The Hijab as a Metaphor for Otherness and the Creation of an Ineffable “Third Space”


Why have debates around the Muslim hijab become increasingly acrimonious? Islamophobia has led to the rise of far-right groups, with calls in Europe and the US for banning headscarves and minarets on mosques. In India, sectarian violence continues unabated since 1947, with hate speech becoming progressively overt. The first half of this paper examines why the Muslim hijab has become the lone metaphor for debates about identity formation, to the exclusion of veiling prevalent in other religious and cultural contexts. How would Muslim migrant writers find these debates helpful for their situation in their countries, whether original or adoptive? How can marginalized writers resist discrimination and exclusion from mainstream life? The second half of this paper focuses on the belief in the transformative power of Sufism that the Turkish-German writer Zafer Şenocak shares with the mystics Yunus Emre and Jalaluddin Rumi, and the Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore. For Şenocak, Sufism allows a religiosity that is not only compatible with, but also perceivable in sensuous experience. Sufism thus serves as a “third space,” a term defined by the renowned culture critic Homi Bhabha as an ambiguous, ineffable area that develops when two or more individuals/cultures interact.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

Change history

  • 19 October 2019

    Following the publication of this article [1], it came to my attention that I unintentionally neglected to acknowledge the following sources. The transcript of the interview with the 50-year-old woman and her relatives was previously published in my book [2].

  • 19 October 2019

    Following the publication of this article [1], it came to my attention that I unintentionally neglected to acknowledge the following sources. The transcript of the interview with the 50-year-old woman and her relatives was previously published in my book [2].


  1. 1.

    To name a few: Ahmed 1992 and 2011; Esposito 2003; Fernea 1998; Göle 1996; Heath 2008; Kandiyoti 1988; Mernissi 1987 and 1994; Moghissi 2000; Najmabadi 2005; Oestreich 2004; Wierschke 1996, Wadud 1999 and 2006.

  2. 2.

    Ibid, 152.

  3. 3.

    Ibid, 152.

  4. 4.

    All translations from German into English are the author’s, unless otherwise indicated.

  5. 5.

    Şenocak, Zafer. Zungenentfernung. Aus der Quarantänestation. Munich: Babel-Verlag Bülent Tulay, 2001, 39.

  6. 6.

    (Ich stieg auf einen Baum,

    wurde zu seinem Stamm.

    Vögel überflogen mich.

    An ihren Flügeln meine Blätter.)

  7. 7. (Accessed: February 2009)

  8. 8.

    Judith Butler (2009) explains her use of the emotive adjectives ‘grievable’ and ‘ungrievable’ as follows: “To say that a life is precarious requires not only that a life be apprehended as a life, but also that precariousness be an aspect of what is apprehended in what is living.” (Butler:13)


  1. Ahmed, L. (1992). Women and gender in Islam: historical roots of a modern debate. New Haven: Yale University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  2. Ahmed, L. (2011). A quiet revolution: the veil’s resurgence, from the Middle East to America. New Haven: Yale University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  3. Akhan, P. (2017) “Yunus Emre, a Sufi poet from Anatolia.”, Accessed Aug 2010.

  4. Amirpur, K. (2015). New thinking in Islam: The Jihad for democracy, freedom and women’s rights. London, U.K.: Ginko Library.

    Google Scholar 

  5. Basic Law n.d., The Federal Government (Federal Republic of Germany) (Accessed August 23, 2018).

  6. Bhabha, H. K. (2006). Cultural diversity and cultural differences. In B. Ashcroft, G. Griffiths, & H. Tiffin (Eds.), The post-colonial studies reader (pp. 155–157). New York: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  7. Butler, J. (2009). Frames of war: When is life grievable? London: Verso.

    Google Scholar 

  8. Çarkoğlu, A. (2010) Public attitudes towards the türban ban in Turkey. (Accessed: April 2017), DOI:

  9. Cheesman, T., & Yeşilada, K. E. (Eds.). (2003). Zafer Şenocak. Cardiff: University Wales, x.

    Google Scholar 

  10. Doniger, W. (1972). Foreword to Eliade’s Shamanism (p. xii). Princeton: Princeton University Press edition.

    Google Scholar 

  11. Ellwood, R. (1999). The politics of myth. A study of C. G. Jung, Mircea Eliade, and Joseph Campbell. Albany, NY: SUNY Press.

    Google Scholar 

  12. Esposito, J. (2003). Unholy war. Terror in the name of Islam. New York: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  13. Fernea, E. W. (1998). In Search of Islamic Feminism. Sioux City: Anchor.

    Google Scholar 

  14. Göle, N. (1996). The forbidden modern: Civilization and veiling. Ann Arbor, MI: The University of Michigan Press.

    Google Scholar 

  15. Heath, J. (2008). The veil: women writers on its history, lore, and politics. Berkeley: University of California Press.

    Google Scholar 

  16. Kandiyoti, D. (1988). Bargaining with patriarchy. In: Gender and Society. 2 (3): 274–290. Accessed Feb 2004.

  17. London, S. (2005). The power of deliberative dialogue. In R. J. Kingston (Ed.), Public thought and foreign policy: Essays on public deliberations about Americans’ role in the world. Washington, D.C: Kettering Foundation.

    Google Scholar 

  18. Mernissi, F. (1987). Beyond the veil: male-female dynamics in a Muslim society. Revised ed. 1985, reprinted London: Saqi Books.

  19. Mernissi, F. (1994). The Harem within. retitled. 1995: “Dreams of trespass – tales of a Harem girlhood.” New York: Perseus Books.

  20. Moghissi, H. (2000). Feminism and Islamic fundamentalism: the limits of postmodern analysis. Oxford University Press, Pakistan (First print Zed Press, London, 1999).

  21. Murti, K. (2013). To veil or not to veil: Europe's shape-shifting ‘other’. Bern, Switzerland: Peter Lang International.

    Google Scholar 

  22. Najmabadi, A. (2005). Women with mustaches and men without beards. Gender and sexual anxieties of Iranian modernity. Berkeley: University of California Press.

    Google Scholar 

  23. Oestreich, H. (2004). Der Kopftuch-Streit: das Abendland und ein Quadratmeter Islam. Frankfurt: Brandes & Apsel.

    Google Scholar 

  24. Rumi, J. n.d. (Accessed: January 2010).

  25. Samantaray, S. (2013) “Demystifying mysticism: a comparative study of the poetry of William Blake and Rabindranath Tagore.” The Southeast Asian Journal of English Studies, Vol 19, No 2. Accessed Jan 2017.

  26. Senocak, Z. (2005) Between the sex pistols and the Koran. (Accessed: January 2011), DOI:

  27. Şenocak, Z. (1997). Die Prärie. Hamburg, Germany: Rotbuch Verlag (“Verwandlung im Winter”, 109).

    Google Scholar 

  28. Şenocak, Z. (2001). Zungenentfernung. Aus der Quarantänestation (p. 93). Munich: Babel-Verlag Bülent Tulay.

    Google Scholar 

  29. Tagore, R. (2003). Journey to Persia. Santiniketan, West Bengal (p. 43). India: Visva-Bharati Publication.

    Google Scholar 

  30. Tagore, R. n.d. (Accessed: January 2010).

  31. Twist, J. (2015). From Gastarbeiter to Muslim: Cosmopolitan literary responses to post-9/11 Islamophobia. (A thesis submitted to the University of Manchester for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in the Faculty of Humanities) (p. 5). Manchester, U.K.: University of Manchester, School of Arts, Languages and Cultures.

    Google Scholar 

  32. Wadud, A. (1999). Qur’an and woman rereading the sacred text from a woman’s perspective. New York: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  33. Wadud, A. (2006). Inside the gender Jihad: women’s reform in Islam. Oxford: Oneworld.

    Google Scholar 

  34. Wierschke, A. (1996). Schreiben als Selbstbehauptung: Kulturkonflikt und Identität in den Werken von Aysel Özakin, Alev Tekinay und Emine Sevgi Özdamar: mit Interviews. Frankfurt: IKO.

    Google Scholar 

  35. Venkat Mani, B. (2007). Cosmopolitical claims. Turkish-German literatures from Nadolny to Pamuk (p. 29). Iowa City: University of Iowa Press.

    Google Scholar 

  36. Yunus E. n.d. Quotable quote. (Accessed: April 2017), DOI:

Download references

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Kamakshi P. Murti.

Additional information

Publisher’s Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Murti, K.P. The Hijab as a Metaphor for Otherness and the Creation of an Ineffable “Third Space”. DHARM 1, 269–285 (2019).

Download citation


  • Hijab
  • Sufism
  • Third space
  • Ineffable
  • Otherness