Leading by Example? Women Madrasah Teachers in Rural North India

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)


The ambience of most of the madrasahs in Bijnor district is inflected with the priorities and emphases of the Deoband tradition, of which personal improvement through education is crucial. Islam, of course, is not unique in emphasising the centrality of exemplary people—women as well as men—who act as role models for believers. In this case, numerous aspects of what the female madrasah teachers demonstrated in their own demeanour and aimed to inculcate in their pupils—bodily cleanliness, refined speech, demure manners—might be regarded as providing embodied examples of appropriate female behaviour, albeit ones that present something of a challenge to routine village life.
This paper elaborates on such ‘leading by example’ to argue that the madrasah teachers’ agendas reflect an urban middle class bias that cannot readily be adopted by poor villagers, that an exclusive focus on the Islamic character of madrasahs diverts attention from the urban and class dimensions of rural educational provision in general, that the education provided does not equip madrasah pupils to transcend the ‘communal’ divide and that the impact of female madrasah teachers remains encapsulated within a Muslim sphere of influence. In other words, the leadership that they exercise is severely circumscribed.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationWomen, Leadership and Mosques
Subtitle of host publicationChanges in Contemporary Islamic Authority
EditorsMasooda Bano, Hilary Kalmbach
Place of PublicationLeiden/Boston
Number of pages22
ISBN (Electronic)978 90 04 20936 7
ISBN (Print)978 90 04 21146 9, 9789004311879 (paperback edition, Jan 2016)
Publication statusPublished - 2012

Publication series

NameWomen and Gender: The Middle East and the Islamic World
ISSN (Print)1570-7628


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