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The Center for the Study of Islam Democracy

Abstracts

Alejandro J. Beutel, “The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt : A Preliminary Assessment of its Positions on Religious Freedom, Women and Religious Minorities”. This paper is an attempt to provide a preliminary assessment of the Muslim Brotherhood’s (MB) positions on freedom of religion and belief and their implications for US policy. In order to do so, I used their public statements on six key issues to measure the MB’s commitment to religious freedom. They are: 1) the role of sharia in society; 2) the status of Coptic Orthodox and other Christians; 3) attitudes toward Jews; 4) the public role of women in society and within the Muslim Brotherhood; 5) citizenship and public identity of Baha’is; and 6) attitudes towards Shi’as, non-conforming Muslims and followers other faiths. Overall, the MB has undergone a significant evolution in its thinking, but seem to not yet have accepted international human rights standards. The organization continues to show a strong trend toward greater acceptance of political pluralism and the democratic process. This includes some issues of religious freedom, women and religious minorities, but not all. A pattern seems to exist where the clearer the public statement is on a particular issue, the more pragmatic or liberal leaning its tends to be, while unclear/contradictory statements include intolerant statements from some individual members. However, in some instances the Brotherhood unambiguously takes intolerant positions. Finally I find that religious freedom is not mentioned in any policy statements directly connected to the Brotherhood.

Shajeda Dewan, (The Development of Islamic Feminism: Emancipation of Women; Opportunities towards the development of Democracy and Universal Human Rights). InFrance and more recently in Britain , there has been both political and social concerns surrounding the political decisions and debates on the Hijab (headscarf) and the Niqab (veil) worn by Muslim women. Views are held that such observations can be a threat to democratic rights of women and hinder social integration; a rising concern since events of 9/11. However, in a much wider context, Islamic social systems both culturally and politically is experienced by many as oppressive towards women, and viewed at a much global level as incompatible with values of western democracy. This paper attempts to raise academic enquires into the question “Is there a necessity to develop Islamic Feminism, and what theoretical underpinnings should be considered for such a discourse?”. It is further argued that Islamic Feminism is important, in the endeavor to understand both the conception and evolution of Shariah and developments of Islamic Jurisprudence (Fiqh); and essential to the development and realization of democracy in Islamic societies. To illustrate, Cultural and religious aspects of both theory and ‚Äö√Ñ√≤lived experiences’ will be analyzed to deconstruct the symbolic and religious aspects of the hijab and the niqab, to distinguish whether aspects of this phenomenon is socially constructed. Parallel to this process, what evidence enables the seeking to question Shariah ?, in order to understand the philosophy of Quranic injunctions and hadith. Would it further empower the understandings of Islam, and would it be a positive tool for developing and disseminating the notion that Islam is embedded on values of democracy?  Theoretical approaches from the discourses of Islamic rationalism, Islamic ethics; Cultural Psychology, Anthropology and primary sources of Islamic Knowledge: the Qur’an and hadith will be applied to understand the issues raised, in particular as to whether the formations and interpretations of Shariah and hadith is value free from a cultural perspective. The implications of such interpretations, on societies and broader Islamic values are also discussed. The paper concludes that the development of Islamic Feminism is crucial to deconstructing traditional views of Islam and essential to developing and contributing to universal values of humanity, justice;  in addition to the equality and empowerment of women in all social arenas, both in Islamic and non Islamic societies.

Alessandra L. Gonzalez, (Spiritual Capital of Politically Engaged Women in Kuwait). Combining effectual rational-choice and feminist theory to form an empowerment definition of spiritual capital, I will theorize on how women in the Arab Gulf Region have and will continue to expand their limited choices in the cultural marketplace using their spiritual resources. As their socio-political framework broadens with increased access to areas of power in their culture, women will become increasingly important catalysts for political change. I will look at the situation of female elites in Kuwait to illustrate my theory. This study has two aims: First, to broaden our analytical possibilities for the empowerment theory of spiritual capital, up to now the most hopeful tool to study the social and political effects of traditionally marginalized groups as they use religious organization, knowledge, and experience to motivate their entry and subsequent shaping of their larger political, social, and religious environment. Second, this study aims to study a time-sensitive and historically monumental window of opportunity in the population of politically engaged women inKuwait. No moment in global history has been as ripe to benefit from this practical assessment of the motivations behind women’s empowerment in a budding democracy of an Islamic state.  In my research, I consider the religious motivations for empowerment of women who are politically engaged. By politically engaged I mean that they draw from their religious faith an empowerment to mobilize support for female candidates, increase voter turnout, and even choose to run for public office.  In my analysis I will draw from the opinions of a variety of leading Islamic scholars on the position of women in political Islam, as well as analyzing public opinion data about attitudes and perceptions of the relationship of religious practice and political attitudes about women’s rights in the Gulf Region. The implications of this project not only have ramifications across academic areas, but also apply to re-shaping policy and international agency cooperation thought on how to tap into natural sources for empowerment of marginalized populations: by drawing on their religious faith, convictions, and traditions to reinterpret their political and social roles.  It has obvious implications on the role of moderate Islamist movements that promote an elevation of women’s role in society and equality in political rights.  This study sheds light on how to harness from among a wide spectrum of positions within political Islam a coalition that furthers women’s social, political, and legal rights, particularly as it regards issues of family policy. This illustration from Kuwait gives insight not only into the Gulf Region, but to the ever-mutating public and private boundaries for women across the Middle East.

 

Nuzhat Jafri and Salima Ebrahim, (Engaging Muslim Women in Civic and Social Change: the Canadian Experience). The issues of women, minority rights and democratization are by no means new; however, Muslim women’s involvement in the political process in a North American setting is something that has not been studied at great length, despite the challenges they face living in a western economy.   This issue is particularly pertinent in relation to this conference as it provides a snapshot of Muslim women, many of whom immigrated from Muslim societies, and how they exercise their rights after moving to a democratic society.  Moreover, this has had an effect on their daughters, many of whom as first generation Canadians are passionate about seeing reforms in Muslim majority countries – often their mothers’ and grandmothers’ countries of origin.  In a global context these first and second-generation Muslim women are often choosing global civic engagement over involvement in the civic and political life of their western homeland. The Canadian Council of Muslim Women recently undertook a study of Canadian Muslim women’s political and socio-economic participation. The ensuing report entitled, Engaging Muslim Women: Issues and Needs, focuses on three important aspects: political participation, economic integration, and social engagement. The results paint a bleak picture of Muslim women’s labour force participation despite high levels of education, a lack of civic and political participation, and experiences of discrimination based on gender, ethnicity and religion.  According to the report, while most Muslim women embrace Canada as their home and admire its multicultural values, many tend to be disengaged from the civic and political life of the country. They tend to be more socially engaged within Muslim communities and less so in broader Canadian society.  Reasons given by the participants for this disengagement range from apathy towards politics, growing experiences of discrimination and prejudice against Muslims and Islam, and a trend towards a more traditional interpretation of Islam among some Muslims. This paper will present the results of work undertaken by CCMW on Canadian Muslim Women’s political participation, economic integration and social engagement in Canada and young Muslim women’s quest to engage in civic, political and social change in their parents’ countries of origin.

 

Archana Pyati, (The Rights of Women and Minorities in Islam and the Muslim World: Challenges Facing Women Human Rights Defenders). Women human rights defenders are critical actors in the global fight to end gender discrimination.  Many advocate for the rights of women as social workers, lawyers, journalists, teachers, doctors, counselors, and grassroots activists.  Their work is vital as they challenge inequality and repression on the local and national levels from within their societies.  Functioning in societies that discriminate against women and are unfavorable to their participation in public and political life, they are subject to a range of attacks because they are women and because they are human rights defenders. In the Muslim world, female activists who engage in public and political life challenge traditional views on women’s roles in society.  Because the changing role of women is highly contested within Muslim societies, when women take action to defend human rights they may be perceived as a threat to social stability and the status quo. As a result, women human rights defenders face particular abuses of their freedom of expression, assembly, and association when compared with their male colleagues. They endure threats, harassment, discrimination, and even violence on account of their work. In Muslim societies, perpetrators of attacks against women defenders are often non-state actors, such as religious groups, community leaders, political groups, and family members.  The state does not react adequately to protect women activists, however.  This has created a climate wherein women who speak out against human rights violations do so with an understanding that if they fall victim to threats or a physical attack they cannot count on the protection of the state. This paper would present a typology of the forms of gender-specific persecution faced by women defenders in Muslim societies, specifically in the Middle East and Southeast Asia .  The paper would ask and answer the question: what makes an attack against a woman defender gender-specific in Muslim societies, especially in countries where criticism of the government by any member of society is not welcomed? An analysis of gender-specific persecution faced by women human rights defenders in Muslim societies can lead to a discussion of possible strategies to better protect the rights of those women who choose to speak out about human rights.  On a day to day basis, many women are choosing to confront discrimination despite dangerous environments and to fight for their rights. Debate about women’s roles in Muslim societies should include the reaction to those women who aim to bring about positive change.

Negar Razavi, (Reclaiming their rights through Islam: Islamist feminism in Turkey). According to the official narrative in Turkey , women’s empowerment has always been directly tied to secularism. Mustafa Kemal Ataturk ‚Äö√Ñ√≤liberated’ women from the ‚Äö√Ñ√≤repressive chains’ of Islam and integrated them into a progressive European system. Physical appearance was of central importance for Ataturk, who discouraged the wearing of the Islamic veil and sought to make women the symbols of his ‚Äö√Ñ√≤newTurkey ‘‚Äö√Ñ√Æunveiled, Western-dressed, and educated. This narrative continues to hold great weight in Turkish society. Many condemn Islamic influence in the public sphere, and view the veil as the greatest symbol of women’s oppression. Despite the strength and popularity of this view towards women’s right in Turkey , today many women are ironically turning to moderate Islamist movements as a means of empowering themselves, and in turn adding a gender dimension to an already difficult debate in Turkish society regarding religion, secularity and democracy. As Turkey struggles to maintain its secular identity despite the growing demands of its Islamist citizens, women supporters of the growing Islamist movement will play a very central role, both as symbols and as active participants in this debate. Given their unique position within Turkish society, these women will be forced to simultaneously challenge the misogyny apparent within the Islamist groups, the orthodox secularism of the Kemalist establishment, and the persisting patriarchy of their society in order to advance their rights. Ultimately, this analysis will focus on the struggle of Islamist women in Turkey, and the state’s reaction to their growing involvement the movement. The effect these women will have on their society is larger dependant on how the government treats them, particularly with the highly polemical issue of the veil. If the government supports these women, they will have a moderating effect on the larger Islamist movement. However, they can also have a radicalizing effect if their concerns are not met by the state. My research will incorporate interviews with various individuals and organizations inTurkey, and will also include an in-depth analysis of research done on this issue by leading Turkish scholars.

 

Reza Eslami-Somea, (Women and Judicial Decision-Making: The Status and Role of Women in Judiciary in Iran). This paper argues that women’s involvement in governance and in the conduct of public life has a great deal of impact on the improvement of women’s social position and the process of their empowerment, especially in countries where human rights are not recognized as individual entitlements and gender equality is yet to be achieved. This paper focuses on the status and the role of women in judiciary in Iran , and considers their access to, and participation, in legal profession.

The paper first reviews the structure and the organization of the judiciary branch of the government as well as its independence within the constitutional framework, and also studies the legal system of the country where all laws and regulations in every field must be in conformity with Sharia (Islamic law). This study then examines the participation of women in legal profession and their involvement in the judiciary and judicial decision-making, and verifies the number and proportion of women judges and consultants and the types of courts they are involved in. Moreover, women’s status in judiciary before and after the Islamic Revolution of 1979 as well as the changes with respect to women’s access to judiciary in 1990s will also be addressed. It also reviews women’s training for legal profession and the association of women judges and lawyers, and conducts interviews with women in this field. The study also analyzes Iran ‘s legal framework as well as social and cultural patterns that ban women from the profession of judge and restrict their access to legal profession. It identifies discriminatory laws and traditions that hinder women’s recruitment and promotion in leadership and decision-making position in judiciary.  This paper finally argues that women’s involvement in legal profession and their participation in judiciary, especially in higher courts, result in achieving gender equality in legal system and contribute to having more justice for women. It submits that women judges and lawyers have a positive impact on preventing biases against women and obstructing the application of discriminatory laws, especially family law. The paper suggests that, in Iran ‘s legal system, a fundamental reform in structure and standards is needed to provide an appropriate legal system that enforces the principle of equality and guarantees women’s participation in judicial decision-making. It also proposes certain suggestions and recommendations in order to enhance women’s access to judiciary in Iran.

 

Christina Hoff Sommers, (Revolution from Within), The history of American feminism  has  some surprising lessons to impart to those who are working for women’s rights in the developing world.  In its early stages, the American suffrage movement was  radical, marginal and largely confined to a  small number of   wealthy, educated women.  That changed in the late 19th Century when conservative women such as  Frances Willard (president of Women’s Temperance Union) and Carrie Chapman Catt (founder  of the League of Women Voters)  took the helm.  Unlike earlier suffragists such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Victoria Woodhull,   Chapman and Catt did not  disparage traditional religion;  they did not attack the idea that the sexes were different. Instead, they argued that empowering women would improve the  religious and moral character of the  national life.  They  turned  women’s  suffrage movement into a mass movement by making it attractive to conventionally religious women and men. I will argue that the  reform  movement for Islamic women should take this moderate path.   The American experience suggests that effective and lasting change can come from reformers   who find ways to harness the power of tradition -rather than work against it.  There are already several groups in the Muslim world who have adopted this faith-based model.  ( Malaysia ‘s Sisters in Islam, lead Zainah Anwar, is one outstanding example.)  I will also suggest that the contemporary American feminist establishment  (groups like NOW, Fund for the Feminist  Majority, and the  Ms. Foundation -as well as most women’s studies departments) may not have a lot to offer women’s rights activists in the Muslim world at this time.  These contemporary groups are very much dominated by the Stanton/Woodhull style of feminism that is hostile to religion, to traditional families and  to sex roles.   Liberation movements in the Muslim world may wish to look back to  and draw on the experiences of   an earlier  and very effective stage  of the American women’s movement for  inspiration.

 

Christina Tobias-Nahi, (How do traditional views on women and gender roles affect women s participation in the political and economic spheres?). My area of interest is Western women specifically that have converted to Islam, i.e. American of any descent. As children following the feminist movement many of us have been encouraged to pursue academics and careers. I have an interest in exploring how becoming Muslim might create a new glass ceiling in hiring or promotion for both those women that cover or not. I designed a survey post 9/11 (fall 2003) that was distributed through multiple channels nationally to explore these issues. It also looked at race, age, SES, education, and professional experience as other issues factoring in to discrimination or lack thereof. Finally, I engendered to see if perceived discrimination is pushing Muslimah women out of “mainstream” into more Islamic work environments (Islamically-owned, faith-based, etc.) and if that is a conscious choice by some, thus the title of the first paper on this subject, Isolation or Insulation (Pluralism Project, Harvard University).  The purpose of this second follow-up paper would be to recontact some of these initial respondents, as well as add new ones, to see in the ensuing years what choices and outcomes these women may have had in their professional lives and look to see if reclaiming their rights to participate in the economic sphere is done using Islamic or Western discourse and legal paradigms, or both.  For those that have made significant contributions or attained positions of relative power within their field, what do they see as their roles vis-‚àö‚Ć-vis their understanding of their faith – both towards their community and the larger American society? Further, with the recent election of Keith Ellison as the first Muslim in Congress and with Senator Hilary Clinton running for President and the controversies that follow both around religion and gender, is it conceivable for an American Muslimah to be found running for and winning any high office in America? What would be the challenges both from an Islamic perspective and within the realities of American history and society? How can the choices women are making now forge that path?

 

 

 

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