Mara wa Razil
An installation consisting of 12 floating panels. Together they create an open room for discussion. The exterior black is a reference to the Kaaba in Mecca. Inside the room you'll find various paintings of women and men, all Muslim.
I stayed at the center of chaos for one month. In the grubby arms of Cairo. Here I learnt the basics of the Arabic language, a language rich in metaphors and poetry. The behavior of the man was anything but poetic. Freedom was tied to the house. Appropriately dressed out of respect, but did not stop the men nor did it keep them at a distance. Men of all ages made no effort to hide their interest. In short, my acquaintance with the Egyptian man was a horribly experience. They were aggressive in their enthusiasm, rude and intimidating. It was clear that they have a clouded opinion of "Western" women. It was downright offensive. As a mixed race Arabic (Tunisian)-Dutch, I was disappointed in my fellow (Arab) man. I tried to understand but it only left me with more questions and with the advent of conflicting answers, I ended up feeling more ignorant.
How is it possible to despise women, creatures blessed by Allah, so much? Why is it that where purity is honored and lust condemned, craving is so clearly present? Why does the Muslim world not question relationships between men and women? Why is there so little room for self-reflection within Islam? How is it possible that there are women who cover themselves completely, being invisible and not showing any outward identity other than that of a strict religious person? It's a fact that in some Muslim countries women are discriminated against, but is this is the result of local (pre-Islamic) cultural, social, political habits that got stuck or is this the result of Islam itself?
Within the Arab world unity equals uniformity. Non-conformist behavior brings shame to your family and your kind. The impact of intimidation and social pressure is greatly apportioned. Freedom of speech is dangerous. Within the everyday structure a different opinion is often seen as betrayal. Within this, each individual participates in a structure that makes him a member of a larger context. As a Muslim you are owned by the tribe, honor doesn't belong to an individual but to the group as a whole. Here, one makes a commitment to protect the interests of one group member in relation to the other. A tribal theology is present, where individual independent thinking is mandatory guided by a group of interpretors. Within the Umma (the religious community) the last word is for the Imam. The obligation to wear a headscarf follows from an interpretation by Ibn Abbas, a contemporary of the prophet Muhammad, for the word 'zinat'. That word means jewelery, adornment, makeup or other things that accentuate the beauty of a woman. Ibn Abbas has interpreted this as beauty in general and stated that all parts of the female body except the face and hands should be covered in public.
Tell the believing men,
'...that they lower their gaze and and guard their modesty, that is purer for them, truly, God is aware of what they do. And tell the believing women that they lower their gaze, guard their modesty and they should not display their adornment except to their husbands, and let them wear their head-coverings over their bosoms (24:30,31).
According to Orthodox Islam headscarfs protect women against negative influences and actions. The woman is an attractive creature that is vulnerable to abuse. Abuse starts with seeing her body. A veil protects women's honor and doesn't arouse unwanted passion from the opposite sex. Therefore, God has given them the right and duty to cover her beauty. In order to maintain her value as a human being, headscarfs keeps our fellow man, clean and pure..."
Originally a by-product, the headscarf initiated a complete culture. A de facto culture of men in the Muslim world. Only respecting women who cover themselves as much as possible. And that respect is measured by the extent to which women accept this fate. Implying that women who are not covering themselves, whether religious or not, deserve no respect. This means that one is allowed to harass women who aren't dressed in the proper way. Women are often considered the source of temptation and evil. The man doesn't know how to control himself but puts the responsibility on the woman.
Tell the believing men,
'...among His signs is this that He has created wives for you from among yourself, that you may dwell in tranquility with them and He has put love and mercy between you.
Surely, in this are signs for people who reflect.
(Soerah Ar Roem:21)