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OnIslam.net

On Female Role Models and ‘Islamic Feminism’

A Conference Overview
By Rasha Dewedar
Freelance Writer-Egypt
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Although the situation is not the same everywhere, however, the conference gave an excellent opportunity to exchange ideas and challenges.

There has always been a conflict between being a practicing Muslim and a feminist/women rights' advocate at the same time.

"Feminism and Islamic Perspective: New Horizons of Knowledge and Reform", conference held in Cairo, tried to resolve this conflict and present a new and unique form of activism. The conference ended up with the term: "Islamic Feminism".

Women Memory Forum (WMF, Egyptian NGO)) in cooperation with The Danish Egyptian Dialogue Institute (DEDI) and The Danish Center for Information on Gender, Equality and Ethnicity KVINFO organized the conference in Cairo on March 17-18, 2012.

The event that hosted participants and speakers from Egypt, Middle East, and Europe, had different scopes, one of which is Western Muslim women efforts to be role models working in the field of defending Muslim women rights in their respective communities.

Female Role Models

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Abdol-Hamid refuses all kinds of classifications; she refuses to be classified as a fundamentalist, but also refuses to be judged by some Muslims as refraining from Islamic rules.

Asmaa Abdol-Hamid, a Muslim Danish social worker, town Councilor, is strong and determinant woman who neither accepted unjust laws for veiled women, nor unjust classic interpretations about the role that Muslim women play in their local community.

Abdol-Hamid has generated a great debate in 2006 as the first veiled TV presenter in a public Danish channel. In the time that some feminist groups saw it as a sign of ethnic and gender equality, others viewed it as an insult to the Danish community.

She generated another and even a hotter debate when she was a possible candidate for the Danish Parliament for the first time ever for a veiled woman.

"Although I wasn't elected as a parliament member, I'm honored that I've granted every veiled woman her right to be a possible candidate and a member if elected", Abdol-Hamid explained to OnIslam.net.

Born in United Arab Emirates for Palestinian family, Abdol-Hamid came to Denmark in 1987 with her family as Palestinian refugees.

She was elected as a deputy MP for the left wing party The Danish Red-Green Alliance in 2005.

In 2000, she started the first club for girls, as an informal mentor scheme where the club applied and was granted fund for Cultural trips.

Abdol-Hamid refuses all kinds of classifications; she refuses to be classified as a fundamentalist, but also refuses to be judged by some Muslims as refraining from Islamic rules that entitles women to stay at home.

"We have a misconception in some Arab and Muslim communities that the woman is solely responsible for children upraising which I find completely unfair", Abdol-Hamid asserted while replying to a comment by one of the attendees who said a woman can maintain both a job and a mother role.

Azza Basarudin from Malaysia spoke about Sisters in Islam (SIS), which is a group of Muslim professional women committed to promoting the rights of women within the framework of Islam.

SIS is a comprehensive project to help Malaysian women achieve their liberation through a diversity of activities.

- Legal Clinic: They offer legal counseling over matters like divorce and wives' financial rights, over the phone, via emails, or face to face.

SIS has also a weekly column in Utusan Malaysia, which provides answers to readers' questions about their rights under the Islamic Family Law.

-Public Education

SIS organizes training workshops on gender and women's rights in Islam aimed at grassroots women leaders, policymakers, NGO activists, journalists, human rights lawyers, chambering students, gender studies students and young political leaders.

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SIS is a comprehensive project to help Malaysian women achieve their liberation through a diversity of activities.

SIS has also conducted a pilot research on "The Impact of Polygamy on the Family Institution" in 2004, which has expanded afterwards to a national survey.

Some speakers pronounced their concerns over Islamists in Egypt taking more and more positions in decision making and what impact it might have on women rights as a whole.

Sheikh Gamal Qotb, former President of Egyptian Fatwa Council asserted that although he is not supporting any of the present Islamic groups, however, he finds they deserve a chance.

"Being in critical situation in Egypt doesn't mean we deprive any ideology from political engagement, and if they failed, they won't be elected again", explained Qotb.

Having different revolutionary experiences in the Arab spring, many women rights' activists across the region are using different tools and strategies to make a revolutionary path for women rights come true.

May be that's why coming together as women rights' advocates from the Middle East and Muslim countries emerges now as a strong need as well as a great added value if it could have a real impact on women status.

"Arab women going out protesting for their rights during the Arab spring had generated a positive impact in the European hemispheres, simply, you gave us a chance", Malika Hameedy, Director General of Muslim European Network said.

Although the situation is not the same everywhere, however, the conference gave an excellent opportunity to exchange ideas, challenges, and success stories.

As WMF promised to establish an ongoing platform for the conference participants to keep always in touch, we hope this diversity of opinions produces more comprehensive look and solution oriented approaches.

 

Rasha Dewedar is a freelance journalist based in Cairo, she has special interest in the Middle East, gender issues and science.

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