Editor’s note: I would like to welcome Sharrae, MMW’s newest contributor! Sharrae starts us off with a two-part post on the Reviving the Islamic Spirit conference held in Toronto ever December. MMW has covered previous RIS conferences in 2008 and 2009 (part one and part two). Check back tomorrow for even more RIS-related coverage.
For those who attend, Reviving the Islamic Spirit is treated almost like a second Ramadan. Ramadan is when the iman boost is sought after, and the yearly RIS Convention in Toronto is when many find that it can again be replenished. This year was my first year attending the conference, which was celebrating its 10-year anniversary.
On the rare times when I encounter a female scholar or teacher, I can’t help but get overly excited. Two strong women strongly contributed to the weekend’s program. Ambassador Shabazz (Malcolm X’s eldest daughter) and Sister Tayyibah Taylor powerfully relayed their knowledge and experiences relating to how we can establish strong legacies for ourselves and end the systemic violence against Muslim women.
However, gender issues aren’t confined to only what’s said by the female speakers. Through seemingly trivial matters like seating, to comments laced with sexism, and the violence that tears our private realm apart, this post will seek to explore the gendered ramifications of other actions and words at RIS.
To nobody’s surprise, the seating was separated according to gender. I had no qualms about this, but I did take issue with how the seating, in terms of its placement in areas of traffic, hindered the acquiring of knowledge for single Muslim women. Positioned near the entrance to the main room, we sisters had to constantly endure people buzzing around to find seats, making it extremely difficult to focus when seated behind the first section. The circumstance reminded me of the mosque, where women are often pushed to the back, behind barriers of bars, walls or elevated on stifled balconies, far removed from the ability to attain knowledge and elevate our understanding. Whether or not these arrangements were intentional or not, such decisions suggest that a woman’s knowledge isn’t as obligatory or important as that of men’s. Why must we have to suffer at every conference by being shunned to the poorest seats of the house and furthermore, why do men feel that they can sit in our section when the only seats left in the house were at the back? Traces of “this is a man’s world” were definitely present in such situations. Wouldn’t you think, as a man clearly being surrounded by hijabis, that you are in the wrong section?! Miskeen!
On Saturday the day began with a session entitled, “From Margin to Centre: Rethinking Gender Relations” with Sister Tayyibah Taylor and Dr. Yassir Fazaga. Sr. Taylor, who related her recent travels to the state of Afghanistan, provided an in-depth analysis of the power structures between men and women that result in anti-woman behaviours. Her analysis would have made any feminist clap in agreement as she managed to utilize the teachings and traditions of Islam, thus, making the connection that Islam in itself can be understood as a feminist discourse all on its own. Sr. Taylor acknowledged the discrepancy between the Quran, Sunnah and the practice within our communities. She asserted that women are viewed as commodities and are used to enhance men in this life. Central to her discussion, she provided five ways for better establishment of relationship with men and women through the rightly-named acronym PEACE (Purpose, Example, Awliyah, Contribution, and Equality).
Dr. Fazaga’s contribution to the topic was interesting in that it was focused more on how men and women should interact with one another. However, he duly noted that often times the West constantly refers to Muslim countries as oppressors against their women, completely ignoring that the three most populated Muslim countries (Indonesia, Bangladesh, and Pakistan) either have been, or are being, led by women. He also provided a comparison with the U.S. Congress and Senate, and Jordan’s parliament, reflecting that the latter has a higher female representation in their government than the former. Yet, the West seems to be transfixed on societies like Saudi Arabia that prevent women from driving. I appreciated his acknowledgement of the possibilities and examples of female leadership in the modern day.