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Faith, Fashion, Feminism: Interrogating the Islamic Veil in Contemporary Britain

SADAR, PINA (2017) Faith, Fashion, Feminism: Interrogating the Islamic Veil in Contemporary Britain. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.

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The Islamic veil has become one of the most controversial sartorial items of the contemporary milieu and an ultimate symbol of unwanted British otherness. Fuelled by political and media preoccupation with the subject, the resentment towards Islamic veiling is grounded in partial and often erroneous representations of a ‘veiled woman’ as on the one hand being a passive victim of patriarchal oppression and on the other hand being an active threat to British security and identity. Based upon a two-year multi-sited ethnographic study, this thesis contests such static images of the veil. By deploying ethnographic interviewing, participant observation and an analysis of the British mainstream press, social media, policies and artistic representations, it explores veiling as experienced by British Muslim women from diverse backgrounds.

The central focus of this work is to accentuate the various implications that veiling carries for the everyday lives and identities of Muslim women in Britain. This thesis places a special emphasis on exploring intimate sentiments for veiling: the very reasons for adopting the hijab as well as perceptions of spirituality, modesty and beauty. Arising from these different and often contradictory perspectives held by Muslim women, the veil is not perceived as a rigid structure that is imposed on an individual. It is rather viewed as an altering, hybrid and antagonistic concept that is largely dependent on personal negotiations and appropriations.

Whilst emphasising the role of female agency in shaping the semiotics of the veil, this thesis simultaneously examines how personal values, meanings and social relations are shaped by broader social, political and religious discourses regarding the veil. This thesis thus critically observes how and when the Islamic veil appears in fashion, pop culture, art, public politics, legal rhetoric and the media and the ways in which such representations influence Muslim women themselves. Subsequently, the ever-transforming meanings of the veil are observed at the intersection of conflicting processes, shaped by representations, British and European political dynamics and the women themselves.

Acknowledging such divergent forces, ethnographic accounts are contextualised within the macro perspective of British society and its practical challenges. This thesis, hence, aims to contribute to the field of anthropology of religion, gender, fashion and citizenship with a timely case study. Close-up ethnographic accounts and anthropological contextualisation of the topic moreover offer a profound insight into the public polemics regarding the place of the Islamic veil in British society, with the issue being rethought from an emic perspective of women who continue to be conspicuously absent from public discourses on the subject.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Keywords:Ethnography; Islam; religion; fashion; clothing; feminism; Britain
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Social Sciences and Health > Anthropology, Department of
Thesis Date:2017
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:06 Nov 2017 12:11

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