Orientalist discourse of Arab and Muslim women

Orientalist discourse of Arab and Muslim women


European colonialism significantly affected the lives of Arab and Muslim women. The image of the Arab and Muslim women was significantly distorted by the European colonialism, making their lives worse off compared to the period before. European colonialism such as Portuguese and the Spanish entered into Arab and Muslim countries in the early 18th century. Just like colonialization in any other state or continent,the colonialists came along with their cultural beliefs,ways of lives and systems that were not present in these counties such as Christian religion and beliefs,  leading to a disruption of the stable status quo (Sidani, 2015). This affects negatively affected the image and perception of Muslim and Arab women, and their lives have continued becoming more miserable in the region and the world generally, compared to their image and lives before European colonialism.

The purpose of this paper is to provide a comparison of the image of Arab and Muslim women in Orientalist discourse to their lives in the region before the beginning of the European territory. Muslim and Arab areas have a long history of strong religious believes and cultural practices that impose specific behavior and contact of their women. After the colonial period, their lives and the way the world perceives the Muslim and Arab women changed compared with the period before colonization (Slade, 2011). This research will be based on the following research question; How does the Image of Arab and Muslim women in the orientalist discourse compare with their lives before the beginning of European colonialism?

Literature review

According to a study done by David (2003) on the “stereotypes that define us, and how it came to be,” Mulism and Arab women have labeled an image that does not accurately define their character du duet to the influence of the western culture and effect of European colonialism. The study takes a comparative approach of how the women were perceived before the 15th century and how they are perceived now and if this changed perception is accurately the truth of what they are. The study found out there are various stereotypes mostly linking the Muslim and Arab women to terrorism. Arab and Muslim woman is no longer a highly respected member of society as it used to be. According to this study, the influence of European culture which came after colonization has washed away the rich Arab and Muslim culture especially on the mode of dressing and associated such to terrorism (David, 2003). This has affected the image of Muslim and Arab women, causing annneccesary alarm. For example, in Belgium, wearing of clothing covering ones face whether partially or fully in public was unanimously banned in 2010, citing security reasons. This directly targeted the Muslim woman a directly labeled them as terrorists or propagators of terrorism. However, this study was conducted more than 15 years ago; hence it has been passed by time as many changes have happened accordingly; its findings cannot hold.

State regulations have significantly increased from the time of European colonialism,  driving concern into the kind of image being painted on  Islam and Arab women, and accuracy of such image. According to this study which was conducted  by European Institute of Gender Equality (EIGE)  2015, the perception of  Islam  and Arab women changed from the  time of colonialism and was further deteriorated by an increase in the terrorist activities which were directly linked to Islamic groups including Al-Qaida in the late 19th century and early 20th century. For example, in German, 12 out of 16 states introduced imposed restrictions with the effect of January 2004 on Wearing religious cloths but making exemptions for clothing for Catholic nuns and other “Christian Western”.However, this study does not state how this orientalist discourse compares with their lives before European colonialism.

In a comparative study of the image of Islamic and Arabian women in the mid 15h and late 20th century revealed a drastic change in the way women are perceived (John, 2014). This study was conducted in European nations to show how the European countries saw the Muslim and Arabia women. According to this study, during their difficult encounter of Europeans with their Muslim neighbor in the North Africa and the Middle East over many centuries, the European developed discourse that described Muslim and Islam as “others.” As a result of this discourse of alterity, European nations have had a substantial identity and lend to spreading of many sorts of prejudice and stereotypes that for long have been durable (John, 2014). This discourse was further escalated by the increased feeling of superiority and definition of European nations in the 19th century that identified Islam and Europe as two different and antithetical Civilizations. However,the study focused on the perception of European countries on Islam and Arab women. Hence it was limited to Europe and not how the rest of the world see the Arab and Islam women.

From an analysis of the existing literature and past studies, it’s evident that no current and more relevant study addresses the problem undressed by this study. Therefore, due to the existence of this knowledge gap, there is a need for further research. It’s on this basis that this study was conducted to provide a piece of current and relevant information about the comparison of the image of Arab and Muslim women in the orientalist discourse to their lives in the region before the beginning of European colonialism.


To adequately answer the research question, this study adopted a focus group, in-depth interviews, and personal observation methods. Focus groups involved useful discussions with the available and accessible Arab and Islamic women of 25 years and above. In-depth interviews involved selecting four women, who 2 were from Islamic and two from  Arab and conducting an in-depth interview on the mater. Personal observation involved analysis of scripts,videos, and audios that relate to Islam and Arab women before and after European colonialism.


This study found out that the image of the Arab and Muslim women has been distorted and it’s from the way their lives were before the European colonialism. The model has turned to be more and more negative with their perception turning to be more of terrorist and propagators of terrorism. This has caused a lot of alarm which most are unnecessary. Extreme religious beliefs which are mostly associated with the Muslim community has contributed significantly to this change in an image. Great western cultural influence has also contributed significantly to change the distortion of this image. According to the study, an increase in the incompatibility between the Arab and Muslim nation with the European countries has contributed significantly to the negative perception of the Arab and Muslim women with all extreme negativities.

According to the study the alterity and extension of the opposite identity which is labeled on the Arab and Muslim women by not only the European but the rest of the world has no any near signs of coming to an end but is deemed to continue to enlarge as time goes,which it seems to be like a time bomb which is not known what it holds and the damage it will cause once it explodes. Something needs to be done as the Arab and Muslim women need to be seen in their true color, true identity and embraced the right image which they genuinely deserve rather than letting the history to control us.




David, A. (2003). Feminizing leadership in Arab societies: the perspectives of Omani female leaders. Women in Management Review, 22(1), 49-67.

From the “Turkish Menace” to Exoticism and Orientalism: Islam as Antithesis of Europe (1453–1914)? — EGO. (2017). Retrieved from http://ieg-ego.eu/en/threads/models-and-stereotypes/from-the-turkish-menace-to-orientalism

John, C. M. (2015). Islam, women, and politics: The demography of Arab countries. Population and Development Review, 33-60.

Sidani, Y. (2015). Women, work, and Islam in Arab societies. Women in Management Review, 20(7), 498-512.

Slade, S. (2011). The image of the Arab in America: Analysis of a poll on American attitudes. Middle East Journal, 35(2), 143.