In late October, this year’s Fourth Annual International Congress on Islamic Feminism was held in Madrid, Spain. The conference encompassed Islamic feminism in Palestine, America, Malaysia, Iran, Indonesia and Pakistan, inviting speakers from various backgrounds to explain what it means to be an Islamic feminist and how this role has manifested itself in various cultural and national settings to bring about a positive change for Muslim women.
Among the participants were Zahira Kamal, former Minister of Women Affairs in Palestine; Ziba Mir Hosseini, Iranian legal anthropologist, specializing in Islamic law, gender, and development; and Daisy Khan, Executive Director of the American Society for Muslim Advancement and wife of the Imam of the intensely debated Park 51 community center.
Durre S. Ahmed and Naila Tiwana from Pakistan spoke of the feminine nature of and gender egalitarianism within Sufi Islam. Ziba Mir Hosseini gracefully deconstructed the terms “Islamic feminism,” “fiqh,” and “shariah,” and explained what these terms mean for women in post-revolution Iran. Zahira Kamal and Fadwa Allabadi of Palestine spoke of how the socio-political landscape of occupied Palestine gave urgency to the need for women’s rights, but also of how fatwas issued by male dominated politico religious elite fail to effectively “articulate Palestinian women’s social reality in the twentieth century.” Lies Marcos of Indonesia spoke of the need for Muslim women jurists as authoritative players in a male-dominated Muslim legal system. Daisy Khan spoke of the same need, because “women’s rights are found under Shariah [law]”—it is just a matter of putting Muslim women in positions where they can effectively participate in the process Islamic legal jurisprudence (fiqh), derived from feminist or woman-centered readings of sacred texts.
Regardless of national identities, whether Iranian, Pakistani, American, Palestinian or Indonesian, and regardless of what Islamic tradition, whether Sufi, Sunni or Shia, these women were coming from, there emerged in their discourse three re-occurring themes.