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The American Journal of Semiotics

Volume 25, Issue 1/2, 2009

Susan J. Rasmussen
Pages 1-23

Critically Re-Thinking “Islamic Dress”
Deconstructing Disputed Meanings in Tuareg (Kel Tamajaq) Women’s Clothing and Covering

This essay examines the connections between dress, religion, and gender, specifically, contextual practices and underlying beliefs concerning dress among women in Tuareg communities of Niger and Mali, West Africa, who speak a Berber language, Tamajaq, predominantly adhere to Islam, are semi-nomadic, socially stratified, and display influences from pre- and popular Islamic, nation-state, and global forces. The Tuareg data reveals both common themes and inter- and intra-cultural variations in Muslim women’s dress, thereby challenging monolithic interpretations of women’s dress in Islamic communities. More broadly, the essay calls for attention to the contested meanings of dress in terms of its special semiotic qualities: it is portable, can be disassembled and reassembled, and can be subtly re-arranged to convey ambiguous but powerful meanings that are neither unitary or stable.

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