The Veil and The West
When it comes to Women in Islam much has been written about their dress, hijab, veils and burqas. Katherine Bullock and Asma Barlas are examples of such examiners; these two women investigated the veil and western politics of the body. Katherine Bullock observes veiling in her book “Rethinking Muslim women and the veil” by critically examining western media’s representation and perceptions of the veil. She also takes it one step further by interviewing sixteen Muslim women residing in Toronto; with attempts to challenge the popular western stereotype that the veil is oppressive and to stress the multiple meanings behind Muslim women’s choice of covering (Bullock, 2002). Whereas Asma Barlas explores the politics of morality and immorality of Muslim bodies, also touching on Islamic discourses on veiling and the dissonances between Muslim tradition and the Quran (Barlas, 2009). This paper examines both key questions and issues raised by these two authors along with an overview of overlapping themes found in both articles. Bullock converted to Islam throughout the course of her studies. Her personal responses to much western journalistic views is reflected in much in her writing, along with her personal experiences living as white middle class Muslim woman. In much of Bullocks writing in this book, one can note that she is clearly frustrated and overwhelmed by the West’s refusal to respect Muslim women dress. The theme that surfaces throughout the book seeks to challenge, “The popular western stereotype that the veil is oppressive” and to stress the multiple meanings and reason’s behind the personal choice of wearing a veil (Bullock, 2002). She argues that the social misconstruction of the veil being oppressive is not a true reflection of the lives of Muslim women (Bullock, 2002). However she is also careful to note that for some Muslim women, historically and in some sociopolitical settings, enforced veiling is true. Which in this case, these women are denied basic human right of choice: this is when the veil can be viewed as oppressive (Bullock, 2002). Bullock observes two schools of thought found in western feminist which include both Muslim and non-Muslim views. The first school of thought includes feminist who believe that Islam is patriarchal and oppressive to women. Therefore stating that women in Islam are denied and unable to embrace the opportunities of “true” liberation (Bullock, 2002). This school of thought finds difficulty, according to Bullock, accepting Muslim women who speak positively of Islam and their choices to cover due to their “false conscious”, thus ignoring the voice of Muslim women. Bullock refers to this school as “liberal feminism” due to its stress found on individualism, equality, and liberty (Bullock, 2002). The second school of thought is based on historical and anthropological methodologies, in which attempts to understand social practices through factors such as localized cultures, and socioeconomic views (Bullock, 2002). These feminist who practice this “contextual approach”, as Bullock states, avoid using western liberal qualities (Bullock, 2002). This is due to the fact that these feminists question whether or not if western feminism can be universally applied. Bullock is evidently part of this school of thought due to the fact that her collected research was found through Muslim women in Canada, which she interviewed. She used this as a way of better understanding the practice of covering, and as a way of puncturing the popular image of Muslim women being oppressed. Therefore Bullock was not only challenging the popular mainstream thought but also liberal feminist understanding of the oppressive nature of veiling as well. However Bullock’s method of collecting research can be considered a weakness as the sample size being considerably small and thought to be bias to thoughts of Sunni and Ismailia women. In order to create a voice for Muslim women as she...
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