The aim of the article is to probe the unique tradition in central China’s Hui Muslim community of women-only, female-led mosques and their enduring, expressive culture of chanted worship, learning, and celebration as trans/local translations of Western feminist core notions of “agency” and “gender equality.” Women’s agency—here understood as entailing the capacity for informed and purposeful choice from context-specific options and resources—is framed by a religious faith-infused subjectivity, by women’s aspirations to reach their full potential as Muslim women. A broad outline of the evolution of women’s mosques from inward-oriented and assigned facilities to outward-oriented institutions provides historical context for both the institutionalization of an intense gendered piety and for mosque-based facilitation of educational and development needs. Moreover, the popularity of rediscovered Islamic chants among Hui Muslim women has ignited heated debates surrounding the propriety in Islam of performed, publicly audible female sound. It is the contention of the article that global references and values, such as “gender equality,” continue to matter as references for local translations. The changing nature of “gender complementarity” as a vernacular version of “gender equality” is seen by Hui Muslim women as testifying to changing times and opportunities.
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