Women Behind the Veil: Toward a Cultural and Religious Understanding of the States of Muslim Women
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Throughout Islamic history, institutions and modes of thought devised by early Muslim societies have donned the core discourses of Islam and have played a central role in defining women's place in Muslim societies. Across the centuries these core discourses have influenced debates in the Arab and non-Arab world between Islamists and secularists and between advocates of veiling and its opponents. According to an investigation of the discourses on women and gender in Islamic Middle Eastern societies, the adoption of the veil by Muslim women occurred by a process of cultural assimilation of conquered peoples. The Muslim conquests of the areas in which veiling was commonplace among the upper classes, the influx of wealth, the resultant raised status of Arabs, and Muhammad's wives being taken as models probably combined to bring about its general adoption. The veil was apparently in use in the Sasanian society and the veil was heavily in use in the Christian Middle East and Mediterranean regions at the time of the rise of Islam. During the end of Muhammad's lifetime, his wives were the only Muslim women required to veil, but after his death and following the Muslim conquest of the adjoining territories, whose upper-class women veiled, the veil became a commonplace item of clothing among Muslim upper-class women, by a process of cultural assimilation. Veiling was apparently not introduced into Arabia by Muhammad but already existed among some classes, particularly in the towns, though it was probably more prevalent in the countries that the Arabs had contact with, such as Syria and Palestine. In those areas, as in Arabia, it was connected with social status, as was its use among Greeks, Romans, Jews, and Assyrians, all of whom practiced veiling to some degree.
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