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The Veil and Urban Space in Istanbul: women's dress, mobility and Islamic knowledge

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The issue of veiling marks an ideological fault line in urban Turkey. Based on focus groups conducted with migrant women to Istanbul in the spring of 1999, this article aims to show how veiling, as a form of dress, is a spatial practice that gains its significance through women's urban mobility and their construction of Islamic understandings in the city. At the same time, both urban mobility and Islamic knowledge are structured by wider relations of power, such as the struggle between the secular state and resurgent Islamic politics. In order to situate the practice of veiling within these structures, the author argues that Istanbul is marked by a pattern of shifting 'regimes of veiling,' and that these spatialized norms of dress affect the meaning and enactment of women's veiling choices. This concept is particularly useful to draw out the ways in which veiling, despite providing some protection from urban harassment, may actually constrain women's urban mobility in the context of Istanbul. The focus group analysis illustrates these points and demonstrates how women's views on Islam provide a basis for their attitudes towards veiling, mobility and space. The author suggests that among the participants, two main trends in Islamic understandings related to veiling can be observed: one towards the 'privatization' of religion along secularist lines, accompanied by a flexible attitude towards veiling, and another towards the public contestation of formal anti-veiling regimes justified in terms of knowledge gleaned through direct, textual engagement with Islam. In this way, this study aims to link veiling, as a socio-spatial practice, to the local, gendered production of Islamic knowledge in Istanbul.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: March 1, 2002

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