37
2. Suspension  67
3. Naram  101
4. Housetalk  124
5. Fitra  157
Epilogue. Ongoing Conversions  191
Appendix 1. Notes on Fieldwork  201
Appendix 2. Interlocutors' Names and Connections to One Another  207
Glossary  211
Notes  219
References  245
Index  265
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Rights and licensing

Honorable Mention, Sara A. Whaley Prize, presented by the National Women's Studies Association

Everyday Conversions has been shortlisted for the 2018 British-Kuwait Friendship Society Book Prize

Winner, 2018 Association for Middle East Women's Studies (AMEWS) Book Award

Honorable Mention, Clifford Geertz Prize, presented by the Society for the Anthropology of Religion

Winner, 2018 Fatima Mernissi Book Award, presented by the Middle East Studies Association

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-6344-6 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-6333-0
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