28 de octubre de 2010

Feminism to everybody

With 420 participants from over 20 different nationalities, speakers from Egypt, Iraq, United Kingdom, France, Pakistan, Morocco, Iran, Palestine, Indonesia, South Africa, Philippines, Malaysia, USA or Spain, the 4th International Congress on Islamic Feminism organized by the Catalan Islamic Council together with the Spanish Islamic Council has become a worldwide reference. "It is the only conference on Islamic Feminism that has attained to the fourth edition," says Abdennur Prado, President of the Catalan Islamic Council.

Within the framework of the IV International Congress on Islamic Feminism the Muslim Women's Network in Spain was founded and the First Meeting of Experts in Islam was held. I feel very happy of having had the opportunity of being one of those “experts”, this is only the beginning.

During this four-day congress it was possible to cover a range of topics and an extensive geography of situations regarding the role of women in Islam and in the social and participatory arena for each of the represented countries.

An average of three hundred people attended the speeches every day; the hall was always full of participants. The profile of the attendees was very diverse, you could see Muslim women and Muslim men, but there were a large number of students, journalists and experts on the subject. This breadth of profiles of participants is due, no doubt, to the growing awareness of Islamic Feminism to a more general level, to a greater motivation for the subject and being a conference based on an open space, not a single thought. I want to make this clear, I have worked with them on several occasions and I am extremely in favor of a secular state.

During the conference it was recalled that the Islamic Feminism has many versions, but it is always based on three concepts: justice, equity and equality, with the Justice being its basic principle. Overall, the conference was (and is) an excellent source of information for those who feel inclined towards the issue of women in general and Muslim women in particular.

Why Islamic Feminism?

There have been many discussions that, since the first congress, have been carried out to try to resolve this question, even in this fourth edition the issue arose again.

Nahid Tavassoli, writer, journalist and Iranian activist, launched the question of "Why say Islamic Feminism if Islam has feminism integrated?" For her, the difference between man and woman should not be valuated.

One of the few male voices of the conference was the director of the department of Theology and Sciences of Religions at the University Carlos III, Juan José Tamayo Acosta. "Religions have never treated women well," said Tamayo and then explain in detail that fundamentalism, patriarchy or androcentrism have always been there. The solution proposed is the interpretation against to what he calls "reading the texts through the eyes of the dead."

From the speeches covering more spiritual issues I want to stress the reasoning of Sa'diyya Shaikh, a professor at the University of Cape Town for Islamic Studies and Feminist Theory. She pointed out from the point of view of Ibn Arabi, Sufi mystic from Al-Andalus, "the spiritual capacity of man is equal to that of women."

The congress also counted on one of the voices of the Global Movement for Equality and Justice in the Muslim family, Musawah (‘Equity’ in Arabic), headquartered in Malaysia, and with roots in the NGO Sisters in Islam. She criticized the Islamic law (Sharia) for wanting to transform it into the base of a patriarchy where women are treated unfairly, and said: "Sharia is the revelation of God, not rules." One of the Musawab projects is the formation or consultation with young couples to change the family system that prevails today and is one of the obstacles to the "liberation of women."

Social networks to fight for the rights of women

One of the most interesting presentations was Ndeye Andujar’s, vice-president of the Catalan Islamic Council. She was responsible for providing the landscape of social networks that are born to carry out the principle of justice and ijtihad, or the effort to reflect on the sacred texts. They are the activists whose way of communicating and spreading are new technologies.

A prime example is in Spain, www.webislam.com but there are many others. At the transnational level we find: Musawah, Wise, WLUML (Women living under Muslim law) EFMW (European Forum for Muslim Women), WEMC (Women's Empowerment in Muslim Contexts), Shirkat Gah (Women's Resource Center), Sigi (Sisterhood is Global Institute). In Europe: Cedar, with a database of professionals in Islam, Gierfi, EFOMW or Zif in Germany. Also noteworthy Women Without Borders and the (secular) Association for the rights of women in development.

As Ndeye Andújar explained, networks are very useful when launching anti-discrimination projects. Hence lobbyists have gone so well known, as the one against women stoning in Iran or female genital mutilation. "I believe that Islamic feminism is the future of feminism. Some Western feminists are sexist: they try to save the 'poor' Muslim with his methods. No. The exchange must be equal. "

Indeed, Islamic Feminism has much to do with Liberation Theology which also has a base written in the book "Islamic theology of liberation" by Asghar Ali Engineer, which was presented during the conference. It also has to do with the beginnings of feminism and here Ndeye explained how one of the women involved in the creation of the journal Feminist Issues, Christine Delphy, opposed the law against the veil in France.

Daisy Khan, executive director of the American Society for the Promotion of Muslims, ASMA, introduced the network WISE: Women's Islamic Initiative in Spirituality and Equality. "They manipulated our religion to justify the mutilation (....) And even terrorism. Muslim women need to write our own plot and I think this is the best time" In his manifesto Wise use Islamic law (Sharia) not as a point of attack but of solution.

Islamic Feminism has not had an easy road. As stated during the conference Ndeye Andújar "we have passed from we are almost burned for heresy to acceptance of the concept of feminism in Islamic communities."

Islamic Feminism is not only an international movement but global, concerning Muslim women but in which everybody can participate regardless of religion or gender. It is a debate emerged from a reality that, undoubtedly, will gain the control of the establishment of justice and equity for women. Greater efforts are those whose action takes place in non-democratic soil, where no human being can enjoy human rights. In these cases it is clear at the conference that the Muslim feminists struggle is not separate from the struggle for democracy and individual freedoms.

For more information, please, visit the conference website where you can still watch the videos of the presentations: http://feminismeislamic.org/es

Other web links:
Association for Interreligious Dialogue of the Community of Madrid:
Sisters in Islam
World Movement for Equality and Justice in the Muslim family:
The Asia Foundation
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