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College symposium to investigate themes of “Islamic feminism”

(AP Photo/Russell Contreras)

The University of Oregon is hosting a symposium exploring themes of “Islamic feminism” later this week. The all-day event which will take place on Friday, October 27 is called “Islam, Feminism, and the Women’s Mosque Movement.”

According to the University of Oregon Communications Department, “The women’s mosque movement is a campaign centered on integration and equalization of women in mosques and as leaders of prayers.” The first all-female mosque opened in Los Angeles, California in 2015.

“The symposium will highlight the contributions of Muslim women’s activism and challenge popular representations and perceptions of women and Islam, particularly the stereotype of the ‘uneducated’ Muslim woman,” according to the release.

Topics will touch on the intersection of Islam and feminism in the fields of law, democracy, globalization, and writing.

Many assert that Islam and feminism – or women’s rights – are incompatible as most Middle Eastern countries have a history of treating women as second-class citizens and the actual religion has a history of banning women from leadership roles. Furthermore, there has been a deafening silence from left-leaning feminists when it comes to the abuse of women in the custom of some Islamic countries through female genital mutilation, arranged marriages, or the inability to go out in public without a chaperone.

Keynote speaker Amina Wadud has a long history of fighting for women’s rights within the Islamic religion. In 2005, Wadud led Friday prayers (salat) for a congregation of both men and women, breaking with Islamic tradition, which allows only male imams to lead mixed-gender congregations in prayer.

Wadud has been quoted as saying, “I don’t want to change Muslim mosques. I want to encourage the hearts of Muslims, both in their public, private and ritual affairs, to believe they are one and equal.”

University of Oregon’s Middle East Studies Director Diane Baxter told Red Alert Politics that the symposium speakers believe Islam and feminism can be compatible.

She explained to Red Alert Politics how the two can coincide.

“Like there are many different interpretations, denominations, and schools of thought within Christianity, so there are in Islam. Islam is not one thing. It varies from place to place and over a diversity of time periods, depending on historical, political, economic, and cultural factors (same as Christianity does). Feminism is also NOT one thing, as scholars of feminism continually attest. There are multiple strands within feminism and these shift depending on place and time as well,” Baxter explained.

“Islam, like other religions, has been interpreted predominately by men in patriarchal societies. But is that the heart of Islam? Many suggest it is not. The suggestion that Islam and feminism are incompatible is misguided and inaccurate. A deeper reading of both Islam and feminism shows that the suggestion of incompatibility is far too simplistic,” she continued.

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