To American Eyes:
Cultural Feminist Analysis of an Alternative Representation of Islamic
Therese L. Lueck
Professor of Communication
The University of Akron
Akron, OH 44325-1003
[log in to unmask]
CSW Research Chair
Department of Communication
2130 Skinner Building
University of Maryland
College Park, MD 20742
[log in to unmask]
Submitted for presentation consideration to
The Commission on the Status of Women
Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication
To American Eyes:
Cultural Feminist Analysis of an Alternative Representation of Islamic
This textual analysis examines the widely circulated Muslim magazine,
Islamic Horizons, and its construction of Islamic womanhood in the two
years surrounding September 11, 2001. Informed by cultural feminist theory,
this analysis locates sex separation as a conversion strategy. The
magazine's representation of Islamic womanhood mirrored a nostalgic
American femininity characterized by modesty and moral superiority,
modernizing it with contemporary acknowledgement of diversity and
intellectual individualism. Its portrayal of Islamic womanhood did not
shift markedly after the September 11 attacks.
To American Eyes:
Cultural Feminist Analysis of an Alternative Representation of Islamic
As a post-September 11 America turned its attention toward ferreting out
Osama bin Laden, the primary suspect in instigating the terrorist attacks
on the World Trade Center, and toward liberating Afghanistan, the
predominantly Muslim country in which bin Laden was thought to have taken
refuge, Muslim women became the symbol of Islamic oppression. As Muslim
images appeared in American media, women were the unseen victims; on their
cloaked bodies and veiled faces Islam was constructed as being typified by
the Taliban, a fundamentalist sect that denied basic rights to women. Yet,
Islam counts women among its religious adherents. And while the United
States waged its war on terrorism, Islam continued to gather willing women
converts, or reverts, from around the world, including from within the
Islamic Horizons, an English-language publication of the Islamic Society
of North America, carries news from across the world and around the United
States in order to promote Islam to an American audience. This analysis is
a qualitative investigation into women's representation in this magazine's
portrayal of Islam and asks whether the portrayal of women changed in the
wake of September 11, 2001. Two years of Islamic Horizons was examined to
determine the construction of Muslim womanhood for an American audience. To
analyze sex difference as well as how Muslim women were (re)defined in a
manner counter to mainstream media portrayal, this study utilizes cultural
feminism as its theoretical perspective in order to ask, woman to woman,
what appeals were being made.
In her critical assessment of feminist media studies, researcher Zoonen
(1994) noted that images of women have been an important research emphasis
from the beginning. "Initially the new themes that feminist media scholars
added to the agenda of communication research were the stereotypical images
of women in the media and the effects of these images on the audience" (p.
16). The bulk of 1970's and early 1980's feminist media research was built
around image analysis (see Butler 1975; Courtney & Lockeretz 1971; Goffman
1976; Pingree, Hawkins, Butler & Paisley 1976; Tuchman, Daniels & Benet
1978). By the mid-1980's, feminist media theory was coming of age with
self-reflexive assessments of the field (see Dervin 1987; Journal of
Communication Inquiry 1987; Rakow 1986; Steeves 1987).
In a news study, Brown and Gardetto (2000) urged that, in addition to
empirical research on women's representation begun in the 1970's, cultural
critical studies be augmented "to clarify if and how actual women are
caught in a web of ideological frameworks that fail to capture the
particular woman's seemingly incongruous subject position or that seek to
place her firmly as 'woman' rather than as 'person'" (p. 44).
During the "second wave" of feminism that surged into the 1970's, cultural
feminism, a separatist strain of feminism, reemerged in the United States
alongside other feminisms. Cirksena and Cuklanz (1992) noted that cultural
feminism's association with the body, both direct and symbolic, "has been
criticized for its tendency toward abstraction and inaccessibility" (p.
36). Yet, they predicted, "Cultural feminist work in communication studies
will most likely continue to elaborate the processes through which the
symbolic realm has constructed and made real certain ways of understanding
and thinking about gender" (p. 37).
Cultural feminists seek a women's culture within patriarchal society in
order to nurture a separate set of female values and practices. By equating
women positively with their gendered traits, "cultural feminists wish to
establish a female standard of sexuality" (Echols, 1983, p. 454).
"[G]rounded securely and unambiguously on the concept of the essential
female" (Alcoff, 1997, p. 332), cultural feminist theory does not question
femininity or its positioning in opposition to masculinity. In fact, Echols
(1984) noted that cultural feminism was "committed to preserving rather
than challenging gender differences" (p. 51). Recognizing that patriarchy
has described femininity in restrictive terms in order to define
masculinity as normal and dominant, cultural feminists co-opt descriptors
of femaleness in order to imbue them with women-defined positive meaning
that goes beyond equality to claim the moral high ground for women.
Women's culture is typically not perceived as a threat by the dominant
culture, which indeed may lend implicit support. Gathering women to talk
and to reexamine sexuality and values is in itself an empowering strategy;
however, it is absent the radical nature such a strategy might otherwise
imply, since both actually and symbolically the women's culture is
dependent on the male-defined media and culture in which it is embedded.
Feminist critic Mohanty (2000) noted that when women are "constituted as a
coherent group, sexual difference becomes coterminous with female
subordination," (p. 62) deadlocking "revolutionary struggles into binary
structures" with women being "powerless, unified groups" (p. 68). She
responded to the theoretical assumption she posited as a question that
"surely the implication is that the accession to power of women as a group
is sufficient to dismantle the existing organization or relations? But
women as a group are not in some sense essentially superior or infallible"
(p. 68). Therefore, cultural feminist strategy is a transition presented as
an ideal. Mohanty (2000) noted, "It is only by understanding the
contradictions inherent in women's location within various structures that
effective political action and challenges can be devised" (p. 64).
Women on the cover
The well worn American lexicon of women as magazine cover art was codified
with the emergence of mass circulation magazines. From the representation
of ideals such as justice to the portrayal of social types such as the
flapper, images of women on magazines became institutionalized in the
popular imagination, with the images serving as trendsetters, role models,
and salesgirls for the magazines, their products, and their lifestyles.
Magazine historian Kitch (2001) charted the emergence of females onto and
their siren calls into the magazines, including the "Fisher girl," a
popular image by illustrator Harrison Fisher, which was "somehow demure and
sensual at the same time" (p. 14). While tracing the emergence of
stereotypes in the construction of a new American womanhood, Kitch
recognized that, in addition to the mass circulation magazines that fueled
the identity of a mass culture, alternative magazines played a role.
Targeting niche populations often ignored by mainstream media, including
racial and ethnic minorities, these magazines used "imagery that both
challenged and reinforced the stereotypes in mainstream media" (p. 15). In
her discussion of the Crisis, an early and influential African-American
magazine, Kitch examined the cover photography of black women, noting that
"much cover imagery of the Crisis replicated the various 'girls' of the
era's white popular culture, acknowledging what were quickly becoming
national standards for women's beauty" (p. 93). Since the magazine
advocated values such as education, covers of the Crisis showed of
African-American women as graduates. Yet, the covers depicted light-skinned
women. Noting that "the covers of the Crisis offered a unique view of
womanhood by providing the first major media forum for positive
representations of African Americans," Kitch observed that the "'whiteness'
of these figures, however, sent female readers a disempowering message as
well . . . " (p. 99).
Parameswaran (2001) demonstrated the political sensitivity of
cross-cultural interpretations when she contextualized female
representations as a process of media globalization in her beauty pageant
analysis. In examining a rise of Islamic fundamentalism and its
relationship to women's dress codes, another scholar (Reese, 1996), noted
that Islamic dress differentiated believers from non-believers and women
from men, symbolically linking women to purity and modesty (p. 38). She
interviewed Muslim women in America and their views on veiling, finding
that "the decision to wear full Islamic dress within a non-Muslim culture
plays a significant role in the lives of Muslim women within the U.S." (p.
50). While responses tended to vary with the woman's country of origin,
each said that Muslim women should "in principle, cover their bodies
entirely, except for faces and hands, during prayer" (p. 48). Three of nine
women interviewed said that they wear full Islamic covering while in
public, while the others wore casual "yet modest Western clothing without
any head covering" (p. 48). Women who wrestled with the dress code
differences were generally those from cultures that equated women's dress
with family honor. One woman noted that "men often harass women in the
streets in Jordan, although this contradicts the teachings of the Qur'an
which instructs men to treat women with respect and honor" (p. 48).
Image analyses such as Fullerton (2002) point out that while Muslim women
and men are instructed to dress modestly, dress codes vary from culture to
culture. Mohanty (2000) noted that women wear the veil for different
reasons, such as a conscious identification with a particular group. In an
analysis of a 1994 attempt of the French to ban Algerian girls from wearing
the veil in public schools, Vivian (1999) argued that the veil became a way
of knowing. As a symbol of Islamic cultural difference, the veil came to
represent resistance to French national identity (p. 6); it was equated
with fundamentalism, and with that, terrorism.
In the emotional aftermath of September 11, 2001, Muslim magazines
continued to circulate in the United States, constructing an alternative
vision of Islam that countered mainstream media's portrayal of Islamic
womanhood. Among these magazines, Islamic Horizons, published by the
Islamic Society of North America, was a widely circulated English-Language
Muslim magazine distributed free to gathering places such as Islamic
centers. Therefore, it was a magazine well positioned for alternative image
exposure and influence across the nation. How were women represented and
what were the appeals this magazine made to American women readers through
its construction of Islamic womanhood? Did these portrayals remain
consistent from September 2000 through September 2002, or did they undergo
a makeover after September 11, 2001?
Two years of Islamic Horizons was examined – the six issues preceding
September 11, 2001, and the six issues following. To determine the
construction of Muslim womanhood for an American audience, these issues
were analyzed with in-depth emphasis on the most salient features – covers,
photos, lead article packages, and regular departments -- with particular
attention on the issues that featured women on the cover.
In the two years surrounding September 11, 2001, women appeared on three
Islamic Horizons covers. Although not a dominant cover motif, women's faces
peered from these magazine covers, demurely smiling from otherwise cloaked
heads. The smiles are calm; the eyes gazing straight into those of the
reader. A collage on the cover of an issue devoted to Latino Muslims, "the
newest and growing part of the Muslim American family" (July/August, 2002),
featured faces -- half of which are women -- above the caption, "Changing
the Face of Islam in America." The smiling Hispanic-Islamic faces invite
the reader into the magazine. The lead article (Sanchez & Galvan, 2002)
depicts girls in its accompanying photos, including a photo of a young
woman proudly displaying the henna tattoos on her hands. But the central
photo (p. 23), the only one not ostensibly posed, depicts four young men
sitting in a row on the floor poring studiously over their open books. The
primary author, sharing her research through the article, notes, "[M]ost
Latino Muslims are college-educated, between the ages of 20 and 30, and
female" (p. 24). However, the accompanying photo depicts two proud parents
flanking their son. On the page opposite the pull quote noting the female
majority of Hispanic converts runs the only Spanish-language story in the
magazine, with a photo depicting four young Latino males walking and
praying devoutly (p. 25).
The lead photo of "Leading Others to Enlightenment" is of two young
Hispanic women studying the Qur'an. Women are pictured in mixed gatherings
in the several small pictures, and females are also quoted in the article.
Estimating that 40,000 of the 31 million Latinos in the United States are
Muslims (Sanchez & Galvan, 2002), the Latino Muslim is still seen as "a
novelty." But with the growth of the U.S. Latino population revealed by
the 2000 census, Islam recognized the opportunity for da'wah, or missionary
work. A portion of the Enlightenment story runs under the head "Empowering
Latino Women" (Rivera, 2002, p. 37). Written by the director of a volunteer
organization that "serves as a network of women who are dedicated to
serving Allah by spreading Islam to all, especially the Spanish-speaking
population to the U.S., by working one-on-one with non-Muslim women and by
supporting new Muslims in their 'evolution.'" (p. 37). The organization was
"formed to address issues affecting female reverts. Its stated mission is
to propagate Islam, especially among Hispanic women in the U. S." It has
been sponsoring seminars since 1987, since "many Latinas who embrace Islam
lack assistance from their Islamic community" (p. 37).
Religious education and conversion, or reversion, are foremost emphases of
this magazine as the Islamic society reaches out to those of other
backgrounds. The term "revert" is used instead of "convert" to designate
Islam as precursor of other religions. The Hispanic Muslim edition is a
signal issue for the reversion of disillusioned Catholics. Quotes from
Latino Muslims are reprinted from newspapers, with a Los Angeles woman
quoted as saying, "I remember getting in trouble in Catholic school for
debating things like the concept of original sin at a really young age"
(Sanchez & Galvan, 2002, p. 26). A woman from Miami stated, "I always
wanted to read the Bible and learn more, but it was all about the
catechism. You just have to believe it, not understand it. For me, Islam
gave me answers, made sense" (p. 26). Along with these quotes runs an
uncaptioned photo of two smiling Hispanic Muslim women, one of whom
appeared in the cover collage.
On the cover of "Raising Happy Muslim Children" (July/August, 2001) a young
face smiles. Although the face is clearly female, its youthfulness creates
an ambiguity as to whether the cover depicts a mother or a child. Inside,
the lead package decries U.S. societal decline and a lack of role models,
calling on parents and teachers to work together to rear good Muslim
children. Responsibility falling particularly on those parents whose
children attend U.S. public schools, the article alludes to updating
traditional Islamic practices with, "Muslim parents need to change some
things" (Athar, 2001, p. 36).
The parenting sentiments voiced in this magazine bear an uncanny
resemblance to advice written in 19th-century American moral reform
publications (see Lueck, 1999). In much the same manner and language that
the Protestant women of the moral reform movement counseled parents to
counter the ill effects of society, today's Muslim parents are advised to
"drop different standards for sons and daughters, allowing sons to get away
with many objectionable things and chiding daughters of being lewd for
doing the same things" (p. 36). Parents are urged to not tolerate wrong
behavior from any child. This article, as many in the magazine commonly do,
reaches reach back to the Qur'an in order to interpret Islamic tradition
for modern practice.
A question-and-answer sidebar by the ISNA president deals with gender-based
treatment of children. Although he opens succinctly with the statement,
"Islam does not have double standards for men and women," after some
ambiguity he states: "However, it is wise to give more protection to girls,
for they are more vulnerable and often become victims of assaults and
attacks" (Siddiqi, 2001, p. 43). In a previous answer, as he noted that at
the birth of a son a larger animal is usually sacrificed than for a
daughter, he stated, "Some scholars say that boys were more vulnerable to
death and disease, and so more charity was given for them"; it is not noted
when boys outgrow this vulnerability and transfer it to girls. However, on
the treatment of girls and boys, he alludes to how American universities
warn women to take safety precautions, in order to bring his answer back to
traditional gender-based divisions of responsibility: "Muslim men are
obligated to protect their wives, mothers, sisters, and daughters" (p. 43).
Although the American educational system is often disparaged of, education
of girls and boys is stressed throughout the magazine. Another article on
raising happy Muslim children, "Who Is Teaching Your Child?" depicts a
Muslim woman bending down to instruct a group of mostly male children (p.
In addition to promoting a broad definition of education, Muslims take a
holistic approach to healthcare. In keeping with traditional Eastern
practices, physical health is linked to mental and spiritual well being.
This approach sets it apart from modern Western medicine; although a
conservative approach, it further differentiates itself from
religious-based health care strategies that have become prominent in the
West. For example, one article states, "Islam allows contraception,"
(Athar, 2002, p. 41), then clearly distinguishes contraception from
abortion, which Islam does not condone.
On the cover of the issue "A Muslim Perspective on Healthcare,"
(January/February, 2002) a male doctor smiles as a woman in the background
also looks toward the camera. At first glance, this woman may appear to be
a fellow medical professional. Much like the child-mother image of the
earlier cover, this smiling image employs an ambiguity as to the role of
the woman depicted. This ambiguity suggests the woman may be a colleague,
but neither through the photo nor the cover lines is the audience made
aware of her identity or status. Upon closer inspection, it can be seen
that she wears not a lab coat but a hospital gown and rests against the
headboard of a hospital bed, revealing her as a patient. Depicting a
stereotypical Western doctor-patient relationship – the confident male
doctor in the foreground, in dress shirt and tie and white lab coat, a
stethescope draped around his neck, and a smiling female patient sitting on
a bed in the background – does not pique Western questioning; such
ambiguity instead enables a larger audience appeal.
While depicting a U.S. norm, such a pairing, however would be an unusual
juxtaposition in Muslim health care practice. A lead article (Athar, 2002),
states, "Same sex healthcare providers are encouraged, but can be
overlooked in the case of necessity" (p. 39). It also notes, "All
examinations should be done in the presence of a third person of the same
sex as the patient, preferably a nurse or relative" (p. 40). With this
information, the woman in the background of the cover photo can be seen as
a patient, smiling because some emergency procedure is deemed successful.
In many ways the privacy this picture speaks to makes it an unusual
selection for a cover photo. The appearance of this female face is also
unusual in that it does not peer from under a veil, which may further speak
to her recovering status.
Another lead article profiles a physician who is the incoming president of
a Pakistani physicians association (Umar, 2002); a small non-veiled
headshot of this middle-aged doctor accompanies the article. Dr. Raana
Akbar's discussion of the association and the physicians' role in America
registers surprise when she notes how few female doctors and medical
students there are in the United States, stating in contrast the number of
women in her graduating class and the fact that her mother was a doctor.
Adhering to contemporary U.S. journalistic conventions against sexism, the
author adheres to a professional focus, only describing the doctor's
familial roles in the final paragraph.
Women also constitute a presence in Islamic Horizon issues in which they do
not appear on the cover. Extending the holistic health perspective to the
larger social life, women – and men – are encouraged to be involved in
their community. The lead photo of an article on an ISNA conference on
community development (September/October, 2000) pictures approximately a
dozen kerchiefed women listening to an off-camera speaker, with male
attendees sitting at tables in the background. The cutline reads, "The
conference brought together some 400 Muslim leaders from 35 states and
three Canadian provinces, representing some 100 local Islamic centers" (p.
58). A lead collage (November/December, 2000, p. 26) shows women in
leadership roles; a photo montage at the conclusion of the article also
incorporates women (p. 50), but they are not identified.
The community is linked to its spiritual roots and it is perpetuated by
contributions – donated specifically to the Islamic community. The pull
quote reads, "Planned giving and endowments allow brothers and sisters in
the local community to leave their legacy to Islam" (Craig, 2000, p. 58).
As Muslims accrue wealth, giving and investing are encouraged, with
articles and advertising alike directing donations toward Islamic charities
and investments toward funds that espouse Islamic values.
By sharing wealth exclusively with the Islamic community, a religious
activism is urged in order to temper Western capitalist preoccupation with
accumulation of material goods as an indicator of success and social value.
Other types of religious activism are discussed throughout the magazine,
particularly political, with women playing a part of those stories, as
well. For example, a Washington-based freelancer (Rana, 2000, p. 14) covers
a rally against Israeli actions on Palestinians and includes female sources
– a Muslim participant and a member of an organization sponsoring the event.
Women sometimes tell their own stories, such as a woman (Jones, 2002) who
writes of the Qur'an she stole from her school library in a small Oregon
town. Using it for research, she recalled, "I don't know exactly what I was
expecting . . . something in keeping with the evening news; angry rhetoric,
crazy musings, anything resembling the vaguely negative image Islam had in
my brain." But she found "the tone, the beauty, and, more than anything the
familiarity of the words; almost as if I had seen them before" (p. 55).
After she left the library with the book, "It took me only about two days
of reading to realize that I was a Muslim." The conversion was hard on her
family; although they were "never religious, the cultural residue of
Christianity clung tightly." Despite her being "shooed out" of a mosque on
her first visit because she was a woman, she found validation that day in a
Muslim American woman who confirmed that the author was "indeed, a Muslim"
(p. 55). In another piece, a mother of two (Hussain, 2001) writes about
breastfeeding, which is "a right" of the newborn Muslim child (p. 50).
Relying on Islamic tradition, she urges the family to support the mother;
she also urges the mother to educate herself as to the benefits of
breastfeeding and how to sustain nursing for the first two years. This
intimate portrait ran without photos or illustration.
A former "pastor's wife" (Hamblen, 2002) writes that she would not go back
to her old life "for anything" (p. 58). While she was searching for answers
in Christianity, she met a Muslim and began reading the Qur'an, which she
would hide from her husband. He would search the house for the book, saying
that "when he found it he would roast it either in the oven or in the fire"
because she had "brought Satan into the home" (p. 58). Exasperated, her
husband left and she had an epiphany that Islam was her path. Her Muslim
acquaintance showed her "the text that women are supposed to cover. So I
started wearing the scarf." She countered those who said she had converted
to a male-dominated religion with, "[I]f it were geared for men, women
would undress instead of cover up." Marked by her beliefs, she was often
confronted. "After September 11th, wearing the scarf put me further in the
line of fire." This white woman from Indiana found it ironic that she was
so often yelled at to "go home" (p. 58).
A 2001 Islam in America section is a one-page profile of a young American
Muslim who was a novice from a convent who converted from Catholicism to
Islam. Her characteristics emphasized in the deck headline and throughout
the article were that she was "petite" and "soft-spoken" in order to
contrast her with the behemoth WalMart, in which she carved a space of
acceptance, even when she began to wear her face veil (David, 2001, p. 74).
In this story, the veil, or hijab, is likened to a piece of female
religious garb more familiar to Americans, a Catholic nun's habit. In
Islamic Horizons, the women of Islam peer from beneath the hijab, but they
do show their faces. Women in this magazine are not generally shown with
the face veil, or niqab. This piece of garb, however, is mentioned
occasionally in text, as in the WalMart article. It is also mentioned
significantly in an article on domestic violence, in which a woman donned
the niqab in order to hide the scars of her abuse (Nadir, 2001, p. 78).
Although the articles tend to rely primarily on male experts, education is
a theme expressed throughout the magazine. Educational context provides
non-intimate public settings in which women mix with men. For example, a
sidebar on educators (September/October, 2000) pictures women and men
attending a conference. One photo is of seated attendees, a veiled woman
holding a microphone standing among them, with the cutline, "An attendee
discusses ways to balance Western theoretical and scientific approaches to
counseling with Islamic teachings" (p. 60). In the 2001 convention issue
(September/October), a woman is shown as a speaker in one of the two
opening photos, and girls are depicted in an article on schooling (p.
56). In other conference coverage (July/August 2001) education is also the
main topic, with photos showing women interspersed in primarily male
gatherings (p. 14). For Westerners, a focus on education that integrates
women counters the Taliban's denial of education for women, which typified
Islam for the West, particularly for a post-September 11 America. The theme
of education continues to the back of the book, where matrimonial
classifieds solicit mates. Women seeking spouses are promoted as well
educated, with their degrees and special fields listed as some of the first
traits to attract a marriage partner.
As a benefit from education, women are shown moving up the ranks. A sidebar
(Siddiqi, 2002) addresses the question: "Can women be leaders?" The ISNA
president answers that if Islamic principles are followed – "that women
should cover themselves properly, men and women should not mix" – then: "A
woman can be a leader, just as she can be a professional, scholar . . . or
head of a company." However, because they would be a distraction, women
should not lead mixed groups in prayer; this tenet is used as a rationale
for women not becoming heads of state, since that person also leads
prayers. A dual role for women is in evidence, since they "should pay
special attention to their homes." Therefore: "Women are restricted to some
degree, but are allowed to work outside the home if they know and observe
their primary duties" (p. 20). Girls are praised for their involvement in
civic matters. For example, a national news short "Muslim in National
Spotlight" (September/October, 2002) shows a young woman as a model high
school citizen (p. 14). American women in the public eye who model the
values of community building are also recognized. For example, at the top
of that national news page, Rep. Cynthia McKinney (D-GA) is shown receiving
a public service award.
References to U.S. women, however, are not always positive, with their
status often used as a point of contrast with Islamic values and a
rationale for sex separation. The world news page is typically an amalgam
of short articles dealing only obliquely with Islam. Yet those that relate
to women often emphasize the status of Islamic women and their advancements
in comparison with U.S. counterparts. For example, the three-paragraph
"Iran Has Woman Governor" (November/December, 2000) story focuses on the
fact that she is the first woman governor since the 1979 revolution. Yet it
also notes that the president appointed a woman as one of the vice
presidents in 1997; and it takes the opportunity to share the statistic
that 58 percent of the first-year students in Iranian universities in 1999
were women (p. 22). A graphic listing Muslim Olympic medallists includes
women among them (November/December, 2000, p. 29). Another global short,
"Malays To Defeat Sensual Advertising" (May/June, 2001, p. 14), announces a
boycott of goods "depicting women in un-Islamic dress" that was called for
by a minister who has enforced gender separatism in his state.
In the aftermath of September 11, 2001, as the United States engaged in
its war on terrorism, a lack of cultural knowledge of Muslims surfaced. An
increase of stories in the popular media reported stereotyping and
occasional violence against people of Middle Eastern descent, while
features profiled Muslim-Americans as good neighbors. Yet, Islamic women
remained an enigma. Their cloaked difference allowed Western media and
political institutions to embellish it with layers of symbolism
representing foreignness and female oppression. The women of Islam became a
symbol on which an America victimized by terrorism could hang its
identification, particularly when it was given articulation by President
George W. Bush in his call for the liberation of Afghanistan. Fully draped,
these unseen women were ripe for interpretation. They became the victim in
need of rescue by U.S. democratic values. To save these women would be to
This analysis is mindful of the cautions Mohanty (2000) makes with regard
to Western feminist analysis of the veil; therefore the discussion has
located a specific image set within a Western context. For this analysis,
associated with foreignness, and after the midpoint of this timeframe
closely linked with women's oppression, the veil represented a marginalized
people. Islamic Horizons makes an appeal to the disenfranchised of American
society -- those marginalized by their sex, youth, race, or ethnicity --
seeking converts among those disillusioned with secular society or
patriarchal religions such as Catholicism. Islamic Horizons depicts an
alternative in which the marginalized can be involved in their community
and their own spiritual growth, and where, within American society, women
are shown to be safe and making gains in their own agenda.
Belying modesty, portrayal for an American audience has seductively lifted
the veil to sell Islam. Throughout the magazine, the portrayal of Islamic
womanhood adheres to accepted U.S. representation of women as ostensible
equals while maintaining their subservient status. For example, the
male-dominant image of the doctor on the cover is "natural" for an American
audience, whereas a cover with two women – one as the patient's doctor –
would have been more distraction than widespread appeal; the professional
woman would not necessarily have been recognized as such, even among
Western women. While conforming to stereotypical portrayal, the magazine
also reveals an illusory nature to American equality and proposes an
alternative of equal but separate. Although women were shown in mixed
public gatherings, separatism was advocated in the writings, in keeping
with Islamic teachings. Separatism can be made an appealing option when
contrasted with social integration that puts women in danger. The need for
separation was often justified by the jeopardy of American integration,
such as warnings about campus safety.
The woman-centered aspect is cast as a benefit since it creates
opportunities for women. For example, since women are supposed to be
treated by female physicians, a need is created for women doctors. When
women otherwise marginalized in American society can be shown a path to
success, separatism becomes a lure, as many a young Catholic girl can
attest, having felt the appeal of the nun's habit when confronted with male
By placing women in normalized Western situations, such as a female patient
confidently resting behind a male doctor, Western questioning is not
activated. By such positioning, Islamic Horizons de-problematized culture,
race, and even gender. The separatism that the veil signifies works to
separate women from men and, in a dual role, separates Muslim women from
non-Muslim women. But the open facades of this magazine seemingly revealed
Islam to the reader, educating her and drawing her into the sisterhood,
forging an identity: "She's just like me, under that veil." Situated in
American culture, the diversity of race and ethnicity this magazine showed
in the faces under the veil created a mirror image of the "melting pot."
The diversity of faces under the veil also worked to Americanize the
representation of women as individuals, while presenting Islam as a
monolithic, global religion. To post-September 11 Americans, the veil
symbolized the fundamentalist Islamic separatism represented through the
Taliban's denial of women's rights, particularly the right to a public
education. Yet, education was a value characteristically espoused in the
magazine. The women of Islam, veiled but diverse, educated but
conservative, were portrayed as those who chose to come to Islam.
In modest and seemingly non-exploitive terms, women appear on occasional
covers; however, not woman professionals. Women appear on covers of issues
that focus on diversity, health care, and children. With the only cover
depicting a singular female on the issue devoted to children, Muslim women
are portrayed in a comfortable, conservative sphere for a Western audience
– with the familiar smile of the cover girl and the focus on children.
Inside, women professionals are shown in public settings such as
conferences and they are integrated in the news of the day. Yet, when women
discuss children, parenting, and other matters of domestic import, they are
not shown in domestic situations. Their homes remain private. There were no
depictions of intimacy, say between a mother and child in a bedroom. In
this magazine, the veil on the private sphere has not been lifted.
With parlance harkening back to the 19th century, advice in Islamic
Horizons seemed to echo from the first wave of American cultural feminism:
to act as a role model in this wayward society and not to accept lewd
behavior from either boys or girls. The pedestal of the conservative,
morally superior female, reconstructed in terms of 21st century Western
women's understanding, offered what could seem like a homecoming to
American women who had confronted elusive equality on a daily basis.
Reaching back into a time of social transformation, when the women of the
moral reform movement attempted to clean up society, the appeal brought
forward a seemingly clear-cut role for women and a well defined battle of
good and evil on American soil – the battle for the mortal soul. In this
iteration, though, the authority is the Qur'an, not the Bible.
Although one might have expected the portrayal of women in Islamic Horizons
to have shifted markedly after the September 11 attacks, it did not.
Representation remained consistent across the timeframe, the difference
lying not in the magazine's portrayal of womanhood but in the larger
context of Western viewing. The subtext, which often surfaced, that Muslims
in the United States must counter negative media images, was already well
embedded in the magazine. Prior to September 11, however, the construction
of Islamic womanhood operated in a relative void; despite Islamic Horizons
claims of eight million Muslims living in North America (Time, 2000), they
were being symbolically annihilated in mainstream media. After September
11, in the negative space of the women's draped bodies was written recent
and painful U.S. knowing of victimization. Vivian (1999) argued that the
1994 French attempt to unveil the Algerian women was an imperial strategy
to assimilate a former colony (p. 10). In the case of the United States,
the tables were seemingly turned, with the United States relying on a
historical recognition of itself as a set of former colonies. Because of
this historical identification, empathy is possible with the colonized, and
after September 11, identification with the victimized. Yet, in this
representation resides a signal of the shift from colony to colonizer.
American culture already having achieved global imperialism through its
media, through its war on terrorism it was on the verge of physically
stepping into the role of colonizer with its action in Afghanistan, and
The Islamic Horizons reports of a rise in Muslim-American acceptance
following September 11 were substantiated in other sources. An editorial in
Religion in the News noted the "huge collective effort" of politics, media,
and religion to "make it clear that our Muslim neighbors are valued threads
in the ever more variegated tapestry of American society" (Silk, 2002, p.
1). This editorial, however, noted that that effort was short-lived, with
politicians curtailing their outreach and mainstream media soon reverting
to more traditional reporting. Although expressing concern that "Muslim
Americans are feeling increasingly beleaguered and isolated from the rest
of American society," it nonetheless cited Knight Ridder and Los Angeles
Times polls indicating that public opinion continued to carry favorable
impressions of Muslim-Americans into September 2002 (p. 22), the timeframe
that brackets this analysis.
Showing many faces of Islam under the veil, Islamic Horizons attempted to
mirror America's diversity as well as its individualism. The appeal to
sisterhood and separatism masked the disempowering contradiction that the
unification it offered would lock women together into endless transition.
The ostensibly seamless appeal held promise for women marginalized by
inequality and beset by a lack of security on the homefront. Against the
foibles of American society, the cloak of a global Islam was spread and
women were invited to come home.
Alcoff, L. 1997. Cultural feminism versus post-structuralism: The identity
crisis in feminist theory. In The Second Wave, edited by L. Nicholson. New
Anisah, D. (2001, January/February). The mouse that roared. Islamic
Horizons, 30: 1, 74.
Athar, S. (2002, January/February). Islamic Medical Ethics. Islamic
Horizons, 31:1, 39-41.
Athar, S. (2001, July/August). Raising happy Muslim children. Islamic
Horizons 30: 4, 36-37.
Brown, M. E. and D. C. Gardetto. 2000. Representing Hillary Rodham Clinton.
In Gender, Politics and Communication, edited by L. v. Zoonen and A.
Srenberney. Creskill, N. J.: Hampton.
Butler, M. Ed. 1975. Images of Women in Advertisements. Palo Alto, CA:
Stanford University Institute for Communication Research.l
Cirksena, K. and L. Cuklanz 1992. Male is to female as _____ is to _____: A
guided tour of five feminist frameworks for communication studies. Women
Making Meaning, edited by L. F. Rakow. New York: Routledge.
Courtney, A. E. and Lockeretz. (Februrary 1971) women's place: An analysis
of the roles portrayed by women in magazine advertisements. Journal of
Marketing Research. 92-95.
Craig, C. W. (2000, September/October). Tools for community leaders.
Islamic Horizons, 29:5, 58-59.
Dervin, B. (1987). The potential contribution of feminist scholarship to
the field of communication. Journal of Communication 37 (4): 107-120.
Echols, A. (1983). The new feminism of yen and yang. In A. Snitnow, C.
Stansell & S. Thompson (Eds.), Powers of Desire. New York: Monthly Review
---. (1984). The taming of the id: Feminist sexual politics, 1968-83. In C.
S. Vance (Ed.), Pleasure and Danger. Boston: Routledge.
Fullerton, J. A. (2002). Advertising in the Islamic world: The portrayal of
women in Egyptian television commercials. Paper presented at the meeting of
the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, Miami, Fla.
Goffman, E. 1976. Gender Advertisements. New York: Harper & Row.
Hamblen, S. (2002, January/February). The pastor's wife. Islamic Horizons,
Hussain, M. (2001, July/August). The priceless maternal gift. Islamic
Horizons, 30:4, 50-51.
Islamic Horizons, September/October 2000 – September/October 2002.
Jones, J. L. (2002, July/August). My stolen Qur'an. Islamic Horizons, 31:
Journal of Communication Inquiry (1987) 11:1.
Kitch, Carolyn. The Girl on the Magazine Cover: the Origins of Visual
Stereotypes in American Mass Media. Chapel Hill: University of North
Carolina Press, 2001.
Lueck, T. (1999). Women's moral reform periodicals of the 19th century: A
cultural feminist analysis. American Journalism 16: 3: 37-52.
Mohanty, C. T. (2000). Under Western eyes: Feminist scholarship and
colonial discourses. In A. Tripp (Ed.) Gender 51-71.
Nadir, A. (2001, January/February). Guiding toward harmony. Islamic
Horizons, 30: 1, 78-81.
Parameswaran, R. (2001, Summer). Global media events in India: Contests
over beauty, gender and nation. Journalism and Communication Monographs 3:2.
Pingree, S., R. P. Hawkins, M. Butler, & W. Paisley 1976. (1976) A scale of
sexism. Journal of Communication 26: 193:200.
Rakow, L. F. (1986) Rethinking gender research in communication. Journal of
Communication 36:4: 11-26.
Rana, A. (2000, November/December). Seeking denied justice. Islamic
Horizons, 29: 6, 14.
Reese, D. (1996) Covering and communication: The symbolism of dress among
Muslim women. Howard Journal of Communication 7: 35-52.
Rivera, K. (July/August, 2002). Empowering Latino women. Islamic Horizons,
Sanchez, S. & J. Galvan (2002, July/August). The changing face of Islam in
America. Islamic Horizons, 31:4, 22-30.
Silk, M. (2002, Fall). Our Muslim neighbors. Religion in the News, 5: 5, 1, 22.
Siddiqi, M. H. (2002, March/April). Leadership issues. Islamic Horizons,
31:2, 18, 20.
Siddiqi, M. H. (2001, July/August). Raising Children in North America.
Islamic Horizons 30:4, 43, 51, 54.
Steeves, H. L. (1987) Feminist theories and media studies. Critical Studies
in Mass Communication 4(2):  – 135.
Time to make an imprint. (2000, September/October). Islamic Horizons 29:5, 6.
Tuchman, G., A. K. Daniels, & J. Benet. Eds. 1978. Hearth and Home. New
York: Free Press.
Umar, K. (2002, January/February). Balancing two worlds. Islamic Horizons,
Vivian, B. (1999) The veil and the visible. Western Journal of
Communication 63(2): 115-140.
Zoonen, L. v. 1994. Feminist Media Studies. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.