115th Annual Conference - Honolulu, Hawaii
Friday, November 10 - Sunday, November 12, 2017

Zulaikha’s Reverted Gaze

Claudia Yaghoobi, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

In this presentation, in addition to excerpts from Jami’s Yusuf and Zulaikha, I will examine a few paintings, tile works, and carpets, telling the story of the same scene where putting Yusuf on display, Zulaikha makes Yusuf become the object of the Egyptian women’s gaze and desire, thus reversing the typical male gaze to a female one, and the disruption of the familiar female-passive and male-active gender roles. Given that Yusuf was a prophet, the visual observation of him was to lead to the contemplation of the divine. 

Proposal: 

One of the most significant scenes in the story of Yusuf which also appears in Jami’s Yusuf and Zulaikha is Potiphar’s wife’s, Zulaikha’s, party. In this presentation, in addition to excerpts from Jami’s Yusuf and Zulaikha, I will examine a few paintings from the 16th century and modern day Iran, 19th century tile works, and a modern day carpet, telling the story of the same scene. In this scene when Yusuf enters the reception room, the Egyptian women are so struck by his beauty that they lose control and cut their hands. Zulaikha’s personal temptation turns into a social one through the Egyptian women’s participation in the act. Putting Yusuf on display, Zulaikha makes Yusuf become the object of the Egyptian women’s gaze and desire, thus reversing the typical male gaze to a female one, and the disruption of the familiar female-passive and male-active gender roles not only for a pre-modern reader. Given that Yusuf was a prophet, the visual observation of him was to lead to the contemplation of the divine. This Sufi philosophy was called Shahidbazi or Nazarbazi (gazing at the beauty of adolescent boys). Yusuf’s physical beauty, which is prophetic, is meant to lead these female viewers to contemplation of divine beauty.