Reviving our Islamic Spirits

I spent this past weekend at the Reviving the Islamic Spirit convention in Toronto. In its seventh year, the conference brings together thousands of people from all over North America (I think someone said that about 15 thousand people came to this year’s conference), and some of the best-known Islamic scholars. This year’s lineup included Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, Imam Zaid Shakir, Professor Tariq Ramadan, and many others.

Image via conference website.

Image via conference website.

This was my second time at the conference, and it was a powerful experience overall. The people organising did an amazing job, masha’Allah, and a lot of the speakers were really inspiring. This is MMW, so I’m sure you know that there are some critiques coming as well, but I do want to emphasise that I’m not trying to bash the conference as a whole (my criticism is also something that I will be sending to the conference organisers, so hopefully it will be used for something productive rather than just venting.) It’s rare to have so many of those speakers all in one place, and to be able to benefit from all of their dedicated scholarship, and I’m glad that I was able to go.

On the other hand, missing from that list were any female scholars. Yes, there were female speakers, and I’ll talk about them in a moment, but neither one could be considered an Islamic scholar in any way. This does not, of course, detract from the value of any of the individual male scholars, but I was disappointed that the ensemble of scholars was entirely male. Despite the fact that some of the scholars (Yahya Rhodus, Muhammad Ibn Adam) talked about the importance of the contributions to Islamic scholarship made by the wives of the Prophet (peace be upon him), and that other scholars (Tariq Ramadan, Tareq AlSuwaidan) talked about the importance of female leadership, we were not able to see this in action at this particular conference. It’s hard to really internalise the points that these speakers were making, about female participation in the public domain being integral to Islam, when there were so little examples of this in practice.

I don’t know whether the organisers made any kind of effort to try to have female scholars present, but I would argue that this is a pretty important point, and that there should have been a really intense effort. The audience was over 50% female, and it’s really problematic to not see a single example of a female voice as an accomplished scholar of Islam. Yes, it’s true that many female scholars are less well-known and don’t attract as many people as some of the big male names, but at the same time, if they are continually excluded from conferences like this, it’s going to be impossible for them to build a big name. It’s not very encouraging to potential future women scholars if they come to a conference like this and understand the realm of Islamic scholarship to be an exclusively male one. I would love to see a conference like this taking the initiative to seek out some of the many women who are doing really interesting work in Islamic scholarship, and to make a point of supporting them. (Or, at the very least, academic work related to Islam, even if it’s not considered to be traditional Islamic religious scholarship.) Personally, the lack of women on the conference lineup made me think twice about attending; I have another friend whose decision not to come back early from a family event for the convention was directly influenced by the absence of female scholars.

At the same time – it’s sad that this has to seem like a positive point worth mentioning – I was glad to see female MCs throughout the day, and a couple of female speakers. Clearly, the conference organisers didn’t feel that there were inherent problems with having women on stage. Last year, Dr. Jamillah Karim gave an amazing presentation at the same convention, so there have been past examples (however few) of women presenting form a more academic perspective.

The two women that were present were Monia Mazigh and Hanan Turk. Both of them told personal stories of their own life expereinces, in contrast to the male speakers, who all spoke about broader principles and stories that were much more widely applicable. Of course, personal stories are interesting and they do have their place, but it’s frustrating that the divide between women sharing their own experiences and men speaking on topics that can apply to everyone was so stark.

Monia Mazigh. Image vic CBC.

Monia Mazigh. Image vic CBC.

Mazigh is famous for the work that she did when her husband, Maher Arar (a Canadian citizen), was stopped in a U.S. airport on the way back to Canada, and deported to Syria, where he was tortured for several months. Mazigh and her husband were both on stage, and talked about her experiences fighting for Arar’s freedom, while struggling with suddenly having to take care of their young children all on her own. I really liked their talk, and Mazigh’s story was very powerful.

Hanan Turk’s talk was less impressive. First of all, she spoke only in Arabic, and in order to hear a translation, we had to rent headsets. (For those of you cringing at this as yet another example of non-Arab/non-Arabic-speaking Muslims ending up as second-class citizens at Muslim events, yeah, I’m with you.) For reasons I can’t exactly remember, a friend and I ended up sitting through her whole talk, despite the fact that neither of us understands much Arabic, and we didn’t want to pay to rent the headsets. What I got out of her talk was basically that she had been searching for happiness in her life as an actress, but eventually found happiness instead in connecting to her Islamic faith. A big part of the talk focused on her decision to start wearing hijab, and how important this was to her.

Hanan Turk. Image via conference website.

Hanan Turk. Image via conference website.

To be clear, I’m not contesting Turk’s opinions on hijab, or challenging the importance of the headscarf in the beliefs and practices of many Muslim women. She certainly did sound as if becoming more religious (and her decision to express this through wearing a scarf) has had a really important effect in her life, and alhamdulillah, that’s awesome. What drives me crazy though is that the one main featured female speaker was, first of all, inaccessible to a large part of the audience (because of language); second, that while all the male speakers were focused on broader issues, hers was a fairly simple personal narrative; and third, that the emphasis on hijab made it seem like this is the most important part of a Muslim woman’s life and practice, or the most important action for Muslim women to do.

Last year’s RIS convention had a really good panel on why we need to move on from hijab conversations towards talking about bigger issues, so this talk felt like a bit of a regression from last year. It was just so essentialist, as if the best thing that a Muslim woman can do is put on a headscarf. Sigh. I mean, if this represents such a big accomplishment, then there were thousands (literally) of girls there who could have been up on stage telling their own stories of why they wear the scarf. Of all the amazing Muslim women out there in the world, they had to pick someone whose main accomplishment seems to be that she left the world of acting to become a practising, hijab-wearing Muslim?

So, MMW readers, a question for you. Who would be on your wish list, if you were to go to a conference? Which female scholars, activists, writers, etc., would you like to see?

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  • Jana

    In response to your question, I’d have liked to see women like Muna AbuSulaiman and Merve Kavakci, who are all established professional women (and English speaking too I believe).

    I hear you on the lack of women scholars issue. At similar events here in the UK, we do get female speakers, but as you said, none of them are considered scholars in any way. They tend to be journalists and politicians. I personally don’t actually know of any credible female scholars, but surely they must be out there…?

  • anon

    well there aren’t many female scholars to begin with, fact is most women aren’t interested in becoming scholars anyways.

  • Sobia

    I’d like to see Amina Wadud, Asma Barlas, Leila Bakhtiar, Fatima Mernissi, etc. There are lots of female scholars but the problem is that many “mainstream” Muslims don’t accept them. I’m sure if they had invited someone like Amina Wadud a lot of those who attended would have been upset. On the part of the RIS convention its better to alienate a few crazy Muslim feminists as opposed to “mainstream” Muslims.

    This is quite disappointing but I have admit I am not at all surprised. I just assumed this even before I knew very much about the conference. And the fact that I’m not surprised saddens me.

    And I’m really offended that the RIS would exclude non-Arabic speaking Muslims like that. If they want to create unity and cater to all Muslims then they have to ensure they get English speaking speakers. The Arabic speaking ones should be saved for Arabic conferences.

  • muslimahnotes

    I understand your sentiments. Hijab talk can be annoying. But at the same time I think that there is something to putting the subjective (especially when it comes to women) in with the big universal talk. One thing I still respect about US based 2nd wave feminism is the feeling that the personal/the autobiographical has merits. From what I have read although there are many Egptian women who wear headscarves there is a reluctance to have them represented in the media (whether that be in the news or film). In this context, I think Hanan Turk’s story is interesting.

    One thing that has been troubling me lately is the number of discrimination against hijab episodes I have seen in the US. What I have also noticed is that many of the women targeted are women of color (usually of African descent). Although this is off topic I would like to see someone interrogate why this is-what does this tell us about how race, religion and policing affect black/African American Muslim women? (maybe I’ll do a post on my own blog?)

    For these very pertinent reasons as long as Muslim women in hijab negotiate what it is to be a symbol of Islam in the public sphere we cannot brush issues around hijab aside.

  • Broomstick

    Does anybody know how can I become a female Imam? Seriously, I’d like to be an Imam or a female Sheikh or something.

    It’s not fair.

  • Sameer

    >I’d like to see Amina Wadud, Asma Barlas, Leila Bakhtiar, Fatima >Mernissi, etc. There are lots of female scholars but the problem is >that many “mainstream” Muslims don’t accept them.

    Why not fellow Canadian Irshad Manji? If being “progressive” and having a following among the mainstream is the criteria, shouldn’t she also be allowed to speak at this “Islamic” convention then?

  • muslimahnotes

    although I’m not sure if you are being sarcastic Sameer I would not count Irshad Manji as an Islamic scholar.

    Nor Fatima Mernissi for that matter. Writers and intellecutuals yes, but Islamic scholars no.

    When I think of a convention that focuses on reviving the Islamic spirit I do not think of polemics no matter how dear they are to my heart…

  • coolred38

    I would like to see Mona Eltahawy…Ive exchanged emails with her before and followed her blog etc…she sounds like a woman I would like to know personally and religiously.

    I also want to know what basis the comment about women not wanting to be scholars was based on…I know plenty of woman that would love to pursue that avenue…only to be told that “only men” can be considered scholars and their word hold any weight in the Muslim world…which pretty much sums up female scholarship.

  • Broomstick

    Irshad Manji is more of a thinker and activist, not an Islamic scholar. I love reading her website, she’s got some interesting thoughts.

  • anon

    “I’d like to see Amina Wadud, Asma Barlas, Leila Bakhtiar, Fatima Mernissi, etc. There are lots of female scholars but the problem is that many “mainstream” Muslims don’t accept them”

    Sorry but these aren’t Islamic scholars, they may be academics or have a degree in Islamic studies at some university, but that doesn’t qualify you as an ‘Islamic scholar’. furthermore some of the people you mention like Fatima Mernissi aren’t really interested in religion, they are mainly ‘liberal feminist’ (or progressive as you like to put it) who are more interested in ‘feminism’ with respect to Muslim woman, hence Islam is only discussed in that context.

  • Fatemeh

    Krista asked “Which female scholars, activists, writers, etc., would you like to see?” Thus, people who may not fit into “Islamic scholars” are valid suggestions. Stop judging other people’s suggestions and concentrate on your own, please.

  • Safiya Outlines

    Salaam Alaikum,

    In terms of scholars, I know the Sunnipath Institute has several female teachers. There is also Ustada Aisha Bewley who has written many books concerning fiqh and tasawuuf.

  • ammena

    Salam, thanks for writing this sis.. I moved back to UK a few months ago so I missed RIS this year which was left a hole in my post xmas holidays :( I have asked people about the speakers but the comments werent what I was looking for. I have to say I was surprised to see Hanan as a special guest as I really dont feel she would give that much to the audience… I thought the same as you in that her talk could only be about her change in lifestyle. As good as that was alhamdulillah.. its happened for many sisters around the world, but I dont see the organisers asking us to speak ;) Im surprised that you had to rent headphones… I know previously there was a speaker who Hamza yusuf translated for, the other dude was in Saudi I think and Hamza was at the convention obviously. That worked well, so I dont understand why they changed things.. weird.. Allahu alim :) The lack of women is always annoying.. I remember Jamilah’s talk last year.. masha’allah she was amazing!! Im not even going to name women I would like to hear cause I cant even think of names I hear so few women speaking :(

  • Broomstick

    @ anon 11:

    So what’s the difference between being an academic and a scholar? I was under the impression that it’s the very same thing.

  • muslimahnotes


    There was no judgement involved. Just an opinion. Is there a problem expressing one’s opinion on the blog?

  • muslimahnotes

    I personally would like to see Zainab Alwani who has written on “Al Ghazhali His Methodology in Fiqh Legislation,” and “Aisha and Her Methodology in Understanding Qur’an and Sunnah,” and has co-authored a book entitled “What Islam Says about Domestic Violence: A Guide for Helping Muslim Families.” (from her Karamah profile).

    Her article on Aisha (r.a) which I read in Azizah blew me away as far as helping me to better understand hadith and the intellectual riguour of Aisha.

    I like what Jamillah Karim, Aminah McCloud and Aminah Wadud offer too. I can’t wait to get my hands on Karim’s book.

    Ingrid Mattson remains important to me especially after reading a lot of The Story of the Qur’an-what she is able to do in that book is amazing. I also appreciate her presence at the MANA conference this year and her willingness to speak about racism at large in the American context-particularly about justice and incarceration (an issue close to my heart).

    Lastly, there are some really impressive women involved at Zaytuna.
    Particularly Ustadha Shamira Chothia Ahmed. Her blog ( is packed with spiritual richness.

  • Sobia

    A few of the comments in response to my comment make my point quite well :)

    @ Krista: Maybe you mentioned it in the post (I skimmed it again quickly to check but could have missed it) – was this a Sunni conference or was it meant for both Sunni and Shia?

  • Muslimahnotes

    No problem. We certainly do need more adab-even on the internet : )

  • Krista

    Wow, that’s a lot of comments in one day! Here goes an attempt at a response:

    @ All of you who mentioned specific names: Thanks. I’ll compile some of those in a note that I will be sending to the conference organisers.

    @ anon #2: That seems like a big generalisation to make. How do you know that “most women aren’t interested in becoming scholars”? Or, maybe more to the point, that fewer women are interested than men? If there is a lack of interest, I would say that part of it may be related to the fact that scholarship related to Islam is often not discussed as a field where women participate (even though there have been women scholars throughout Islam’s history.) But I don’t necessarily think there *is* a lack of interest. I think the bigger problem is a lack of acknowledgement/representation.

    @ Sobia: Yeah, I was also not very surprised, which I find sad too. The one thing that did surprise me a bit was that I found last year that several speakers really encouraged female leadership and scholarship, and there was even a strong “get over the hijab” feeling, so I thought that of all the “mainstream”-type Islamic spaces, this one might be the one with potential to have more women… but no luck.

    I also agree with your point that there’s a feeling that people don’t want to alienate the “mainstream” population by including the “progressive/liberal/other-problematic-term” voices, so they stick to the people who don’t challenge things too much. On the other hand, some of the speakers were quite conservative and problematic, and when I mentioned to a friend that I found this really weird, she said that she was assuming that the conference organisers are trying to please everyone, so they threw in a few uber-conservatives to appease those people. Why is it so much more okay to appease the uber-conservatives than it is to appease the feminists? (That’s a rhetorical question, I don’t really think there is an answer, but it shouldn’t be okay!)

    @ muslimahnotes: That’s true about personal stories having their own value in themselves, although I’m not sure that this is something that’s “especially” important when it has to do with women. My issue was more that the women were present *only* to give personal stories, and the men gave only talks that were more universally-applicable and based in analysis and research, which is usually seen as more credible or impressive (even if, as you say, the merit of personal stories as legitimate topics of discussion shouldn’t be discounted either.) I would have been really interested to see a mix of male/female personal narratives, as well as male and female scholars presenting on general Islamic issues.

    I think your point about discrimination against women in hijab is really useful too, especially in this context. The tone of Hanan Turk’s talk seemed very “yay, I’m wearing hijab, I’m happy,” which wasn’t especially new or revolutionary, since a whole bunch of other people in the audience also wore it. But a discussion of what this means, even for people who are so happy about wearing hijab – what the implications are of becoming such a public face of Islam in a context of so much intolerance against Islam – would have been really cool.

    I would also LOVE to see issues of race discussed more at conferences like these… I feel like they get danced around sometimes, maybe because people don’t want to acknowledge difference within the community, but the specific race-based discrimination that you’re talking about is definitely an issue.

  • Krista

    @ Broomstick: I think that many institutions for Islamic scholarship are open to women (even if many of them have a majority of male students), so I have heard of women becoming shaikhas. In terms of becoming a female imam, if we’re talking the person who leads the prayer… well, that’s a conversation for another time.

    @ Sameer: Like muslimahnotes, I’m not sure if you’re being sarcastic, but I would argue that Irshad Manji is very different from the people that Sobia mentioned. A lot of her work comes out of dismissing (and even attacking) Islamic traditions, practices, and so on, and a lot of her writing isn’t especially respectful of Muslims. I’m also not really sure that she has much of a following within the mainstream. On the other hand, the writers that Sobia mentioned have engaged much more deeply with the texts themselves, and would have much more Islamic knowledge to offer the audience.

    @ muslimahnotes (again – I’m trying to do this chronologically!): I agree that there’s a difference between “Islamic scholar” and “writer/intellectual.” This year’s RIS had both represented among the men… and both groups had important stuff to contribute, whether it was through their western academic research, or through the learning they had done through traditional Islamic methodologies. I’d love to see women represented in both categories as well…

    And despite the conference’s title, several of the speeches did also talk about political issues (usually still from a spiritual perspective, which is really cool.) I also think that it’s only some issues that get talked about as “polemical” – for example, sometimes a talk that may be focused on spirituality but also contains elements of sexism isn’t seen as out-of-place, while a talk that uses Islamic texts to challenge sexism within the community is seen as political or provocative (I’m not talking only RIS here, that’s a general thing that happens.) So I think it’s a hard line to draw…

    (Also thanks for the names and descriptions of so many women in your later comment!)

    @ anon #11: See my point above in response to muslimahnotes. I agree with you that those people don’t all necessarily qualify as “Islamic scholars,” but there was a mix of scholarly backgrounds among the men as well, and if it’s okay to have (male) people with “a degree in Islamic studies at some university” speaking at the convention about Islam and spirituality, then this should be open to women as well. I realise that I wasn’t very clear on this in my original post though, and I should have clarified that I was interested not only in those termed “Islamic scholars” in the traditional sense.

    @ ammena: The only other RIS convention I went to was last year, and they definitely didn’t have the translation headphones then, so I guess it’s a new thing. I was surprised too, because I remember last year that a few of the speakers spoke in Arabic but then had someone to give an English translation that everyone could hear. The only person that that happened for this year was Shaykh Abdullah bin Bayyah, so at least we could hear a translation of his talk without paying, but both Hanan Turk and Amr Khalid spoke only in Arabic, and the only possibility for translation was if we paid for headphones

  • laila

    Krista this also drives me crazy, I don’t even bother going anymore because I feel like I’m entering a male locker room! On the other hand I am so PROUD of Monia Mazigh (check out her book). But that’s it, all those talks about female leadership, contribution, participation etc, and yet the women were excluded from this conference. What am I supposed to think, that my community believes in me and has confidence in my abilities? It is an improvement from the days when Women were not allowed on stage, but this pace is too slow.

    I would love for the next conference to discuss implementing strategies to help women cope with the barriers of entering and succeeding in this field, such factors as sexism, inequality, pressures, stereotypes, the fear of women in this field, lack of motivation, negative thinking of women, and the poor quality of instruction or the meagre/pitiable per-gender educational expenditure that has influenced the large gap between male and female Islamic scholarship achievements. Please don’t tell us the large gap is because women are not interested! Frankly, it would be far easier for me to simply enter Politics or Economics than Islamic Scholarship because of the barriers.

    There needs to be more research on the contributing factors of the large gap and there needs to be more intervention work to help women enter this field more easily and increase their achievements. Such as including more women in more conferences

    How pathetic that the main featured female speaker was inaccessible to a large part of the audience because of language, is our situation that dire that we must be content with what we get, that beggars can’t be choosers?

    How is this supposed to encourage me? I simply would love to hear of MORE female speakers at more conferences. Perhaps when you sent your post you can send these comments along with it. Thanks

  • Krista

    @ Sobia: Very good question on the Sunni/Shia thing. I focused on gender for this post, but I’ve got a lot of thoughts on other elements of the conference, and the (unacknowledged) exclusive emphasis on Sunni Islam was definitely one of them.

    It’s talked about as an “Islamic” conference (without specifying Sunni/Shia), and they claim to try to avoid aligning themselves with any kind of religious/ideological/political group over any other. However, as far as I know, all of the speakers there were Sunni, and some of them even spoke with an assumption that all of the members of the audience were Sunni too, so there was definitely an implicit alignment with Sunni interpretations. I know that the majority of Muslims are Sunni, so it isn’t necessarily a problem if the majority of scholars are too, but it definitely seemed exclusive at times, and I would have liked to see some of them (especially when this was relevant to the topic they were discussing) acknowledging their Sunni location, and at the very least, not assuming that all the thousands of people in the audience were all Sunni too. (I’m not sure exactly to what degree this was an issue, because I’m Sunni myself and I don’t know enough about the details of Shia Islam to always be able to pick out where Shias were being excluded… but it definitely did happen, more than once.)

  • Krista

    @ laila: I definitely hear you. I really did think twice about going, and that’s sad too, because if I hadn’t gone, there were all sorts of amazing speeches that I would have missed out on. I feel like the lack of women sometimes makes me resent the men who are there, which I know isn’t exactly a rational response, but it’s frustrating that the absence of female speakers is turning away some people who might have benefited from the male speakers who were there.

    Totally agree with your other thoughts on the need for conversations about how to involve more women.

  • marwa

    Oh, if you’re going to send a list to conference organizers, pleeeeeaaase put Leila Aboulela on that list. She is an excellent Muslim writer and has succeeded in getting her fiction, which has mainly Muslims with a decidedly spiritual worldview as main characters, published by mainstream publishers. I think anyone who has read her novels or short stories will understand what I mean.

  • laila

    Resentment– ME TOO, I try not to but it’s so hard when it’s in your face constantly, from more than one place. This post also pointed it out in MANA, and the title of the post should be (lol),
    “Can you point out the obvious?”. Literally where are the women?

    “MANA’S DIWAN (Executive Committee)

    Siraj Wahhaj, Amir – Imam, Masjid Al-Taqwa
    Talib Abdur-Rashid, Deputy Amir – Imam, Mosque of Islamic Brotherhood
    Ihsan Bagby, General Secretary – Professor, U of Kentucky
    Umar Al-Khattab, Imam, Masjid al-Fajr (Indianapolis)
    Johari Abdul Malik – Outreach Coor, Dar al-Hijrah
    Asim Abdur Rashid – Imam, Masjid Mujahidin,
    Amir Al-Islam – Professor, Medgar Evers College
    Altaf Husain – Former President MSA, LSW

    MAJLIS ASH-SHURA In alphabetical order:

    Hodari Abdul-Ali, Businessman and Activist (DC)
    Musa Abdul Alim, Imam, Masjid al-Islam (DC)
    Luqman Abdul Haqq, President, Universal Companies (Phila)
    Luqman Amin Abdullah, Imam, Masjid Al-Haqq (Detroit)
    Johari Abdur Malik, Director Outreach, Dar al-Hijrah (VA)
    Jihad Abdul-Mumit, Activist (VA)
    Khalil Abdul-Rahman, Imam (Greensboro, NC)
    Asim Abdur-Rashid, Imam, Masjid Mujahidin (Phila)
    Talib Abdur-Rashid Imam, Mosque of Islamic Brotherhood (NY)
    Mutawwaf Abdush-Shaheed, Imam, Masjid Al-Mu’min (Cleveland)
    Abbas Ahmad, Imam, First Cleveland Mosque (Cleveland)
    Luqman Ahmad, Imam and Writer (Phila)
    Nadim Sulaiman Ali, Imam (Atlanta)
    Amir Al-Islam, Professor, Medger Evers College
    Ihsan Bagby, Professor, U. of Kentucky
    Aneesah Nadir, Professor, Arizona State University
    R. M. Mukhtar Curtis, Chaplain in Federal Prison Bureau (MI)
    Umar al-Khattab, Imam, Masjid al-Fajr (Indianapolis)
    Khalid Abdul-Fatah Griggs, Imam, Community Mosque (Winston-Salem)
    Altaf Husain, Former President MSA
    Anwar Muhaimin, Imam, International Muslim Brotherhood (Phila)
    Rami Nashashibi, Executive Director, Inner-City Muslim Network
    Muhammad Shareef, Amir, Sankore Institute
    Siraj Wahhaj, Imam, Masjid al-Taqwa (NY)

    MANA Staff

    Ihsan Bagby, General Secretary
    Qasim F. Khan, Director of Fundraising
    Waheedah Muhammad, Director of Operations
    Akanke Abdul-Khaaliq, Director of Communications”
    (It’s a great article)

    It isn’t only RIS, many of them have also excluded women but the good thing is people are speaking up, like you Krista.

  • Ayeshter

    I would love to see Leila Ahmed. No, she is not a classically trained scholar, but I don’t care. She has incredible insight on the lives and experiences of Muslim women in the Eastern and Western world. She’s hardly defensive or apologetic either. I don’t see why it’s such a big deal if there a trained scholar or not. As long as you have a strong argument based on solid sources, more power to you . You don’t necessarily have to go to Al-Azhar or such places to be able to do that. Let’s look at the guys anyway…How many have Ph.D’s in Business or engineering than decided to take up studying Islam on the side. I’m not trying to knock them, but come on ladies, lets be fair.

  • Faith

    Maybe a huge part of the problem with conferences like these is that the people organizing them are men. This is one of my main problem with MANA as well. Sometimes you feel that the talk about gender equality and more female leadership is either 1) lip service 2) an effort to be PC in a society where we are (often rightly) criticized for not having more woman leadership and woman scholarship. The cynic in me says it’s no.2 and the other part of says it’s no. 1. I just feel like often brothers really have little intention of really pushing women scholars and women leaders because what real incentive do they have for doing so? How hard could it be to invite a few women leader and scholars (not just the token one that seem to pop up at various Islamic conferences) and have them really contribute to conferences and how hard can it be to find women to sit on the leadership boards that often organize the various Islamic conferences?

    I don’t think it’s about a lack of women scholars either. I think part of it is because many women scholars like Amina Wadud or Asma Barlas don’t always say things that are in line with the “traditional Sunni Islam” that is the de facto religious philosophy of the major Islamic conferences. I think that really sucks because even if we can’t all agree on everything, we should at least be willing to hear each other views. Ok, rant over. *stepping off the soap box* lol

  • Sobia

    @ Faith:

    I agree with you. I’ve noticed that even many Muslim men who claim to be egalitarian still hold some non-egalitarian views of women.These views only become obvious when you get into certain conversations with them. Otherwise, they are able to give you the whole “God made men and women equal” rhetoric they don’t even believe in.


    “How many have Ph.D’s in Business or engineering than decided to take up studying Islam on the side. I’m not trying to knock them, but come on ladies, lets be fair.”

    So true. Its a sexist, sexist world :(

  • Rabia

    Salaam, well done Krista! Thank you for this, I read about an Islamic scholar (female) who teaches to both women AND men, who is alive..let me find the article and get you her name..Yeah i was so surprised to read about her! xoxo

  • asma

    well i just happened to come across your post and i got interested.
    I’ve been attending RIS confrences for over 5 years now and although some of the points you bring up were true I’ve never really thought of it like that. I don’t know for some reason I never had to think twice before attending one of these conferences, it didn’t matter how many female speakers there were or more like lack there of.

    As for the organizers I know one of you mentioned that most of them are male, well I know at least for RIS this is not the case as a lot of the main organizers are female…and neways doesn’t it come back to us then..shouldn’t we be getting more involved and organizing more things?!? u know what i mean..if

    I personally like male speakers better than females..i dont know why.

    At the end of the day though all that matter is if we learnt anything and if we are willing to implement it and I think at least for me RIS does that so that in itself makes it a successful event! I love RIS! =)

    thanks for the post!

  • Krista

    Thanks Asma for your comment. That’s awesome that you’ve managed to go to so many RIS conferences!

    I’m glad that you’ve been able to get a lot out of the conference. I did too, alhamdulillah. I know that the lack of female speakers isn’t a major preoccupation for everyone, and there is certainly a lot to learn regardless of who is speaking. From my own perspective, however, I felt like my experience of the conference would have been improved if I had seen more women speakers, for some of the reasons I described above.

    That’s great to hear that there are some women among the main organisers. As for your question (“and neways doesn’t it come back to us then..shouldn’t we be getting more involved and organizing more things?!?”) – yeah, for sure, women should be getting involved! My concern isn’t that women weren’t involved (in fact, I think most of the volunteers were female!), but that, from what I could see, women were doing mostly the less-glamourous, behind-the-scenes stuff, while (from what I saw) the high-profile and high-power organisers were mostly men. This exact same critique could be applied to a WHOLE lot of organisations out there (every non-profit I’ve ever seen, in fact), so it’s not RIS-specific, and maybe I have the wrong impression anyway of how the roles are divided, but I would have loved to see more visible women leaders from the organising team too.

    As you said, there were a lot of areas where they did a great job, and hopefully the conference will keep improving every year insha’Allah :) (and my own hope is that this will mean more women as speakers!)

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  • talibabdur-rashid


    Your info on women in MANA is outdated. Please go to

    May Allah bless us all,
    Imam Al-Hajj Talib ‘Abdur-Rashid
    Deputy Amir, MANA

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  • Fatemeh

    @ anon: “most women aren’t interested in becoming scholars anyways.” What are you basing that on?

  • Fatemeh

    Not usually; but often, whenever certain figures’ names come up (Manji being one them), the thread devolves into a huge “what I think of so-and-so”, often containing opinions which may violate our comment moderation policy. I’m just trying to make sure we keep things polite and relevant.

  • Fatemeh

    lol especially on the internet!