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The Mass Media

Campus Conference Looks Beyond the Burqa

Campus Conference Looks Beyond the Burqa

Every major religion in America at one time or another, has been made fun of and misunderstood by the general public. It seems that no religion has been more at the media forefront than Islam, a religion that many people know little about.

“They wear burqas and have very few rights,” one UMass Boston student said, referring to the all-encompassing outer garment worn by women in some Islamic traditions. When asked for his thoughts on Islamic feminism, he said, “That’s impossible.”

These misconceptions and stereotypes of the Islamic religion have become more common since the American military occupation in the Middle East, and “Engaging Islam: Feminisms, Religiosities, and Self-determinations” hopes to dispel them.

The conference, a collaborative project headed by Fall Institute Director Rajini Srikanth, and co-chairs Elora Chowdhury and Leila Farsakh, is the first in-depth conference on Islam at a public university in Massachusetts.

“Our goal is to inform the community about Islamic feminism as well as challenge preconceived notions that people may have,” Farsakh said. “We would like to show that Islam is a dynamic field of culture in which women play a dominant role.”

Ten keynote speakers and a panel of 21 participants are assembling to examine the vast cultural, political and spiritual map of Muslims and their role in the world today. Participants were chosen based on their submissions to the institutes international call for papers, and keynote speakers were invited on the basis of scholastic achievement and activism in the field.

Dr. Amina Wadud, best known for her first book, “Qu’ran and Woman, Re-reading the Sacred Text from a Woman’s Perspective,” is one of the keynote speakers, along with Haideh Moghissi and Lara Deeb, who will kick off the conference with their panel “Defining Islamic Feminisms.” In 2005, Wadud became the subject of international controversy upon leading a mixed congregation of Muslim men and women in a New York City cathedral.

Other notable speakers include Norani Othman, founding member of Sisters of Islam, and Tariq Modooh, a professor of Multiculturalism and Public Policy at the University of Bristol.

“What’s unique is that our guest speakers put forth a diverse representation of Islam,” master’s student Jennifer Howard said. “Most people assume that Islam only exists in the Middle East. However, we have speakers coming in from Europe and Asia as well as North America.”

Howard, who has been working as a research assistant for the upcoming Fall Institute, stressed that although there is a lot of talk about Islamic feminism, most of it is seen from a western viewpoint through a “western feminist lens.” She said that this conference intends on transforming the framework which has come to reign in the west’s dialog of Islam by confronting the issues from within.

The Fall Institute will be held in a series of ongoing panel discussions in the Campus Center from Sept. 12-16. Admission is free and open to the public. For more information, visit www.engagingislam.umb.edu.

“Engaging Islam” Conference Highlights:Wednesday, Sept. 12th 2-5pm – “Defining Islamic Feminisms” with Amina Wadud, Haideh Moghissi and Lara Deeb.

Thursday, Sept. 13th 1:30-2:30pm – “Negotiating Shari’a and the ‘Secular State'” with Tariq Modood.3-5pm – Panel discussion with Srimati Basu, Dina Siddiqi and Sonja Van Wichelen. 7:30-9pm – Film screening of “Silent Waters” by Sabiha Sumar.

Friday, Sept. 14th1:30-2:30pm – “Globalization, Gender Relations, and Sexuality” with Jasbir Puar.3-5pm – Panel discussion with Ashley Al-Sayyad, author of “Queer Muslim Women: Visibility, Disapora, and Islam,” and Chris Kelly, “Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgendered (GLBT) Muslim Converts”

Saturday, Sept. 15th9-10am – “Political Economy and Islamic Feminisms” with Lamia Karim, author of “Rethinking Development and Women’s Empowerment under Globalization”

Sunday, Sept. 16th 9-11:30am – “Pedagogy and Islam” with Mohammad H. (Behrooz) Tamdigi12-1pm – Closing remarks