The Muslim Women's veil

Query From Irina Korovushkina 15 April 1999

Dear List members:

I am looking for a reference to a work by a Muslim woman-scholar who (if I am correct) argued that the meaning of the veil in the Muslim world is not that oppressive for women as the Western feminists used to think. Thank you.


From Megan Freeman 16 April 1999

There was a commentary on NPR sometime in the last two (?) years by an American Muslim woman that addressed the issue to a certain extent. Perhaps the folks at NPR can help track her down?

From Ann Kendall 16 April 1999

Dear Irina:

The writer you are thinking of is Fatima Mernissi who has written a number of books about Islam from a woman's viewpoint and is a very interesting writer. I will list her books for you that our library has as I am not at home and cannot look up the ones I have there. Looking at the list I think there are a couple of her books missing from this list and will try to remember to look at my shelf at home over the weekend.

1. Beyond the veil male female dynamics in a modern Muslim society. 2. Doing daily battle interviews with Moroccan women. 3. Forgotten queens of Islam. 4. Islam and democracy fear of the modern world. 5. _The Veil and the Male Elite: a Feminist Interpretation of Women's Rights in Islam_.(Addison-Wesley Publishing Co.,Inc.:New York, 1991). trans. by Mary Jo Lakeland, Reprint: Perseus Books, Reading, MA.). 6. Women's rebellion Islamic memory.

My super library has just replied with the missing Mernissi titles: 1. Dreams of Trespass: Tales of a harem girlhood, and 2. The Harem within.

The last one discusses how the veil makes women feel less exposed to male predation and that the men respect the veil and give them space. Even when in fields etc, they feel protected. If you are using it for teaching, both these books are easy to read and there is a film we saw in an Islamic culture class that had interviews with women, included a model who had retreated from the catwalk to the veil as she felt too public and "owned" but felt happier in the veil. This a series of "Islamic Conversation" films, six in all, the last one in the series is "Women in Islam", I did not remember the name but my nice library assistant just came up with the series names for us. Hope this is of use, if you need anything else on this subject, I will do all I can to help.

From Padma Anagol 16 April 1999

My previous posting was specifically on Muslim women in Asia. I think Irina's query is about the Middle East? There is a very good discussion on the notion of the veil in an article by Hammami and Rieker which also contains bibliographic references too. It is by: Reza Hammami and Martina Rieker, `Feminist Orientalism and Orientalist Marxism' in NEW LEFT REVIEW, No.170, July/August 1988.

A well-known scholar in the field whose works will be of direct relevance to your query is Gail MINAULT. She has written extensively on the question and some of them are listed here:

Hanna Papanek and Gail Minault, eds., Separate Worlds: Studies of Purdah in South Asia, (Delhi, Chanakya) Gail Minault, `Other voices, other rooms: The view from the zenana', in N. Kumar, ed. Women as Subjects: South Asian Histories, (Stree, 1994), pp.108-124.

Other scholars whose work is interesting and do throw up different angles are Barbara Metcalf and Patricia Jeffrey. Unfortunately I do not have the citations at hand.

From Tammy Proctor 16 April 1998

There is an interesting piece in M. Hirsch and E. Fox Keller, eds. _Conflicts in Feminism_ (1990) by Marnia Lazreg. The article is entitled "Feminism and Difference: The Perils of Writing as a Woman on Women in Algeria," and it examines the reductive and essentialist categories assigned by historians and social scientists to Muslim women.

From Gael Graham 16 April 1999

I've read that, too, although I can't think where. I have this vague impression that it might have been a book on Islamic women edited by Nikkie Kedourie?? Not sure I even have that name right.

From Heloise Brown 16 April 1999

I think this is a common enough argument among Muslim feminists / academics. Haleh Afshar's work should point you in the right direction - see her chapter in Haleh Afshar and Mary Maynard, _The Dynamics of 'Race' and Gender: Some Feminist Interventions_ (Taylor & Francis, 1994) for example, and her _Feminism and Islam: An Iranian Case Study_ (Macmillan 1998). You could also try Deniz Kandiyoti's work, particularly _Women, Islam and the State_(Philadelphia, Macmillan Academic and Professional Ltd., 1991)

From Asli Gur 16 April 1999

There are quite a few Muslim feminist scholars nowadays, who argued that veil is not totally about oppression. I would suggest you to take a look at 1. Nilufer Gole's book called "Forbidden Modern" or "Modern Forbidden" I am not sure how it has been translated. The original title, which is in Turkish, is "Modern Mahrem" 2. Arlene Macleod "Hegemonic Relations and Gender Resistance: The New Veiling as accommodating Protest in Cairo" Signs: A Journal of Women in Culture and Society, Spring 1992 Hope that helps.

From Lauren Hasten 16 April 1999

I have no idea what her religious orientation is, but you might try looking at Lila Abu-Lughod's _Veiled Sentiments_. Having lived among a group of Bedouins in Egypt for nearly two years, she came to appreciate the value of the veil as something of a shield, as well as a status symbol.

From Lee Whitfield 16 April 1999

You might want to check out Leiila Ahmed's _Women and Gender in Islam_(Yale U Press, Chelsea, MI 1992).

I believe she is at U.Mass Amherst and her handling of this issue is rich and provocative. I'm doing an independent study on Gender, Race, and Empire this term and her text provided a wonderful springboard for discussion.

From Nancy Bowman 16 April 1999

Leila Ahmed made that argument in her article "Western Ethnocentrism and Perceptions of the Harem," published in the journal _Feminist Studies_ in the Fall of 1982.

Ahmed writes: "Although universally perceived in the West as an oppressive custom, it is not experienced as such by women who habitually wear it. More than anything perhaps it is a symbol of women being separated from the world of men, and this is conventionally perceived in the West as oppression."

From Elaine Caldbeck 16 April 1999

One possibility might be the article: "Movie Stars and Islamic Moralism in Egypt" by Lila Abu-Lughod which I have in the book: The Gender Sexuality Reader: Culture, History, Political Economy edited by Roger Lancaster and Micaela di Leonardo
Other Suggestions:

Ali, Asghar _The Rights of Women in Islam_ (St. Martin's Press; NY, 1992).

Brooks, Geraldine _Nine Parts of Desire_ (Anchor Books, NY, 1995).

Fernea, Elizabeth W. and Robert A. Fernea "Symbolizing Roles: Behind the Veil" in _Conformity and Conflict: Readings in Cultural Anthropology_eds. James Spradley and David McCurdy (Longman, 1997)

Zuhur, Sherifa _Revealing Reveiling_(SUNY Press: Albany, 1992).

Kamp, Marianne Ph.D. diss "Unveiling Uzbeck Women: Liberation, Representation and Discourse_(Stanford, 1999)