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In the News

‘The Strength of the Hijab’: Functionalist Totem or Feminist Social Solidarity?

Sarah Butler

11th October 2023

A sculpture of a woman wearing a hijab - called "The Strength of the Hijab" - is due to be revealed in Birmingham this month. It is believed to be the first sculpture in the world of a woman wearing the head covering, worn by many Muslim women. The sculpture is five metres tall and weighs around a tonne.

Sculpture celebrating women who wear hijab to be installed (Independent)

Let's consider this in the context of the Beliefs topic in A-Level Sociology.

As sociologists, possibly embarking on the religion topic for the first time this term, you are probably asking yourself if this is a sign of religious pluralism being celebrated. Or perhaps you are pondering the higher levels of religiosity amongst British Asians, compared with the decreasing Christian religiosity in the UK?

Personally, it’s got me thinking about religious feminism, and Woodhead’s findings regarding the hijab as a way of escaping the male gaze, and avoiding objectification for Muslim women. A site of feminist struggle in the eyes of many, a large and prominent sign of how religion can empower, rather than oppress, women!

The artist responsible for this striking creation, Mr Luke Perry said: “The Strength of the Hijab" is a piece which represents women who wear hijabs of the Islamic faith, and it’s really there because it’s such an underrepresented part of our community, but such an important one.

He also continues in the article to state that ‘The future of our country is about what unites us, not what pulls us apart’ (Luke Perry, sculptor) which is a statement that would resonate with our functionalist thinkers, who observe the shared value consensus and collective conscience that religion can provide. Or perhaps Peter Berger might view this community symbol as a sacred canopy which may unite women of all faiths?

Luke Perry also said about his creation “I think it’s going to be a loved part of the community.” possibly becoming a totem through which to worship society itself. What would Durkheim say if he was here to see this symbol of solidarity and community? And how might those feminists, such as the late Nawal El Saadawi, who suggest the covering of women is part of the patriarchal rewriting of religion, feel about this prominent sculpture? This debate within feminist work on religion continues today.

Sarah Butler

Sarah is an experienced Head of Social Sciences, EPQ Coordinator and Sociology examiner.

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