Faithful living : Muslim women in New Zealand and the articulation of Islam
Dobson, Stephanie Louise
This research explores the narratives articulated by a cross-section of Muslim women in New Zealand. The women interviewed often felt defined and overlooked by dominant discourses that tend to stereotype and essentialise Muslim women. Muslim populations are part of growing populations within Western host societies and New Zealand is also indicative of this. The New Zealand Muslim community is comprised of diasporic, immigrant Muslims as well as New Zealand born Muslims and converts (reverts) to Islam. Recent international tensions and conflicts have had significant impact on Muslim women in terms of increasing experiences of hostility and racism in New Zealand, which may manifest in forms of social prejudice, such as employment discrimination. Western, non-Muslim stereotypes also tend to objectify Muslim women as passive, oppressed victims of their own culture and religion. This study examines the practical realities of living in New Zealand for Muslim women, as well as discussing the ways in which the participants negotiate non-Muslim perceptions, religious and cultural ideologies and identity construction, as well as exploring deeper levels of faith and meaning for Muslim women in New Zealand. New Zealand society is unofficially 'multicultural', within an officially bicultural framework, which can be problematic in terms of practicalities and definition for minority ethnic or religious groups. The women interviewed expressed a dynamic and fluid attitude towards identity definition and construction, emphasising their gendered Muslim identities but also claiming 'Kiwi' and other self-definitions. The women also discussed the ways in which individual hermeneutics are utilised to interpret Islam for the benefit of women, as well as isolating cultural inputs inappropriate for women and Islam, in a process of 're-Islamisation' that is occurring as part of a global phenomenon. The participants also talked about faith and deeper meanings for practicing Muslim women. Muslim women in diasporic or minority populations may experience marginalisation and isolation, so this research also explores the active agency that women employ to counter these. Islam and faith are 'anchors' and form a foundation for these women in, often insecure, contexts. Faith and community tend to ameliorate the negative experiences for the women, as well as providing social networks and support. As minority populations interact with the host society, intercultural dialogues are occurring that create new spaces for identity and interpretation. So-called 'Islamic feminism', in which women use Islam as a source of agency and rights appropriation, is an example of this and challenges, even redefines, some Western, feminist paradigms. Hijab (modest dressing) is also examined through the lens of faith and practice. Hijab is a symbol of identity for women, communicating that the wearer is Muslim, but it has also acquired new definitions in Western contexts. Hijab, however, also embodies deeper meanings of faith and community, which are often overlooked in commentaries regarding this practice. The women interviewed directly contradicted the stereotypical assumptions that non-Muslim Westerners may make about them and articulated self-definitions and meanings that emphasised their agency and choices within Islam.
Advisor: Leckie, Jacqui; Lafraie, Najib
Degree Name: Doctor of Philosophy
Degree Discipline: Anthropology, Gender and Sociology
Publisher: University of Otago
Research Type: Thesis