“An Affair of the Heart”

Hijab Narratives of Arab Muslim Women in Malta

Authors

  • Nathalie Grima University of Malta

DOI:

https://doi.org/10.1558/imre.v16i4.461

Keywords:

Arab Muslim women, self-representation, hijab, embodiment, religiosity, identity, transnationality, gender

Abstract

This article looks at the self-representations of Arab and Muslim women living in Malta, with respect to whether they veil or not. Most of the women participating in this research decided to veil at their later stage of adulthood, after periods of indecision and preparation for what they refer to as a long-term and serious commitment. Contrary to my initial expectations, other women who were interviewed and who do not wear the hijab, are not against the Islamic concept of veiling. They explain that they haven’t yet taken the decision to veil, because they do not feel ready to take this important step in their life. As the title of the article suggests, putting on the hijab is generally represented as “an affair of the heart”, an act that has to be carried out in an appropriate way. I therefore argue that this representation goes against the stereotype of “veil equals gender oppression,” which depicts Muslim women as simply passive agents. Moreover, the women’s decisions to veil indicate that rather than looking at the hijab by using the traditional-modern dichotomy, it is more adequate to analyse it as a “product” of modernity. Rather than a mere act of submission, the women’s accounts reflect a hybrid and complex embodiment of religion, identity and socio-politics. The religious aspect is explained both in terms of going through an individual spiritual path and in being exposed to the Islamist discourse that emphasizes modesty. The identity and socio political aspects are analysed by looking at the women’s transnational standing. It is seen that the women’s decisions are also influenced by the socio-political situations, not only of their homeland but also of the European countries in which their relatives may be residing. Finally, the article ends by referring to Islamic feminism as the more adept kind of feminism that reflects the women’s convincing arguments in favour of the hijab.

References

Al-Saji, A. 2010. “The Racialization of Muslim Veils: A Philosophical Analysis.” Philosophy & Social Criticism 36(8): 875–902.

Anthias, F. and N. Yuval-Davis. 1989. “Introduction.” In Women, Nation, State, edited by F. Anthias and N. Yuval-Davis, 6 –11. London: Macmillan.

Anwar, E. 2006. Gender and Self in Islam. London: Routledge.

Badran, M. 2009. Feminism in Islam: Secular and Religious Convergences. Oxford: Oneworld Publications.

Cherribi, S. 2006. “From Baghdad to Paris: Al-Jazeera and the Veil.” Press/Politics 11 (2): 121–138.

Collins, P.H. 1990. Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness and the Politics of Empowerment. Boston: Unwin Hyman.

Crossley, N. 2005. Key Concepts in Critical Social Theory. London: SAGE Publications.

Eltantawi, S. 2004. “A Complicated Question—To Wear the Hijab or Not.” Counterpunch, [Online] 14/15 February 2004. Available at http://www.counterpunch.org/eltantawi02162004.html. Accessed on 05 August 2010.

Entwistle, J. 2002. “The Dressed Body.” In Real Bodies: A Sociological Introduction, edited by M.Evans and E.Lee, 133–150. New York: Palgrave.

Graham, E. 2012. “Between a Rock and a Hard Place: Negotiating Religious Voices in Public Spaces.” Paper read at BSA Sociology of Religion Study Group (SOCREL) Annual Conference 2012: Religion and (In)Equalities. University of Chester, UK, 28–30 March 2012.

Mahmood, S. 2005. Politics of Piety: Islamic Revival and the Feminist Subject. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Martin, D. 1978. A General Theory of Secularization. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

Mojab, S. 2001. “Theorizing the Politics of ‘Islamic Feminism’.” Feminist Review 69: 124–146.

Moore, H.L. 1988. Feminism and Anthropology. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Olesen, V. 2005. “Early Millenial Feminist Qualitative Research: Challenges and Contours.” In The SAGE Handbook of Qualitative Research, edited by N.K.Denzin and Y.S.Lincoln, 235–278. California: Sage Publications.

Roald, A.S. 2001. Women in Islam: the Western Experience. London: Routledge.

Sharify-Funk, M. 2008. Encountering the Transnational: Women, Islam and the Politics of Interpretation. London: Ashgate Publishing.

Shirazi, F. 2003. The Veil Unveiled: The Hijab in Modern Culture. Gainesville, Florida: University Press of Florida.

Thomas, E.R. 2006. “Keeping Identity at a Distance: Explaining France’s New Legal Restrictions on the Islamic Headscarf.” Ethnic and Racial Studies, 29(2): 237–259.

Treacher, A. And H. Shukrallah. 2001. Editorial: “The Realm of the Possible: Middle Eastern Women in Political and Social Spaces.” Feminist Review, 69: 4–14.

Yuval-Davis, N. 2011. The Politics of Belonging: Intersectional Contestations. London: SAGE Publications Ltd

Published

2014-02-20

How to Cite

Grima, N. (2014). “An Affair of the Heart”: Hijab Narratives of Arab Muslim Women in Malta. Implicit Religion, 16(4), 461–481. https://doi.org/10.1558/imre.v16i4.461

Issue

Section

Articles