World Congress for Middle Eastern Studies

Barcelona, July 19th - 24th 2010


ISLAM AND GENDER: THE PROMISES AND THE LIMITATIONS - 2/2: Reconstructing gender beyond dichotomy of the secular or the sacred (321) - NOT_DEFINED activity_field_Panel

· NOT_DEFINED date: THU 22, 11.30 am-1.30 pm

· 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 allow 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 informing the integration of women in the Moroccan religious sphere. 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 space 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: Zakia Salime (Institution: New Jersey University, Rutgers (USA)

Paper presenter: Marwa Sharafeldin (Centre for Socio-Legal Studies Law Faculty, Oxford University), “Family law reform in Egypt: women’s rights NGOs navigating between Islamic law and international human rights law“
This research explores how women’s rights activists and NGOs in Egypt are reforming the religiously-based Personal Status Law for Muslims using two seemingly contradictory bodies of law in the process, namely, Islamic law and international human rights law. It covers the literature and theories on international human rights law in local contexts, gender discourses in Islamic law, and feminist NGO activism in the Middle East and Egypt. The research examines the complex process of mixing international human rights law with Islamic law in an attempt for more gender equality in the family realm in a Muslim context. It deals with the opportunities and limitations of relatively new conceptual frameworks of reform such as Islamic feminism. It does so by examining the breakthroughs (e.g. polygamy and obedience), compromises (e.g. shared wealth and men’s unilateral right of divorce) and eventual silences (e.g. inheritance and mixed marriage) that NGOs undertake during the course of their work on family law reform. The paper asks questions like: how do NGOs pick and choose from, and combine, Islamic law and international human rights law, together in their family law reform work? How does this interaction affect the way these laws are perceived, formulated and used on the ground by local actors? to what extent, through this process of reform, do NGOs manage to stretch the current limits of Sharia, which governs the family law, to include a more egalitarian approach towards women’s family rights? It is adding to the existing body of knowledge a first-hand ethnographic account of such efforts on the ground in Muslim contexts, which is currently lacking. It also contributes uniquely to the literature on Islamic law, human rights law and gender equality, in that it explores the interaction between these two bodies of law, rather than only the similarities and differences between them as is usually the case in the current literature.

Paper presenter: Yasmin Moll (NewYork University, USA), “People Like Us” in Pursuit of God and Rights: Islamic Feminist Discourse and Sisters in Islam”
This paper attempts to critically situate the discourse of Islamic feminism and its activist incarnations such as the Malaysian group Sisters in Islam within an analytical framework that seeks to look beyond the all-too-common trope of “multiple modernities.” The paper examines the conditions of possibility enabling such groups and discourses, looking in particular at the modern nation-state, and the imbrications of social discourses of rights and religious discourses of individual belief within this state. I argue that the repertoires of reasoning called forth by Sisters in Islam partake in the objectifying rationalities of the state when it comes to religious knowledge, with this knowledge now situated as a legitimate object of civic, legal and state intervention.

Paper presenter: Shahla Talebi (School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies Arizona State University), ‘“Get them Pregnant:” A Gendered Story of the Recent Events in Iran’
In the events that followed the disputed presidential election of June 2009 in Iran, the phrase “get them pregnant” was allegedly used by the interrogators of, by now, the notorious Kahrizak prison as a green light for sexual assaults on political detainees. While the rape of women prisoners as a means of torture was not unprecedented under the Islamic Republic and the Shah’s regimes, it was the reported cases of male detainees’ rape in the recent arrests, following the post-election events, that have come as shocking to many Iranians. In this paper, I trace these sexual assaults and the reactions towards them not merely in relation to the state violence, but also and in fact more specifically, in conjunction with, and in the lacuna engendered by, the anxiety about the interlinked relation between gender and the state and the gendered nation-state. I offer an analysis of the history and the transformation of this anxiety-ridden relationship, through a reading of its genesis from the emergence of the Islamic Republic, to its intensification during the Iran-Iraq War, to the recent uprisings.
I argue that the phrase “get them pregnant” deployed by the interrogators to refer to the “treatment” of the male dissidents in prison, signifies a much greater degree of apprehension by the state towards its “polluted” citizens that has gone epidemic, too contagious to be contained only among women or “secular” thus assumingly “feminine” citizenry. The “getting pregnant of the men” is an anxious response to national “profanity” that the state is to “fix” through its masculine message of rape, that is to reclaim the national body through violent penetration. I hope to show that the “get them pregnant” is the “profane” response of a state terrified of the loss of its masculinity, the force of its phallic rule. It is the act of an “Islamic” state that construes its nation as blemished by the “secularism and femininity” no longer at its margins but in its core. It thus no longer merely seeks to eliminate the pollution but rather imposes upon it its own profanity. The paper explores the traces and trans-fusions of these gendered, religio-cultural, and political anxieties, desires, and fantasies in the recent Iranian history, particularly in jokes, in literature, in people’s chants, and of course in the state’s actions.

Paper presenter: Maliheh Paryavi(Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Harvard University(USA)), "Women’s Rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran"
This paper aims to examine the legal elements that impact the status of women’s rights in Iran. Since the Iranian legal system is based on Islamic principles, the relationship between Islamic law and the constitution is analyzed as it pertains to the rights of women. Therefore, the first section of this paper examines the provisions of the constitution of the Islamic Republic that impact women’s rights. The second section provides three different perspectives of Islamic scholars on rights of women in Islam. The last section includes concluding remarks with emphasis on how the status of women can potentially be improved within the current legal system in Iran."

Paper presenter: Shayna Silverstein (University of Chicago, USA), “Ma 'Arif: The Participatory Politics of Dance in Syria”
Situated in pan-Arab nationalist discourse and presented as aesthetic forms of power, cultural rites such as folk dance in Syria are linked to political institutions through the integration of semah and dabke into the symbolic resources of the modern secular nation-state. This proposal addresses the participation of women in these socio-political spaces and the ways that gender intersects with cultural practices as a means to differentiate between secular and religious ways of life.
The first section examines historical manuscripts and images that date to the advent of the Baath party in Syria and questions how the display and circulation of feminine movement through dance upheld emerging models of secularization. The next section draws from recent ethnographic fieldwork in Syria (2008) to discuss how dance is a means by which boundaries between religious and non-religious public spaces may be articulated through diverse modes of participation in everyday religious life. In particular, the "performative nonperformance" role assumed by female participants at Islamist weddings suggests how gender marks the ways that individuals participate in meaningful performance events that reproduce relations of family and state in contexts that are specifically religious. Moreover, these cultural practices raise the question of how folk dance and popular dance shape and are shaped by the discursive formation of gender in relation to ethics and morality in contemporary Syria. Ultimately, the question of how women situate themselves in discourses of gender and religion through the participatory politics of dance is critical to a better understanding of the shifting role of Islamism in contemporary Syria.