Implicit Religion, Vol 16, No 4 (2013)

“An Affair of the Heart”: Hijab Narratives of Arab Muslim Women in Malta

Nathalie Grima
Issued Date: 20 Feb 2014

Abstract


This article looks at the self-representations of Arab and Muslim women living in Malta, with respect to whether they veil or not. Most of the women participating in this research decided to veil at their later stage of adulthood, after periods of indecision and preparation for what they refer to as a long-term and serious commitment. Contrary to my initial expectations, other women who were interviewed and who do not wear the hijab, are not against the Islamic concept of veiling. They explain that they haven’t yet taken the decision to veil, because they do not feel ready to take this important step in their life. As the title of the article suggests, putting on the hijab is generally represented as “an affair of the heart”, an act that has to be carried out in an appropriate way. I therefore argue that this representation goes against the stereotype of “veil equals gender oppression,” which depicts Muslim women as simply passive agents. Moreover, the women’s decisions to veil indicate that rather than looking at the hijab by using the traditional-modern dichotomy, it is more adequate to analyse it as a “product” of modernity. Rather than a mere act of submission, the women’s accounts reflect a hybrid and complex embodiment of religion, identity and socio-politics. The religious aspect is explained both in terms of going through an individual spiritual path and in being exposed to the Islamist discourse that emphasizes modesty. The identity and socio political aspects are analysed by looking at the women’s transnational standing. It is seen that the women’s decisions are also influenced by the socio-political situations, not only of their homeland but also of the European countries in which their relatives may be residing. Finally, the article ends by referring to Islamic feminism as the more adept kind of feminism that reflects the women’s convincing arguments in favour of the hijab.

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DOI: 10.1558/imre.v16i4.461

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