Review of Lahoucine Ouzgane (Ed.), Islamic Masculinities (London: Zed Books, 2006), 288 pp.
The growing body of literature that focuses on masculinities is a necessary and pleasing development to those concerned with issues of gender and sexual dynamics. The study of masculinities in recent years has focused on examinations of manhood in North American and European contexts. However, scholarly research has until relatively recently neglected masculine identities beyond the so-called 'western' world. Indeed, as Lahoucine Ouzgane states in his introduction, whereas studies of women in other parts of the world, including women of the Islamic world, seem now to abound, the issue of 'Islamic masculinity' has escaped the same level of investigation. Published as part of the 'Global Masculinities' series, this work offers a much-awaited insight into constructions of masculinity in Islamic countries. It is a groundbreaking new study that will serve as a point of departure for anyone interested in gender identities, particularly masculine identities, in the Islamic world. The editor is currently Associate Professor of English and film studies at the University of Alberta, Canada; his other publications most notably include a sister edition entitled African Masculinities.
Through a collection of articles, this work introduces some of the key debates around Muslim men and masculinity by examining diverse aspects and themes of manhood in several different societies such as Pakistan, Egypt, Turkey and the Yemen amongst others. Accordingly, the essays originate from a range of disciplines ranging from sociological enquiries to the interpretation of literature and popular culture. Chapter six, for example, studies the film Urs bil Kalil (Wedding in Galilee) and examines the plot line and technical aspects of the screenplay. Chapter ten, on the other hand, draws on the historical and political context of Ba'thist Iraq whilst looking at media influences on gender roles of the period. The themes under scrutiny range from male infertility, sexuality and gendered life experiences to how regimes use gender for political and militaristic aims. In a global political climate that has thrust the subject of Islamic gender dynamics to the very forefront of attention, this book attempts to clarify a whole host of dangerous and misleading assumptions whilst at the same time keeping an admirable sense of objectivity and scholarly rigour. One of its principal objectives is to counter the trend of seeing gender studies in an Islamic context as being solely a study of women and women's lives. It also represents a successful application of men's studies to non-western cultures.
The contributors to the collection resist the temptation to overly attribute constructions of masculinity solely to the doctrine and teachings of Islam, whilst at the same time recognising and underlining its powerful influence. Islam, unlike other world religions whose influence on gender and sexual dynamics has gradually weakened, continues to be the firm point of reference for all Muslims and the link between religion and culture remains very strong indeed. However, one of the principal arguments of the introduction and the volume as a whole, is that gender roles in Islamic cultures have developed from a complex mixture not only of the teachings of the Qur'an and the Hadith themselves, but also of cultural and sociological trends that pre-date Islam. Following on from this, the collection also succeeds in recognising the differences between notions of virility from country to country. From the outset, the editor underlines the 'social constructionist' approach of the book (p. 2) and argues that masculinity should be examined in its proper context, that is to say moulded by a wide variety of influences. This, of course, places Islam at the forefront, but also considers socioeconomic, social, historical and cultural factors. Nevertheless, the strong grasp that Islam holds over culture is explored and its influences clearly outlined. …