Women need to play a role in ‘restoring’ Saudi Islam
In a wide-ranging interview with Thomas Friedman of the New York Times, Saudi Arabia's Prince Mohammed bin Salman (a.k.a. "MBS") discussed, among other topics, the recent anti-corruption drive and liberalization of Saudi society. Call it a kinder, gentler form of authoritarianism – with a progressive touch. Notably, MBS refused to address his country's interference in Lebanese politics or its unconscionable scorched-earth policy in Yemen.
Nonetheless, Mr. Friedman was effusive of MBS's plans to veer Saudi Islam to a "moderate, balanced Islam that is open to the world and to all religions and all traditions and peoples." The Prince calls it a "restoration" of the faith to its origins – namely the Prophetic period in the early 7th century. This has the potential to reverse the puritanical strain (Wahhabism) currently at the heart of Saudi society, where, for example, a woman is under male guardianship from cradle to grave.
The late Sunni scholar Abdul Halim Abu Shaqqa chronicled in his comprehensive study of the Koran and authentic traditions of Prophet Muhammad, Muslim women were far more engaged in society during the Prophetic era. They had more rights and opportunities to build a vibrant society, in partnership with men, than many contemporary Muslim cultures (including Saudi Arabia).
Mr. Friedman believes this "restoration" project "would drive moderation across the Muslim world." In fact, most of the Muslim world has soundly rejected Wahhabism. Yet, the deeply entrenched patriarchy of Saudi society finds parallels in many Muslim countries.
While MBS has promised to grant Saudi women more liberty, his top-down approach towards "restoration" of Islam raises a number of questions.
Will the man who allowed women to drive, allow them a place to drive the "restoration" as well? Or will it be a vehicle steered exclusively by men, with women seated as passengers, while men alone navigate women's role in society?
Women's voices and perspectives will be essential if there is to be any meaningful reform of contemporary Muslim cultural practices.
Pakistani Women Seize Film Dispute as Chance to Discuss Rape and Injustice
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — A Pakistani film about a rape victim who fights to bring her politically powerful attacker to justice has rankled Pakistan’s censors but emboldened women to speak out about sexual assault in a country where the discussion of such topics is discouraged.
The film — which overcame an initial ban imposed because of its subject matter — has inspired Pakistani women to tap into the spirit of the viral #MeToo campaign to expose sexual harassment and create their own public platform for victims and their supporters.
With the Pakistani film industry struggling to survive and wary of issue-oriented projects, the film’s release has provided a timely opportunity to talk about a difficult topic.
In the film, “Verna,” Pakistan’s most popular and highest-paid actress, Mahira Khan, plays a teacher who is abducted and raped repeatedly by the son of a regional governor. After failing to get justice from the police or the courts, the teacher takes matters into her own hands.
Pakistan’s Central Board of Film Censors banned the film for its “edgy content,” which the board said was “maligning state institutions.” But a public outcry, fueled by extensive news coverage and a social media campaign, #UnbanVerna, bore fruit when an appellate board lifted the ban. The film opened on Nov. 17 and has done moderately well at the box office.
Iran and Saudis’ Latest Power Struggle: Expanding Rights for Women
BEIRUT, Lebanon — They call each other meddlers, warmongers, religious hypocrites, zealots and sponsors of terrorism. Now Iran and Saudi Arabia, the archrivals of the Middle East, are competing in a surprising new category: gender equality.
They appear to be vying over who can be quicker to overhaul their repressive rules for women.
Tehran’s police chief announced this week that the so-called morality police who patrol the capital would no longer automatically detain and punish women seen without the proper hijab head-covering in public, an offense commonly called “bad hijab.” They will be given counseling instead.
In Saudi Arabia, one of the most restrictive countries for women, the authorities this week allowed female contestants at an international chess tournament to play without the full-body garb known as an abaya. That decision is the latest in a string of liberalizing moves by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the young Saudi ruler, which includes letting women drive.
Saudi Arabia and Iran are on opposite sides in many ways — in their divergent branches of Islam, the wars in Syria and Yemen, Lebanese politics and relations with the United States, for example. They have clashed over oil production, religious pilgrimages and who is a terrorist. But both countries are responding to domestic and international pressure over women’s rights.
Over a century ago, Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah had an unprecedented vision for the region of South Asia: to provide exceptional, educational opportunities to students, particularly girls, to help spur development.
When Nusrat Nasab looks back at her achievements, she marvels at how the history and vision of the Ismaili Imamat facilitated her own success. Nasab comes from Gulmit, a small town in northern Pakistan known both for its absolute beauty and extreme isolation.
Laying the foundations of what would become the Aga Khan Development Network’s education system, Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah launched the establishment of Aga Khan Schools, the first of which began in 1905 in Mundra and Gwadar in South Asia. In the 1940s, the proceeds from the 48th Imam’s Diamond Jubilee were mobilised to establish a number of additional schools — in the remote, mountainous areas of northern Pakistan and in western India. Today, there are more than 200 Aga Khan Schools and educational programmes operating across a network of 10 countries around the world, including Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh. These schools, operated by the Aga Khan Education Services, have an enrolment of over 75,000 students and employ some 3,000 teachers.
Nusrat is a graduate of the Diamond Jubilee middle school in Gulmit. But at the age of six, her life changed — she lost her left arm in an accident. She wanted to continue her education at the Aga Khan Higher Secondary School, a residential institution for girls in Hunza, which was 30 miles away.
“My family was against sending me to a residential school thinking that I would not get the appropriate care,” said Nusrat. But a community leader gave assurance to Nusrat’s father, advising that “the Imam has established this school for girls like your daughter”. This was a life-changing experience for her. “All along, I kept thinking that if I do well, more girls will get such opportunities. We became ambassadors of the school.” Nusrat was part of the first graduating class. Now, almost three decades later, thousands of other girls like her have since graduated and assumed leadership and entrepreneurial roles in their communities.
Nusrat persisted in her dedication to learning. After securing scholarships from the Aga Khan Education Service and the Aga Khan Rural Support Programme, Nusrat was awarded a Master’s degree in Development Economics from the University of East Anglia in the UK.
“My daughter was only two years old when I got the scholarship to pursue my Masters. My mother insisted that I leave my daughter behind (with her) and concentrate on my studies. The immense support that I had from my family helped me achieve my goals,” Nusrat said.
Having served as the Executive Officer for Focus Humanitarian Assistance in Pakistan for many years, Nusrat now works as the Head of Emergency Management at the Aga Khan Agency for Habitat based in Tajikistan.
Nusrat’s journey from a small town in northern Pakistan to taking on leadership roles in various Jamati and AKDN institutions truly reflects the impact of the work undertaken by the Network in this region to help women achieve their true potential.
The Keys to the Kingdom: Saudi Women Learn to Drive
It is hard to overstate how much the right to drive will change the lives of Saudi women. Women were long kept out of public life in Saudi Arabia, segregated from men in most settings, limited to a small number of professions or encouraged to stay home, and forced to rely on private drivers or male relatives to pilot them around.
But much has changed for Saudi women in recent years as they have been allowed to work in new fields and appointed to high-profile positions, and have graduated in ever-increasing numbers from universities. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom’s de facto ruler, has spoken of the importance of increasing women’s role in the work force as part of his effort to diversify the economy away from oil.
Today, the 8th of March, is International Women’s Day. Since 1975 the day has been designated by the UN as
a time to reflect on progress made, to call for change and to celebrate acts of courage and determination by ordinary women who have played an extraordinary role in the history of their countries and communities. (http://www.un.org/en/events/womensday/)
To mark the day, Archnet highlights the role of women in Islamic architecture and in the built environment of Muslim societies more generally.
Click around the sliding tiles on our homepages to see monuments of Islamic architecture that were built through the generosity of female patrons; projects by pioneers such as Yasmeen Lari, the first female architect in Pakistan, addressing contemporary problems such as refugee housing; mosques designed by women, and much more.
Most of these materials can be found in the Women in Architecture project. In 2013, Directors Shiraz Allibhai of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture and Sharon C. Smith, Program Head of the Aga Khan Documentation Center at MIT, launched the project shortly after the roll out of the redesigned Archnet in 2013. A documentary video produced by the Center for the Study of the Built Environment on “Arab Women in Architecture” was the kernel from which the project grew. Consistent with Archnet’s mission, the focus was soon expanded beyond the Arab world to focus on Muslim societies in the broadest sense. Today it contains projects from all corners of the world.
In 2016 the collection was greatly expanded by the addition of resources on Women in Turkish Architecture complied by Meral Ekincioglu. In addition, collection is continually enriched by the archives of the Aga Khan Award for Architecture. In the most recent cycle, women led or played a significant role in four of the six projects to receive the award, a pattern consistent with the prominent role of women throughout all 13 cycles of the Award.
A growing number of countries have designated the entire month of March as “Women’s History Month,” so Archnet will continue to highlight to role of women on the site and in our social media throughout this period.
We invite you to explore our resources, and to send us your feedback. Watch this space to find out when new resources are added. Should you wish to contribute resources to this project, please see the “How to Contribute” page.
RABAT, Morocco — Last month, Asma Lamrabet, a well-known Moroccan feminist, resigned from her position at the Mohammedan League of Scholars, where she headed a center of women’s studies in Islam. She was pushed to resign, she explained in a statement, by the backlash over her support for a demand that remains controversial in the Arab and Muslim world: an equal share for women.
In Muslim countries, laws governing inheritance are derived from verses in the Quran; men generally receive larger, sometimes double, the shares that women get. Distant male relatives can supersede wives, sisters and daughters, leaving women not just bereaved but also destitute.
Raising the issue of inheritance and inequality has long been considered blasphemous. When Tunisia’s modernizing first president, Habib Bourguiba, did so in 1974, he was targeted by a fatwa from a Saudi cleric and forced to backtrack.
Shenila Khoja-Moolji – Forging the Ideal Educated Girl: The Production of Desirable Subjects in Muslim South Asia
An Islam and the Humanities lecture and book talk, in Forging the Ideal Educated Girl, Shenila Khoja-Moolji traces the figure of the ‘educated girl’ to examine the evolving politics of educational reform and development campaigns in colonial India and Pakistan. She challenges the prevailing common sense associated with calls for women’s and girls’ education and argues that such advocacy is not simply about access to education but, more crucially, concerned with producing ideal Muslim woman-/girl-subjects with specific relationships to the patriarchal family, paid work, Islam, and the nation-state. Thus, discourses on girls’/women’s education are sites for the construction of not only gender but also class relations, religion, and the nation.
To commemorate International Day of the Girl Child, we look back at the Skate Girls of Kabul photography exhibition, created by artist Jessica Fulford-Dobson, and curated by Marianne Fenton. The exhibit was showcased at the Ismaili Centre Toronto, Aga Khan Museum, and Aga Khan Park in Autumn 2017, and at the Ismaili Centre Dubai in Spring 2018.
Today, 11 October marks International Day of the Girl Child. First declared by the United Nations in 2011 to support and empower young women across the world, the occasion provides an opportunity to highlight, discuss, and take action to advance the rights and possibilities for girls everywhere.
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