Three-D Issue 30: Representations & self-representations of Muslim women

The first REaPN event of the year took place in June at East London University under the iniative of a new committee member of the network, Naida Redgrave and and the Vice-Chair Gurvinder Aujla-Sidhu, with many invited speakers coming from as further afield as Turkey, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia.

The day was kicked off by Naida’s chairing and interviewing an impressive set of guests: Ruqaiya Haris, Muneera Williams and Hodan Yusuf. Three Muslim women talking about their different experiences and activism; about the insurmountable barriers and prejudices which are a constant in Muslim’s women everyday lives in the West and the mismatch between self-representations and representations in the media and society at large. But also, all strong in their beliefs and efforts to get white men (and women) to ‘see past the veil’. The opening guests panel was followed by a lively debate which also brought to the fore the differences that exist amongst Muslims women themselves.

The two panels that followed during the day, homed in on diverse aspects of the often problematic representations of Muslim women which was addressed in the first paper by looking directly at their ‘self-presentation’ (in a study by Aylin Surnam) of Turkish women (Muslims and non-Muslims) in dating and marriage websites. More academically conventional, but equally powerful, the two papers that followed looked at cinematic representations of Muslim women, respectively in American and British cinema. Both papers, had at their core, the theme of the changing representations of Muslim women; the first, part of a larger study in post 9/11 American Cinema (a publication due out in August by Kerem Bayraktaroğlu) and the second one on Muslim women and ‘honour violence’ in British cinema beautifully illustrated by Kulraj Phullar.

Disability rights activist and poet, Raisa Hassan

The second panel of the day continued the discussion about self-representations particularly in relation to new media. Again, here the papers ranged from self-representations, as in the paper on how women in the Arab world use social media and its potential for liberation: a rich piece of ethnograhic work by Konstantina Kolovou, which undermines the extensive stereotypes about women in the Arab world by showing ‘who they really are and how they really live’. Equally the paper with the apparently innocuous title ‘Who are Saudi Women?’ by the photographer/ethnographer Lujain Mirza demolished some of the misrepresentations of women living in an undoubtedly repressive patriarchal authoritarian regime by showcasing, this time also photographically, their real lives.

The day was rounded off with the creative intervention from the disability rights activist and poet Raisa Hassan (in the picture), reading her poems about the life of a disabled Muslim woman in Britain. Moving and rebellious stuff!

Posted by Einar Thorsen