Egyptian female Islamic chanters break into male-dominated field

Neaema Fathy became fascinated by a form of Islamic chanting known as “Inshad” after first hearing it at the religious festivals she attended as a child with her family in Egypt.

Then at the age of 17, her mother encouraged her to learn “Maqamat” – the art of singing Arabic music melodies which would prepare her for Inshad chanting. She sought help from singers from the Cairo Opera House.

Now 27, she is the founder of “Al Hoor” – an all-female Islamic chanting troupe in Egypt.

“I felt women were underrepresented in this field and I wanted us to take part in developing the art form of chanting,” she said. Inshad chants are songs that praise God or the Prophet and his family.

inshad, ramadan Shaimaa El Nouby, an Egyptian Islamic chanter known by Arabic “Munshida”, rehearses with her band before her performance of Islamic religious songs. (REUTERS/Fatma Fahmy)

The troupe was initially met with skepticism as Egyptian society was accustomed to chanting by the male voice, Fathy said. “Some people were waiting to see if these girls will deserve to be celebrated or will they disappoint,” added Fathy.

Shaimaa El Nouby, another Egyptian female chanter, said she faced similar challenges. “I was told that the female voice is forbidden and that I’m only looking for attention.”

A professional chanter with over 12 years of experience, El Nouby has expanded her career by creating the Artistic Heritage Collection Association, which aims to protect Egypt’s artistic heritage.

“I want to develop chanting as an art form while protecting the old schools of Inshad,” she said.

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