Empowering Change: Muslim Women Leaders in Conversation
National Museum of Women in the Arts
January 23, 2014
WVN was a guest at this event.
Upon taking our seats, the International Museum of Women (IMOW) and Independent Television Service (ITVS) welcomed us to an exciting evening discussing the museum’s online exhibition, Muslima: Muslim Women’s Art and Voices. The year-old virtual exhibition, centered around the power of storytelling, was presented in conjunction with Diverse Muslim Voices, a media initiative of ITVS meant to “build awareness and improve understanding in the U.S. of diverse Muslim societies.”
The curator of Muslima, Samina Ali, opened the evening discussing the breadth of Muslima, which includes over 200 women leaders, each a revolutionary and artist. She also noted that, through each participant’s work, she challenges global notions about what it means to be a Muslim woman, defying both Western and Muslim stereotypes. So what threads these women together? To this Samina replied: “Courage.”
Following Ms. Ali’s introduction, four women who embodied Muslima’s purpose took the stage. The evening’s moderator, Farah Pandith, the first State Department Representative to Muslim Communities, was engaging and created an atmosphere for open dialogue among the panelists. On the evening’s panel were: Alia Hogben, executive director of the Canadian Council of Muslim Women (CCMW) of Indian-Muslim origins like Ms. Pandith herself; Azadeh Moaveni, freelance journalist and reporter from the Middle East, a self-described secular, Iranian-American woman, and author of Lipstick Jihad; and Fahima Hashim, a women rights defender and Director of Salmmah Women’s Resource Center in Sudan, of Sudanese Muslim origins herself.
The panelists opened the gates to many conversations and questions: Do Islamic states have the right to interpret religion to determine laws regarding Personal Status? Where is the place of secular women in addressing women’s rights in Muslim societies? How can Muslim societies and communities around the world work to embrace the pluralistic existence of Islam in place of a fast-disseminating monolithic interpretation?
Throughout the evening there was also a continuous discussion and debate regarding the dress of Muslim women: Is there truly a certain manner of dress for Muslim women? While there are distinctive ways of dressing associated with Muslim women, can Muslim from diverse communities accept and support the varieties of dress worn by women from different cultures and interpretations of Islam? The audience, representing a vast variety of Muslim and non-Muslim women, were intrigued, and some felt obviously uncomfortable with the conversation at hand. While the discussion inevitably opened up many doors, it left the audience and panelists to each contemplate the prevailing theme of the discussion: How do we support choice?
It left me with the question: In a community stretching across the world and cultures, how can Muslim women come together, first, as women, to accept their differences and ultimately, fight for the right of every Muslim woman to express herself as she is: an individual woman?
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