the new islam

I moved to Cairo 5 years ago, and have noticed many changes over this time. One example is the niqab: 5 years ago, I barely saw any women wearing the niqab. Today, they are everywhere. Similarly, 40 years ago there weren’t many veiled women in Cairo. Now, over 70% are veiled. The whole culture has become conservative, and who and what a Muslim is is now defined very narrowly. I know this term “extremism” is problematic, since many people don’t think they are being extreme, but rather that they are following the “correct” Islam. However, there is no “correct” Islam. Islam is an interpretation of a variety of sources, including the Qur’an. Thus it varies according to person. “There are as many Islams as there are Muslims.” I don’t remember where I heard this quote, but it really struck me.
Anyway, to go back to the topic: why has Cairo become so conservative? And I don’t think this is happening only in Egypt; Muslims all over the world seem to be becoming more conservative and narrow minded. Who a Muslim is is now such a narrow definition that many Muslims no longer fit into it. Apparently unless I cover myself head to toe, stay at home, obey my husband, and as long as I do not derive pleasure from anything in life, I am not a Muslim. Is this the new Islam? It certainly appears to be, from what I see in Cairo.
I have nothing against the niqab, but I think it is wrong to see it as a way of judging whether someone is a Muslim or not. Many good Muslims do not cover, while many niqabis are not practicing Muslims. Being a Muslim is more than just about what you are wearing. Sadly, the new Islam means being judged by your outward appearance. The new Islam is about making your supposedly private relationship with God public. The new Islam is about radical, literal interpretations. The new Islam ignores the SPIRIT of the Qur’an, and focuses solely on the pratical aspects, such as prayer. Why not a balance?
Coming from a liberal background, I find it sad that Islam has become to most people a strict, uncompromising set of rules. This is not the Islam I see when I read the Qur’an.
I wonder what the reasons for this growing conservatism are? Economic problems? Loss of identity? More narrow interpretations of Islam, on a global level?

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