For my final project I decided to create a blog centered around the topic of Muslim women with my classmate Sarah Erkert. I was interested in looking at women in Islam since it is a controversial subject often present in the news. It is also, I feel, a topic many people discuss without actually possessing any factual knowledge on the subject. We decided to approach the subject by creating a blog since it would be a way to incorporate a lot of different information and viewpoints in various forms of media. In our blog, we have included book reviews, images, Qur’anic interpretations, current event articles, and more.
The aim of this project was not to preach the subject of women in Islam one way or another, but rather to bring different perspectives and ideas together in one place. We have accomplished this by reading and reviewing current event articles, looking at and interpreting parts of the Hadith and Qur’an, and pooling other resources such as books and images. We looked at both articles that praised and admonished Islam to create a varied perspective. By choosing the website Tumblr to host our blog, we were able to connect our blog with others on the site so that we could see what other bloggers had to say on the subject and they in turn could see and share what we had posted.
This project has been more enjoyable and rewarding than I thought possible. I picked the subject because I knew it was something I was interested in and would thus hold my attention, but I never thought that by the end I would wind up so invested in the subject. Through the creation of this blog and all the information I have read I have found that I have formed my own ideas and opinions on the subject. What is particularly interesting is that Sarah has also formed her own opinions, and they differ from mine. I think this in itself exemplifies the complexity of the subject – that two people could be presented with the same information and arrive at two different conclusions.
People in Islam
Week 8-2: Ingrid Mattson; Professor, Activist, former President of ISNA
Please meet sister Ingrid Mattson, a Canadian convert who has become a leader in the American and Canadian Muslim communities by advocating for the Ummah in teaching what Islam really is to non-Muslims, and engaging in interfaith studies.
Born in Ontario, Ingrid came into Islam while studying art in France and soon found herself in Pakistan where she worked to aid refugees from Afghanistan suffering from the war with Russia.
When she returned home from Pakistan she pursued Islamic Studies in Chicago and in 2001 was elected vice-president of the Islamic Society of North America, she was the first convert not only to hold the position of vice-president, but in 2006 she became president of the organization. She has also advised the Public Broadcasting System on it’s documentary of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) titled “Muhammad: The Legacy of a Prophet”. In her time she has given non-Muslims the chance to set aside their prejudices and see Islam for what it really is, a beautiful religion.
[If you click the picture of Ingrid Mattson, you will be lead to her discussing the important role women have played in Islam. If you click “Muhammad: The Legacy of a Prophet”, you will be lead to a Youtube playlist of the documentary. Enjoy!]
A major figure in the Islamic Society of North America, Ingrid Mattson represents a major minority in Western culture. She is a Canadian women who converted to Islam of her own free will and choice. Her political strength as a Western women in religious politics is something to be admire in modern day. She is slowly bridging the gap between cultural ignorance and Orientalism.
The Butterfly Mosque is a memoir written by G. Willow Wilson, a woman born in the United States who later converted to Islam and married an Egyptian man. The book provides a unique viewpoint on some of the most controversial and multifaceted issues that come with being a Muslim woman today. Since Wilson was born in a non-Muslim household and actually raised without any religion, it’s interesting to see the Muslim world, a world she chose for herself, through her eyes. I strongly encourage anyone who even has the slightest interest in this topic to read this book. It’s an easy yet very worthwhile read. To talk about all the issues surrounding Muslim women that are brought forth in this book would require a full-length essay, so I’d like to summarize some of what I found to be most profound.
On page 57, Wilson describes briefly why she chose to convert to Islam and the fear she has about telling others about her conversion because of all of the prejudices surrounding Islam. It is in this section that she also makes the statement: “This is not Islam. This is society in freefall” (58). She says this in response to a friend asking how she can defend Islam when she sees the way women in Cairo are treated. This really resonated with me, because it’s a view I have come to share. Wilson admits that women are treated harshly in the Middle East various times throughout the book - “The Middle East is one place for men, and an entirely different place for women.” (124) So Wilson is not denying the truth or turning the other cheek, she fully acknowledges the problem, but she does not view Islam as the source. The equality of women in Islam and how it is a subject so misunderstood is a heavy theme in this memoir and one that Wilson talks about openly and honestly. To me, this makes her account one that I can put faith in.
Wilson also discusses other “hot topics” such as her decision to wear the veil and the various perspectives on the veil (99, 160) as well as the cultural divides between the east and west (as exemplified in one instance on page 68 when the staff at Language School were asked to rank who was most responsible in the tale of a murder). For anyone interested in Islam, and what being a Muslim woman is all about, I really believe The Butterfly Mosque is a fantastic place to start.
**Image from amazon.com. For more information on The Butterfly Mosque or G. Willow Wilson, visit her website by clicking here.
Final Project Concept: A Blog with a Timeless Perspective
By: Sarah Erkert
When given the final project assignment, I knew I wanted to interpret the format in a creative and unique way, so I enlisted the help of Meg Frey and brainstormed topics within the Islam that we thought were worth a further inquiry. Being women ourselves, we felt our own confusion and interest into the well-being and power of women in Islam to be a central and dynamic topic to study. From there, we decided we wanted to look at women throughout Islamic history, including some of Muhammad’s wives, to modern day tales of Muslim women all over the world. The emphasis of this study was to see how the treatment and practices of women in Islam has changed and advanced, to include and expand in a modern technological culture.
Once selecting our topic, we needed to decide how and in what format we wanted to display it. At first we thought something performance based, if that be a collaborative collection of monologues from different Muslim women, or a educational lesson plan that could be taught in a classroom setting. But, like the Islamic world advancing and changing to meet the needs of its modern people, we wanted to communicate the topic over a forum of a technological basis; a blog. A blog allows for personal reflections on linked articles, images that depict life across the world, a multimedia texts or videos that better allow for understanding and interpretation. I also think a blog is a great way to show a varied and widespread range of research without finding sources of unknown writers or proof. Meg and I also emphasis the importance of responding or summarizing the sources we posts, so you and our readers understand our interpretation of the material rather than just the opinions of the collected sources.
This project has allowed me to get in contact and to respond to people within the Muslim culture, while seeking and answer my own questions as to how women operate in modern day Islamic belief. The project also gave me some empowering women figures in Islam who represent symbols of protest, individuality, and independence. I am happy to have learned so much about the traditions and rules set out by Muhammad and Allah, while seeing how modern day women struggle and fight to find a place in Islam today. Though the typical response to Islam’s hold on women is consider oppressive, I think the true reflection should be made of the men in power. Islam does not dictate what women are meant to be or how they are to be controlled. The men who interpret the Qur’an are the ones who set clear restrictions and holds on women. Even non-Muslim men in power restrict how a Muslim woman can practice her own religious belief, i.e. France’s ban on veils.
Overall, I think my response to modern day women in Islam is a mixed one. There is definitely work to be made to allow women the freedom to pursue careers and families of their choosing, but their is also a need to confront Western’s misinterpretation of Islam, while removing the stereotyped image of Orientalism. The struggle of Islamic women cannot be met while the Western world believes absurd and repressive thoughts on the Middle East. Though female independence is not ideal in Islam today, women have advanced just like the religion itself has done to meet the needs of modern times.
Follow-Ups to “Why Do They Hate Us?”
As I mentioned in the original post about the article “Why Do They Hate Us?” Mona Eltahawy has gained a lot of attention for her article and many people are making their opinions known. Take a look at some of the following articles written in response to Eltahawy’s:
Ali A. Rizvi
Monica L. Marks
“Why Do They Hate Us?” is an article by Mona Eltahawy recently published by Foreign Policy Magazine. While reading this article, available on their website, or by clicking the link in the title, I experienced a lot of mixed emotions. On the one hand when Eltahawy proclaims that global gender inequality stems from the fact that men hate women I want to scoff and discredit the article entirely because that seems ridiculous to me. Yes there is gedner inequality all over the word, not just in the Middle East, but I do not believe it stems from the fact that men hate women. Perhaps instead it comes from years of tradition and societal rules that oppressed women; rules that we’re continually striving to break but they admittedly take time –whether that be fair or not. But, on the other hand the things she describes happening to women in the Middle East are horrific and there is no excuse for them. Some of the things she described made me feel physically ill so if it takes Eltahawy’s article and argument to bring attention to those events, then so be it. I may not agree wholeheartedly with her methods, but I wish to see the eradication of the misogynistic abuse of women just as much as she does. Though I must say, had Eltahawy not used such extreme generalizations about men and Islam in her article, I feel I would have respected it more as a level-headed logical argument. But then again, maybe this is exactly what was needed to bring attention and media focus to the issue.
I really encourage you to read this article and see what you think about it – it’s something that has gained a lot of attention in the short time since it has been published and it’s being widely discussed.
Unlike Meg’s look at the Qur’anic perspective on women, I found the Hadith to be extremely contradicting and restrictive. Not only does the Hadith has specifics on what a man can allow his wife to do, but how women should be treated like a rib, because:
"Act kindly towards woman, for a woman is created from a rib, and the most crooked part of the rib is its top. If you attempt to straighten it, you will break it, and if you leave it, its crookedness will remain there. So act kindly towards women."
I understand the Hadith has different degrees of credibility, but even some of the quotations from the honorable Prophet Muhammad are misogynistic world views that still dominate mainstream Islamic practice and tradition. At first, I thought the interpretations of these particular Hadiths were misquoted or interpreted incorrectly, but on reviewing the original text, I found many of the same quotations. The comments on the original webpage were surprising as well. A post responds to a previous question of women scholars, but rather than support female independence, the response describes, how preventing women to study Islam is a sin, but men are in charge of keeping THEIR women in line and within Islam. When he writes “their”, he capitalizes it, suggesting that men tend to overextend their reigns to women outside of their social circles. This response merely means to redefine a man’s control over his immediate family, rather than redefine what a woman should be able to do in Islam.
This whole review of the Hadith in relation to modern interpretation has made me question how Muslims believe law and tradition should be handled. The restrictions of the Hadith are as oppressive and harmful to women as Taliban rule and reinforcement has been in Middle Eastern territories, such has Afghanistan.
This article is well sourced and detailed, while giving great explanation to the stereotyped image of Orientalism from a Western perspective, and the actions Western countries take to resolve false images of the East. The writer, Hamzah Saif, describes the dilemma as:
"Plunking something that is happening in the Muslim world out of its proper historical and political context means a failure to analyze the root cause of the problem and a consequent misrepresentation of a people and their relgioin. Such gross misrepresentations are made possible first by dividing the Muslim world into two competing sides - one good, the other bad- and identifying each by physical markers, such as beards and scarves, and second by assuming that Muslims are a homogenous culture that needs to be escorted into the 21st century by the civilizing West. These ingredients put together allow Sally Wall, for example, to declare Islam as inherently violent towards women because the Taliban burn girls’ schools, without asking how the Taliban ideology came to be what it is. Meanwhile, concerns for women’s wages or the exploitation of female workers by indigenous and global predatory capitalism fall to the wayside. Attention to these issues- and not the headscarf- is what i needed."
Overall, I think the article sums up a magnifiscent range of what Meg and I hoped to find out or discover in this project.
The First Lady of Islam, Khadija, is a brilliant and historical novel examining one of the most influential and important women of Islam. Not only does the novel redefine what a woman can do to a nation, but how Khadija made Muhammad the man we admire and praise. I highly recommend it!
Here’s a brief multimedia piece done by NPR about a year ago which looks at several Muslim women living in America who have chosen not to wear the veil and their reasoning as to why. This just offers additional perspective on the veil - something that as I have said before is the source of so much controversy and misunderstanding.