Unveiling Veiled Voices: Understanding The Experiences of Muslim Women Who Wear The Hijab in Public Spaces

Mohammed Sakip Iddrisu, University of Texas at El Paso


In view of the invisibility of Arab(ic)-Islamic rhetorics and the dominance of scholarship on Christian rhetorical traditions in rhetorical studies alongside an increased visibility of public rhetorics about Islamic women in American politics, this research explores the experiences and performances of veiled Muslim women in public spaces. While much of rhetorical scholarship on public spheres focuses on public talk or the circulation of public texts, in this study, I, together with six veiled Muslim women in El Paso, Texas, explore how veiled Muslim women navigate the hijab’s visibility as a marker of difference with strangers—simultaneously performing and provoking performative public rhetorics of spatialization. Using Michel Foucault’s theories of biopolitics, discipline, and technologies of the self in conversation with Hubert Herman’s dialogical self theory and Dorothy Smith’s feminist standpoint theory as theoretical lenses, I theorize rhetorics of public spatialization around the Islamic veil as a way of understanding the biopolitical and disciplining rationalities underpinning such rhetorics as veiled Muslim women encounter strangers in public places in the U.S. Not only do I analyze and visually represent the injurious, overlapping and conflicting discourses that veiled Muslim women encounter in public spheres, I also attend to how the women exhibit rhetorical dexterity in (re)constructing subjectivities that enable them to assert their agency and freedom, to resist strangers’ attempts to define the women’s ontological realities and to espouse standpoints that challenge dominant discourses about the Islamic veil. I conclude by inviting scholars and educators in rhetorical studies to adopt pedagogical practices that include the experiences of veiled Muslim women in rhetorical discourses and to enact rhetorical invention that frames differences – religious, cultural, racial, sexual – in public life as sites of deliberation and intercultural knowledge building.

Subject Area

Rhetoric|Womens studies|Islamic Studies

Recommended Citation

Iddrisu, Mohammed Sakip, "Unveiling Veiled Voices: Understanding The Experiences of Muslim Women Who Wear The Hijab in Public Spaces" (2019). ETD Collection for University of Texas, El Paso. AAI13886165.