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Title:Seeing (through) the gaze: marking religious and cultural differences onto Muslim female bodies
Author:Naidu, Maheshvari
Periodical:Journal for the Study of Religion
Geographic term:South Africa
Subjects:female dress
Abstract:This article uses the notion of 'gaze' as a tool in attempting to probe how the Muslim female is discursively constructed through the act of a particular gaze on her veiled body. The 'hijab' (headscarf) and 'purdah' (face covering) as forms of veiling are not publicly contested symbols in South Africa. However, local Muslim women who practice veiling are seen by other non-veiling females as embodying a practice that is a visible signifier of a particular religious 'worldview on body'. This signification lends itself to be 'seen' within particular gazes which are in turn embedded in their own sets of observational exigencies and gaze politics. The paper reveals that, in the South African context, the gaze of the 'non wearer' sees veiling as performatively oppressing women and rendering them unapproachable. The women who practise veiling, however, possess alternative understandings, as the interviews reveal. The paper uses ethnographic interviews and conversations, and illustrates through the narratives of both local Muslim women who practice veiling, as well as the non-Muslim female 'gazers' that the polyvalent material object of the veil is rendered visible through a particular way of gazing. Finally, the paper suggests a possible alternative and de-contextualized way of a potentially transformative gaze that may allow for a degree of mutual 'seeing', and greater complicit rapprochement of seer and seen. Bibliogr., notes, sum. [Journal abstract]