By Fadwa El Guindi
Shortlisted for the Katharine Briggs Folklore Award 2000. In the 1970s, often to the consternation of parents and siblings, certain progressive young Arab women voluntarily donned the veil. The movement, which rapidly expanded and continues to gather momentum, has sparked controversy within Islamic culture, as well as reactions ranging from perplexity to outrage from those outside it. Western feminist commentators have been particularly vociferous in decrying the veil, which they glibly interpret as a concrete manifestation of patriarchal oppression. However, most Western observers fail to realize that veiling, which has a long and complex history, has been embraced by many Arab women as both an affirmation of cultural identity and a strident feminist statement. Not only does the veil de-marginalize women in society, but it also represents an expression of liberation from colonial legacies. In short, contemporary veiling is more often than not about resistance. By voluntarily removing themselves from the male gaze, these women assert their allegiance to a rich and varied tradition, and at the same time preserve their sexual identity. Beyond this, however, the veil also communicates exclusivity of rank and nuances in social status and social relations that provide telling insights into how Arab culture is constituted. Further, as the author clearly demonstrates, veiling is intimately connected with notions of the self, the body and community, as well as with the cultural construction of identity, privacy and space. This provocative book draws on extensive original fieldwork, anthropology, history and original Islamic sources to challenge the simplistic assumption that veiling is largely about modesty and seclusion, honor and shame.