Women's Voices from the Muslim World

March 26, 2011

Women's Voices from the Muslim World

The second day of the [WVN] festival began with Crossroads: The Intersection of Cultural and Religious Norms, a collection of films that explored common issues and conflicts within the Muslim world. Some of topics addressed were divorce, sexuality and the place of niqab in Islam. One of the panelists at the discussion, Alysse Stepanian, spoke about her experimental film “Roghieh” and how her own life inspired her to create this film.

“I moved to the U.S. after the Iranian Revolution. The first couple of years I was in the States I was having dreams that related to my experiences of the Revolution,” she said. “So I was keeping a dream journal, and years later I started making videos from these journals.”

"Roghieh" is based almost verbatim on one of Stepanian’s early dreams. It depicts the power of the lower-class during Iran’s Islamic Revolution by symbolizing a cleaning lady’s broom as a weapon of power and confidence.

Susana Casares spoke about her film “Avant Propos,” a documentary piece that explores the differences of opinion and lifestyle amongst women within Tunisian society.

“For me coming, from Spain, it’s always been very important to me to build bridges through my work with the Arab-Muslim world. My country has 800 years of history of Arab-Muslim tradition, and history has made it that we sort of reject that background,” Casares said.

The duo of Shereena Qazi and Ola Diab from Qatar also presented their film “The Unveiled” at the event. The film looks at the conflicting views on the niqab, the covering of the whole body except the eyes, within the Islamic world. Islamic scholars and women have different opinions on whether the veil is required for women in Islam or is just a part of tradition. Qazi and Diab did not attempt to reach a definite answer to this question through their film by leaving it for the audience to draw their own conclusion.

A fiction film “Hilla” that addresses the issue of divorce in Islam was also screened at the event. Hasan Mahmud, Director of Sharia Law, Muslim Canadian Congress, Canada., explained the importance of his film and the sources he used to solve the myths about divorce is Islam.

“I went to the scriptures, I showed the real Sharia books, the real Sharia laws that oppresses women. And at the end, I also showed from the other Sharia books and from the Quran [the ways] by which we can defeat these oppressive laws,” he said.

He believes that women oppression is mainly due to male domination, and not by the teachings of Islam. “Men very cunningly manipulate culture, tradition, food, dress, literature, state, laws and religion to captivate women,” he said. “And amongst these tools, the most difficult to defeat is oppression in the name of God.”

The next event to follow was Afghanistan: Films in Suitcase, which showed the plight of women in Afghanistan, both the underprivileged and those overcoming the political situation in the county to manifest their own destiny. “Women’s Voices Now will continue to support filmmaking in Afghanistan. We had a film critic who actually went to the country and get films for us in a suitcase,” said Catinca Tabacaru who is the WVN executive director and also acted as the moderator for the program.

Nushin Arbabzadah, a research scholar at the UCLA Center for the Study of Women, expressed her views on the women empowerment in Afghanistan. “There is room for strong women in our culture, but due to the ideological war in the last 30 years, women have lost the ability to empower themselves,” she said.

The day ended with another collection of films under the Love, Sex and Other Dangerous Pursuits program. “All the films we’ve shown at the festival are available to view online, but we wanted people to come together and engage in a healthy discussion,” said Project Manager Betsy Laikin.

“We’ve learned a lot during the course of our first year of existence, and due to the support we’ve received for the festival this year we may plan to have this festival every other year in different cities,” she further said. The organization is welcoming donations to help support scholarship opportunities for filmmakers and to organize events to raise awareness about women’s rights, regardless of any religious or political agenda.

By Alnas Zia, Aslan Media Contributor