Farah Pandith, a former radio guest on Inside Islam. Photo: www.state.gov
One of the most popular topics here on Inside Islam has been gender, primarily focusing on women. That’s no coincidence, given that Islam’s attitude towards women is generally portrayed in Western media as retrograde and repressive.
And there’s certainly plenty to criticize. Over our four years, we have highlighted cases like that of Amina Filali, a Moroccan girl who committed suicide after being forced to marry her rapist, and Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, an Iranian woman sentenced to be stoned for adultery. We have also addressed issues such as domestic abuse and how key texts have been interpreted to discriminate against women, to ban women drivers, and to justify practices like child marriage.
But while our goal has never been to whitewash problematic issues, at the same time the standard mainstream rhetoric regarding Muslim women oversimplifies things and only further disempowers them. There has been a general inability to look beyond the veil when discussing Muslim women. Non-Muslim women or men who preach to Muslim women because they choose to cover their heads or accept certain circumstances tend to fall into the trap of portraying all Muslim women as a single entity without agency. They miss the movement within Islam itself to empower women.
As usually happens when anyone tries to quantify popularity or prestige, there was disagreement on the blogosphere over the rankings, compounded by the fact that Muslim 500 does not clearly define its exact criteria. But my primary concern with the list is that only 13% of those featured are women, with a mere three making the top 50 most influential.
A few days prior to my departure from India in August, I ventured south from Hyderabad to the old French colony of Puducherry (Pondicherry), situated on the Bay of Bengal. I had a few minutes before my overnight bus journey back to Hyderabad and I decided to take a quick tour around the neighborhood to get a flavor of the area. Upon turning the corner of an old Hindu temple and noticing posters of Hindu gods transitioning to signs in Urdu and other objects marking the Muslim section of the neighborhood, I came across a typical 3-story white and green mosque.
On Thursday, Jean Feraca will talk with Elif Shafak, an acclaimed Turkish writer. Shafak, who writes in English and Turkish, is the author of ten books, eight of which are novels. Her novels have been translated into more than 30 languages. In her works, Shafak explores a number of issues. She writes about the East and West, motherhood, feminism, tradition, rationalism, Sufism, and cultural ghettos. Morever, she addresses the different aspects of her identity that include being a woman, a Muslim, a Turk, an author, and a mother. For Shafak, literature, specifically, can play in important role in breaking through cultural walls to help us recognize and embrace our differences.
The blog Hatshepsut is about women, politics, and academia in Egypt. History knows Hatshepsut as an ancient Egyptian pharaoh. Her reign receives less attention than others like Cleopatra because she maintained a stable, peaceful, and prosperous legacy without the dramatic baggage.