Navigating Islamic Enclosure and Cosmopolitan Space: Young Chinese Female Muslim Converts in Hong Kong

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Among Hong Kong’s population of 7.3 million, about 270,000 are Muslims, predominantly Indonesian domestic workers, and South Asian and African migrants. Only about 10% are ethnic Chinese – most have a root that can be traced to the Hui minority in Mainland China. Thus, in Hong Kong, Islam largely evokes imaginaries of ethnic minorities and “otherness.” In this context, Chinese Muslim converts often find themselves shifting from the ethnic majority of Hong Kong to an ethnic minority within a religious minority in the city. To most Hong Kong people, it is unimaginable that local Chinese females born and raised in this modern city should convert to Islam because Muslim-majority societies are stereotypically perceived to be at odds with gender equality and modernities.

This ethnographic research explores the interplay between Islamic regulatory regime and cosmopolitan space through the experiences of a group of well-educated young Chinese female Muslim converts who find themselves challenged by everyday realities that constantly require creative adaptation. Focusing on issues related to gender and ethnicity, this paper argues that these women embody and represent regulatory enclosure and cosmopolitan identities simultaneously, entailing continuous negotiations and contestations.

These women identify themselves as members of the local and global Islamic communities, and also as modern independent females in a cosmopolitan city. By exploring how they create Islamic practices strategically in reaction to different situations, this paper sheds light on how Muslims negotiate regulatory enclosure and cosmopolitanism, and how Islam is dynamically constituted and re-constituted locally in response to constantly evolving challenges.


ConferenceUrban Religion, Gender, and the Body Conference 2021
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