World Congress for Middle Eastern Studies

Barcelona, July 19th - 24th 2010


ISLAM AND GENDER: THE PROMISES AND THE LIMITATIONS - 1/2: Negotiating Spaces for Gendered Islam (286) - NOT_DEFINED activity_field_Panel

· NOT_DEFINED date: THU 22, 9.00-11.00 am

· NOT_DEFINED institution: Mohammed V University- Rabat (Morocco)

· NOT_DEFINED organizer: Ilham Sadoqi

· NOT_DEFINED language: English

· NOT_DEFINED description: This panel focuses on the politics informing the reconstructions of gender in relation to the Islamic phenomenon in Muslim societies of the Mediterranean region. The foundations of such relocation of gender as a new parameter in public policies shall consider the effect of theological interpretation, cultural rites and the legal reform on gender relations in these countries such Morocco, Egypt, Palestine and others. This allows us to address the ways through which the epistemological, political, cultural structures define the role of religion in society and polity.
Further, the panel highlights the connections between the secular and the religious components in the state ongoing regulation of the religious space and the possible changes in the representation of women in a public sphere that might bring about. It questions whether such colonization of the religious domain is empowering women to deconstruct the discriminatory and misogynistic socio-cultural codes and the fixed theological system in order to participate fully in the production and the interpretation of meaning
Starting from the Moroccan experience, the panel sheds light on the liminal sites informing the constructions of gendered Islam. In this account, the ongoing restructuration of the religious landscape and the politics of integrating of women in the Moroccan religious sphere reveals such discursive displacement. The newly established women preachers ‘Murshidat’ raise many questions regarding the feminization of the religious discourse and whether gendering the religious discourse is an indicator of women’s liberation or a sheer reinvention of misogynistic dogmatic reason via women’s voices. Moreover, this points to the underpinnings of theological questioning and its subsequent cultural traditions in gender relations as manifested by secular and islamist women’s movements in the aftermath of the reform of the family law ‘Mudawana’ in 2004.
Likewise, the panel opens spaces for the articulations of gendered religious practices and discourses in other Muslim countries and Islamic contexts while shedding light on the role of state public policies as well as women activists in interacting with Islam. This raises the question of how gender discourse and Islamic discourse affect each other.

Chair:Ilham Sadoqi ( Mohammed V University-Rabat, Morocco)

Paper Presenter: Zakia Salime (New Jersey State University, Rutgers, USA) “Islam and Gender Politics: Private Spaces and their Publics".
With no doubt, the appointment of women to the ulama’s Councils was a radical move by the Moroccan state. Not only these appointments legitimate women’s voices within the malestream religious discourse, but they also place them at the forefront of the public debate about the state gender policies. To some, these appointments indicate that the state liberalization is leading to a greater integration of Islamism and women, in mainstream politics. To others, they rather underscore the state response to the U.S mandated reforms of the religious field. While accurate, both claims conceal, however, women’s agency and the long pathway that Islamist women have taken before becoming partners of the state in its war against “terrorism”. My paper suggests a feminist analysis that links these major breakthroughs to the rooms that Islamist women have, since the 1980s, been opening in most patriarchal institutions for women’s readings and interpretations of the sharia. I argue that these arenas were constitutive of a transitional sphere, within which women have transformed the meanings of the “public” and the “private” as well as relationships between them. What are these arenas? And what are the strategies through which women have built enough symbolic and social capital to finally become visible to the state, not so much as voices of dissent, but as “citizens” whose mission is to transform political Islam from within. How does women’s political intervention in these arenas help us to re-conceptualize the dichotomies of public and private spheres, a hotly debated issue in feminist theory?

Paper Presenter: Konstanze Gemeinhardt-Buschhardt , (Institution: University of Erfurt,Germany) “Female Religious Culture in Contemporary Egypt”
This essay will focus on the contemporary female religious culture in Egypt, a rather underrepresented aspect of Gender Studies on Muslim societies. Therefore, it provides an overview of developments within an Islamically inspired women's movement. Main protagonists and their major fields of activism will be presented and classified into three fields, the religious, the academic, and the socio-political one. An important result of this is the transformation of religious practice. Female preachers, women' mosques, and female spiritual caregivers are an evident sign of it.
Paper Presenter: Paola Abenante(University of Milano-Bicocca, Italy) “Delicate bodies: gender imaginaries and practices in Egyptian Sufism”
Description: Gender differences are rooted in the diverse representations of the body within Egyptian imaginaries. Riqqa, delicacy, is a gendered representation of the Sufi body diffused within the Sufi milieus in Cairo. The imaginary of riqqa-delicacy, as assessed by my interlocutors, contains and implements the feminine, emotional and sensitive character of Sufi Islam as opposed to Salafi Islam, which is instead perceived as dominant and represented as male-oriented and rational. Riqqa at the same time is also an embodied quality, to be achieved through ritual practice: it is a feminine emotional and sensitive quality that belongs ‘naturally’ to women but that can and should be achieved also by men who reach a high maqam (stage) of Sufi practice. This paper will explore how my interlocutors build and use the imaginary of delicacy on three levels: on the level of public discourse, on the level of rituals and lastly in everyday practices. On the level of public discourse, the rhetoric of delicacy subverts the male domination of Salafi Islam, whilst on the level of ritual practices the embodiment of riqqa is meant to blur the difference between men and women. Nevertheless, during everyday practices gender differences are re-articulated around the double character of riqqa as a quality at once natural and cultivated: as naturally raqiqa, a women should be guided by men in everyday matters because she lacks in ‘aql, reason; whilst a man, who has acquired riqqa through spiritual practice, couples riqqa with ‘aql. Men thus are considered as having a much more stable control over the social world since they are physically more ‘complete’. Through in-depth ethnography the paper aims at showing how the imaginary of delicacy at once subverts and implements gender inequalities in the distribution of power.

Paper presenter: Anna Ester Younes (University of Berlin and Potsdam), "Islamic Performance and Positionalities of Women in Hamas Political and National Movement - Space Possiblities and Predicaments for Women in an Islamic Movement"
This research asks how positionalities of women are discursively framed within Hamas' national movement vis-a-vis their male counterparts and the conflict? And how do women use an "Islamic performance" to politicize the women's issue as well as contribute to a re-positioning of women in society? The three main hypotheses are: First, Hamas uses an "Islamic Performance" that turns the private public. Second, women usually seen as harbingers of culture, values and virtues are also in post colonial nationalist ventures the hallmarks for national re-definition. Here, "morality" is thus seen as one of the representational aspects of women's roles. Third, morality as one of the main pillars of an Islamic Performance gives women a stake in entering a public and definitional sphere to shape politics in Palestine, if adherence to a "moral framework" is given. Finally, after a short theoretical overview the textual analysis is divided into "women and colonialism, nationalism and struggle" and "women and society, repositioning and gender roles". In conclusion, the positionalities of women remain within a hetero-normative assumptions of an 'indigenous human nature', yet, through the concept of morality, are attributed more social and political worth. Additionally, the repositioning occurs through an Islamic performance from the "moral private woman" to the "moral public woman". Hence, moralities can serve as space possibilities that shift gendered power structures.

Paper presenter: Natasha Dar (Anthropology Department, Stanford University, USA), " Existing in the Liminal: Materializing Muslim Bodies and Marriages in the French-North African Immigrant Courtroom"
Franco Frattini, the former vice-president of the European Commission, recently declared that the EU has limits in respecting Muslim traditions, for Europe can only accept religious practices that do not contradict the bloc's own basic values, such as freedom of speech, and equality between men and women (“We are not governed by Shari’a, after all”). It is within this discursive context that this paper outlines the production and transformation of Islamic legal knowledges via the process of immigration, with the aim of understanding how French-North African women acknowledge, negotiate, and subvert their concurrent positions in parallel Islamic and Western “secular” legal universes. With an understanding that “host” countries provide various unique possibilities and constraints for the development of Islamic institutions, practices and thought, inevitably leading to the cultivation of local forms of religion, I attempt to examine how specifically marriage and divorce relate to and might exist within the informal structure of Islamic Family Law (IFL) in North African diaspora communities of suburban Paris. I will explore how Muslim women in France respond on their own terms to both Western and non-Western cultural and legal understandings of marriage and divorce, and gendered constructions of citizenship. Understanding both the radical aspects of gender equality of the IFL, as well as the patriarchal limitations of the Shari’a, and how both discourses are reproduced and challenged by new forms of social interaction in Muslim-minority states, local host policies, and post-9/11 global politics, might allow for a better understanding of the North African immigrant experience and the production of “the Muslim woman,” perhaps even partly explaining the tenuous nature of the social, political, and economic standing of the Muslim diaspora in Europe.

Paper presenter: Hoda Salah (PhD. Candidate at the Frankfurt Graduate School for the Humanities and Social Sciences (FGS), Frankfurt am Main, Germany), "From Idjtihad to Gender-Jihad: Islamic Feminist between. Regional Activism and Transnationalism"
Islamic feminism appeared in the 1990s in many countries of the world as a part of the international Islamic reform movement in Arabic countries, and Iran, Nigeria, South Africa, in the Asian world, Europe and in North America. It is a feminist women movement that moves within the frame of the Islamic paradigm and establishes women’s rights on the basis of religious texts and Islamic tradition. Its members are women and men, Islamic activists and scientists. They established their own research centers and non-governmental organizations and are well networked regionally and internationally. As intellectuals, they have a strong influence on opinion-making through their publications and their presence in the media. They advocate women’s rights, political rights as well as for democratic processes, which are in -their opinion integral components of Islam. Islamic feminism was able to partially establish itself at scholarly chairs in scientific academies. This quite young phenomenon of the Islamic feminism is, however, in no way a homogeneous current. It has different currents, much the same as Christian or secular feminism. This paper follows two goals. The first goals are to understand the ideas, values and courses of Islamic Feminism. It is important to systematize and order the flood of literature that was composed - by Islamic feminism on the one hand and on the other hand by Islamic feminists themselves. The aim is to show that Islamic feminism is not one discourse, but rather consists of different discourses which can be categorized into different currents. The second goal of the presentation is to analyse the political action of Islamic feminist activists. It has to be asked about the opportunities and limits of Islamic feminist activists. In the first part, the central concepts like ''Gender jihad'', ''Islamic'', and ''feminism'' will be defined. In the following second part I divide Islamic feminism into three discourses and/or currents: conservative, the liberal and the radical discourse. The actors will be introduced, their resources, values, argumentations as well as methods. It is important to know which gender roles predominate in the worldview of Islamic feminists as well as which verses of the Koran and role model examples are appealed to. It has to be clarified what they speak about and what they do not. In the third part I argue that Islamic feminism is a relatively new women’s movement appearing since the 1990s. The new movement must be distinguished from the older secular women’s movements in many Muslim companies, which have their origin in the beginning of the last century, and whose agenda was the national, secular and postcolonial one. In the last part of my paper I would like to show which commonalities and differences are there between the Islamic feminists’ discourses and the secular ones.