Most religions are male dominated due to the general inequality between men and women throughout history. This is why women have not been given high positions of power in the religious hierarchy. Religion is one of the main barriers preventing the full liberation of women; many strict branches of religion have resisted the changing of some traditions, as they believe they are the will of God.
“Particular criticism has been directed at the tendency to depict gender relations in terms of a simplistic dichotomy, associating men with the public space and therefore power and authority, and women with their private sphere and therefore relative powerlessness in society and to assume that it can be applied worldwide. By imposing western social categories onto the social experience on non-western societies, there has been a failure to recognize that the social construction of gender is subject to a complexity of factors affecting women’s status in diver cultural areas.” (El-Solh, Camilla Fawzi, Mabro, Judy 1994: 14)
THE ISLAMIC VEIL
The veil has numerous symbolic meanings, parallel to the numerous interpretations of Islam. As we explore ideals closely related to the subjects surrounding the stereotypical Muslim woman, we must remember that this has been both true in the past and true in the present only for certain Muslim societies. There are many examples of contemporary Muslim women who do not fit this general stereotype. Followers of Islamic fundamentalism understand Islam to be a social order and therefore an unchangeable way of life, resulting in a closed-minded approach to new ideals concerning gender equality. In the context of Islamic fundamentalists, “The Veil” is a device for visual segregation between male and female and symbolic of sexual hierarchy, providing an armor between the female’s physical attributes and the eyes of men outside of the woman’s kin. However, contemporary Muslims have utilized the veil as a symbol for protest and rejection of ‘western culture imperialism’. Many associate wearing such garments with a connectedness with their religious identity, arguing it provides a sense of spiritual liberation. Others suggest that veiling enables them to assert themselves in the presence of males in the public arena due to its ability to separate women from sexualisation; ‘The veil may also be an expression of a feminist position ‘supportive of female autonomy and equality articulated in terms totally different from the language of the west’ (Ahmed, 1992: 226)” (El-Solh, Camilla Fawzi, Mabro, Judy 1994: 11)
This practice has not been evident in the Qu’ran for neither gender, however it is practiced in Egypt, Oman, Yemen, Somalia, Indonesia and Malaysia. It is also practiced outside of Muslim countries, mostly in Christian African countries such as Ethiopia and parts of sub-Saharan African. Essentially, this promotes a need to hold social and sexual control over women as women are incapable of controlling their own sexual urges, (El-Solh, Camilla Fawzi, Mabro, Judy 1994: 13) furthermore it is directly promoting gender equality through the denying of female right for sexual gratification.
The kaffiyeh is a traditional headdress worn in the middle east with immense cultural and religious meaning, in particular it began to represent alliance with Palestinian Nationalism. In the mid 2000’s it became a fashion statement amongst both male and female hipsters and various other ‘alternative’ sub culture groups, in The US, Canada, Europe and Australia with designers such as Galliano and stores such as Urban Outfitters and TopShop promoting and capitalizing from the scarf. The fashioning and trivializing of such a symbolic and political article of clothing caused a large out cry amongst the public. The controversy was about the meaning of the garment; did it symbolize political alignment with Palestinian forces or a pro terrorist mentality?
no author, Religion Facts, accessed May 2010, http://www.religionfacts.com/
Dunk'n Donuts Ad Controversy About Rachael Ray Arabic Scarf posted by elmisticco June 02 2008 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_FI14XMdTmg&feature=related
No author, 2009, “Muslim group calls for burka ban”, CBC News, 08/10/09, viewed 05/10 http://www.cbc.ca/canada/story/2009/10/08/canada-muslim-burka-niqb-ban-government.html
Engineer, Asghar Ali 1996, The Rights of Women in Islam, C. Hurst & Co. Ltd, UK
El-Solh, Camilla Fawzi, Mabro, Judy 1994, Muslim Women’s Choices: Religious Belief and Social Reality, Berg Publishers, UK
Saliba, Therese Allen, Carolyn and Howard, Judith A. 2002, Gender, Politics and Islam, The University of Chicago, US
Meredith, Susan 1995, The Usborne Bok of World Religions, Usborne Publishing Ltd, London