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Modesty of the Veil to Muslim Women and in Islamic Architecture

Part 2 Dissertation 2003
Nisreen Moustafa
University for the Creative Arts Canterbury UK
This Dissertation was presented as the outcome of Nisreen’s Fifth Year Research assignment. To research the subject she went to Egypt to do the necessary fieldwork, take the photographs and undertook extensive reading. It does not take the form of a traditional dissertation and might be better described as a documentary that attempts to convey some of the emotional impact of the subject by presenting photographs taken by the author as a central part of the presentation.

The work is presented in three volumes, which explore the subject of modesty in the Islamic culture and architecture of Cairo, especially in the way in which this affects the experience of women:

1) An examination of the three meanings of ‘modesty’ in Arabic shows how each has both an ‘outer’ and an ‘inner’ meaning: humbling, decency and awareness resonate with a Muslim’s need to be modest to others, to yourself and to God. These meanings are discussed with reference to the veil.
2) The veil is a sacred space where a woman can be herself and this space can be extended to spaces in mosques and women’s quarters in houses. The veiling effect of being seen and not being seen is explored in relation to the three meanings of modesty.
3) The third volume presents the background material: a history of veiling, a discussion of western perceptions of Muslim women, references in religious texts and case study interviews with seven women.

The texts are illustrated with relevant photographs, and these are to be understood as an important aspect of the work. When the author submitted the work she showed digital projections of these as she talked about the dissertation.

Nisreen Moustafa

This work represents a considerable learning outcome for the Research period. The author undertook good fieldwork in Cairo where she gathered most of the material for the dissertation; most of this is apparent in the final text. The range of different kinds of material studied is impressive (reading, architectural spaces, interviews with different women about their experience). This is put together in a presentation which itself had to be carefully designed to communicate expressively to the reader and which uses an impressive set of photographs to try to convey some of the experience of Muslim women.

The subject of the work is the spatial experience involved in veiling and this is explored at different scales. The position put forward and explained by the author is conservative and, given the controversial nature of much of the material explored, this is impressive; the author was certainly aware of the tension between Islamic society and the West as well as feminist discussion of her subject and presents how the veil is experienced by contemporary women in agreement with the Islamic tradition.

The work is well presented and the author drew attention to the quality of the photographs included in the text by presenting them as a digital projection to accompany the submission of the work for assessment.

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