Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

Deconstructing Islamization in Pakistan: Sabiha Sumar Wages Feminist Cinematic Jihad through a Documentary Lens

Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

Deconstructing Islamization in Pakistan: Sabiha Sumar Wages Feminist Cinematic Jihad through a Documentary Lens

Article excerpt


Over half a billion Muslim women live in vastly different lands, cultures, societies, economies, and political systems. Yet, as Iranian scholar Mahnaz Afkhami (2) points out, Muslim women's oppressions are similar due to gender-discrimination under Islamic Sharia laws and patriarchal doctrines that are exercised in the name of religion and culture. Pakistan has been a prime example of how religious fundamentalism and politicization of religion can transform a secular society into one held hostage by Islamic extremist doctrines and gender-specific laws. It is a cause for hope and celebration then that its progressive and secular elements, particularly educated, urban women,, have continued to wage a struggle against discriminatory socio-political and religious practices through various artistic, political, and activist channels-thereby posing a continuing opposition and challenge to religious fundamentalists that use women as the prime targets for the imposition of their Islamic ideologies and identity. More recently, Pakistani independent women filmmakers have also joined the ranks of this oppositional force, thereby appropriating their right to wage a feminist jihad (struggle). In initiating an antifundamentalist cinema category, their cinematic contributions deserve to be recognized as part of a larger feminist agenda against gender discrimination and patriarchal domination.

Keywords: Pakistani women, feminist documentary film, Islamization and fundamentalism, Islamic Sharia Laws


... we realized that the important thing was not the film itself but that which the film provoked. (Fernando Solanas, "Cinema as a Gun". Cineaste, Vol 111, No 2 (Fall 1969) pg-20.

Today, one can find a substantial body of literature on films made in the Muslim world and by Muslims filmmakers, both men and women. This is a clear indication that the film tradition has been successfully and defiantly used by Muslim men and women, (3) for both artistic and consciousness-raising purposes, despite claims by orthodox Muslim scholars and clerics that all forms of figural representations, particularly regarding women stepping out in the visual/artistic arena, are 'un-Islamic'-both as entertainment and representations of women. For example, tracing the history of cinema in Iran following the Islamic Revolution led by Ayatollah Khomeini in 1978, Iranian film critic and historian Hamid Naficy notes that during the time of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, many cinemas were burnt down as a sign of resistance to the 'corrupting' Westernized values and regime of the ruling monarch, Reza Shah Pehlavi, This included the burning down of the Rex Cinema in Abadan, killing an audience of over 300 people. (4) Film critic Hamid Dabashi elaborates on the orthodox Islamic historical and theological factors that have served as the background to the friction between modernity/visual representation/cinema and Islamic thought/theology:

   Religious opposition to cinema was immediate and emphatic. The
   earliest efforts to introduce cinema to Iran "drew strong
   opposition from the Muslim fanatics who despised the human face and
   body on the screen." The opposition to cinema, however, is a much
   more serious doctrinal issue and cannot be dismissed simply as
   "Muslim fanatics" objecting to an aspect of modernity. At least
   four major philosophical and doctrinal objections to any mode of
   visual representation have been made by Muslim theologians, some of
   which in fact are drawn directly from Platonic influences on
   Islamic philosophy. The first objection is the supposition that
   through any kind of creative visual representation the imaginative
   faculties will overcome one's reason. The second objection is based
   on the assumption that sustained reflection on visual
   representations of real things prevents us from examining the
   realities they represent. The third objection stems from the
   historical opposition of the Prophet of Islam to idolatry. … 
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