MESA Book Awards
George Washington University
2018 Fatema Mernissi Book Award Winner
Attiya Ahmad has provided an analytically sharp and deeply humane ethnography of religious conversion to Islam, which also offers insights into the cultural and gender dynamics of migration and labor history. She focuses above all on the experiences of South Asian female domestic workers and the obligations they carry, often over decades, towards both their (mostly Hindu and Christian) families in the “homeland,” and their Muslim employers in Kuwait. This monograph is often poignant and even poetic; Ahmad captures the thoughts and ideas of women who seem to live in a state of always-waiting, always-watching, and ever-working, and who find solace in Muslim devotion. Ahmad’s theoretical analysis is outstanding. She challenges not only perceptions of conversion, but also conventional wisdom about domestic laborers in the Gulf, their relations with their employers, and what their careers in the Gulf imply about their identity – especially since they are legally “temporary” workers, even though they often spend their entire working lives in the region. Ahmad brings her subjects to life, making their complex experiences across time and cultures shine through the narrative. This book is lovingly researched, quiet in its aim, and yet stunning in its delineation of the lives of the women studied. For all these reasons, the Committee is proud to award the Fatema Mernissi Prize to Attiya Ahmad’s Everyday Conversions.