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The social semiotics of hijab: Negotiating the body politics of veiled women

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Hijab and other forms of Islamic head cover have become indelibly associated with notions of inequality and repression in the minds of many non-Muslims. This article queries the meanings and functions of hijab within both Muslim and non-Muslim contexts. It begins by exploring hijab as a transcendental signifier and the epistemological challenges it poses to the gaze. The discussion shifts to focus on the social semiotics of hijab in Arab/Muslim contexts and the myriad fashions and signifieds associated with hijab before situating the hjiab within the western context of the society of enjoyment. The article concludes that the repressive hypothesis associated with hijab is too reductionist to explain the complex and multiple meanings attached to it.
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Keywords: Arab women; Muslim women; gaze; hijab; niqab

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Al-Ahliyya Amman University

Publication date: March 1, 2013

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