.. understand islam …

Even though a bit late, but still a selection worth to go through is the hint from bookforum.com regarding a compiling review in the last issue of ‘The New York Review of Books‘, which goes through several titles on Islam and combines it with a selection on the headscarve and the veil’ under the title How to understand Islam‘:..

From NYRB, How to Understand Islam: A review of Arguing the Just War in Islam by John Kelsay; Islam: Past, Present and Future by Hans Kung; Jihad in Islamic History: Doctrines and Practice by Michael Bonner; Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali; and Secularism Confronts Islam by Olivier Roy. The conservatism of radicals: A review of Why the French Don’t Like Headscarves: Islam, the State and Public Space by John R. Bowen. The introduction to The Politics of the Veil by Joan Wallach Scott. The sanctification of the burka: Frequently overlooked amid heated debate, the Muslim garment’s intricate past goes a long way toward illuminating an often controversial present.
review for ‘Veiled Reality’ below

See here also my current reading by Christina von Braun and Bettina Matthes ‘Verschleierte Wirklichkeit‘ (Veiled Reality), which attempts to develop a wider view than the commonly spread understanding of the veil in the western world. I haven’t written about this book, as I did not think an english version available yet, but the find of this pdf (which excerpts about 25 pages from the book) makes me hope that a translation is on the way or already available. The reviews so far read quite encouraging:

To take just one line of their argument, the authors describe how the veil found its way into Islam in the first place. For in fact it was no invention of Islam, but a standard item of clothing in the seventh century in the Christian areas of the Middle East and the Mediterranean. The Christians for their part had adopted the veil from Syrians, Jews and Greeks. It was only from the ninth century onwards that Muslim women wore it, and this was not as sacred attire but as a sign of social distinction for the upper classes. “If we nowadays regard the veil as alien,” von Braun and Mathes infer, “this is not because it actually is alien to western culture but because we have ‘made it alien’ to ourselves.” Is it not indeed strange that the “western” head coverings worn by peasants or nuns are viewed with familiarity even though outwardly they hardly differ from “Muslim” headgear?


At no point do Christina von Braun and Bettina Mathes dispute that the oppression of women exists within Islam. Yet they make a stand against generalizations. Time and again they take a cultural phenomenon, open up the repressed history behind it, and thus unearth how East and West have been in constant interaction with one another. In this way “the Islamic” ceases to seem as alien as before – and “the western” ceases to seem as innocent. Veiled Reality is, one might say, the continuation of Edward Said’s book Orientalism by feminist means: the East, or rather the veil covering the woman’s body, becomes the white canvas or screen on which the West projects its own yearnings, the lustful and the destructive alike. (quoted from the review)

.. and I myself will come back to it .. meanwhile some german review links on the book at perlentaucher.de

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