Islamic Feminism Conference, Shimla

Since I love Islamic feminism and because events such as ‘Indian Muslim Women’s Struggles for Equality, Justice and Empowerment,’ hosted by the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, deserve as much attention as possible, here it is:

A dozen or so participants, mostly women activists experienced in fighting misogynist mullahs, exchanged views, cracked jokes and slammed the sermonizing clergy. Recounting acts of rebellion, many remembered the calumny they suffered for opposing oppressive patriarchy and for calling the bluff of the champions of orthodox Islam.

These feminists are not the bra or burqa-burning type. They believe in the core values of Islam, yet want to remove the cobwebs in the path of Muslim women. “We work under the framework of Islamic principles and Indian constitution,” declares Soman, one of the founding members of Bhartiya Muslim Mahila Andolan, an advocacy group that has 24,000 members across the country. The biggest achievement of Andolan, Soman says, is that now government agencies invite its members before framing schemes aimed at uplifting Muslim women. [Read on…]

Held between 21 and 23 May, the breadth of the conference was impressive, exploring:

Personal narratives: How participants’ interest in the issue of Muslim women’s subordination and the need for the empowerment evolved;

Reflections on the Muslim religious and political leadership, the Muslim and the ‘mainstream’ media, agencies of the state, political parties, NGOs, and ‘secular’ women’s groups and movements to issues of Muslim women’s marginality and the quest for their social, economic and educational advancement;

The need to critique and challenge patriarchal understandings of Islam, and to promote alternate Islamic discourses based on gender equality and justice, and the prospects as well as hurdles in the path of evolving such alternate discourses;

The task of foregrounding Muslim women’s concerns and issues at the policy-making level, in the media and in the agenda of Muslim organisations;

Linking Muslim women’s initiatives and struggles for justice and equality within the broader Muslim community to ongoing efforts to justice and empowerment for Muslims as a whole in the wider context of debates about democracy and social justice;

Linking Muslim women’s struggles for justice and equality to the need for reforms in the current regime of Muslim Personal Law, and how this task can be furthered with the help of experiences of reforms in personal law statutes in several Muslim countries;

A critique of dominant notions of multiculturalism and minority rights that pay scant attention to internal hierarchies within marginalised communities (i.e. minorities within minorities), based on class, caste and gender,  and the possibilities of linking Muslim women’s struggles to those of other struggles within the broader Muslim community, such as that of Dalit and OBC Muslims.

In particular, I am inspired by the defiant stance of Sheeba Aslam Fehmi, who challenged potential criticism with a steely “Let there be fatwas on me.”

I shall be keeping an eye out for other Islamic feminist events and hope to post more in the coming months.

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This entry was posted on June 2, 2011 by in Asia, note-to-self and tagged , , , , , , .
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