This research argues for a holistic interpretation of female Muslim clothing practices devoid of political, cultural, religious and gender bias, preconceptions, and presuppositions. Current literature on the ?ij?b tends to interpret the clothing practice in isolation as a geopolitical, socio-anthropological, fashionable, or religious-cultural phenomenon. The study departs from two theoretical points of view, namely ecological systems theory and critical spatial theory. Both theories are applied to argue that the ?ij?b should be interpreted holistically in the light of al-Isl?m as a religious and cultural system. It is a symbol with great personal significance for female Muslims deliberately choosing to wear it.
Ecological systems theory enables the researcher to explain how individuals interact with environmental systems. It creates a framework from which the researcher can study the relationships between individuals, the communities in which they operate, as well as the wider society. The researcher argues that the Muslim female body in ?ij?b should be interpreted in the context of al-Isl?m as a religious system. The system profoundly influences each individual Muslim, the Muslim family, the Muslim community, Muslim countries, and the world at large. Each of these levels, in turn, influence the system at large. This theory illustrates that the ?ij?b cannot be studied in isolation.
Critical spatial theory argues that there is a constant interaction between physical, mental, and lived space. Viewed from the perspective of conceived or mental space, the ?ij?b can be regarded as a compulsory form of dress for Muslim women based upon precepts in the Qur??n, the ?ad?th, and the four Sunn? schools of Islamic jurisprudence. Viewed from the perspective of lived or social space, however, the donning of the black ?ij?b has metaphoric implications. Each Muslim woman donning the ?ij?b becomes the embodiment of the holy Ka?ba, demarcating her body as sacred space in space in contemporary society.
The combination of two theoretical approaches illustrates that the ?ij?b is a complex symbol of many meanings. From a spatial perspective, the ?ij?b functions as a border of cloth. It demarcates the female Muslim body as a sacred space and protects her from being profaned. Paradoxically, the border of cloth at the same time allows the individual female Muslim body to move freely in and meaningfully engage with profane space. The ?ij?b at the same time creates and transcends borders and boundaries.
Viewed from a historical perspective, the ?ij?b is a cultural and religious phenomenon with its roots in the pre-Islamic ancient Mediterranean world. Viewed from a social perspective, however, the practice transcends its historical roots to become a symbol with profound implications in modern society � not only within Islamic tradition and culture, but also in Western societies. Via the concept of othering, a central theme in critical spatial theory, the Islamic ?ij?b, considered in some sectors to be an ancient and outdated practice, extends and expands into the post-modern world.
By wearing the ?ij?b, a Muslim female embodies the holy Ka?ba in Makka, the single, cosmic focal point of al-Isl?m. The assertion that the female Muslim in ?ij?b is a metaphor for, and embodiment of, the Ka?ba, has important implications. It creates awareness of al-Isl?m in general, and specifically of Muslim women�s presence in the world. In spite of many misconceptions about, and negative stereotyping of, the ?ij?b, many Muslim women freely choose to wear it as a visual expression of their identity and as protection against objectification.
Muslim women�s choice to wear the ?ij?b is at the same time a secondspatial expression of Islamic religious instruction, and a thirdspatial expression of identity. A holistic interpretation of the ?ij?b implies that a Muslim woman�s choice to adhere to the instructions of Islamic tradition, and her deliberate definition of her body as a sacred space, should be evaluated in the context of al-Isl?m as a religious and cultural ecological system. The ?ij?b functions as a border of cloth, which demarcates the female Muslim body as sacred space, and enables her to engage meaningfully and legitimately in profane space.