A third printing of the book was published in 2003.  Reviews of the book appeared in The Chronicle of Higher Education, The Times Literary Supplement, The Progressive, USC Chronicle, Man (Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute), Middle East Review, Visual Anthropology Review, Yemen Update, American Anthropologist , Anthropological Quarterly and International Journal for Middle East Studies (IJMES)

            'Her work considerably expands understanding of the
              complexities of veiling traditions over time and space.'

              'Much textual and field research has gone into El Guindi's
              exploration, and many will find her conclusions persuasive,
              disputed though they are.'
            Saudi Aramco World

              'This is clearly a book that will be of value for years.'
            Yemen Update

              'El-Guindi's book presents the first systematic and in-depth
              gendered analysis of the veil.'
          MAN, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

'Absorbing.  El Guindi raises important issues and discusses them with authority. Her book certainly belongs in the library of any university department concerned with anthropological and social studies"
International  Journal of Middle East Studies

"This study is an engrossing, scholarly, and comprehensive analysis of the veil in its historical, social, and contemporary political context.  [It] is the most comprehensive and interesting study to date "
American Anthropologist


Sailing Through History To Present Veil With Vision.

Reviewer: Aliaa R. Rafea (Ph.D) (aliaar@infinity.com.eg) from Cairo, Egypt November 10, 1999

The author has done such a great job, challenging the stereotypical western view to the meaning of veiling in a thorough scientific research, using an anthropological analysis and sailing through the history; east and west. She succeeded in disentangling the confusions that exist between cultural language as far as veil is concerned. In a serious and great effort, her analysis illustrates the layers and layers of meanings that are mixed with veiling in the past and present, in Muslim and non-Muslim countries.

I am glad that there an anthropologist in the international community who can introduce a picture of the Islamic culture that is different from what has become known through MernIssi and Sa'adawi.

We still need to do more in two directions, clarifying the misunderstanding to the western mind through more

research in the direction that she has taken, and self criticizing the limitations of the current mind structure of the so called Muslims.

As far as I can see as an anthropologist who lives in Egypt, the Egyptian Islam is endangered by the petrodollars Islam. Preserving the Egyptian identity is a great target to which social sciences in general and anthropology in particular should direct their efforts. Islam as digested and introduced by the Egyptians is the international Islam -- one that is tolerant, unbiased, humane and open. That is the Islam we need in order to establish a real cultural debate in the next millennium and not to go into cultural conflicts as Huntington has expected.





University of Southern California Chronicle



For a review of Veil by Dan Varisco visit


For a review of Veil in American Anthropologist click

For a review in Visual Anthropology  click

Click for a review of Veil in Anthropological Quarterly by Richard Antoun  

Other reviews:  visit http://www.muslimedia.com/ARCHIVES/book00/hijabbk.htm

For web discussion on book http://www.muhajabah.com/islamicblog/archives/veiled4allah/005390.php

and http://www.utexas.edu/cola/depts/culturalstudies/tpp/tpp4/perkins.pdf


Examining the realities and nuances of hijab in Islam and Muslim cultures

Veil: Modesty, Privacy and Resistance by Fadwa El Guindi. Pub: Berg, Oxford, UK, and New York, USA, 1999. Pp: 241. Pbk: £14.99.

By Aisha Geissinger

In the 1970’s, ‘the veil’ was perceived as making a comeback among educated young Muslim women in a number of hitherto increasingly secularised Muslim countries. For the last thirty years, western-oriented thinkers in Muslim countries and western academics alike have been trying to make sense of the phenomenon. ‘Veiling’ is not infrequently presented as a dangerous trend which has to be explained and if possible reversed.

El Guindi’s book is an attempt to move the ‘veiling’ discourse beyond the usual superficial and often implicitly racist generalizations. She uses anthropology (including her own extensive fieldwork in Egypt), history and classical Islamic texts to show that ‘veiling’ cannot be simplistically equated with patriarchal oppression and control of female sexuality. She notes that the word ‘veil’ is "politically charged with connotations of the interior "other," implying and assuming a subordination and inferiority of the Muslim woman" (p. 157). There is no one word equivalent to ‘veil’ in Arabic. Some garments referred to as ‘veils’ in English, such as the ‘aba (cloak) worn in some Arab countries, or the burnus (hooded robe) of Morocco are in fact worn by both men and women. The lithma, used to cover the head and face, is associated with feminity in Yemen and worn there by women, while it is also worn elsewhere by some Bedouin and Berber men and considered very masculine. El Guindi points out that while there is little detailed modern academic scholarship on Muslim women’s dress (hijab), there is even less about Muslim men’s attire and behaviour. Concentration on ‘veiling’ and women has generally obscured similar practices by men, whether in anthropological studies of traditional communities or sociological studies of modern Islamic movements.

‘Veiling’ is often seen as part of a cluster of practices which are deemed to oppress women: polygamy, seclusion, harems and keeping eunuchs, for instance. El Guindi points out that there is no necessary connection between modes of Islamic dress and these practices. Various communities at different times have practised some of these customs and not others, and in different cultural contexts they have had widely varying meanings and effects on the lives of women.

Focusing specifically on dress, El Guindi shows that ‘veiling’, often assumed to have entered Islam via Byzantine or Persian influence, had different meanings in ancient cultures as well. In ancient Assyria, ‘veiling’ primarily indicated social status, while in Byzantium it was linked with asceticism and the disparagement of sexuality. In modern Muslim cultures, traditional ‘veiling’ can express ethnic or regional identity, as with Palestinian embroidered dresses, which differ in pattern from village to village. It can also distinguish ordinary gatherings from ceremonies or holidays. The ‘veil’ can even show the social class or rank of the wearer. In southern Iraq, dress can mark off female religious leaders from other women. In some communities, the type of dress worn by males and females corresponds to age and marital status. Among the Rashayda bedouin of the Sudan, stages of maturation of girls and boys are reflected in the clothing they wear, and their dress communicates to the community the degree of responsibility they are expected to have and their closeness to the age of marriage.

El Guindi emphasises the similarities between female and male garb and behaviour codes in Egypt in particular, noting that some Muslim men, particularly activists, also wear long robes and headgear. She describes a gathering of university women that she attended in the 1970’s in which the male speaker sat behind a screen while giving his speech. Using evidence from the hadith and modern ethnography of several Muslim societies, El Guindi argues that ‘veiling’ can be used by women and men alike to "pull rank" and express their authority.

The book discusses how European Christians’ obsession with the ‘harem’ and the public bath has shaped western ideas about the ‘veil’. ‘Harem’, which means the women’s section of the house and women themselves, comes from the Arabic root h-r-m, meaning sanctuary or sacred place. Western travellers and scholars, however, often regarded the ‘harem’ as a place which its male owner visited to indulge his erotic fantasies and whims. The women who lived there were seen as little more than chattels. Women’s public baths, which few Westerners had access to, were assumed to be sites of depravity. So the ‘veil’ was assumed to express women’s subjugation to eastern men’s sensuality. Westerners have viewed Muslim culture with "a gaze of violence, dominance, distortion and belittlement" (p. 23), and some feminists, even of Muslim origin, continue to do this.

El-Guindi discusses a number of feminist explanations of ‘veiling’. She dismisses the argument that hijab originated in Persia, and then passed to Mesopotamia, Greece, Byzantium and the Muslims, as "over-simplistic", noting that cultures often invent similar practices independently. Fatima Mernissi’s theory that "mahram" (a close relative whom one cannot marry in Islamic law) means "man’s territory", and that this concept is rooted in the division of human life into the female domain of life (sex) and the male domain of death (war), is described as inconsistent with ethnographic evidence. The book also takes issue with the claim that ‘aurah (body parts which should be covered) means "blemish", which implies that hijab expresses the belief that women’s bodies are defective or shameful. El Guindi refutes this interpretation with analysis of the usage of the word in the Qur’an.

The book also discusses the historical roots of the modern controversy about the ‘veil’ in several Muslim countries. In Algeria, the French colonialists tried to destroy Muslim codes of dress and behaviour in order to humiliate and demoralise the population. In Iran, Reza Shah banned the wearing of traditional dress by men and women, and policemen ripped headcoverings off women in the streets. Not surprisingly, in these countries the issue of dress is now very politicised. El Guindi points out that Westerners who decry the lack of individual freedom of dress in such nations need to take these factors into account.

However, the book contains a few inaccuracies. While the author seems to assume that the north Indian villages practising ghungat veiling studied by Sharma are Muslim (p. 126), this does not seem likely in view of the villagers’ celebration of holi, a Hindu festival, and their practice of Hindu wedding forms (pp. 110, 112). While the wearing of a scarf is enforced throughout Iran, the use of the black chador (p. 129) is typical of some regions and unusual in others. El Guindi takes exception to the comparison of hijab with the nun’s veil, correctly pointing out that Islamic and Christian attitudes to sexuality have historically been distinct and their headcoverings have meant different things to the two faiths. However, she also comments that the term al-habarah, which refers to the dress worn by some urban Egyptian Muslim and Christian women in the nineteenth century, is "derived from early Christian and Judaic religious vocabulary" (p. 153). While the scriptural basis of the ‘veil’ differs in Christianity and Islam, it seems that over the centuries there has been a fair amount of mutual borrowing. Various Muslim cultures have in fact been heavily influenced at times by Christian, Jewish and Hindu attitudes to sexuality, and this has carried over into some culturally coloured practices of ‘veiling.’

Veil is informative and thought-provoking. It breaks new ground, and challenges academics venturing onto ‘veil’ territory to go beyond the usual superficiality of western attitudes and to consider more deeply the nuances and complexities of hijab and the issues surrounding it.

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For a review of Veil in Middle East Review by Lila Abu-Lughod visit
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