Beacon Of Hope In NYC
By Farzana Hassan-Shahid
24 November, 2006
As the chatter in the large illuminated
hall of Westin Hotel New York subsided, I looked around me and saw a
constellation of distinguished Muslim women eagerly await the start
of the ground breaking conference on the rights of Muslim Women. They
were, artists, musicians, scholars, poets and academics and they came
in their colorful garbs, teeming with ideas to launch the formation
of a new Shoora or advisory Council composed exclusively of women to
interpret the 'Quran. A revolution was unfolding right before my eyes
as the women eagerly debated the credentials of their colleagues.
As President of the Muslim Canadian Congress, I also highlighted certain
issues that needed to be addressed by this auspicious group. The ones
that came up most frequently were domestic violence, women's health
and general equality for Muslim women under the law. A debate soon ensued
on what exactly such equality meant. Each woman had a different story
to tell and a unique perspective to offer. There was no mistaking the
remarkable synergy in the room.
However, these highly erudite women were not only concerned with women's
issues. They were concerned about terrorism, intra-religious tolerance
for divergent views and the lack of democratic institutions in many
Muslim countries. Throughout deliberations, a general feeling of projecting
the tolerant and humane side of Islam resonated most, whether during
formal presentations or informal exchange of ideas. The interfaith panel
reiterated the common humanity that Muslim women shared with them, along
with a feeling of sisterhood, transcending all barriers of race , creed
class or religion.
Mukhtaran Mai, the Pakistani woman who was gang-raped as punishment
for her brother's alleged crimes, spoke out with characteristic courage
and dignity by appealing to all representatives that they must raise
their voices against injustices.
Perhaps of great significance was the fact that the women present at
the conference came with diverse opinions and understandings of their
faith. Was there room for women's equality within Islam's ideological
framework? Was secularism the answer to the rights of minorities so
often violated in Muslim countries? Would Sufi Islam and its colorful
manifestations occupy a genuine place within Islam? Such issues came
to be debated with the utmost, civility, ardor and erudition.
Indeed there is an intra-religious dialog taking place among Muslims
in an attempt to arrive at an understanding of Islam that can work for
its diverse adherents. Respect of such diversity culminated in the "Wise"
or Women's Islamic initiative in Spirituality and Equity, reverberating
during the course of the three-day discussions.
There are more orthodox Muslims who may very well frown upon such initiatives,
suggesting that exegesis can only be the wrathful and exclusive domain
of a select few trained in the traditional methodologies of juristic
endeavor. But one may rightfully ask, if faith affects all of us, shouldn't
every one have the right to understand and interpret it?
Indeed some commented on how wonderful it was that Muslims were now
mature enough to debate religious precepts without being labeled apostates
or heretics. To that I commented, indeed there is an intriguing dialog
takig place within Muslim circles, but it is there not because of fundamentalists,
it is going on despite them, and that indeed is something to be commmended.
is a freelance writer and host of the Radio Program :Islam Faith and
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