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ISLAM: The Public and Private Spheres / Vol. 70, No. 3 (Fall 2003)

Arien Mack, Editor

The article reports on the public and private concepts in Islamic culture. The difference between the public and the private depends on a complex set of factors such as culture, politics, economics, and religion. Among the factors, religion has the most significant component, which defines the two subjects. In the Islamic culture, the distinction of what is private and what is not, could easily be recognized especially in its ethics, law and jurisprudence. However, both the private and public terms are not entrenched in the Islamic doctrine and religion. They neither occur in the Qur'an nor in the traditions communicated by the imams and prophets.

The article reports on the understanding of the concepts of private and pubic in lieu with the Islamic law. In a Muslim Society, there are several factors that complicate the understanding of the terms public and private. Islamic prohibitions such as the prohibition of officials entering people's homes, uncovering punishable moral misdemeanor and spying on people's activities. The home, in Islam, is considered the most private and most sacred of all while the market is the public one. This distinction centers on the idea that no outsider can enter into the places, which is considered private.

The article reports on the apostasy trials in the Arab world. The court judgments on the trials resulted to fundamental changes in the belief and religious affiliation, which are also related to the development of Islamic law during its integration with the legislative codes of the new nation-states. The definition of apostasy by the courts serves to control the ideas that can legitimately be discussed in the public sphere. Moreover, it denies the reinterpretations of Islam and also the number of political persuasions and theories.

The article reports on the aspects of private property in Sharia or Islamic law in Yemen. The distinction of private and public are well-established in Yemen. It was also in Yemen, wherein the Islamic state is based on the Sharia in terms of ideology and application. It is also headed by a jurist leader and an imam. The concept of private system in Yemen is based on individual ownership. Moreover, the notion of the property, which is based in Sharia is centered on the individual. The private system of Sharia is also considered to reflect the form of capitalism.

The article reports on the concepts of public and private in relation to the work of the muhtasib. The muhtasib is the inspector of public places as well as behaviors in towns of Middle East and North Africa. The muhtasib also guards public places and implements law everytime there is a violation. Moreover, the muhtasib indicates and represents Islamic law in the society. The notion of public and private, in the view point of the muhtasib, differs according to the relationship of people in different situation.

The article reports on the concepts of private and public in relation to the views of the muhtasib. The country of Saudi Arabia hopes to hold on to the classical Islamic law despite the changes and developments in the environment. The muhtasib, as the state official in charged of the implementation of Islamic law and constitution, has its own view of the private sphere. There are two legal subsystems in Islamic law that focuses on the private and public sphere. The first is the fiqh, which is independent from the state and concerns private law such as religious ritual, property and family while the siyasa concerns the field that is not covered by the fiqh.

The article reports on the impact of Taliban on Muslims, particularly on women, in the reconfiguration of the public and private sphere by modern liberalism. The activities of the Taliban resulted to different reactions from several countries. Their reconfiguration of the public and private in lieu of their pursuit for a pure Islamic countermodernity. The difference between private and public in relation to modern liberalism also affects several factors in the environment including how women are treated.

The article reports on the Islamic stigma symbols for the public and private spheres. The term stigma, at present, refers to the feelings of humiliation aggravated by social exclusion and social oppression. It is also used to refer to bodily signs designed to reveal and expose something terrible regarding the moral status of the signifier. The Islamic stigma and symbol is a collective choice in which it follows a collective logic of social protest movement called Islamism. Islamism allows Muslims to voluntarily adopt religious attributes, which are considered discrediting from the view of modern culture.

The article reports on the Islamic regime's legal means to keep the private lives of Iranian citizens under observation. The Islamic regime of Iran has been continuously violating the privacy of Iranian citizens through legal and religious means. The invasion of political power into the private lives of citizens reflects the totalitarian regimes and in Iran, this has been used as a religious ethics requirement. The lives of critics, artists, protesters and political activists are kept under surveillance with the use of the legal and religious laws.

The article reports on the continuity of Islamism and nationalism in Egypt. The different Islamic forms of behavior of Muslims in the Middle East are considered to reflect the nationalist sentiments. Activities such as the performance of collective prayers, listening to sermons and donning the veil are understood as existent forms of nationalism. In Egypt, the veil is considered an expression of Arab-Muslim identity. However, many critics who are secular-oriented view Islam as constitutive of the cultural environment on which the Egyptian nation has acquired its historical character.

The article discusses various reports regarding the role of media in the development of public and private spheres in Islamic countries, including one by Jon Anderson about Internet and the public sphere.

The article reports on the role of media in the public and private spheres of Iran, particularly during election. The presidency of Mohammad Khatami in Iran gave hope for his supporters that the division between the private and the public spheres will be solved. The election was an attempt to enlarge the public sphere at the expense of the private ruling conservative clergy. The themes and slogans used in the election campaign of Mohammad Khatami reflected the effort to redesign the society and the state. The theme aims to create a civil society within the Islamic system and to promote tolerance for competing ideas.

The article reports on the function of media in the public sphere of Islam. The public sphere of Islam has been a ground for dispute, where activists and militants argue with the traditional interpretative practices and authority to speak for Islam. Giving new people and practices an opportunity to the social field do not only challenge authorities but it also distort the boundaries between private and public. Moreover, it promotes new habits of production and consumption related to media. Certain ideas and issues start to circulate in intellectuals' books, audiocassettes and televisions.

The article reports on the debates over an American letter that reflects the new form inter-Arab cultural sphere. The American letter entitled "What We're Fighting For," which was signed and circulated by 60 American intellectuals, contains information that generated debates between the West and the Arab Islamic worlds. It also provides a possibility in the study of the new dynamics of the Arab culture. Moreover, it depicts the dynamic nature of the new Arab cultural sphere, which is now capable of communicating and sharing information that go beyond the nominal norms that were usually assumed by Arab societies.

The article discusses various reports, which explore the concept of privacy in the Muslim world through film and literature, including one by Nafisi about the place of women under autocratic rulers of Iran and by Dabashi regarding metaphorical and metonymic expressions of intimacy and privacy.

The article reports on the aesthetics of resistance to power of private and public in Islamic literature. The works of Shirin Neshat depicts several notions of sensuality relating to private and public spheres and the power of politics and aesthetics of resistance to such power. The colonial politics of power encouraged Shirin Neshat to create symbolic mutation of the body into the principal site of political violence in her art works. Moreover, she has been successful in promoting the idea to move outside the private sphere and face the public sphere beyond a politics of power or aesthetics to resistance to that power.

The article reports on the different images of women in public and private spheres in contemporary Iranian literature. The contact of Iran with the West resulted to the awareness of minorities, clerics, women and intellectuals of their nation's problems. The Constitutional revolution, as a result of the efforts to close the gap with the West, has introduced different forms of revolution such as cultural revolution. The cultural revolution introduced other forms of cultural pursuit such as novel, drama, music and film, which usually center on women.

[reprinted in 70th Anniversary issue, 71:4] The author reflects on the literary works of André Gide. He narrates his own view and notion of a diary and its relation to privacy and Islamic culture. He also believes that having a diary published eliminates its privacy. However, he also believes that showing the diary to others helps in the expansion of the concept of private sphere. He also expressed his admiration for André Gide, who made an effort to expand the concept of private sphere.


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