The Role of Qur’anic Recitation in Shaping Nostalgia, Piety, and Identity Among Egyptians in Diaspora


Mariam A. Shalaby

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In defining the people and practices that make up “Arab America,” scholars and community members alike grapple with questions regarding identity in diaspora. Here we describe and contextualize the practice of Qur’anic recitation among Egyptian American Muslims. We then review new ethnographic research on Egyptians in Pittsburgh, PA and Cairo, Egypt and their engagement with Qur’anic recitation to explore three questions: “How do Egyptian Americans position themselves as dual identity holders?”, “What is the role of Qur’anic recitation in this positioning?”, and “How does Qur’anic recitation as an idea differ between Egyptians in Egypt and in diaspora?”. Comparative analysis of twenty-seven interviews plus participant observation suggests that there are nuanced relationships between nostalgia, otherness, and a sense of Egyptian identity. Additionally, marked differences were noted between participants in Pittsburgh and those in Cairo in their perceptions of Qur’anic recitation, piety and identity. Further research is needed to investigate the desire to maintain intergenerational transfer of Qur’anic recitation and its role in diasporic identity formation.

Music in Arab America was supported by the Institute for the Study of Culture & Society at Bowling Green State University and BGSU’s College of Musical Arts. This program is made possible, in part, by Ohio Humanities, a state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this publication do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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