Throughout and the permissive West, it is rather a
Throughout historical times women have been diminished, degraded and subjugated, at a time when the rest of the world considered women as no better than slaves, with no rights whatsoever, Islam acknowledged women’s equality; contradicting to this value why does Islam oppress Muslim women? Attitudes towards women only began to change until the 19th and 20th century, Muslim communities have not always adhered to the Islamic teachings which are written in the Quran and the Hadiths 1,400 years ago, therefore it makes it difficult to understand what the true rights of a Muslim women are. The dominance of cultural and media influences surrounds our society and therefore enforces us with representations of various concepts, divided into two section; the East-West dichotomy is perceived by us as the oppressed East and the permissive West, it is rather a juxtaposed difference through culture than a geographical division between the two contrasting worlds. It can be difficult for Muslim women to abide by cultural and religious factors, Muslim women living in the East will have the need to find a balance in which they can practice their faith peacefully and yet still constrain to the laws of the Eastern society, symbolically perceived as of Muslim ‘otherness’ and its visibility to constructing stereotypes which identify it as a marker of Muslim ‘difference’. The East and the West govern their powers very differently, however it is strictly strategic to suit their own ideologies and beliefs.
This is my first approach in acknowledging the social identity construction of Muslim Women in the East and West, as there is a very distinct divide between the two, I will be discussing the implications of Muslim women in both the Eastern and the Western sectors of the world. It is important to distinguish the two terms: Islam and Muslim; Islam is a concept which can be analysed as a religion or an ideology however, Muslim, is a description of those people who practice and interpret the religion of Islam. My focus will be to exam the rights of Muslim women in four countries: Iran, Saudia Arabia, United Kingdom and France as all 4 of these countries have had significant changes towards laws which may or may not be an obstacle to the liberation of Muslim women. Within this paradigm I will examine the effect of the ‘other’ and how the West characterised the strict binary of ‘us’ and ‘them’ therefore, symbolising an ideology of ‘us’, the Westerners being the privileged and the superior race and ‘them’, the East being the distorted other and how this theory has effected Muslim women in both culture appropriated boundaries of East and West. In order to inform my research I will be closely analysing historical and contemporary discourses of the rights of Muslim women: work rights, reproductive rights, the right of veiling and social rights. Analysing these four rights will lead me to gain an insight on the differences and the similarities between the two boundaries and how some Muslim women labelled as the “other” can resist Western hegemonies due to their conservative perspective, they are likely to follow most of the teachings provided by their prophet Muhammed (pbuh). Although, some Islamic tenets which are feminists choose to fight for their liberation and equality such as from the veil, as they articulate it to be a symbol of oppression, vulnerability and alienation. Consequently, Europe has become increasing multicultural, which allows non-Muslim believers to create this ideology of stereotypical representations of Muslim women on obliging to wearing a veil or not being permitted to work etc. I will evaluate why these representations manifested by society can have a negative impact however, it can also empower some Muslim women to challenge these connotations.
In 1978, the highly influential Edward Said channeled a term ‘Orientalism ‘which depicted the cultural differences between the East and the West, the West portrays the East as distorted, geographically dividing the world in two binary opposites: an Islamic East and an American and European West. I will be analysing Said’s theory which he believed it to be “almost a European invention” (Said, 1978:1), I will relate it to the specific rights therefore examining how the role of a Muslim women in a Western society can highlight orientalisim through pre-conceived notions of how the Eastern cultured people live, how they act and what they believe in. Furthermore, this provides a useful critical lens which can alternatively be used to analyse how the “Orient has helped to define Europe (or the West)” (Said, 1978:1) its greatest cultural contestant, this therefore builds a framework which signifies that “European culture gained in strength and identity by setting itself off against the Orient as a sort of surrogate” (Said, 1978:3) this emphasis the stereotypical representations which are disseminated by the Western culture, portraying a distorted image of the actual reality of the places and people in order to create this identity which connotes the West as a utopian world and the East as a dystopian society, which the occident has imposed in order to have an authority over the Orient. Orientalist depicts the Orients to be feminised and psychologically weak, Said describes the term “Orientalism is a style of thought based upon an ontological and epistemological distinction made between “the orient” and (most of the time) “the occident.” (Said, 1978:2), therefore this signifies that the West conceptualises the East to be inferior, which therefore implies that the concept of Muslim women can be seen as weak and demure constructing a discourse of ‘feminist Orientalism’, Said implies that there was a repertory of images of sexual women who are there to be used by a man creating this idea that women are materialistic beings, “They were there to be used sexually, and if it could be suggested that they were inherently licentious, then they could be exploited without misgiving.” (Shabanirad, Marandi, 2015:24). Islam is understood as a patriarchal powered religion however, the West can also be seen as highly dominated by male authority, however in the West women have liberation, whereas in the East women are signified as objects owned by the man to be exploited, they are created in order to nurture the man, “the oriental woman is no more than a machine; she makes no distinction between one man and another man”. (Said, 1978:187). —- (get this quote checked as said quotes it) Furthermore, Muslim women who live in the East may find it difficult to be in a work place, especially if she is veiled, as their are boundaries which prohibit them to work with men therefore, a Muslim women will need to be segregated from males in the working environment. This would be very problematic in the West, due to my focus being on the United Kingdom and France whom stand for liberation and gender equality, a Muslim women will need to be flexible in terms of engaging with men as this is what the social order implies. However, as opposed to a totalitarian state: Saudi Arabia, where it can be extremely difficult for a Muslim women to work, as gender segregation is highly of importance therefore, allowing a women to work will inevitably give them the permission to come in contact with unrelated men. Initially, this is what grants the theory of the “other”, as the Western civilisation do not have this issue of oppressing women, as they are given the right to work, the right to fashion their bodies the way they want and the right to voice their opinions. Although, the West has built this empire of systematic discipline in which both genders are considered to be equals, however the east and the west create this juxtaposition in which women of the East are casted as illiterate and women of the West are seen as highly educated.
Moreover, within this complex relation of East and West dichotomy, Muslim women who wear the veil and occupy a harem have been the reconfiguration of particular symbols in which the Orientalist discourse constructed a crucial importance in producing the Muslim woman as a passive non-agent. Leila Ahmed’s study on Western Ethnocentrism and Perception of the Harem exposes that the Western society specifically believes; “Islam monstrously oppresses women” (Ahmed, 1982:522) this signifies that in a Western society libration is key to all prospects of living and when you look at the “other” the East can be perceived as a daunting place, Ahmed communicates a strong point here, she projects the mental understanding of an Occident, the idea of a women being monstrously oppressed envisages the society to believe that the female is lesser than a man and she is devalued and subjugated. Within this theory of “other”, being one of the main topics of discussion it is important to keep in mind that the Occident look through a lens in which the Orient is presented through specific conventions in order to highlight the dominance the Occident has over the Orient. Ahmed focuses specifically on the harem and how the Westerners are fascinated by the idea of a separate Muslim household for multiple women sharing a polygamous man, the Occident project it as a site of sexual deviance, erotic gratification and “exclusively a device for oppressing women” (Ahmed, 1982:523). On the other hand, Ahmed argues that the harem represents a space in which women of various classes exist, it enables them to share time and their living space and have frequent and easy access to other women in their community (Ahmed: 1982:524). Although, in some matter the Orient portrays the Western society as a place of development, economics and prosperity in comparison to the Oriental way of living, Islamic ideologies have been controversial regarding women, as Islam allows women with many rights and obligations such as reproductive rights, as argued by Ahmed the harem signifies the social aspect of a women’s life, it also encourages reproduction, in Islam a women sexual and reproductive rights can be highlighted with references to abortion laws, in the Quran it explicitly mentions the concept of ensoulment, the prohibition of abortion only occurs after the first three months of the pregnancy, I will be further discussing this in my chapters.
Moreover, while Ahmed’s study is primarily concerned with the discourse of Western society’s fascination with the strategic segregation of Islamic societies through the use of harem. Consequently, Faegheh Shirazi illustrates in her book The Veil Unveiled: The Hijab in Modern Culture, a series of Arabic adverts, Playboy cartoons, and Iranian feature films, she projects the semantics of the veil through media, as it constantly feeds us with filtered images and this constricts us to reinforce our own ideology and perspective through the propaganda which the media contributes to. This can be beneficial in terms of emphasising images which can disseminate value of aspects in which women are presented as strong or coherent. Although, Shirazi focuses on the “role of the veil in popular culture” (Shirazi, 2003: 6) I will examine how these adverts portray muslim women and what the notion of the veil symbolises and how it constructs a muslim women’s social personality, directly correlating it to the East and West’s perception of the veil. Shiraz highlights the how the veil has become a profitable marketing tool for Iranian film industries to Saudi advertising companies. She projects the identity of the veil as a ubiquitous symbol.
In addition to the