Post 9/11 era is characterised by increased scrutiny of diverse cultural beliefs, systems and practices in the United States and the Arab World as well. Obeidat and Al-Shalabi argue that culture influences an individual’s perception of the world (23). The Arab world is predominantly Muslim and as such, Islam has an influence on different facets of people’s lives.
For example, Islam influences clothing and interaction between members of the Islamic community. Among women, Islam influences aspects such as clothing, political participation and access to education. Some of the cultural differences between women in the United States and the Arab World stem out from the above aspects.
The significance of Hijab among Muslim Women and interpretation among
The Hijab is a headscarf or veil worn by Muslim women. It is the primary symbol of identity for Muslim women. It also has religious meanings and connotations. However, due to stereotypes developed in the post 9/11 era especially as a result of increased involvement of Muslim women in terrorism activities like suicide bombings, many people including the American public have had varied associations and interpretations of the hijab.
Anderson (297) notes that in America, women are faced with the need to conform to fashion practices and beauty standards popularized in the media. Therefore, most American women strive to maintain the above standards which are also seen as modes of expression. Furthermore, women are in a position to express their liberalist views through dressing.
Due to the above stereotypes American Muslim women have redefined the function of the hijab as a tool for fighting stereotypes in their society. Anderson (301) outlines some of the functions of the hijab as perceived among Muslim women in America. Muslim women view the hijab as a symbol of unity which promotes peaceful co-existence among Muslims and people from other religions (Anderson 302).
This is especially true for new converts who are eager to express themselves outwardly as Muslims. Also, the hijab acts as a basis of checking an individual’s behaviour where the hijab acts as a constant reminder of Muslim teachings such self respect and respect for others.
American Muslim women, therefore, feel increasingly empowered and are in a position to successfully combat some of the stereotypes discussed above. However, this might not be the case amongst Arab Muslim women where some societies are highly patriarchal thus inhibit women’s participation in various societal issues.
Desiree (par 1) indicates that Islamic culture is subject to a monolithic view where people do not acknowledge diverse approaches adopted by different Islamic countries which primarily govern women lifestyles in such societies. For example there is a difference between national cultures in Tunisia and Saudi Arabia which influence the status and achievement of women in those countries (Desiree par 1). Tunisia for example, is an Islamic country where women have access to various amenities, including higher education institutions.
The country’s has instituted mechanisms aimed at promoting equality among men and women. Desiree (par 7) notes that Muslim women in Tunisia are in a position to agitate for their rights as their counterparts in the United States. Furthermore, Muslim women in Tunisia have an equal ground in divorce cases with men. Similarly, 59.5% of university students in Tunisia in 2007 were female. (Desiree par 7).
Muslim women in Tunisia, therefore, are not inhibited by cultural practices including wearing of the hijab. Therefore, women in Tunisia are keen on contributing constructively towards societal and economic development. As such, some of the stereotypes such as the view of the hijab as a symbol of inferiority and barbarism are based on monolithic views and thus ignoring national cultures.
Muslim women in countries such as Saudi Arabia, do not have as many rights and privileges as their counterparts in Tunisia or the United States. However, this cannot be linked to the hijab per se. Desiree (par 14) indicates that in Saudi Arabia, gender inequality is enshrined in the constitution and also linked to Islamic law. The inequality is also perpetuated by established social and government also structures which are based on a literal interpretation of the Koran.
Some of the basic rights that Muslim women in Saudi Arabia are not in a position to enjoy include the right to vote or hold a high constitution office. Similarly, women in Saudi Arabia are not allowed to leave the house alone or drive. Therefore, while Muslim women in Saudi Arabia do not suffer from stereotypes their American counterparts, they do not enjoy many privileges as the United States or Tunisian counterparts who are greatly empowered under their own systems.
Muslim Women and the Media
Poseti (69) indicates that there are two types of stereotypes perpetuated by the media related to Muslim women donning hijabs. One of the stereotypes perpetuated by the Western media is the portrayal of Muslim women as oppressed, foreign victims who are forced to cover themselves and lack choice while making daily decisions. The second type of stereotype is where Muslim women are depicted as threats to Western Societies mainly due to the decision to don traditional Muslim attire.
The above stereotypes mainly affect women in Western societies and thus lead to increased incidences of discrimination towards Muslim women. The media, therefore, has played a pivotal role in perpetuating the above stereotypes. The hijab is quite significant to new women converts as it forms the basis for acceptance into the new faith. In the Arab countries however, stereotyping is not high as these countries mainly consist of Islamic populations.
The media also does not focus on the positive contributions by Muslim women both at the local and international level. For example, Muslim women have contributed immensely towards the rebuilding of Tunisia and Egypt after of the Arab spring. Similarly, Muslim women continue to excel in different field in western economies including nursing.
Poseti (86) notes that the media should provide a platform for discussing healthy debates on the significance of the hijab and the stereotypes associated with it. Therefore, people especially in Western societies are in a position to understand the impact of such stereotypes on their perception of Muslim women. Also, such forums can address other things such as unconscious discrimination which affects personal relationships between Muslim women in the United States and other people in the society.
Feminism and Muslim Women in the United States and Arab World
Muslim women in America are determined not to let some of the cultural/religious practices inhibit their quest in establishing their role in society. Feminism among Muslim women in the United States is primarily geared towards understanding the role of the hijab in the Islamic culture. Therefore, such women are in a position to challenge some of the stereotypes as outlined above.
In the post 9/11 era, Muslim women are keen on developing ideologies which are useful in combating stereotypes .For example, an increasingly higher number of people associate the hijab with Islam while Islam is associated with terrorism.
Therefore, Muslim women in America face increased discrimination due to such stereotypes. Feminists, therefore, are keen on developing ideology that outlines significance of the hijab in the Islamic community. This is aimed at provoking debate beyond basic associations of the hijab with Muslims and terrorism activities.
Sabbagh (55) claims that in highly patriarchal societies, women are not in a position to enjoy basic rights. American Muslim women, therefore, deal with a different set of challenges as opposed to Muslim women in Saudi Arabia. This because as American Muslim women seek ways of differentiating the hijab from stereotypes above, women in such countries as Saudi Arabia struggle with accessing basic rights.
The above differences are as a result of differences in societal make-up where the American society is quite liberal while the Saudi Arabian society is conservative. Therefore, while American Muslim women could be successful in reducing influence of stereotypes in their society, comprehensive mechanisms should be put in place in order to address some of the challenges facing women in more conservative societies.
Roberts (par 29) indicates that in some communities such as Egypt, compromises have seen more girls accessing education. Girls are allowed to access education and in return they are required to wear the veil. This has led to an increased number of girls accessing education and also participating in various educational and political discourses. This was most evident during the Arab uprising where an increased number of women participated in the liberation movement.
Muslim women in the United States and the Arab countries face a unique set of challenges. In the United States, Muslim women are faced by the challenge of increased stereotyping where they don the hijab. Therefore, they may face increased incidences of subtle discrimination due to the above attire.
The hijab is an important part of the Islamic culture where Muslim women see it as a symbol of unity and purity under Islam. Therefore, varied perspectives of the purpose of the hijab between American Muslim women and society have led to increased strife especially among Muslim women in the United States.
Challenges in Arab countries are primarily influenced by the national culture. The national culture influences aspects such as the social and governance systems in such countries.
For example there is a significant difference of women in Tunisia and Saudi Arabia. While women from such Islamic countries are not faced by increased stereotyping in these countries, such women are not in a position to access some rights that their American counterparts. However, in Tunisia, significant progress has been made including inclusion of an equality clause in the constitution.
In Saudi Arabia, women have access to basic rights although they are not faced with increased stereotyping due to the hijab, they are do not enjoy as many rights as their American counterparts. They are not in a position to drive and also cannot leave the house without male company. As such, Muslim women donning the hijab are faced with various challenges which are mainly influenced by the social system existing in their countries.
Anderson , Rachel. “Redefining Hijab: American Muslim Women’s Standpoints on Veiling”. Journal of Applied Communication Research, 35. 3(2007): 294- 319. Print.
Desiree, Bryan. “Women in the Arab world: A Case of Religion or Culture?” 2012. Web. https://www.e-ir.info/2012/08/02/women-in-the-arab-world-a-case-of-religion-or-culture/
Obeidat, Marwan. M and Al-Shalabi ,Nazmi. “Cultures in Contact: How Education and Cultural Studies Help Obliterate Unnecessary Perpetuation of Cross-Cultural Misunderstanding Between the USA and the Arab World.”Studies in Literature and Languagel.3.1 (2011): 23-29. Print.
Poseti , John. “ Unveiling News Coverage of Muslim Women: Reporting in the Age of Terror”. The International Journal of Diversity In Organisations, Communities And Nations, 7.5(2007): 69-86. Print.
Roberts, Janet. “Wearing Te Hijab: An Argument For Moderate Selective Acculturation Of Newly Immigrated Arab-American Women”. PDF Files. 22 Nov,2012 http://www.immi.se/intercultural/nr11/roberts.htm
Sabbagh. Amal. The Arab States: Enhancing Women’s Political Participation, PDF Files. Web.