Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Wise Muslim Women

During the Sotomayor hearings we heard a lot about the "wise Latina". What you may not have heard about are wise Muslim women. In this case WISE stands for the Women's Islamic Initiative in Spirituality and Equality. Pamela K. Taylor of Muslims for Progressive Values has the 411:

This past weekend in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, some 200 Muslim women from all over the globe gathered to network, share stories, and brainstorm under the auspices of WISE -- the Women's Islamic Initiative in Spirituality and Equality, a program of the ASMA society run by Daisy Khan and her husband Imam Feisal Rauf. Coming from such disparate locales as Kenya, Afghanistan, Morocco, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh, the U.S. and Canada, various European countries, Egypt, Turkey, and Indonesia, the women were united in their desire for equality and in their belief that the Qur'an can serve as the basis for that equality.

Some of the hot-button topics included early marriage, freedom in selecting marriage partners, domestic violence and safeguarding women's rights in divorce. Other programs focused on poverty and helping women become self-sustaining through microloan and skill building programs. Issues of violence against women in war-torn countries, and health concerns facing women, particularly reproductive health and choices, were also raised during the conference.

Several initiatives were launched during the conference. The Muslim Women's Fund will provide grants to women and programs devoted to enchancing women's equality. The WISE Muslim Women's Shura Council launched its Jihad against Violence: Muslim women's struggle for Peace, a campaign aimed both at domestic violence and issues of violence against women in greater society. WISE also announced the opening of its web portal, which will act as a resource center for information sharing, networking and communication with the various WISE programs. (Read more about the conference here)

As I've mentioned before, any faith that lends spiritual authority to gender inequality risks its credibility in the 21st century. Simply put, increasing numbers of women and men around the world aren't having it, nor should they.

"In the past, apart from isolated exceptions, women were regarded as an inferior breed, their nature hedged about by superstitions, denied the opportunity to express the potentialities of the human spirit and relegated to the role of serving the needs of men. Clearly, there are many societies where such conditions persist and are even fanatically defended. At the level of global discourse, however, the concept of the equality of the sexes has, for all practical purposes, now assumed the force of universally accepted principle. It enjoys similar authority in most of the academic community and information media. So basic has been the revisioning that exponents of male supremacy must look for support on the margins of responsible opinion." (The Universal House of Justice, 2002 April, To the World's Religious Leaders, p. 1)

What is encouraging about initiatives such as WISE is that they represent a process of change which is internal to a community (in this case Islam) and is consistent with that community's world view, values, and accepted sources of authority. I look forward to following this group's efforts and sharing what I learn with Baha'i Thought readers.