On Tuesday November 7, the University of Edinburgh’s Feminist Society and Islamic Society came together for a panel discussion: Muslim Women in the 21st Century.
The panel was led by Vice President of the Islamic Society Maryam Saeed, who gathered three speakers from different backgrounds to discuss what it means to be a Muslim woman today.
The speakers included Lipa Hussain, a representative from AMINA, a Muslim Women Resource Centre, who was raised in Scotland, as well as Dr. Meriam Cheikh, a Research Fellow in gender and sexuality at the University of Edinburgh, originally from Morocco. Hajira Kamran, a second year student in Government Policy, also spoke at the event.
The panel discussion was run on a question and answer basis between the audience and the speakers.
The audience was comprised of supportive members from the Islamic and Feminist Society, along with students who felt curious to learn more about the ever-changing role and balance of being ‘traditionally’ religious and a liberal-minded feminist.
In a society where Islamaphobia is extremely prevalent and the media’s depiction of Muslims is skewed, it can be difficult to engage in direct and honest communication between those who are and those who are not Muslim.
During the talk, all three women discussed how there are pressures of responsibility in representing the religion or their family’s pride when speaking to non-Muslims.
More often than not, women specifically bear the duty of maintaining their family’s pride as well as a good name for Islam in the Western world.
Also discussed were the differences between the three panellists. Whilst, Muslim women are often grouped together in a single cohort, their experiences and upbringings largely define how they choose to practice Islam.
Whilst Dr. Cheikh discussed her experiences as a “Moroccan who was mostly raised in France,” Hussain focused more on how she grew up with two “cultures side by side,” commenting how she “balanced [her] father’s traditional Bengali culture, and being raised in Scotland with mostly Scottish kids.”
In contrast to these experiences, Kamran moved from country to country, including parts of China and Malaysia, and attempted to find a way to fit her own practicing of Islam into each of these new places, saying “I mostly kept how important my religion was to me to myself, because it’s so hard to adapt to other people’s ways of thinking to help them understand.”
A theme that arose from the panel was that feminism, especially in modern society, means something different for everyone. The idea of liberation can come in many forms, whether this be dressing down as some may choose or taking a more modest approach.
Similarly, empowerment comes uniquely to each person — even people from the same religion. While Dr. Cheikh, Hussain and Kamran may have shared practices, their expression of Islam remained individually distinct.
Importantly, Hussain commented near the end of the panel, “it is important to remember that we’re all acting off of how we were brought up, just like anyone else.”
To this, Kamran continued, “it would be a lot easier for everyone to empathise, and understand, if we make it clear that every Muslim woman is entirely different, with different challenges and different solutions, but just the same desire to keep being exactly who they want to be.”
Image: Andy Smith via Flickr