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Empires to Nation States

Islamic Period

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Girls School, Erivan

Girls School, Erivan

Regardless of culture, women have often found themselves at the center of debates about tradition versus modernity. The sites of the debate are many, but in the Muslim world have included sharp disagreements about women’s education and women’s dress. In this picture one sees the students and staff of the Erivan Russian-Muslim School for Girls at the turn of the twentieth century. The young girls are wearing a type of head covering native to their area, but quite different from what we think of in the twenty-first century as “traditional” Muslim dress for women. The issue of “correct” dress for Muslim women has undergone dramatic changes in the last century: Iran saw both compulsory government unveiling of women in 1936, and the compulsory re-veiling of women after the Iranian Revolution of 1979. What this has served to do is to politicize and intensify feelings around the issue of women’s dress in a way quite uncommon in previous centuries, turning clothing into a battleground for debates over modernity, tradition, and piety.

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