The image of Arab and Muslim women in the oriental discourse, specifically their lives in the region, greatly differs from the one that existed before the beginning of European colonialism. Orientalism can be defined as a notion used to describe the imperial and intellectual authority of the West over the East. This term is employed by many writers and scholars to portray the Eastern 'oriental' cultures for the Western world. Using traditional Western methods, orientalism is purposed to understand and gather knowledge about Arab and Muslim people, their lives, and customs. Thus, it is the depiction of Arab and Muslim people in the Western tradition, namely the way Western people view Arabs and Muslims. However, orientalism tends to distort the real image of people, values, cultures, traditions and other aspects in describes. It should be noted that, the representation of Arab and Muslim women in the oriental discourse compared to their real image before the beginning of European expansion is not the same. European colonialism was a policy of obtaining political control over another country, occupying it with settlers, and exploiting it economically. The particular process started in the 15th century from the occupation of South America by Spanish and Portuguese forces. In the 16th century, European powers spread over other regions including Arab world. In this respect, the image of Arab and Muslim women in the oriental discourse was greatly influenced by European colonialism of the region. Therefore, it is European expansion that impacted on the image of Arab and Muslim females in the oriental discourse that differs from the portrayal of women based on their lives before the beginning of invasion.
In the oriental discourse, Arab and Muslim women are viewed as subordinated and powerless creatures who lack rights and opportunities to make any decision. If to compare this depiction to the real life of females before the beginning of European colonialism, one can notice that the images are different. The status of women before European expansion was dependent on the tribes in which they lived. To be more precise, the cultural norms, traditions, and laws greatly influenced the position of Arab females. At the same time, while the tribal customs greatly affected the status of women in Arabia before the beginning of European colonialism, the life of Arab women in the southern region of the Arabian Peninsula was different from those who inhabited other places. Thus, Arab females living in the southern areas followed the religious norms of Christianity and Judaism. Those who inhabited other regions, for example Mecca, obeyed the social order that was established according to a tribal set of rights. In this respect, the life of women varied from tribe to tribe. On the contrary, in the oriental discourse, all Arab females are depicted as Muslims following strict Islamic traditions. However, each tribe and region have had their specific religious and cultural traditions that challenge the oriental portrayal of Arab and Muslim women.
In the oriental discourse, Arab and Muslim women are regarded as people who can never be equal to men. This particular system of inequality was established by the male rulers who justified it making their own interpretations of the Quran. Nevertheless, there where Arab and Muslim women who received appropriate education equally to men and thus participated in the social and political life of the region. At the same time, among females living in the southern region, scholars distinguished those who occupied high positions in the society. In pre-colonial era, women from rich families had wider economic and educational opportunities. A great number of wealthy Arab females had a possibility to participate in the political and cultural life of the community they lived in. Among Arab and Muslim women, there were those who occupied important workplaces. For example, in the 15th century and earlier, female surgeons performed gynecologic procedures, as it was described and illustrated in the works of Serefeddin Sabuncuoglu. Thereby, Arab women, specifically those from higher classes, were endued with certain opportunities and abilities that supported their better position within the society. Thereby, the image of educated and successful Arab and Muslim females greatly differs from the representation of speechless and ignorant women in the oriental discourse.
The beginning of European invasion supported the development of the image of poor and obedient Arab and Muslim women in the oriental discourse. While traditionally Arabs have lived in the patriarchal society, this does not inevitably make Arab females being treated unjust or lack any rights there. Although oriental tradition represents Arab and Muslim women as male property, women who lived in urban areas of the Arab region, specifically well-educated, participated in social life of the community. Furthermore, the image of modest Arab and Muslim females in the oriental discourse is veritable. For instance, women from rich families were characterized with stricter clothing and behavior on public. As for the females who lived in other regions, specifically rural areas, they were less educated but had more liberty concerning movement, appearance, and social behavior. In addition, the way Arab and Muslim women looked before the European expansion was very important because their clothing showed their status. What is more interesting, the modest appearance of females remains typical to some Arab regions till present days.
Therefore, the representation of Arab and Muslim women in the oriental discourse compared to their lives before the beginning of European colonialism greatly varies. Females who lived in the Arab region were treated according to the traditions and cultural norms of the area or tribe they belonged to. Although life of women from rural places and wealthy families distinguished their opportunities concerning education and future profession, both groups had a chance to study and received the necessary knowledge in certain fields. Whereas men had a great role in the life of Arab and Muslim females concerning their marriage, the latter were free to participate in social and political affairs of the community. In the oriental discourse, Arab and Muslim women are depicted as obeying and persecuted individuals who cannot make any decision without male permission. Compared to the representation of Arab and Muslim females before the beginning of European invasion, oriental tradition distorts facts. Among Arab and Muslim women there were those who received good education, held very important appointments, and participated in the social life of the community. Thus, Arab and Muslim females were not oppressed as it is depicted in the oriental discourse.
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