Reviving the Spirit Without Recognizing Half The Audience?

Editor’s Note: As previous RIS-themed posts have noted (see our post from 2008, two posts from 2009, and two posts from the 2011 Convention), the lack of women scholars is a persistent problem at the Reviving the Islamic Spirit events.  Here, Sumaya, a guest contributor to MMW, outlines some of the reasons that this is problematic, and proposes possible speakers for future conferences.

So it’s been a couple weeks since the end of the 10th annual Reviving the Islamic Spirit conference. As a regular attendee who didn’t have the opportunity of attending this year, I would love to hear the experiences and insights of all MMW’s readers. I also recognize, before I go on further, the amazing feelings and inspiration from gatherings such as this and the wealth of knowledge shared by the intellectuals that come from all over the world to speak. With that said, it’s been, again, a disappointing year for female involvement as speakers, in a conference where women make up at least half the audience and half the volunteers (but usually more).

In previous years, suggestions and initiatives have been taken to get ideas of women speakers who would be a great fit for this conference and to see more females of equal intellectual ranking (or close to it) at this event which boasts audiences in the tens of thousands. It did not seem to change much, so here is one more attempt to compile a list. To be proactive rather than reactive to an all-too-often-seen scenario, I propose that the following speakers should at the very least be considered future conferences, and that female speakers should make up a much larger percentage of the panels. This is not to take away from many of the scholars that attend, and more realistically pull in the numbers for this event, but this conference began as a movement by the youth to educate and inspire the Muslim community while giving an outlet to scholars of different opinions and ways of thinking. It should continue in that trend, rather than giving in to this culture of rockstar scholars we seem to have adopted towards the end of the decade.

Now, before we hear anything about the questioning of the credibility of the following ladies, please address them with respect, and remember that among the male speakers who DO speak at the conferences, well, let’s just say their opinions have definitely offended some, and yet they still continue to speak. In Islam, there is a system of intellectual agreement to disagree, and that allows for various opinions and schools of thought to exist, and hopefully coexist. If a speaker who voices his opinion that Muslim sisters should not work* still gets invited year after year, I see no reason why the following have no place to voice theirs. Without further ado, here’s a list of suggestions to start things off (in no particular order), and more suggestions are more than welcome:

Dr. Amina Wadud

Dr. Ingrid Mattson

Dr. Zainab Alwani

Ambassador Shabazz

Yasmin Mogahed

Dr. Sachiko Murata

Dr. Jamillah Karim

Dr. Aminah McCloud

Ustadha Shamira Chothia Ahmed

Leila Aboulela

Dr. Leila Ahmed

Muna AbuSulaiman

Dr. Merve Kavakci

Aisha Al-Adawiya

Tayyibah Taylor

Rabia Khedr

Aishah Schwartz

Dr. Kecia Ali

Dr. Azizah Al-Hibri

Dr. Asma Barlas

Laleh Bakhtiar

Fatima Mernissi

Dr. Gaye D. Walton-Price

Ustadha Zaynab Ansari Abdul-Razacq

Ustadha Rukayat Yakub

Maryam Eskandari

Dr. Sarah Sayeed

As you can see, for a conference that averages about 20 speakers a year, there are a plethora of female speakers to choose from (enough to have a conference of female speakers only!), and the increase in their participation can only inspire more of them to speak across the country in schools and community,  and to gain exposure and audiences much like other speakers have been granted in that long-held tenure and experience. Let us be the change we want to see. Let us pave the way for future dialogue and possibilities. Let us continue to inspire and revive our faith in our communities. We would like to tell ourselves there are hardly any female intellectuals, scholars, speakers out there, but why lie to ourselves?

*An opinion expressed by Shaykh Sulaiman Moola at the 2008 RIS convention.

  • http://azizaizmargari.wordpress.com/ Margari Aziza

    Salaam alaikum,
    I’m glad you wrote this and have taken proactive steps. Here are some suggestions that I have to add.

    Dr. Intisar Rabb
    http://www.bc.edu/schools/law/fac-staff/deans-faculty/rabb.html

    Haleh Banani
    http://www.halehbanani.com/

  • Iskandar

    As-salaamu’alaikum,

    Good points. T. Taylor and Shabaaz have been speakers at the conference. I would add to the list Aisha Bewley, Camille Helminski, and Katharina Harlow, among many others. I will be respectful to a couple on your list, those I’d definitely remove, and draw the curtain of generosity.

    Even though there is a lack of women scholars at RIS, I doubt the people behind the conference are neglecting half the audience. RIS is successful because it is what most people want.

  • Lara A

    Salaam Alaikum,

    I really appreciate the variety of speakers you’ve chosen. Let’s hope someone at RIS is reading.

  • Roshan

    Salams. Great article and suggestions for speakers. I had written a feedback letter to the RIS organizers that very much echoes the sentiments in this article. I would encourage everyone who feels this way to do the same, as the feedback mechanism is a means to get our voices heard as paying attendees of the conference.

    And if they can invite Dr. Seyyed Hossein Nasr and Dr. John Esposito (who sadly wasn’t able to attend because of a death in his family), there’s no reason why they can’t also invite the following female academics, who I think should also be added to the above list: Dr. Lila Abu Lughod (Columbia – Anthropology), , Dr. Saba Mahmood (UC Berkeley), Dr. Nadia Fadil (Catholic Univ of Leuven) and Dr. Katherine Bullock (University of Toronto).

  • Hafiza

    I will add:
    Shaykha Haleema Kraussen
    Asma Afsaruddin
    Hina Azam

    • Humayra’

      I second Dr. Kecia Ali.
      And I would add Dr. Laury Silvers.


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