Religion, culture, and the exclusion of Muslim women : on finding a reimagined form of inclusive-belonging

Davids, Nuraan, 1970- (2016)

CITATION: Davids, N. 2016. Religion, culture, and the exclusion of Muslim women: on finding a reimagined form of inclusive-belonging. Knowledge Cultures, 4(4):46–59.

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Though seemingly cocooned by collective values, traditions, dress and ways of understanding, culture is inherently defined by two desires: on the one hand, to preserve that which is perceived to be unchanging, and on the other hand, to resist any change. In its purpose of preservation, it offers a haven of nostalgic comfort – a means through which the self finds identity. In its resistance to change, it makes vulnerable not only its contested nature, but also reveals that what makes it distinctive and exclusive might very well be its weakest point. And yet it would seem that, even when it includes those who resonate with its collective discourse, it might also exclude them on the same basis. In terms of both Muslim culture and religion, a Muslim woman, for example, might be perceived, and therefore constructed, as the custodian of family values, modesty and purity. Yet the very essence that designates her as the custodian of particular values – and therefore at the center of Muslim culture – relegates her to the periphery. While she is included and centrally located on the basis of what she brings in terms of her Muslim identity as daughter, wife and mother, she is excluded on the basis of her gender and sexuality – that is of being a woman. In other words, if she accepts her inclusion as a Muslim woman, she simultaneously has to accept her exclusion as a (Muslim) woman – because that is what ensured her inclusion in the first place. But what exactly excludes and includes her – her religion, her culture, her gender, her sexuality, or her education? By focusing specifically on Muslim women in South Africa, this article contends, firstly, that any Muslim education would necessarily be permeated by culture. To this end, religion and culture cannot be separated. Secondly, if religion and culture cannot be separated, then Muslim women, by virtue of receiving a Muslim education, would also be acculturated. Following this, I will argue that, in order for Muslim women to find a sense of inclusive-belonging, they would need to produce a particular form of knowledge – one that makes a contribution to both education and culture.

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