Women and Islam

By M, M. | Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, May 31, 2000 | Go to article overview
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Women and Islam


M, M., Washington Report on Middle East Affairs


WOMEN AND ISLAM

The Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) organized a panel discussion on the subject of "Women and Islam: Differing Cultures, Differing Images" on March 14 at its Washington, DC campus. Three women speakers, Dr. Azar Nafisi from the Foreign Policy Institute, who hails from Iran; Fatima Gailani, an Afghan national and a spokesperson for the National Islamic Front of Afghanistan; and Shirin Taher-Kheli from Pakistan and now a professor at John Hopkins University addressed an audience of SAIS faculty and students and men and women from Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Expressing generally similar views, the three speakers blamed the men at the helm of affairs in many Muslim countries for obstructing the progress of women. In her forceful speech, Azar Nafisi called upon human rights organizations and international bodies to "rescue women from the unending siege" in many parts of the world, and especially in countries like Iran. She did, however, see a degree of progress being made in this regard in more recent years in Iran, particularly since the election of President Mohammad Khatami.

Noting that "the chador [body wrap] and the hijab [headscarf] do not seem to leave us and become the point of focal attack for men" Nafisi said, "the same remains the main issue in Algeria and Turkey." She expressed regret that without reference to the text of Islamic law (shariah), its male interpreters thrust their own mindset on one-half of the population and keep it away from public life and opportunity. "Even where some doors have opened, that was largely through male connections, as in the case of the daughter of Hashim Rafsanjani," she observed. Giving a sample of thinking in post-revolutionary Iran, Nafisi disclosed even the Shakespearean play Othello was enacted without the main female character, Desdemona.

Fatima Gailani, the only woman wearing a headscarf on the dais, argued that "Islam has not mandated wearing of hijab for women. It requires women to dress modestly and cover the bosoms.

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