But a piece of clothing: on the experience of wearing and removing the hijab

Deyhim, Maliheh (2022) But a piece of clothing: on the experience of wearing and removing the hijab. Doctoral (PhD) thesis, Memorial University of Newfoundland.

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Drawing on the phenomenological tradition and insights, especially Merleau-Ponty’s account of embodied human experience, this dissertation explores the complications of two experiences: that of those Muslim women for whom wearing the hijab becomes a habit and that of those who break this habit. I investigate and describe the complex web of issues surrounding the practice of wearing and removing the hijab by responding to two questions: first, how does one experience one’s own body when one habitually wears the hijab, and when one breaks this habit? Second, how does one experience habitually wearing or removing the hijab in relation to others and a cultural and historical background? In the first chapter, I provide an adequate foundation for the project by exploring the entanglement of the phenomenon of the hijab in a history. I give a brief account of the history, meanings, and functions of dress, explore the emergence and evolution of Islamic vestamentary system, and discuss the history, meanings, and functions of the hijab in Islamic history. In the second chapter, using Merleau-Ponty’s account of embodiment and the body schema, I discuss that the experience of the hijab is formed through the interaction of the hijab with the body. This habitual interaction leads to the incorporation of the hijab into one’s body schema and her habitual engagement in an environment. Moreover, according to its specific assigned meaning and function, the hijab mediates and regulates a woman’s movement in certain spaces. Thus, removing the hijab requires the reconstruction of a woman’s body schema, the reorientation of her body in public spaces, and the acquisition of new habits of being in those spaces. The third chapter discusses the essential role played by the West/Islamic binary in the experience of Muslim women and how the hijab has attained a specific position as a symbol of either resistance or oppression. Using the phenomenological account of embodied intersubjectivity, I show that the two sides of this binary do not stand behind a fine line; rather, in their encounter and interaction, there have been incorporation and integration of perspectives. Due to the unbalanced nature of this cultural encounter and relation, Western perspective on Muslim culture and Muslim women in particular have shaped not only the experience of those members of Muslim community who openly advocated for “Westernization” of Muslim societies, but also those who chose the paths of resistance against the West’s violation and domination. This incorporation has created a dynamic through which Muslim women become the focus in the West and in Islamic societies. In this situation, the hijab might be considered as a fixed object that either communicates the inherently oppressive nature of Islam or one’s absolute loyalty to the Islamic tradition. As a result, Muslim women might be put in a position in which the meaning of their choice to wear and remove the hijab is determined for them. My discussions in the second and third chapters provide a basis for understanding the situationality and the complications of the experience of freedom in wearing and removing the hijab. As I discuss in the fourth chapter, phenomenological reflection shows freedom can be practiced in different forms of the enactment of social norms, as well as in resistance against their unjust and limited structures, and that construing it simply as resistance is simplistic and misguided. Considering the experience of Muslim women at the dynamic intersection of the body, others, and the world, we can understand how a Muslim woman might fight for her freedom to wear the hijab and against racism in, for example, a Western society, and how a Muslim woman might fight for her freedom to remove the hijab and against the sexism in an Islamic society. I conclude this last chapter by emphasizing the importance of intercultural dialogue about the situation of Muslim women and their experience of the hijab, for which I hope this work provides a valuable basis.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral (PhD))
URI: http://research.library.mun.ca/id/eprint/15880
Item ID: 15880
Additional Information: Includes bibliographical references (pages 294-320) -- Restricted until December 4, 2024
Keywords: hijab, Muslim women, phenomenology, embodiment, West/Islam binary
Department(s): Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of > Philosophy
Date: November 2022
Date Type: Submission
Digital Object Identifier (DOI): https://doi.org/10.48336/GX6W-E324
Library of Congress Subject Heading: Hijab; Muslim women; Phenomenology

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