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PAMPHLETS AND TRACTS. Although religious pamphlets and tracts are a worldwide phenomenon in Islam, this article concentrates on their presence in the Arab world. To walk the streets of any city in the Middle East or North Africa is to be confronted by a world of pamphlets and booklets. At the same time, the transnational nature of culture generally means that some of the same pamphlets resurface in Western cities with large Muslim and arabophone populations. In these Western cities one will also find pamphlets with Islamic content produced in French, English, and other European languages. The greatest number of pamphlets are religious in nature, for several reasons beyond the fact that the Islamist movement may be one of the most significant intellectual and cultural forces in the region. Other trends have come together with this movement, including the increased arabnization of previously francophone-dominated areas like North Africa, and the economic upsurge brought about by the oil boom in the Gulf states.

Pamphlets are normally packaged and sold for mass consumption, hence their low prices. In certain heavily Islamicized city neighborhoods, for example in Fez, pamphlets are produced in offset editions, bound with simple covers, and distributed free (except to the unsuspecting Westerner, who invariably pays for them). In Tunisia, however, religious pamphlets are currently unavailable, the regime having clamped down on the activities of the Islamists.

Religious pamphlets cover a varied range of topics and are addressed to both genders. Although they are more often written by men (the names of the leading shaykhs, al-Sha’rawi, Kishk, and al-`Uthayrnin, figure prominently here), women can still have a strong presence in this textual world. Thus one of the most popular religious pamphlets to date was written by a woman, Ni’o mat Sidgi; entitled Al-tabarruj (Female Adornment), this booklet has seen several editions and is as easily purchased in Saudia Arabia as it is in Morocco. Peddlers on busy streetcorners hawk individual surahs of the Qur’an. The more adventurous reader can delight in miniature booklets setting forth advice on proper behavior, legal injunctions (fatawah; sg., fatwd), or even mini manuals to help one interpret dreams. A woman is told how to win her husband in the 67-page Kayfa taksibina zawjak.

The appeal of these pamphlets goes beyond their content. Many sport brightly colored covers rich in semiotic significance. Like the stained-glass windows of a Christian cathedral, the covers tell a visual story as powerful in its own way as the verbal story within. Series like Silsilat al-mar’ah al -Muslimah (Series on the Muslim Woman) have their visual stamp on the cover, permitting buyers to spot them readily. The more astute connoisseur of pamphlets learns in time to recognize the distinctive visual style of certain artists (e.g., alZuhayri) whose names are now important in the cultural segment of the Islamist movement. Like their counterparts in the more secularized culture of the contemporary Middle East and North Africa, they are helping to shape a new popular culture, transmitted through pamphlets.


Douglas, Allen, and Fedwa Matti-Douglas. Arab Comic Strips: Politics of an Emerging Mass Culture. Bloomington, 1994. Discusses the visual world of Islamist artists.

Kepel, Gilles. Les banlieues de l’Islam: Naissance dune religion en France. Paris, 1987. Includes analyses of some pamphlet literature in France.

Malti-Douglas, Fedwa. “An Anti-Travel Guide: Iconography in a Muslim Revivalist Tract.” Edebiyat 4.2 (1993): 205-213. Study of the iconographic and textual dimensions of an Islamist pamphlet.


Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/pamphlets-and-tracts/

  • writerPosted On: June 24, 2017
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