An Analysis of Islamic Legal Literature Concerning Concepts of Privacy as they Relate to Women's In/Visible Bodies in Saudi Arabia

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Saudi Digital Library
This thesis examines the concepts of public and private in relation to women's in/visible bodies in Saudi Arabia throughout the twentieth century until 2018. The aim is to demonstrate how manhood (murūʾah) among Saudi Arabian men is obtained and conveyed by controlling and rendering women's bodies invisible in public. Additionally, the thesis aims to illustrate how the restrictions on the visibility of women's bodies are significant in defining the political status of male members in Saudi society. The examination begins with reviewing the relevant notions in Islamic legal thought, including privacy (ḥurmah) and rulings on the issue of the gaze, also known as ʾāḥkām al-naẓar. The examination shows how opinions concerning the aforementioned legal categories established a system of visual practices that were not gender-neutral and were intended to exert more control over the male gaze because it was perceived to have far more severe social consequences than in the case of a woman's gaze. In the light of the legal backgrounds discussed in chapter one and two, this thesis will explore critical political events and social issues concerning a woman's in/visible status in public in Saudi Arabia ( i.e. the siege of Mecca in 1979 led by Juhaymān al-ʿUtaybī and controversies around gender mixing (ikhtilāṭ)). This is to offer a nuanced understanding of the links between political tension and the visibility of women in public. This thesis will also examine attitudes towards public representations of women in Saudi Arabia by focusing on the opinions of the religious establishment regarding looking at images. The examination reflects the intense attention, effective in legal rulings, given to the morality of looking at a woman beyond the act of looking directly at her. It also shows how Saudi scholars found in the principle of "eradicating pretexts" (sadd al-dharāʾiʿ) a legal loophole to justify excessive control over the male gaze, even with regard to the indirect gaze upon the image of a woman.
Art, Women, Islam, Perivacy, public