“Engaging Islam: Feminisms, Religiosities, and Self-determinations”
University of Massachusetts – Boston
September 12 - 16, 2007
Profile by DiscoverTheNetworks.org, March 2009
On September 12 – 16, 2007 the University of Massachusetts at Boston presented an event titled “Engaging Islam: Feminisms, Religiosities, and Self-determinations.” “Our goal is to inform the community about Islamic feminism as well as challenge preconceived notions that people may have,” said co-organizer Leila Farsakh. “We would like to show that Islam is a dynamic field of culture in which women play a dominant role.” The featured speakers included the following professors, scholars, and activists:
Dr. Amina Wadud
Amina Wadud is an Islamic activist and scholar who currently serves as a visiting Scholar at the Starr King School of the Ministry, located in Berkeley, California. She is also a Professor of Islamic Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia. Wadud’s research interests include gender and Qur'anic studies.
Wadud is the author of Qur'an and Woman: Rereading the Sacred Text from a Woman's Perspective (1999), which reportedly “provides a first interpretive reading by a woman, a reading which validates the female voice in the Qur’an … confirms women's equality and constitutes legitimate grounds for contesting the unequal treatment that women have experienced...”
In 2006 Wadud published a follow-up book, titled Inside the Gender Jihad: Women's Reform in Islam, which “introduces the feminist movement in Islam and delves into its challenges, its textual foundations in the Qur'an and its achievements.”
Much of Wadud’s activism has been devoted to reinterpreting the Qur’an to portray Islam as a religion that preaches equal rights for women. “It is clear to me,” Wadud has written, “that the Qur’an aimed to erase all notions of women as subhuman. There are more passages that address issues relating to women — as individuals, in the family, as members of the community — than all other social issues combined.” In truth, numerous passages in the Qur’an reveal the opposite to be true. Passage 4:34, for example, states that “men are in charge of women, because Allah hath made the one of them to excel the other.” Another passage tells husbands “to beat their disobedient wives,” and instructs men to punish disobedient women by “admonishing them and scourging them.”
Wadud continues to claim that the Qur’an was instrumental in bringing about a number of reforms in the way Islamic men viewed women, and credits the text with discouraging misogyny and violence against women:
“Islam brought radical changes regarding women and society, despite the deeply entrenched patriarchy of seventh-century Arabia. The Qur’an provides women with explicit rights to inheritance, independent property, divorce and the right to testify in a court of law. It prohibits wanton violence towards women and girls and is against duress in marriage and community affairs.”
Wadud sparked controversy in March 2005 when she led an Islamic Friday Prayer service at which both men and women were in attendance. Hosted at the Episcopal Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City, the prayer broke Islamic tradition by inviting both sexes to a service which is traditionally reserved for male imams only. While the event was originally supposed to be held at a mosque, a number of venues opted not to host it due to bomb threats.
Haideh Moghissi is a Professor of Sociology at the York's School of Women's Studies at York University in Toronto, Canada.
Moghissi has been a signatory to a number of documents condemning America’s policies in the Middle East. In March 2006, she lent her name to a statement titled, “We Say No To US Aid,” which denounced the Bush Administration’s decision to allocate $85 million in aid to groups opposed to the radical Islamic regime in Iran:
“The Iranian freedom-seekers do not need aid from the merchants of oil and blood – from those who aim at holding the people in bondage and plundering their wealth. Coveting foreign aid is a sign of dependence. The sad fate of the struggle of the peoples of Afghanistan and Iraq for liberation from the yoke of dictatorships should serve as a clear lesson of the consequences of such interferences.”
Moghissi also signed a 2003 statement titled “American Academics Join Israeli Colleagues in Warning Against Ethnic Cleansing,” which expressed concern that the “fog of war” in Iraq “could be exploited by the Israeli government to commit further crimes against the Palestinian people, up to full-fledged ethnic cleansing.”
Lara Deeb is an Associate Professor of Women's Studies at the University of California – Irvine. Her research interests include: gender, Islam, modernity, interfaith intimacies, transnational feminist analyses, Islam, Middle East Studies, and Arab American Studies.
In 2008 Deeb delivered a talk titled “Understanding Hizbullah,” as the final installment of the 2007-08 “Arab World: History, Politics & Culture” lecture series. During her talk, Deeb portrayed the Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah as a confederation of fighters formed solely as a reaction to Israeli troops “that were occupying their villages.” “The brutality of this  Israeli invasion cannot be underestimated as a factor in the formation of Hezbollah,” Deeb stated. “Hezbollah simply would not exist in its current form had the invasion and the continued occupation of south Lebanon not taken place.”
Moreover, Deeb insists that Hezbollah's rocket launches and terrorist attacks against Israel have been purely in self defense and aimed at regaining land that Israel seized illegally. She contends that the organization’s violence “has been confined to liberating Lebanon from Israeli occupation.”
According to Michael C. Duke of The Jewish Herald-Voice, Deeb glorified Hezbollah’s “grass-roots resistance” to Israeli and U.S. “neo-imperial” “aggression,” “invasion” and “occupation.” Duke further reports that Deeb credited Hezbollah with “the building of schools and clinics,… assisting in the rebuilding of war-torn southern Lebanon, [and providing financial assistance to] families of ‘martyrs.’”
Deeb is a founding member of the Radical Arab Women's Activist Network.
Tariq Modood is a professor of Multiculturalism and Public Policy at the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom.
Modood was a signatory to a statement calling for sanctions against Israel and boycotts of Israeli institutions—in retribution for Israel’s recent construction of the security barrier in the West Bank. “The construction of the Israeli wall,” the statement read, is “in flagrant violation of the rulings of the International Court and despite international condemnation, notably from the EU, is making everyday life, to say nothing of teaching and research, ever more difficult for our Palestinian colleagues.”
Modood was also a signatory to a January 2009 statement titled “Palestine -- An Appeal for a Non-Violent Global Resistance Movement.” Authored by Tariq Ramadan, a Muslim professor of Philosophy with numerous connections to Islamic terrorism, the statement called for a “broad-based international mobilization” against the “Extremist Policy of the State of Israel.” Said the statement:
“Our task today is to state clearly our principles, to determine the most effective methods of resistance, and to coordinate our actions.… We must undertake actions that express the determination of our global resistance. Because we cannot stand idly by while the Palestinians are being humiliated, while their rights are being trampled, while they are victimized by atrocities, we are launching the Non-Violent Global Resistance Movement.”