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Resurrecting Arab feminism, nationalism, and colonialism from social amnesia.


Arab Muslim women's roles have changed in the past and continue to do so today. Their roles were, and are still, determined by the interrelationship between a multiplicity of social, economic and political factors. This paper aims to explore how feminism, nationalism, and colonialism affected Arab women's roles. Such studies, Saadawi points out, would add significantly to the Arab feminist movement, as "the Arab feminist movement will then acquire substance and flesh, develop its own contours, feed on its own roots, and rise from the soil of the Arab world, rather than become another copy of feminist movements in the West" (Saadawi, 1997, 247).

The emergence of Arab women on the political scene came with interaction between colonialist and nationalist politics which fore grounded them as important symbol for furthering and consolidating their conflicting political agendas. The colonizers, working towards forcing the inhabitants of the Muslim societies and their cultures to a position of 'Others,' focused on the image of a veiled woman as a symbol of oppression and the backwardness of the Muslim cultures. On the other hand, nationalists, insecure about losing control over emasculating circumstances, desired cultural preservation through centring the veiled, secluded women as purveyors of high culture. The colonialists centred on the symbol of veiled women to project them as victims to be rescued, as well as to emphasize the backwardness of cultures in need of civilization; whereas the Arab nations centred on Arab women symbolically, but simply relegated them to the political margins, as a vicarious way of facing the colonizers. This simultaneous centring and marginalization process did not end with the Muslim countries gaining independence after protected negotiation or armed struggles. In the post-colonialist scenario too, women are caught between the pursuit of modernization, attempts at liberalization, a pervasive nationalist rhetoric of 'authenticity' and ongoing imperialist encroachments, ... [and] are often the focus of conflicting and ambiguous interests" (Al-Ali, 2000, p.1).

The position of Muslim women, despite marginalization in all their societies, confirms that directly and indirectly they are involved in national as well as international politics. Their unique position within and outside their culture proves that the quest for autonomous identity and subjectivity cannot arrive at a neat solution, non-threatening to any strain involved, for they are, according to Smith what Lee Quinby labels "'multiply-designated subjectivities', severally situated within diverse, sometimes congruous, often competing, even contradictory discursive fields" (Smith, 1993, p.21). Efforts to achieve their autonomous identity within their cultures will force them into the strangled field of questioning all the dominant social, political, and religious authorities who have determined the position of women singly within their own scopes and jointly through collaboration. Working to achieve an autonomous identity requires acceptability and authenticity to speak for and about women's concerns. This opportunity unfortunately was denied them simply because their feminist concerns were considered an off- shoot of nationalist movements which allowed them a space in the struggle against the colonizers. Rethinking and re-evaluation of their involvement in nationalist politics, as well as the latter's impact on their social position and political role, is necessary to understand that Arab women's roles were "socially constructed and rooted in a specific historical context, rather than natural and universal" (Hannam, 1997, p. 77). This understanding is clearly needed for any effective action regarding questioning, revisions, adjustments, and major changes in the forces creating the warp and woof of societal fabric.

To start with, awareness building or consciousness raising is the first step. Mernissi wants before everything else to "lift the veils with which our contemporaries disguise the past in order to dim our present" (Mernissi, 1991, p.11). In this regard, she aims "to evaluate the depth of the contemporary Muslims' amnesia which sees equality of the sexes as an alien phenomenon" (Mernissi, 1991, p.129). Further, she emphasises life in Medina during the era of the Prophet Muhammad as the guiding principle, when women and men had equal opportunities of questioning and gaining benediction over diverse matters relating to the equity of the sexes. This evaluation of Muslims' amnesia will ultimately take a researcher to unearthing numerous pertinent considerations, as expressed by Peter Burke, a historian exploring relevance of cultural mores to modern issues, in these words:
   To understand the workings of the social memory it may be worth
   investigating the social organization of forgetting, the rules of
   exclusion, suppression or repression, and the question of who wants
   whom to forget what, and why. In a phrase, social amnesia. Amnesia
   is related to "amnesty," to what used to be called "acts of
   oblivion," the official erasure of memories of conflict in the
   interests of social cohesion (1997, p. 56).

What complicates this task further are the distortions, faulty generalizations, and inaccurate evidence used by the dominant group to obscure the real forces, and their motivations, working against women. No doubt, 'power in the hands of particular groups and classes' reminds Rowbotham, 'serves like a prism to refract reality through their own perspectives' (Rowbotham, 1983, p. 29).

Feminism has been grappling with this issue of (mis)representation and trying to counter official discourses denying women's participation in their respective cultures. This response is very important and has led to initiatives around the world to search for and preserve the archives of feminist contribution. (1) This effort is all the more indispensable as these suppressed or unofficial memories may be different from official memories and "relatively little studied," but they "are sometimes historical forces in their own right" (Burke, 1997, p. 56). It is thus very important to write especially about the past of feminist movements in the Muslim world as only writing and print can "assist the resistance of memory to manipulation" (Burke, 1997, p. 59). Historians play a crucial role in this process of resistance; Herodotus called historians "the guardians of memory". The present paper thus aims to study the sources detailing the pressures and prospects that Arab feminism went through in the past to reach a stage where it has, as Therese Saliba says, succeeded in shattering various conflicting pressures.
   Perhaps the greatest contributions of Arab feminism at the
   millennium have been expanding methods of feminist analysis and
   exploding the constraining categories-whether Orientalist, Islamic,
   nationalist, multicultural, or even feminist-whose often colonizing
   tendencies have bound Arab women. (2000, p. 1091).

To study the prospects and pressures that Arab feminism faced in the beginning, one then has to work diligently in order to find what motivated reactions against, or even support for, Arab women's presence and participation in the public world, and how their achievements were either ignored or belittled. The development of a discourse of discovery, of celebration and subversion, however must start, according to Louis Althusser, with the "whole field of a problematic" itself, which works towards erasing traces of women's existence. According to him,
   the invisible is defined by the visible as its invisible, its
   prohibited sight.... To see this invisible ... requires something
   quite different from a sharp or attentive eye, it takes an educated
   eye, a revised, renewed way of looking, itself produced by the
   effect of a "change of terrain" reflected back upon the act of
   seeing (quoted in Felman, 2002, 63).

Therefore, the need is to analyse and explore through history how the sociopolitical existence of Arab women was affected positively or negatively by the interplay of feminism, nationalism, and colonialism, in order understand the forces that Arab women and feminists have to contend with to assert their rights and independence.

Arab Women's Emergence on the Political Scene

Arab women were accorded an unprecedented move into the public domain and importance in national aspirations during the weakening of the Ottoman Empire in the nineteenth century, culminating in colonial advances in the Muslim realm. Consequent or concomitant nationalist movements there, were intensified in the early twentieth century, especially with the turbulent phenomenon of World War I. This visibility of women was fraught with symbols heavily implicated in the desire of colonizers to take and prolong their control, and the desire of the colonized to preserve their identity as Muslims and as Muslim nations. Interestingly this Arab Muslim woman, the centre of all the political debates, is the one who also carries the burden of the cultural articulation of patriarchy through strictures, social mores, laws and political power--all justified through patriarchal interpretations of Islam. (2) It is strange, therefore, as Mernissi explains, that "the very sign of the person who is damned, excluded from the privileges and spiritual grace to which the Muslims have access, is claimed in our day as a symbol of Muslim identity, manna for the Muslim woman" (Mernissi, 1991, 97). This is an interesting revelation, which points towards the social and political utility of the image that they were representing.

The nature of nationalist movements and resistance from colonizing powers in fact determined the nature of women's participation in the Arab world. Therefore, depending on whether a negotiation process was going on with the colonial power, or with the armed resistance, women responded according to the call of the situation. In addition, depending on the roles required of them, new images and roles were carved for them based on the national will to survive. In Lebanon, for instance, when the French authorities, despite having given power to the locals, intervened in national affairs by arresting high officials, including the president and the prime minister, the strategic efforts of women workers and their protest forced the French to change their policy and release the officials to power on 22 November 1943. This day is celebrated as Lebanon's Independence Day- no doubt a living testimony of their role couched, however, in a label that does not immediately lend emphasis to the crucial role played especially by the women. Hence, social amnesia was caused by the nature of the title that official memory selected to commemorate the day. (3)

When several leaders in Egypt were sent into exile for agitation, while the allies, despite all promises, had not given independence to Egypt after the First World War, women members of politically active families generated a lot of support for the national cause. Madame Safiya Zaghloul (1876-1946), wife of the Wafd party's leader Sa'd Zaghloul, was an inspirational figure around whom were united women like Huda Sha'arawy. With her leading them, these women took charge of the situation, and protesting against this move, marched through the streets of Cairo. "To be in the streets unescorted was a bold procedure, let alone the unprecedented initiative of open opposition to authority," comments Waddy (Waddy, 1980, p.146). Egyptian women's support for the Wafdists and its impact on Egyptian liberation is evident from Sir Valentine Chirol's words in the London Times:

In the stormy days of 1919, (the women) descended in large bodies into the streets, those of the more respectable classes still in veil and shrouded in their loose black coats, whilst the courtesans from the lowest quarters of the city, who had also caught the contagion (of political unrest) disported themselves unveiled and arrayed in less discreet garments. In every turbulent demonstration women were well to the front. They marched in procession-some on foot, some in carriages shouting "independence" and "down with the English" and waving national banners (Quoted in Golley 2004, 532-33).

In Algeria, in order to further the cause of the National Liberation Front (FLN), (4) women assumed a very challenging role of both veiling and unveiling themselves. The act of veiling, according to Fanon, was necessary to frustrate the colonizers trying to unveil Algeria by undermining women's practice of veiling, whereas the act of unveiling or westernizing was required in order to reach European quarters without suspicion to perform important missions related to sabotaging their rule. (5) The former act, i.e. of veiling, though sanctified by Tradition, was endorsed, but the later act of unveiling not done "at Europe's bidding, ... did not signify loss of cultural identity but the forging of a new nationalist self" (Loomba, 2005, p.162). In order to reduce disjunction between the two roles, "the traditional image born indoors for the needs of private space and that of the moudjahidat born in the public space", the latter were made heroines of a great cause (Cherifati-Merabtine, 1994, p. 41). This act of unveiling, when found no longer serving the desired ends, was considered ineffective and hence discouraged. The Algerian woman was again ordered to veil herself in the phase during which she undertook to carry bombs, grenades, machine- gun clips. The same appears during the Iranian Revolution of 1979 when women adopted the veil as a political strategy of showing defiance to the shah's regime and allegiance to an Islamic identity (Golley, 2004, p. 525). Veiling was also endorsed in the Tunisian freedom movement against the French. Bourguiba (1903-2000), the first president of the state, stressed the need to preserve it in the words, "when the threat of absorption, obliteration and annihilation is hanging over our country, to agree to give up one feature of our personality would be suicide" (Waddy, 1980, p. 179). The acts of veiling and unveiling in any case were indispensable parts of the political struggle and symbolically reflected their political integration and/ or marginalization.

Arab Women, Feminism and Nationalism

Women's integration in the nationalist movements did not mean a total change in their role or status in the society. The logic, which justified the presence and participation, was turned up side down to depreciate their participation after nationalist goals had been won. Memory was custom -tailored to discredit their achievements, which went even so far as to obliterate their traces from discourses celebrating national achievements. In Algeria, reasons that legitimized the transformation of women's status and role from traditional to modern during war were considered illicit, and in the hands of the Islamists, these women moudjahidats became an anti-model and threats to the Islamic system (CherifatiMerabtine, 1994, p. 54). They were, hence, erased from memory and there was "no reconstruction of history in which moudjahidates- the other women who made the history of Algeria" will be included (Bouatta, 1994, p. 36). This is one instance of how reactionary trends were set in motion to annihilate women's political activity.

The emergence of feminist movements in Muslim countries in the last century emerged as an interplay of several factors. Among these factors, was the Muslim feminists' role of maintaining a balance by retaining their distinct identity within nationalist aspirations on one hand, and on the other, by forging an alliance with a feminist movement controlled and headed by western women. As feminist movement's concerns acquired a secondary place in the national context, feminism was termed "an illegal immigrant and an alien import to the Arab world and, as such, not relevant to the people and their culture" (Golley, 2004, p. 521). Further, this attitude is a reaction to western discussions of feminist movements in the Arab world which situate it "in implicit or explicit opposition to Arab or Islamic culture, suggesting that Arab women are in need of being "saved" from their own cultures" (Majaj et al., 2002, p. xviii).

Feminists in the Muslim world thus found themselves under huge pressure as they were criticised, ostracised, and declared responsible for debasing the religious and moral values of their nation by promoting "atheism, corruption, and immorality" (Kader, 1987, p. 64). It is important to note that in the context of Muslim societies, association of a social movement with atheism was enough to discredit it publicly. Even the very process of naming the feminist movement as "the feminist movement in the Muslim world" was highly sensitive, as its association with the western feminist movement might invoke its rejection in a society already hostile to western domination. So threatening were the implications of the nature of feminist activism that even actual Arabic terminology used to address women's activism varied according to "ideological outlook and political affiliation" (Al-Ali, 2000, p. 47). Nadje Al-Ali in her book, Secularism, Gender and the State in the Middle East: The Egyptian Women's Movement quotes a long conversation with her Egyptian friend, Mona, who amicably reflects upon some of the problems Arab feminism faces. Mona is quoted to as having said,

There exist different words for feminism in Egypt. This is problematic. Tahrir al-mar'a [women's liberation] has a horrible connotation to many people. They associate it with promiscuity: she has to go out until midnight to be free woman. The term was used in the past ... Al-haraka al-nassa'wiyya [the feminist movement] is very elitist. Very few people would understand it. It is only used with educated leftist people ... Whether nissa'iyya or nassa'wiyya [women's or feminist]: even the haraka puts people on guard: 'Eh, da, sitat fi haraka?' [what's that, women in the movement?] It tends to be exclusive. Men get very offended. Normally I use qadiyat al-mar'a [women's issues]. But all of these terms have terrible connotations. If you say qadiyyat al-mar'a, of course you get all kinds of comments. If you use wada' al-mar'a [situation or status of women] you are actually just making people feel safe. This is the status of women and it has a less threatening connotation. Wada' al-mar'a is also more narrowly defined. It mainly addresses women's legal rights. (Al- Ali, 2000, p. 47).

Unease generated by the mere title for feminist activism in the Arab Muslim world is not an exaggeration. In Iraq a literary club, named the Women's Awakening Club (Nadi al-Nahda al- Nisa'iyya), established in 1923, so threatened the Ulema that it resulted in their demand from the government for the removal of the word 'awakening' from the club name (Efrati, 2004, p. 161-62). This episode points towards a fairly hostile reaction that feminists had to face even for developing an umbrella term for distinctly feminist concerns, indeed increasing in hostility especially as the feminists put forth their concerns jeopardizing the dominant patriarchal patterns.

Hostility against feminist activism expressed itself in strict surveillance of the personal lives of leading feminists, raising objections on moral grounds as well. Further, in the early periods of the feminist movements, women of elite families were in the vanguard. They had the privilege of western-type education in the harem or in the private schools. This was taken as an indication of the slackening of cultural allegiance. In 1923 an event of great significance occurred which was taken to signify the impact on Arab feminists of the influence Western women had over them. This event was the removal of their veils by Huda Sha'arawi and Saiza Nabarawi on return from the International Alliance of Women (IAW) conference held in 1923 in Rome. Fear on the part of conservatives, traditionalists and nationalists, that the West was the reference point of these feminists for their social criticism and present action, had thus found justification.

The western feminist movement too had its reservations over accepting Arab feminism as an equal and authentic movement. Orientalist discourses reinforced thinking in the West that women's liberation in the Muslim world in general, and the Arab world in particular, was "mere imitation of similar movements in Europe and the USA" (Golley, 2004, p. 522). They hence failed to admit the legitimacy of the claims enunciated by the Muslim feminists. Further, the rise of the feminist movement in the West, and in the Muslim world, point to very different factors, which prove that the emergence of the Arab feminist movements was in no way indebted to western movements. Soha Abdel Kader explains the start of the feminist movement in Egypt as a national struggle phenomenon which fails to correspond to any of the stimulating factors in the Western feminist movements, such as changes in family structure in the wake of industrialization, variations in demographic patterns favourable to women, changes in class structure with the middle class replacing the aristocracy and work ethic determining the position of a family, and finally contradictions between the role expected from them and the position given them (Kader, 1987, pp. 49-50). Further, this misconception is betrayed on observing how leading Arab feminist precursors, despite all resemblance to western ways, remained strictly anchored in their national lives and sought solutions to problems while remaining within their cultural milieu.

An interesting aspect of the women's movement in the Arab world is the cautious role of women authors from the privileged upper and middle classes equipped with private education. Not only did they try to avoid presenting their claims in reactionary terms, but they also tried to prepare ground for the dissemination and acceptance of their ideas through the nature of writing that appealed to the masses, and through the creation of literary salons for winning the sympathies and opinions of men intellectuals. At this stage, women intellectuals were voicing concerns for women's rights but not in reactionary terms. Malak Hifni Nasif (1886-1918), famous for her pen name Bahithat alBadiya (the Inquiring Desert Woman), advocated Egyptian women's rights. She repeatedly expressed her allegiance to Islamic principles, and condemnation of Western imitation. Also in order to defend her position she called 'her demands reform rather than emancipation' (Kader, 1987, p. 66). Leading feminists linked their advocacy for female education to national liberation from foreign cultural influences accruing from hiring foreign governesses (Badran, 1988, p. 16). Thus as Golley points out, only those arguments which advocated women's rights as part of the 'national regeneration project articulated in the language of moral redemption' (Golley, 2004, p. 532) received general acceptability. Thus, Nabawiyya Musa, a woman of the middle class, through her writings advocated the need for women to work in order to gain social sufficiency. To achieve this goal she wrote al-mar'a wa-'amal (Woman and Work) in 1920, which Margot Badran terms 'a bold feminist nationalist treatise' emphasising that allowing women to work and seek education are the best strategies for the country (Badran, 1988, p. 16). Other prominent voices challenging the male patriarchal system and male literary hegemony were raised by leading female precursors such as Zainab Fawwaz (1850-1914) from Syria, Warda al- Yazigi (1838-1924) from Lebanon, and Aisha al-Taimuriya (1840- 1902) from Egypt.

A more tangible strategy adopted by literary women activists was the revival of literary women's circles or salons, along with the publication of journals. These clubs or salons, as they came to be known, "showed a fairly sophisticated awareness of women's subordination and separation from public life in their respective social and economic backgrounds" (Golley, 2004, p. 31). One such salon founded by Princess Nazli Fadil (1853-1913), daughter of Mustafa Fadil, was visited by reformers such as Jamal al-din al Afghani (1838-1897), Shaikh Muhammad 'Abduh (1849-1905), and Qasim Amin (1863-1908) for whom the woman question formed the core of their struggle for rejuvenation of Muslims. This salon, according to Khamis (1978), specialized in dealing with the political issues and the debates surging around power issues in the Arab world. Another salon founded by May Ziadah (1886-1941) in 1912 specialized in literary and social issues. Still another salon founded by Labibah Hashim (1880-1947) focused on women's issues (Belhachmi, 2005, p. 112). It was here in these salons that Qasim Amin's early misogynist opinions were changed (Waddy, 1980, p. 143). In Iraq, one such club named the Women's Awakening Club (Nadi al-Nahda al- Nisa'iyya), established in 1923, clearly reflected the spirit of that time. In Egypt, Ahmad Lutfi al- Sayyid, editor of al-Jarida, published feminists' concerns.

Arab Women and National, Political Interests

The interplay between political movements and interests and women's movements in Muslim countries is a theme worth exploration. Deniz Kandiyoti, examining how political movements have emerged as a mobilising factor of women's movements, comments that "Depending on the nature of their political projects, states have variously challenged, accommodated or abdicated to local/communal patriarchal interests, with important consequences for family legislation and more general policies affecting women" (Kandiyoti, 1991, p. 11). Kandiyoti's supplements her argument by citing how the Ba'th party in Iraq, through enrolment in the labour industry, public education, and vocational training, politically indoctrinated women on one hand, while at the other hand it solved the problem of labour shortage, and thus succeeded in shifting women's allegiance from kinship and ethnic relationships to the state party. Similarly, in Lebanon, governments skilfully brought in religious and sectarian forces to address issues of family laws, and thereby weakened women's stand.

In the case of Morocco, women's electoral power caused political parties not only to accept their importance, but also to compete with each other to win women's support. The Moroccan sociologist Fatima Mernissi, commenting on the changing attitude of male leaders of political parties towards women voters, says that as the first step 'they had to renounce their centuries old prejudice'. Next, they had to give up and overcome 'their stereotypes of femininity/passivity and open their eyes to the reality of the Moroccan women' (Mernissi, 1996, p. 15). In Turkey, the path for women's emancipation is slightly different and faster as compared to nations undergoing colonialism. Turkey, being the centre of the Ottoman Empire, was the stronghold of the empire and escaped colonization, though World War I marked the end of the caliphate and the establishment of an independent state with Mustafa Kemal Ataturk who initiated reforms for the improvement of women's lives on Western lines. The Turkish Civil Code, finalized in 1926 and inspired by the Swiss Code, outlawed polygamy and gave the right to divorce and custody of children to both partners. Women's enfranchisement was achieved in two stages: the right to vote at local elections was given in 1930; and at the national level in 1934 (Kandiyoti, 1987, p. 320). Turkish women were given these rights, unlike Western women who had to struggle hard to obtain them, as Nermin Abadan-Unat, Turkey's first woman political scientist observed. These rights were given "by an enlightened governing elite committed to the goals of moderation and "Westernization" (Abadan Unat quoted in Kandiyoti, 1987, p. 320). This political move giving political visibility to women is interpreted also as a move by Ataturk to dissociate from the authoritarian regimes of Hitler and Mussolini, and to favourably take a place among other democratic nations through the progressive move of electing women to the parliament (Kandiyoti, 1987, p. 321).

Iran followed the Turkish lead in introducing reforms, which however failed in effectiveness for two reasons: first, these were very daring, e.g., veiling was banned in 1936, which outraged the Shi'a clergy; and secondly, Reza Shah's authoritative 'military-based monarchy' lacked public support (Kandiyoti, 1991, p. 10). Later, under the leadership of Imam Khomeini the Shi'a clergy lead a mass revolution that overthrew the Pahlavi state in the populist revolution of 1979. This revolution was the reason for Iranian women's unprecedented entry in the politics. The veil was consciously adopted by women as a strategy to express solidarity and defiance to the pro-western regime. However, soon the veil was imposed on them. Iranian women reacted against this move by marching on the streets of Tehran on International Women's Day, 1979. The reason was clear; they felt this imposition "was just the beginning of a whole series of measures which would lead logically to the seclusion of women from social, political and economic activity. This isolation they would not accept" (Tabari, 1983, p. 14). Their unity concerning agitation did not result in women's organizations specifically targeting women's issues. Different women's organizations were affiliated to different political groups "primarily serving the purpose of recruitment to the parent political group" and it was this atomization that further facilitated the anti-women rights moves of the regime (Tabari, 1983, p. 16). Variation in the power balance of the states and local communities during the independence processes in Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria also affected significant differences in family legislation. (6)

Arab Women and National Socio-economic Changes

Certain changes in the social and economic fabric of these societies also resulted in the inclusion of women in the public area of work as the only recourse against problems resulting from war, inflation, population explosion, transfer of male labour force to different advanced countries, expansion of local industries for local and export purposes, and improvement in the standard of living. In these cases to rely on the work of male labour alone was not only found suicidal to domestic situations but also to economic stability. These trends obtained momentum in the wake of economic pressures of the 1960s. Hence, economic destability and depression necessitated revision of traditional societal structures and inclusion of women in the national economy. Another trend, however, was also manifest in the Muslim world, and that too in the oil-rich countries where an economic boom favoured the forces calling for preservation of traditional social structures against calls for revisionist measures. According to Deniz Kandiyoti, migrants from poor countries like Egypt, Yemen, Bangladesh, Turkey and Pakistan found jobs in the oil-rich Gulf countries; the resultant "reverse flow of cash and political influence strengthened the cultural and political prominence of local Islamist tendencies" (1991, p.12). This shift strengthened the traditional demands on women's behaviour and conduct. Trends toward inclusion of women in socio-economic affairs existed alongside forces demanding their exclusion, centring women at the crossroads of post-colonialist and nationalist politics.

One release from traditional demands on women came in the wake of international moves celebrating women's achievements and stressing their participation in national affairs. The year 1975 was celebrated as the International Women's Year, and the United Nations went further in celebrating a decade (1975-1985) for women, giving encouragement to movements for women's enlistment in the socio-economic and political activities of their countries. Apart from this impetus, enduring influence came with change in the policies of donor countries. These trends started in 1973 with the Percy Amendment to the US Foreign Assistance Act requiring bilateral aid to ensure women's participation in development projects. In order to ensure women's enrolment, different monitoring agencies were set up in international foreign aid departments. This oversight provided opportunities for Muslim women in their homelands, and their public activities started appearing visible even beyond elite circles, reflecting women of every socio-economic background. Such change, however, was not without resistance. Western interest in development, especially with reference to Muslim women, was once again criticized by the conservative sections of societies as hiding hegemonic tendencies. The literature of this period shows feminists focusing on sources consulted and interpreted by conservatives to prove that "existing gender asymmetries are divinely ordained", to reinterpret them as containing "possibilities for a more progressive politics of gender based on the egalitarian ideals of early Islam" (Kandiyoti, 1991, p. 9). No doubt for both feminists and anti- feminists, "Islamic doctrine continued to provide the only legitimate discourse within which to debate women's rights" (Kandiyoti, 1991, p. 9).


Despite all critiques related to the Western inspiration of their movement, the locus point of these feminists remained Arab and Islamic, just as their western counterparts focused on their own culture and societies. This distinction is evident from Arab feminists' dissociation from the International Alliance of Women (1911-1950) when western members sided with Zionist women against Arab women on the issue of Palestine and discredited Islam's potential as a basis for feminist activism in Muslim countries. The experience of Muslim feminists caused them to realize the significance of Arab nationalism. In "Feminism in a Nationalist Century", Margot Badran quotes Faika Muddaris, a Syrian, saying that "in order to achieve our nationalist task, we should not rely only on kings, presidents and other male leaders, but likewise upon women" (1999, n. p.). Feminist consciousness in the Muslim world hence is a product of heterogeneity of Muslim women's experiences. This realization, according to Therese Saliba, determined the nature of feminist discourses and debates produced during the 1980s focused upon the "heterogeneity of Arab women's experience, the critique of Islam as an all-encompassing category, and the primacy of various categories of analysis-sexuality, socioeconomics, and the legacy of colonialism and the nationalist response- in shaping Arab women's lives" (Saliba, 2000, p. 1087).


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Saiyma Aslam, PhD in English Literature is assistant professor in the Department of English, International Islamic University Islamabad ( She has publications on feminist theory and globalization. Her areas of interest include feminism, post colonialism, and globalization.

Saiyma Aslam

Department of English International Islamic University, Islamabad


(1.) See, European Feminisms 1700-1950 by Karen Offen Stanford: Stanford UP, 2000. Also, Women's Rebellion by Fatima Mernissi.

(2.) Ignoring the ethical and egalitarian vision of The Holy Qu'ran and The Prophet (PBUH), cultural forces have strengthened patriarchy through interpretations that favour the dominant sex in all spheres of life.

(3.) In Varieties of Cultural History, Burke talks in detail about inducing social amnesia by changing the place names, a fact, for example, discussed with historical references in section "Uses of Social Amnesia" pp. 56-59.

(4.) Set up on 1 November 1954 to obtain independence for Algeria from France the National Liberation Front (Jabhet Al-Tahrir Al-Wabrni in Arabic) was known in the French as Front de Liberation Nationale, (hence FLN) is a socialist-political party in Algeria. No blue lines.

(5.) See "Algeria Unveiled" pp. 35-64 in Frantz Fanon's A Dying Colonialism. New York: Grove Press, 1965.

(6.) For details read Mounira Charrad, "State and Gender in the Maghrib." Middle Eastern Report, 163 (March-April 1990):19-24.
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Date:Dec 1, 2014
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