>(REPOST FROM Friday, April 28, 2006)
Elizabeth Warnock Fernea’s book “In Search of Islamic Feminism: One Woman’s Global Journey”, is an interesting read. The book’s chapters each focus on the state of Islamic women’s movements in a given middle eastern country. (No chapter on Indonesia incidentally, home of the world’s largest Muslim population.) The book was written in 1998, so it’s a bit dated unfortunately.
The one chapter I’ve read so far, on Egypt, is the reason for this blog post’s title. Fernea’s first substantial encounter with Egypt occured in the early 80s with the production of a film entitled “A Veiled Revolution”, a documentary on the gathering feminist revolution occuring in the country. One of Fernea’s contacts at the time was Nawal Sirry, fellow activist on behalf of womens’ interests in modern Egypt. Sirry has since changed her style of dress and her intellectual emphasis, moving from an initially western facade and secular persuasion to an indigenous, even peasant form of clothing, and an emphasis on a particular brand of Islamic feminism that encompasses both societal needs and familial support. Fernea notes that many women have purposively and wholeheartedly adopted the veil, and with it an emphasis on Islam as a way of life, to counter what is seen as a materialistic and even militantly secular West.
Another woman interviewed by Fernea, Heba Raouf Ezzat of the “liberal wing” of the Islamist “back to fundamentals” movement, states:
Feminists are secularists who are fighting male domination. Many of them regard religion as an obstacle to women’s rights and they concentrate on women’s superior or special nature. Conflict is the main concept of their theory, a theory they even say they want to turn into a paradigm.
Organizations such as the Institute for the Secularization of Islamic Society probably fit the description of “militantly secular” quite well, with its emphasis on the absolute dissolution of Islamic values in the body politic. For example, it supports the ban on head scarfs enacted by France in all of its schools (though to be “fair”, all external religious items of clothing or jewelry are banned, not just that of Islam).
It’s a worthwhile endeavor to ponder why things have come about this way. Is the proliferation of US media and the aggressive and/or underhanded actions of the United States government responsible for the backlash against showy and exhibitionist forms of dress and action? Could the combined views of the Frankfurt school of Marxism – which sees trashy (liberating?) forms of behavior and expressive individualism to be products of the “culture industry” – and Islamic asceticism be converging to create this new consensus?
Currently reading : In Search of Islamic Feminism: One Woman’s Global Journey By Elizabeth Warnock Fernea Release date: By 10 November, 1998