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Home arrow Religion arrow Muslim Women at Work: Religious Discourses in Arab Society


In this chapter, I tackled the main arguments put forward by opponents of veiling. One key assertion made by the critics is that the veil, beyond being a fashion statement, poses a significant hurdle in front of women’s societal, political, and economic participation. In putting the veil on her head, the argument goes, the Muslim woman is making statements that position her in a situation that is incompatible with political and economic empowerment. Even if she participates in one or more of those spheres, there are often significant doubts about her expected effectiveness, whether real or perceived.

For critics, the veil also creates a threatening position to others, males or females, as it creates two classes of females, the veiled and unveiled. The artificial production of those two classes is likely to produce a situation of inequity for both of these groups. On the one hand, a veiled woman puts herself in a position where she will give others the opportunity to judge her, harass her, and discriminate against her. On the other hand, in other situations a veiled woman may enjoy a preferential advantage due to mechanisms that reward her conformity with societal expectations. In this case, the rewards that she attains are unwarranted thus creating an unfair advantage compared to a woman who decides not to put on the veil. The veil also leads to situations, both in the workplace and the larger society, which are conducive to gender segregation, seclusion, and inequality.

Finally, critics assert, a Muslim women does not wear the veil out of her own will. She is either forced to put it on by a male guardian or by social expectations, or she gets accustomed to wearing it by social conditioning. In cases when she declares that she is putting on the veil out of her own will, she is—in reality—under a false sense of awareness (this will be discussed further in the next chapter). She thinks she has agency while, as a matter of fact, she has none.

In the next chapter, I introduce a different type of discourse. I discuss propositions that advance positive perceptions ofthe veil, those who look at the possibility of the veil being a redemptive vehicle that liberates from an obsession about women’s bodies and sexualities. I also elaborate on the charge of “false consciousness” and what it means for female agency and autonomy. I finally discuss the phenomenon of Islamic feminism and analyze what conflicting feminisms mean for Arab women and their societal roles.

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