GenX women in higher ed from around the globe

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Muslim Women Scholars and the Production of Knowledge

In El Ustaza (the Lady Professor) on 2010/03/23 at 09:00

During the past two decades, reform-oriented Muslim women scholars, also known as Islamic feminists, started “speaking for themselves”. Their voices seek to correct the narrow representation of their struggle and craft a better understanding of how to engage in a two-front battle (against Islamic traditionalism and Western imperialism) and the difficulties they endure. Their fundamental questions about Islam and women may help in transforming Islamic laws and bringing about modern, egalitarian Muslim societies.  Muslim women scholars are playing a key role in the reinterpretation of their religion and the modernization of their societies.

Faced with Islamic revival, more and more Muslim women intellectuals are finding it necessary and beneficial to engage in the dialogue about their religious and gender identities. They articulate a gender-sensitive discourse within an Islamic framework or paradigm. They use ijtihad (independent investigation of the religious sources) and tafsir (interpretation of the Qur’an) as their basic methodology in order to establish a new gender-sensitive hermeneutics in order to confirm gender equality in the Qur’an that was lost sight as male interpreters constructed a corpus of tafsir promoting a doctrine of male superiority, reflecting the mindset of the prevailing patriarchal cultures.

Critical to the work of Muslim women scholars is the role of spirituality and religious knowledge in strengthening and empowering the self and the collective to resist marginalization (i.e. social agency). Religious knowledge becomes the foundation for social transformation and collective struggle. Muslim women scholars evoke spiritual knowledge to transform society and challenge oppressive systems and structures.

Muslim women who claim authoritative and authentic knowledge should be able to use their intellectual skills to convince a skeptical public audience (Muslim men and women). This task should not be so hard as long as the sanctity of the Qur’an is maintained and that the alternative Qur’anic exegesis is rooted in the Islamic tradition untainted by either culture or gender discrimination.

Unlike other approaches to gender and social change, the “new knowledge” produced by Muslim women intellectuals could be the foundation of the most far-reaching and meaningful social change in the Muslim world as well as a useful mechanism for norms internalization in Islamic social settings. In contrast, in order to promote women’s rights, Western governments used strategic bargaining or coercion, and in turn governments in the Muslim world responded either by making some concession in order to increase their international legitimacy or rejecting women’s right as Western concept. In both situations, change was not gradual; norms were seen as imposed and alien to the local culture and hence rejected or not applied.

Riham Bahi

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Introducing El Ustaza (the Lady Professor)

In El Ustaza (the Lady Professor) on 2010/02/23 at 09:00

I have thought a lot about what my first blog contribution should be about.  First and foremost, I want to thank Mary Churchill for this great idea and for inviting me to participate in this blog adventure with a group of talented women from around the world. I owe a lot to Mary’s continuous support and guidance. Therefore, my first blog contribution will be about the need for a community of women scholars.

I traveled to the USA in 2001 to pursue higher education, a PhD in Public and International Affairs from Northeastern University. In the summer of 2001, I had eagerly anticipated my move to Boston and my future studies at the university.  I was supposed to fly from Cairo to Boston on September 11, 2001 and I ended up flying a week later, in a world that had been forever changed.  I was determined to fly. I would not let my right to pursue higher education suffer as a “collateral damage”  in the political and ideological battleground between fundamentalism and imperialism

As a Muslim woman student in the USA after 9/11, I felt very lonely. Mary was there at the airport to greet me and it was Mary’s support from day one that helped me survive this experience. Throughout my experience in the USA, I had the pleasure of working with a group of great women scholars my age from around the world.

Now being back to Egypt, I miss my global community of women scholars that provided me with social and academic nourishment. The University of Venus is providing me with the opportunity to stay connected with that community and to share my stories. I will be writing a monthly column on research and teaching in Egypt, from my personal experiences as a Muslim woman.

My experience in the USA taught me a lot and gave me a lot of strength to face any situation. I am, myself, surprised that I have such strength in me. I sometimes wonder how I got so strong. I want to take this opportunity to give tribute to the man, who encouraged me to travel alone to USA for higher education. My Dad, who I miss so much and I still cannot believe that I lost.  I miss sharing my successes with him. I hope I can continue making him proud!

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