Muslim women in public spaces have been skewed in the media to depict these women as part of the Ummah, a perspective that Muslims around the world endorse radical criminal activity in the Middle East and elsewhere (Johnson and Rebecca 1893). Following the September 11 attacks, all Muslims in public spaces were portrayed as a possible danger, and as a result, everyone in society recognizes the traditional Islamic women of the Arabic ascent as familiar faces of terror. This retrospect paper seeks to analyze the inclusion of Muslim Arab women and their utilization of public spaces by comparing the perspectives of the Muslim women by the West and the Islam religion.
From the feminist perspective proposed by Marion Young and Lefebvre’s spatial triad developed by Henri Lefebvre, it is proposed that women are not to be considered as separate entities in public space (Johnson and Rebecca 1893). Rather, the women in public spaces are to be regarded to be active participants in the planning of their surroundings and therefore, the women need to feel connected to the environment just as much as they are connected to every individual. As a gendered subject, the female body engages with the surrounding on two levels: as an object, and as a subject to the constitution of the body. Since the perception of the female body as an object, the perspective distances the women from engagement with the surrounding and thus, places them in a position where they will be judged based on appearances, a case unlikely for the men (Johnson and Rebecca 1893). The study, therefore, examines the presentation of the female body as a subject in which the women are presented to engage in the development of their surroundings. Therefore, the phenomenological approach allows the women to understand better the complexities of their cultural identity and how they can enact the culture in a gendered space.
Moreover, the spatial triad indicates that space is not a separate entity rather a combination of three dimensions: representational space, spatial practice, and space representation. The three dimensions as presented in the spatial triad indicates that the aspects have to interact to mediate the utilization of public space (Johnson and Rebecca 1894). As such, to comprehend the spatial complexity presents a phonological approach in which all the groups have to be engaged in the planning practice. Hence, the Muslim Arab women are to be involved in the conceptualization of the planning in the New York City to increase their awareness of their experience in the public space.
Regarding democracy and inclusion, the urban planners are always in creation and recreation of the public spaces which keeps the spaces in constant flux. Since the spaces are in constant recreation, the public spaces become inaccessible to others and only accessible to the residents. However, democracy is always intended to create accessibility to public spaces possible for everyone including visitors (Johnson and Rebecca 1895). Thus, the urban identity is created through the engagement within the public space where one connects to the available amenities. The equal representation, according to Young is the basis for the creation of a heterogeneous space in which everyone coexists with each other. Developing an inclusive space in which everyone will access the available amenities is essential so that the Muslim Arab women utilize the available public space, just like other members of the heterogeneous space. Such women do not feel represented adequately in the management of public spaces as more people are privatizing the public spaces and controlling the spaces through surveillance (Johnson and Rebecca 1895). The constant surveillance of the privatized public spaces is usually intended to keep a select group from accessing the space and therefore makes such groups feel unwanted or feared. The Muslim women are therefore excluded from the spatial access due to their noticeability of the Hijab (the Islamic headdress), a case that should be reversed.
The American stereotype on gender and Islam is misplaced. Since the September 11 attack on the American soil, the Americans developed a perception that Islam was a threat to the public spaces. As such, the American media has concentrated on displaying the Muslim women as a reflection of veiled threat (Johnson and Rebecca 1896). Privately owned media houses at one point portrayed Afghan women as helpless and victims of oppression and backwardness. However, the representation is a deviation from reality as the Muslim women are a symbol of the continuity of the purity of their religion rather than victims of oppression of their patriarchal society.
Also, the experience the, Muslim women have in America regarding public space is contingent on the social interactions and the culture of their host country. While the cultures in the West perceive the use of the headscarves by the women as submission to the male gender thought to be taking place in the East, the reality is contrary (Johnson and Rebecca 1896). The use of the headscarves is intended to preserve the purity of their religion rather than making the target of violence. In some instances, the concept of a war on terror is centered on the liberation of the Muslim women, when in fact, it should be focused on creating equal opportunities for all. Furthermore, in the analysis of the literature from Istanbul, it is noted that in the traditional neighborhood, the women are in control of more space during the day which was then taken up by men during the night. The use of collective space by the men and women in Istanbul is a typical example of how the Muslim women in America ought to be included in the utilization of space.
Notably, the Islam religion provides restrictions on the use of public spaces so that members of the opposite sex are to keep a certain distance from each other unless married (Johnson and Rebecca 1895). The submission to these distinctions is intended to create cooperation rather than a show of patriarchy as portrayed in the West. Development of the distinctions based on gender is aimed at creating identity and heritage to embody the purity of their religion. The continuity of the culture further focuses on negotiating a middle ground in which the social and cultural expectations are in harmony.
Based on the recent developments in globalization and democracy, it is essential for the Muslim Arab women to be equally represented in the public space just as much as other members of the society. To increase the understanding of how muslim women interpret and elucidate the use of public space, it is critical for the public to be inclusive in the planning (Johnson and Rebecca 1897). Though the Americans perceive the successful assimilation of the women into the American culture involves aligning their expectations with those of the host country, it is also evident that in the multicultural city like the New York City the public space has to incorporate identity from various religions and ethnic groups.
The authors conclude that the Muslim women are usually confined to areas where they do not engage adequately with the public space (Johnson and Rebecca 1899). The restriction of the Muslim women to limited mobility is based on the cultural constraints and the social identity, especially for non-English speaking immigrants. Furthermore, the authors indicate that the confinement to homesteads and neighborhoods is a way of the individuals avoiding being controlled by the outside world. For instance, the use of security cameras indicates that the public space has become controlling, though the individuals may be visible (Johnson and Rebecca 1900). Also, the study has found that the representation of the Muslim women in the public space should allow their bodies to interact and influence the surrounding rather than being objects in the environment. The presence of police in regions where Muslim women are likely to be found is an indication of control and will most of the time create discomfort.
The evidence presented by the authors on the use of public space in both secular and religious aspects demonstrate that both sectors of socialization present distinctions on how the women utilize the space (Johnson and Rebecca 1903). Therefore, the public spaces need to be created and accessed by the Muslim women just like other members of the society. In fact, the public space planners have to add amenities in the public spaces which can create desirable and accessible space for different people.
Johnson, Asal Mohamadi, and Rebecca Miles. “Toward more inclusive public spaces: learning from the everyday experiences of Muslim Arab women in New York City.” Environment and Planning A 46.8 (2014): 1892-1907.