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Islamic Discourses

I believe that women are more likely than men to read the Qur’an for liberation.

(Asma Barlas)


At a conference held in Beirut at my university a few years ago, the Muslim keynote speaker who happened to be a CEO of a large Lebanese corporation was asked a simple question: “Do you hire veiled women?” He had a simple answer: “Yes we do. We hire them in the back office, but we do not allow them to occupy positions where they have to face customers.” He then went on explaining and defending the company’s position in regards to that unwritten policy. Nobody in the audience made a rebuttal to his answer and the discussion went another way.

This answer summarizes many of the issues that surround veiled women in the workplace. First, the company operated in Lebanon where Muslims are the majority (about 60-65%). This proves the point that the “veil issue” is not restricted to Western societies where Muslims are the minority. Second, the CEO was a Muslim. So the stance taken by the CEO did not emanate from religious differences. In other words, it was not the case here that a non-Muslim manager was making a conscious decision to discriminate against

© The Author(s) 2018

Y.M. Sidani, Muslim Women at Work,

DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-63221-6_5

veiled Muslim women. The decision was actually based on pragmatic reasoning that a veiled woman is not fit to occupy certain positions, irrespective of her education, qualifications, or experience.

Thus the veil issue, much debated in Western contexts, has also been an area of controversy, arguments, and counter-arguments across many contexts, including countries where Muslims are the majority and others where they are the minority. The disputes over the headscarf ban in France and other European countries do not represent the only cases where the veil proved to be a divisive issue. In this chapter, I will provide a brief description of the veil within its historic context. I will then continue to explore the various discourses about its role and significance specifically among academic scholars, ulema’ (religious scholars), and intellectuals—including the growing discourse within Islamic feminism—concerned about this matter and what the veil means for women’s status and participation in various Arab and Muslim contexts.

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