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Term referring to various practices designed to protect women from men in traditional Muslim societies, including confining women to the company of other women and close male relatives in their home or in separate female living quarters, veiling, self-effacing mannerisms, and the separation of men and women in public places. These practices reflect both social and religious custom. Seclusion practices were well established in pre-Islamic societies of the Mediterranean, Mesopotamia, and Persia and are reinforced in Islamic scripture and law. Female seclusion declined precipitously in the early twentieth century due to education and increased economic opportunities for women, particularly in urban areas. In traditional and rural societies, such as some of the Gulf states, value is still placed on the rigid separation of women from unrelated men. Since the early 1980s sermons and fatwas of conservative preachers and theologians have encouraged female modesty, veiling, and seclusion practices; the positive response of many young women is often a reflection of a desire to assert an Islamic identity distinct from Western standards. For professional working women, wearing the veil is a way to claim space in an arena traditionally reserved for men; it is a strategy for coping with men who are uncomfortable working with women; and for religious women, it is a means of emulating their grandmothers' generation and preserving religious and cultural heritage.

See also Haram; Hijab

Subjects: History.

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