How Headscarves Have Shaped Muslim Experience in America
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CitationGhassemi, Arash. 2018. How Headscarves Have Shaped Muslim Experience in America. Master's thesis, Harvard Extension School.
AbstractThis study focuses first on the role of the headscarf in creating space for Muslim women in the social fabric of America and shaping their American experience. I examine the symbolism of the headscarf from two different perspectives:
(1) In the first, the headscarf symbolizes a Muslim woman’s identity by embodying the concepts of “Islamic feminism” and “Islamic activism,” both of which involve covered one’s hair as a sign of modesty. Some Muslim women view the headscarf as denoting backwardness, believing that it oppresses women, and they choose not to wear a headscarf. For others, the headscarf is regarded as symbolizing a Muslim woman’s aspirations for modernity and liberation.
(2) The second perspective focuses on the symbolism of the headscarf when worn by a Black Muslim-American woman, in particular those who are active in Nation of Islam. I provide a brief history of Nation of Islam, and the role of women in the organization, especially since among native-born Muslims in America the largest group describe themselves as black. Thus, this thesis also focuses on the role of the headscarf in the lives of Black American-Muslim women.
The central question framing this study is: Why do some Muslim women wear headscarves in what is often regarded as an anti-Islamic climate? Given my focus on Muslim women in the United States, I analyze how Muslim-American women develop their self-image, how they identify, interact, and negotiate for themselves and within the social fabric of America as women, as Muslims, and as Americans.
Women express their feminist views in different ways, and this thesis considers feminism in a different light—that is, through modesty. I argue that the use of the headscarf as a symbol has various implications for Muslim women and means different things to different people depending on the meaning they attach to it. What it means to one person is not necessarily the same meaning as for another. At the same time, forcing Muslim-American women to wear (or not wear) a headscarf can also be understood as oppression or violation of women’s rights. In some cases, wearing a headscarf increases women’s mobility in society and helps them progress and develop. In other cases, wearing a headscarf limits women’s mobility.
I argue that for Muslim-American women, the headscarf is more than a symbol of religious piety or a cultural statement. Rather, it is better understood in terms of one’s identity and as a symbol of feminism and activism. This is the case both for women who veil and for those who choose not to veil.
Citable link to this pagehttp://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:42004010