Global Resources

Muslim Women and Nationalism: the Power of the Image

Author: C. Timmerman
Publisher: SAGE Publications
Publication Date: Jun 2000
Women and the family are considered the cornerstone of Muslim society. They are often seen as cultural symbols of the nation, charged with the responsibility of upholding its honour and dignity. Due to this symbolic linkage, women are at the centre of the power struggles between the nation- state's -often secular and westernized- efforts to modernise and the religious establishment's resistance to this process. The Muslim family code and the veil are two key sites for such a struggle. There have been numerous efforts by the nation-states to amend the family code (in Egypt and Pakistan) and to discourage wearing the veil (in pre-Khomeini Iran and in modern day Turkey) which were met with fierce opposition by Islamists. These resulted in a major backlash by conservative Islamists and, in the case of a ban on veiling, by Muslim women themselves. The latter wore the veil to signify their resistance to Western hegemony and to express their alienation from westernised political elites. Findings from the paper, which explores the linkages between gender, Islam and nationalism from a historical angle, reveal that veiled Muslim females, rather than being mere tools in the hands of nation-state or Islamists are consciously adopting Islamic symbols such as the veil as a means of contributing to the Islamization of 'modernity'.