Become What You Are: Fi ra and the Discourse of Obstructive Social-Cultural Transformations

Lorenz M. Nigst

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


A conspicuous feature of the discourse on the boyāt-phenomenon in the Gulf countries is the prevalence of the Qur'ānic term fi ra [primordial nature]. This article seeks to elucidate why this might be the case. After highlighting theological lines of reasoning suggesting that this primordial fi ra can be 'damaged' and 'obstructed,' it focuses on contemporary usages of the term. It contends that references to fi ra often occur in the context of negotiation of or struggle against unwanted social-cultural transformations and as such can express indignation about the status quo. Considering that many contemporary usages of the term not only are a reflection on the influx of 'things foreign' that threaten 'things authentic,' but also belabor the notion of a 'natural' cosmic order, they often seem to serve the goals of several forms of conservative identity politics.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)165-187
Number of pages23
JournalMiddle East Critique
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • Gulf states
  • Muslim identity
  • boyāt
  • fitra
  • gender
  • homosexuality
  • masturbation
  • political Islamism
  • social-cultural transformation
  • women


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