Muslim Women in Development Literature

I recently came across a publication by Cordaid, a Dutch development organisation, called “Looking for That Other Face: Women Muslim Leaders and Violent Extremism in Indonesia” (available here). This publication recounts the stories of six quadragenarian Muslim feminists from three islands of Indonesia (Aceh, Java and Lombok): Ibu Umi Hanisah (Meulaboh), Badriyah Fayumi (Kota Bekasi), Enung Nursaidah Ilyas (Tasik Malaya), Inayah Rohmaniyah (Jogjakarta), Nyi Ruqqoyah (Bondowoso), and Aini Masruri (Lombok).


Their life histories, focusing on how they oppose patriarchal dominance and other oppressions, and fight for social change and justice within their own communities, are told in individual chapters. For example, the first chapter is dedicated to the story of Ibu Umi Hanisah, 44, the head of a pesantren (Islamic boarding school) for girls. She recounts how her pesantren grew to be the go-to centre during the Acehnese struggle for self-determination and later on, the tsunami disaster in December 2004.


The authority she earned during these two events gives her credibility as a female community leader, which she uses to mediate cases of rape, domestic violence, and other social and interpersonal conflicts — always following up on criminal cases. One of the ways she guards against future abuse is by ensuring that for example in the case of domestic violence, the man will sign a written contract to not abuse his wife, in the presence of representatives from their families, police, village, government, and social organisations.


These six chapters are amazing examples of how to portray Muslim feminists: let them say what they want to say. Apart from a few introductory paragraphs that summarise the life history of the featured woman, most of the chapter’s text is in the form of quotes, which allow us to hear their story first hand (albeit translated from Bahasa Indonesia into English).

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“Really Dutch:” On Consumerism and National Identity

Al Nisa (Arabic for “the women”), a Muslim woman’s organization based out of the Netherlands, has found a new and eye-catching way to combat misconceptions about Muslim women in the Netherlands.

In early May they launched their campaign titled, “Really Dutch.” This poster campaign features Muslim women, pictured wearing a headscarf, doing things which are “Dutch.”

What is “Dutch,” you ask? According to the posters, drinking tea and eating herring are things which are indicative of one’s Dutch-ness.

Leyla Çakir, the chair of Al Nisa says, “We want to make it clear, in a humorous way, that we are Muslims, but we’re also Dutch. And we want to break down the negative prejudices about Muslim women. That we are oppressed, that we spend all our time indoors. That we have nothing to say.”

Caption: "I like them raw." Image via the Telegraph article.

The most widely-seen poster (pictured above) is one of a Muslim woman, wearing hijab and dressed in the colors of the Dutch flag, about to put an entire raw herring in her mouth. Underneath the picture it says, “I like them raw.” The words are supposedly a quote from Freedom party leader and noted Islamophobe Geert Wilders, talking about women who wear the veil. Sexual innuendo anyone?

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Pop Meets Sufi Soul in Rajae El Mouhandiz’s New Album

East meets West and pop meets soul in the latest album from Dutch international music star, Rajae El Mouhandiz, released this past Saturday.

But of all the words to describe Hand of Fatima, Sufi-inspired might be the most fitting.

Rajae's album cover. Image via her MySpace page.

Rajae's album cover. Image via her MySpace page.

The album is a musical meander through the life and times of Rajae, a 30-year-old North African Muslim woman who grew up in Amsterdam and who uses her international background to inspire her music.

Released three years after her debut album Incarnation, Rajea’s latest offering delves into everything from the heartbreak of a father’s neglect of his family, to love and self-esteem, to navigating a society obsessed with material wealth. But underlying all of her songs is a subtle reminder of the forces in her life – her belief in “compassion, the Almighty, and the afterlife” that make the struggle worth it.

Her song “Subhan Allah” is a smooth Arabic and English melody dedicated to freeing herself from “mental slavery”. It’s the musical version of a Sufi thikr circle, where participants gather to chant the attributes of God.

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