This year the Women’s Islamic Initiative in Spirituality and Equality (WISE) held its third global conference in Istanbul Turkey. The conference, titled “WISE: Muslim Women Leaders at the Frontlines of Change,” lasted just four days, from October 14 to October 17, 2011. It included panel discussions, debates, and training sessions.
This year’s conference was centered on the topic of Muslim women’s leadership. “A Woman’s Place in Islam – Views from Turkish Women” was just one of the featured panels. Interactive case studies, such as “Muslim Women who Sparked the Egyptian Revolution,” featured stories and accounts from Muslim women who played an vital role in the Egyptian revolution. Among those present to give their account of the Egyptian revolution was 26-year-old Asmaa Mahfouz, creator of the now-famous Youtube video that called on Egyptians to take to the streets in peaceful protest on January 25, 2011.
Conference participants included more than 180 Muslim women from 45 countries, representing different areas of expertise. These women represented Muslim women scholars, activists, writers, politicians, artists, religious and spiritual leaders, civil society leaders and even those who helped ignite the Arab Spring. Among the participants were the familiar names of Tayyibah Taylor, Editor-in-Chief of Azizah Magazine, and Dr. Ziba Mir-Hosseini, founding member of Musawah Global Movement for Equality and Justice in the Muslim Family. All were present to contribute to educating and empowering Muslim women through an Islamic perspective.
The WISE Conference is an enterprise born from the American Society for Muslim Advancement (ASMA), a New-York based nonprofit that aims to, “elevate the discourse on Islam and foster environments in which Muslims thrive.” ASMA founder and director, Daisy Khan, suggested that the location of the third global conference in Turkey was deliberately chosen because it “has a rich history of pluralism. If it shares that with the world, it can have an impact on how we reshape our world. Turkey presents a model for how you can be both secular and Muslim…”
With this model of a pluralistic pursuit of truth, the WISE conference transpired, answering the question that was at the very heart of this gathering: does the religion of Islam exclude women from leadership roles?