The aim of
this paper is to explore some contradictory implications of nationalist projects
in post-colonial societies. It examines the extent to which elements of national
identity and cultural difference are articulated as forms of control over women
and which infringe upon their rights as enfranchised
Despite the extensive literature on nationalism, there are
relatively few systematic attempts to analyse women's integration into
nationalist projects. The little there is conveys seemingly contradictory
Is it a lapse into impressionism to ‘lend great
importance to the weight of Islam’ in considering the roots of the oppression of
Arab women? Despite all the social transformations that have occurred in the
Arab world since the era of the caliphs, secularisation has yet to take hold in
nearly all the Arab countries. Legislation dealing with marriage, divorce, and
the status of women (inferior in all cases) is still based on, or directly
inspired by, Koranic law in all the Arabic-Islamic states. What role is played
by Islam, what is its influence, and how is it used?
In referring to Middle Eastern
cultures, writers and speakers often allude to the Arab, Persian, Turkish etc.
Cultures. What do these terms mean? What do they imply? Are these the true
cultural boundaries in the Middle East?
As increasing numbers of
scholars have pointed out, the study of Muslim peoples and their societies -
including their faith, histories, behaviours etc. - has often been made
difficult by a number of essentialisms and conflations. Before turning to the
specific concern of this paper, I want to deal with some of these because of
their implications for the issue of sexuality.
We, the women participating in the
Arab Court of Women, held in Beirut, June 28-30, 1995, as testifiers and
audience to those testimonies; we, who had the opportunity to take part in this
great event, jointly assume the responsibility of what we heard of words of
truth which broke the ring of silence that had long stifled our voices and
sufferings of women.
Editor’s comment: The article of Stasa Zajovic from the
Women in Black-Belgrade rings a bell to all of us who live in multi ethnic,
multi religious, multi cultural countries, threatened by growing nationalism- or
communalism-, where the hatred of the Other closely entwined with population
policies (as a mild form which can evolve into its drastic form of ethnic
cleansing) put women at the forefront of these policies.
One of the crucial issues affecting women in South Asia
today has been the growth of state sponsored religious fundamentalism. This is
occurring in the context of increasing evidence of violence against women -
dowry murders, sexual harassment, rape often by the police and army, and the
throwing of acid on women in the streets. (1) As a result of campaigns and
agitations by women's movements, these incidents have been highlighted and the
governments have passed some preventive laws, albeit with many loopholes and
Riffat Hassan, a native of Pakistan, received her doctorate
in Islamic Philosophy at Durham, England. Since 1976 she has been a professor in
Religious Studies at University of Louisville, Kentucky. Currently, she is a
visiting lecturer at the Divinity School Harvard University, where she is
working on a forthcoming book entitled "Equal Before Allah". The following
interview was recorded on April 16, 1986 and formed the basis for a November,
1987, Asian Communiqué radio program produced by Betty Milstead of the Center of
Asian Studies, University of Texas, Austin.
The study of women in the Middle East, now well into its second decade, has produced
an impressive corpus of papers and periodical articles. For purely practical
reasons, this review focuses on writings in English, in a selective rather than
all-inclusive manner. The analysis of women in the Middle East has not always
been undertaken with reference to Islam, but a significant body of works,
influenced partly by the Islamic resurgence, coincident with the rise of the
study of women as a separate field, does have reference to Islam.