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Multiple Meanings: Islamic Women and the ‘Veil’ International Perspectives on Gender Week 15.

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Presentation on theme: "Multiple Meanings: Islamic Women and the ‘Veil’ International Perspectives on Gender Week 15."— Presentation transcript:

1 Multiple Meanings: Islamic Women and the ‘Veil’ International Perspectives on Gender Week 15

2 Structure of lecture Introduction Islamic feminists reinterpreting the Qur’an Explaining the popularity of Islam today Contemporary Orientalism Multiple ‘veils’ Multiple Meanings for Women Wearers Conclusions

3 Islamic Feminists Reinterpreting the Qur’an Patriarchal interpretations are the problem, not Islam per se Mernissi: Islam is no more repressive than Judaism or Christianity in terms of women’s position Other doctrines may have same fate eg. Marxism Emphasis on rights for women in Islamic doctrine - to refuse marriage - to keep their own property in marriage - to economic support in marriage - to divorce men if stipulated at time of marriage (Sunni) - to participate in religious activities - to contraception and abortion (Sunni) - to sexual pleasure

4 Contextualising Gender Inequalities Polygyny: A man marrying up to four wives is discussed but - Pre-dates Islam and Islam imposed limits - Ambiguous whether a right in practice - Historically has helped ‘share out’ men after war ordinance in Pakistan requires first wife’s permission - Only 5% of marriages are polygynous - Illegal in Turkey, Tunisia, former Soviet Muslim states Divorce - Popular myth: Man says ‘I divorce you’ three times - Takes 3 months, when reconciliation is the aim - Women can claim right to divorce, or curtail husband’s right

5 Evidence: A woman’s evidence being worth half a man’s is highly discriminatory - context is historical practice of female witnesses appearing with female friend for moral support - origins look less discriminatory - contemporary practice very problematic for women today - rape: can only be proven if man confesses or if 4 male witnesses testify to it - where woman alleges rape and it’s not upheld she’s ‘guilty’ of adultery Scholarly analysis of religious texts and historical perspective are key Ali, Shaheen Sardar (2000) Gender and Human Rights in Islam and International Law: Equal before Allah, unequal before man?, The Hague: Kluwer Law International Contextualising Gender Inequalities

6 Explaining the popularity of Islam alternative to modernization, which failed to bring progress, affluence or justice? new direction for jaded nation-building projects? - out of their ‘tattered and defeated remains’ the idea of a unified Islamic nation rises (Shukrullah, 1994) ‘home-grown’ alternative to imperialism and shame, alternative to ‘defeat, humiliation and impoverishment’? utopia? status and economic security for poor through religious value system?

7 filling gap left by collapse of Communism? harking back to an (imaginary) golden past – a quick fix for today’s problems? - Shukrullah: Islamic discourse involves a selective telling and re-telling of a mythical pre-colonial past and the conferring on it of divinity - Conflicts, struggles, dispossessions and inequalities of pre-colonial past are ignored - Ups and downs of history disappear into homogeneous past that offers potential of homogeneous future if only we can get back to what we were Explaining the popularity of Islam

8 Contemporary Gendered Orientalism Orientalist narratives that poor treatment of women signifies barbarity of Islam have been used to ‘justify’ contemporary war Madeleine Bunting: ‘Few gave a damn about the suffering of women under the Taliban on September 10 – now we are supposed to be fighting a war for them [the bombing of Afghanistan]… The west’s arrogant assumption of its superiority is as dangerous as any other form of fundamentalism… If we are asking Islam to stamp out their fundamentalism, we have no lesser duty to do the same’ (Guardian, October 8, 2001)

9 ‘Katherine Viner: George Bush is not the first empire-builder to wage war in the name of women… [he’s] taken on the previously-unknown cause of Iraqi women to justify another war… Where next? China because of its anti-girl one-child policy? India because of widow-burning outrages? Britain because of its criminally low rape conviction rate? At home, Bush is no feminist. On his very first day in the Oval office, he cut off funding to any international family-planning organisations which offer abortion services or counselling… When George Bush mouths feminist slogans, it is feminism which loses its power. But such a theft is in the spirit of the times. Feminism is used for everything these days, except the fight for true equality – to sell trainers, to justify body mutilations, to make women make porn, to help men get off rape charges, to ensure women feel they have self respect because they use a self-esteem-enhancing brand of shampoo. No wonder it’s being used as a reason for bombing women and children too…. [This is] Feminism as imperialism’ (Guardian, September ). Contemporary Gendered Orientalism

10 Orientalism and the ‘veil’ Stereotypes of women who ‘veil’: - They are victims, oppressed by their religion, Islam - They are forced to hide their hair in public, and sometimes their neck and face, making themselves disappear - They are victims of gender inequality because only women have to cover - They stand out too much, making it more difficult for them to blend into British society

11 Multiple Veils ‘Veil’ = inadequate to encompass variety of forms over space and time s/05/europe_muslim_veils/html/1.stm s/05/europe_muslim_veils/html/1.stm

12 ‘Veiling’ predates Islam in the Mediterranean The Qur’an requires both men and women to dress modestly Expressions of sexuality must only be in private Hadith: Women should not display their beauty or their ornaments in public Forms of ‘veiling’ are one interpretation of these religious norms, not the only interpretation Many devout Muslim women do not ‘veil’ Practices vary in terms of how much of themselves women should cover in public Islamic Fundamentalism = compulsory covering How does ‘veiling’ relate to Islam?

13 Children in a Christian Nativity Play

14 The Veil in 20 th century Egypt Early 20 th century Egypt: Yashmak – a veil worn under the eyes by elite women, with a Tarha Tarha - thin black or white material used to cover hair Bisha – very light material covering face, worn with Tarha Burqu’ - fishnet material that hung under the eyes, worn by ordinary women The Tarha and Bisha in early 20 th century Egypt The ‘White Wedding’ veil

15 Headscarves in 21 st century Turkey

16 Long, loose coat and long head-scarf Hijab: Modesty of Dress

17 The Niqab and the Burka Degrees of Covering

18 The Glamorous veil

19 ‘Veiling’ is compulsory in Iran, Saudi Arabia and parts of Afghanistan Women who don’t conform face sanctions Greater Islamic fundamentalism = greater likelihood ‘veiling’ is compulsory Compulsory ‘veiling’ more likely to involve covering whole body and face In many countries ‘veiling’ is a choice, and a more popular one in last 30 years Is it a choice or compulsory?

20 Jordanian guardsEgyptian temple curatorEgyptian camel vendor

21 Multiple Meanings for Women Wearers In accordance with religious edict Signifying autonomy and anti-westernism Expression of religious identity and solidarity Expression of ethnic identity – caught between 2 worlds Expression of class identity Way to claim access to public space Way to reclaim sexuality Way to negotiate a non-traditional future

22 Conclusions Many important rights for women can be identified in Islamic doctrine Practices that oppress women need to be understood in historical context Current popularity of Islam linked sociologically to search for alternatives to inequalities of global capitalism ‘Saving Muslim women’ rhetoric is window-dressing for war Term ‘veil’ is inadequate to encompass variety over time and space Covering often invoked as symbol of all that’s wrong with Islam, but much is familiar clothing practice Where chosen, covering has multiple meanings for women wearers, who do not see themselves as victims


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