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Who Wears Hijab with the President: Constructing a Modern Islam in Tunisia

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In comparison to other Muslim states, Tunisia is often described as secular. However, the official Tunisian relation to and construction of religion is more complex. The government bans Hijab from public institutions such as schools, but on certain occasions the president publicly welcomes women wearing some forms of hijab. Underlying this seeming contradiction is a governmental attempt to develop a modern form of Islam that emphasizes the position of women in Tunisia as fully modern. The master narrative of modernization posits an inevitable triumph of modernity over tradition, making traditional forms of hijab acceptable, but contemporary forms of hijab challenge this assumed inevitable progression. The state views the status of women as modern as particularly vulnerable. While otherwise modern men may freely adopt traditional clothing styles on ritually important occasions, women have no flexibility in shifting between modernity and tradition.

Affiliations: 1: Franklin and Marshall College, Department of Anthropology PO Box 3003, Lancaster, PA 17604-3003, Email:


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