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Women and Islam: Feminism and Interfaith Relationships

Women and Islam: Feminism and Interfaith Relationships

Published: March 2, 2012

Rashida Khalifa, of Greensboro's Al-Aqsa Community Clinic, shares about the free medical treatment the clinic offers twice a month

Photo: AFSC / Lori Fernald Khamala

By Brianna Goodison, AFSC Intern, Guilford College Principled Problem Solving Scholar

Working on the Esse Quam Videri: Muslim Self Portraits series has been an adventure to say the least. Rushing around trying to finish last minute event details while at the same time learning the ropes at the AFSC office in Greensboro made the Women and Islam panel discussion appear to be a long ways away. But nevertheless, before I knew it, I was greeting guests at the door of the Guilford College Art Gallery.

The venue couldn't have been more perfect; the walls were covered with Todd Drake's Muslim Self Portraits collection. Once everyone was settled in their seats, the lights dimmed and the film “The Noble Struggle of Amina Wadud” began. The film detailed the struggle of Amina Wadud, an African American Islamic Feminist, as she challenged certain Muslim practices and became a voice for Islamic feminism.

After the film, Diya Abdo, an assistant English professor at Guilford College, began by discussing the definition of feminism. She explained that feminism did not originate from only one culture but grows locally, from within each culture. Parveen Hasanali, an assistant professor of Religious Studies, continued the conversation by showing the audience works of art done by different Islamic Feminist artists, like Shirin Neshat and Shirin Aliabadi. We were shown black and white images of veiled Muslim women contrasted with images of Muslim women in colorful hijabs who've had recent nose jobs. The audience was asked to express their thoughts on the message that the artist was trying to convey and what stereotypes the paintings reinforced or defied about Muslim women and Islamic culture.

At the end of the discussion, around twenty-five female guests, including myself, made their way to Founders Hall to discuss their thoughts more in-depth over dinner. The guest-list included a diverse mixture of people, but the focus was on Muslim-Quaker women interfaith relationships. Guests were encouraged to sit with strangers to have a more impacting dialogue and to meet new people. Being neither Quaker nor Muslim, I was worried I wouldn't be able to find common ground with both parties.

The conversation was different at each table, but ours focused on the prompt question “In what ways have your religious beliefs changed over the last decade? In what ways have they stayed the same?” Our table consisted of a few AFSC interns, a Muslim, Indian immigrant, and an elderly Free Methodist. We all shared our personal religious journey and were pleasantly surprised to see how unique, yet similar, our experiences were.

After we finished, the tables were brought together to exchange the main themes or ideas that each table focused on. Discussions ranged to the bullying of Muslim children in schools to the religious emphasis on the importance of knowing, and loving, one's neighbors.

Towards the end of the meal, the focus was shifted towards action we can take to support the Muslim community and to encourage Quaker-Muslim relations. An array of ideas were brought up, including volunteering at the free clinic in downtown Greensboro that is run mainly by members of the Muslim community.

As the conversation came to a close, contact information was exchanged and guests voiced excitement over future, related events. One guest ended the evening reminding us that, as neighbors, we are obligated to know what is going on in each others lives and to actively find ways to support each other. I couldn't agree more. Sometimes, with such a focus on discussion and understanding, we lose sight of the action we need to take to maintain these bridges that we have built.