Gender Studies

Gender Studies

The Twenty-first Annual Conference of the Canadian Council of Muslim Women

Conference Report: American Journal of Islamic Social Sciences

The Twenty-First Annual Conference of the Canadian Council of Muslim Women “Engaging Muslim Women in Civic and Social Change”

October 4, 2003, Crowne Plaza Hotel, Montreal, Quebec, Canada

The Canadian Council of Muslim Women (CCMW) held its twenty-first Annual Conference, on October 4, 2003, at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Montreal, Quebec. CCMW was established in 1982 to attain and maintain equality, equity, and empowerment for Canadian Muslim women. Participants from across Canada came to celebrate CCMW’s renowned presence throughout the nation as well as to discuss important issues related to the theme of the conference: “Engaging Muslim Women in Civic and Social Change.” The conference officially opened with the reading of the Qurʾān in Arabic, English, and French, followed by a performance of the national anthem (Girl Guides of Canada).

No Shame for the Sun: Lives of Professional Pakistani Women

Shahla Haeri, Syracuse, New York: Syracuse University Press, 2002. 454 pages.

Shahla Haeri’s groundbreaking work could not have emerged at a more desperately needed time. In the aftermath of 9/11 and the war on Iraq, the western media have worked feverishly to bombard the West with images and messages about Muslim women and Islam. Whether it is the image of Afghanistan’s burqa-clad women or Iraq’s veiled women, the message has been the same: All Muslim women are speechless, powerless, and often invisible victims of an oppressive monolithic Islam.

Islam Our Choice: Portraits of Modern American Muslim Women

Debra L. Dirks & Stephanie Parlove, eds., USA: amana publications, 2003. 298 pages.

This book is a delightful read. The somewhat unoriginal title (compilations of conversion accounts under the title Islam Our Choice have been around for several decades, including stories that date back to the mid-twentieth century) belies the original and unique stories told within. However, these words might be rather startling for many non-Muslims, and thus pique their curiosity enough to pick up the book and inquire further. Islam Our Choice, aimed primarily at non-Muslim Americans, tells the stories of fellow Americans who have chosen to follow a different path but who are still Americans. The authors express the hope that “each non-Muslim American reader will probably be able to relate to and identify with the pre-Muslim background of at least one of the authors” (p. 2). The inclusion of family photos and illustrations adds to the book’s visual appeal and shows the contributors as ordinary Americans who are at home with their new identity as Muslims.

Women in the Mosque: Historical Perspectives on Segregation

This paper deals with the issue of women’s full or partial access to the mosque from 610-925. This period is divided into two timeframes. The first, 610-34, consists mainly of the time in which the Prophet was active in Makkah and Madinah. The second, 634-925, is the period beginning with `Umar’s reign to the time when the Hadith literature was written down and set into the well-known compilations. Two types of evidence are examined for both periods: material and textual records. Material records consist of the layout of the various mosques, where the existence or absence of dividing walls or separate entrances could be important clues. Textual records consist mainly of the Qur’an and Hadith literature.

Reading Arab Women’s Autobiographies: Shahrazad Tells Her Story

Nawar Al-Hassan Golley, Austin: University of Texas Press, 2003. 236 pages.

In writing Reading Arab Women’s Autobiographies: Shahrazad Tells Her Story, Nawar Al-Hassan Golley’s goal is to fill a critical gap. Recent books like Marilyn Booth’s May Her Likes Be Multiplied: Biography and Gender Politics in Egypt (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001) analyze women’s relation to biography from Zainab Fawwaz’s Scattered Pearls  (1894) onward. However, any critical analysis of Arab women’s autobiography is scarce, if not non-existent. In its efforts to fill this critical gap, Reading Arab Women’s Autobiographies carves out a dual readership. Delineating past and present meanings both within and without Islam of “Arab,” “Arab world,” “hijab,” and “harem” with an eye to the non-Arab reader, Golley’s analysis of five autobiographical texts and three anthologies of women’s collected stories simultaneously participates in a conversation with other Arab women scholars about modes of text production, distribution, and the overall place of women’s autobiography within Arab feminism.

Woman and the Masjid between Two Extremes

The masjid, better known in North America as the Islamic center, is the center of spiritual, social, educational, and, most recently, political activities of the American Muslim community. The masjid is also the place where Muslims of diverse cultural and ideological backgrounds meet and interact. The diversity of interpretations of Islamic sources and practices has created tensions, particularly in Islamic centers where the tendency is to impose strict interpretations about the appropriate place and role of Muslim women in the masjid and the community. An increasing number of young Muslim women complain of restrictive arrangements and practices, impeding their ability to fully participate in educational and social programs. Many masjids today restrict the main prayer hall to men and assign women to secluded quarters. Women are asking out loud: “Is this the place Islam assigns for us, or is it the imposition of cultural traditions?” Some have even gone to the other extreme of rejecting all traditions and discarding all limits.

Rethinking Orientalism: Women, Travel, and the Ottoman Harem

Reina Lewis, New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2004. 297 pages.

In her book, Reina Lewis discusses how to acquire an accurate understanding of the various strands of neo-Orientalism that perpetuate long-lasting and contemporary stereotypes of Muslim women from traditional Islamic societies. Within the context of the current global and geopolitical landscape as well as the alleged American war on terror, the competing western imperialist and orientalist images, along with negative stereotypes, that characterize Muslim women are rhetorical. According to Lewis, all of these elements are at the center of knowledge that is produced and reproduced. This book focuses on Ottoman women’s writing from the beginning of the twentieth century and traces their “travel accounts, memories, and fractions that reveal a gendered counter-discourse that challenges Occidental stereotypes” (p. 1). The author’s main theme is how these writings not only challenged western Orientalist discourses, but also intervened in the Ottoman debate about women and national emancipation. The book, which follows an interdisciplinary approach, is divided into six chapters.

Creating the New Egyptian Woman: Consumerism, Education, and National Identity, 1863-1922

Mona L. Russell, New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2004. 237 pages.

In this tome, Russell examines four principal foci in her historiographic work on Egypt: “the rise of capitalism, the development of an indigenous bureaucracy, the creation of a modern educational system, and the evolution of the nationalist movement” (p. 5). The author compares and contrasts consumption rates between lower-, middle-, and upper-class Egyptian women and investigates how western patterns of capitalism paralleled and diverged from indigenous urban templates of consumerism. Against this backdrop, she frames women’s education “in a larger struggle for cultural and intellectual hegemony” (p. 7). Her engaging work is sprinkled with examples and analyses of Egypt’s societal “contact and confrontation with European thought and culture” (p. 8).

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