If you need help finding a topic for your next definition essay on Muslim culture, consider the list of 20 definition essay topics below:
One of the largest controversies within Islam and the west is the idea of gender equality. Many western schools of thought focus on the lack of gender equality associated with Muslim women in particular. This is often epitomized through the veil. The veil acts as the precipice upon which many negative connotations related to Islam have been built. There are other symbols for the oppression of women in Islam, but many Muslim scholars and those who associate with Islam in the Middle East, have argued that the Qur’an does not in fact support females as property meant only for the pleasure and service of men. The studies related to “devout women’s affiliation with conservative religious communities” have been brought under scrutiny in light of “contemporary social and religious life” (Bartkowski, 2003, p. 72).
The most important symbol to many groups either in support of Islam or against Islam, is the veil. The veil is a proponent meant to signify the overall oppression of women in Islam, indicative of their being owned by men or treated as property. Shirazi (p. 32) argues that the veil is a multi-faceted symbol with meanings related to the context. The author states that there is “semantic versatility of the veil in western popular culture, Saudi advertising, Iranian and Indian poetry and films, and for Iranian, Iraqi, and UAE women soldiers (Shirazi, 2001, p. 32). This same argument is supported by the main authors.
Issues of symbols as a means of conveying thoughts toward Islam and Muslim women surround the veil. Objects or people become symbols and with those symbols particular associations which spawn from politically minded propaganda, in the case of cartoons or other graphic depictions of the veil or the prophet.
There is an assumption from the West and from the Muslim community that the veil is meant to cover the female body because of female sexuality. Female sexuality was also primarily associated with sin and impurity. The veil is thought by many Muslims as a means of being controlled by men, making them subservient, meant to keep their enticing sexuality covered so that men would not be tempted. However, none of the verses which pertain to the wearing of the veil link female sexuality with sin or impurity, but rather, leaves the female sexuality as something separate from impurity, though it can be used for sin. Castelli (p. 439) raises issues about which this author use as examples for those who hold contemporary ideas about the veil and Islam as oppressive. Castelli supports the idea of “Islam as a lesser religion and less developed” (p. 439).
There have been misinterpretations of verses from the Qu’ran, mistakes made by Muslims who have interpreted them as requiring women to remain covered. It is posited that, “if the Qur’an asks women to cover their bosoms but leaves other allusions imprecise, it may be because what it means to generalize is a concept of modesty, not Arab dress” (Barlas, 2009, p. 5). Attention is also drawn to the emphasis on women being oppressed by the veil because it symbolizes their possession, being subservient to men. “A great deal is also made of the Qur’anic reference to women as harth, a word many people interpret as land and, hence, as property. However the Qur’an does not designate a wife her husband’s property…
“The jilbab as having been space and time bound, hence as a specific mode of veiling in that it only acquired meaning in a particular social context” (Barlas, 2009, p. 4). The Barlas viewed it as outdated given the context of the legal implications; if it was originally meant as a means of protection against other men, a way to state that a woman was taken, current laws against sexual abuse now take on that role.
In terms of the prophet as symbol for the West to use against Islam, the prophet remains part of collective memory for western cultures, as Europeans associate Islam “as the harbinger of the West’s destruction in the form of the Antichrist” (Barlas, 2009, p. 7). Barlas raises issues of the graphic cartoons of the Prophet as a terrorist which caused much debate, and how the freedom of speech is really a legal means of domination, allowing westerns to say whatever they want to cast negative shadows on Islam and Muslims.
The misuse of symbols such as the veil and the prophet for the purpose of drawing attention to gender inequality presumed to be associated with Islam is protected through freedom of speech: “Europeans have always felt free to say rather execrable things about Islam…That they now rely on free speech to impugn Islam or Muslims should tell us that speech permits not only satire and critique but also assertions of power and dominance” (Barlas, 2009, p. 8). There are many schools of thought pertaining to the veil as a symbol of oppression, all of whom have used freedom of speech to emphasize their interpretations of Islamic symbols. “The veil is seen as quintessentially traditional” (Bullock, 2002, p. 19)
More attention is drawn to the fact that many presume the veil meant as a means of keeping men from thinking impure thoughts about women, thereby associating women and their bodies with sexuality and sin. Overall, preconceptions about gender inequality have been supported through symbols of oppression by the west and ignorant Muslims which have thereby managed to sustain incorrect assumptions about Islam through symbols, particularly the veil and the Prophet.
Barlas, A. (2009). Islam and Body Politics: Inscribing (Im)morality. In Conference on Religion and Politics of the Body Nordic Society for Philosophy of Religion (pp. 1-12). Reykjavik: University of Iceland.
Bartkowski, J., & Reed, G. G. (2003). Veiled Submission: Gender, Power, and Identity Among Evangelical and Muslim Women in the United States. Qualitative Sociology, 26(1), 71-92.
Bhutto, B. (2008). Reconciliation: Islam, democracy, and the West. New York, NY: Harper.
Bullock, K. (2002). Rethinking Muslim women and the veil: challenging historical & modern stereotypes. Herndon, VA: International Institute of Islamic Thought.
Castelli, E. A., & Rodman, R. C. (2001). Women, gender, religion: a reader. New York, NY: Palgrave.
Hoodfar, H. (n.d.). The veil in their minds and on our heads: Veiling practices and Muslim women. Retrieved from http://www.umass.edu/wost/syllabi/spring06/hoodfar.pd
Shirazi, F. (2001). The veil unveiled the hijab in modern culture. Gainesville, FL: Univ. Press od Florida.