How to Recognize a Muslim When You See One: Western Secularism and the Politics of Conversion

Markha G. Valenta

in Political Theologies

Published by Fordham University Press

Published in print November 2006 | ISBN: 9780823226443
Published online March 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780823237043 | DOI:
How to Recognize a Muslim When You See One: Western Secularism               and the Politics of Conversion

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This chapter looks at Europe's responses to the veil or headscarf and the politics of gender to clarify how the confrontation between ideologies of secularism and the multifarious strategies of conversion fails to register what should have been clear all along: namely, that anxious contemporary Western responses to Islam exemplify a collective amnesia concerning a long history of mutual imbrication and interaction, obfuscated by colonialism and orientalism alike. Drawing on the pioneering work of Edward Said, Leila Ahmed, Lila Abu-Lughod, and others, this chapter suggests that only with the arrival of the northern Mediterranean powers—the Greek conquest of 333 BC (by soldiers bearing under their arms learned Aristotle's treatise on women's natural inferiority to men), followed by the Romans and the spread of Christianity—did the practice of veiling and, more broadly, of women's enclosure, devaluation, and repression spread. In this sense, veiling was the material measure of ancient Egypt's Hellenization and Romanization, its “Europeanization”.

Keywords: Europe; veil; politics of gender; secularism; conversion; Islam; colonialism; orientalism; women; Europeanization

Chapter.  15569 words. 

Subjects: East Asian Religions

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