The future for women in Islam

I found it interesting watching a short video segment with Zainab Salbi ( and Farah Pandith ( at the Women in the World conference which took place in New York, discussing the future for women in Islam.

You can imagine a heated discussion rose with speakers such as Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Barkha Dutt, Farah Pandith, Hibaaq Osman and Zahra Langhi on the panel.

You can find both the video with Salbi and Pandith, which inspired this article, as well as the whole panel discussion in the link below.

One of the main points raised by both in their personal discussion after the panel itself, is the issue of generalisations which exist about Islam and Muslims, who are often viewed as one large homogeneous group (of 1.5 billion globally) rather than treated as individuals. Especially since Muslim majority countries vary so much in identity, in practice, in culture, in language and much more.

It was interesting to hear what Langhi had to say on shariah law and the misconception that it’s some written document of rules, that all Muslims abide by, but that actually in Islam, like many other faith groups, there are many differing schools of thoughts, and each country differs in how they interpret the holy book. Salbi and Pandith went on to suggest it’s a mistake to simply pick on one negative example of how shariah maybe implemented, like for instance the ban on women driving in Saudi, as if they are the norm amongst Muslims globally. Also to note that majority Muslim states do not set the standard for Muslims everywhere.

The diversity amongst Muslims, be they living in one of the 57 Muslim majority countries, or living as minorities across the world is massive, with women’s identities being determined, like anywhere else, based on culture, heritage, upbringing, location etc.

Much of the time when Muslim women are discussed the focus is on negative stories, what Salbi calls ‘more sexy’ stories, because they attract more attention. This is focused on instead of providing a platform for women who are making a massive impact in their communities, changing the status quo within deep adversity. But these voices often remain unheard.

This is ofcourse, not to say that there aren’t incredibly challenging conversations which need to be had about the state of world, where those hijacking Islam for their own purposes aren’t dealt with. However, the minority of extremists who exist, should not define the majority of Muslims, who are as horrified and most effected by their atrocities.

Another fascinating point, was the need for Muslim women to feel that there is a space for them as feminists who love and respect the faith they follow, and that there should be no contradiction.

Pandith, suggested that Muslim women, what she terms as ‘Muslim Millennials’, now are ‘carving a space’ for this interesting space to exist. Where women are able to integrate modern ideas with cultural norms which have an importance in their life.

We need to move away from allowing the ‘bad guys’ making the narrative about Muslims and about Muslim women. Through allowing women spaces to speak, and most importantly to be heard because there is a bigger alternative voice out there.

Top points to note:

  1. Acknowledging the diversity of Islam and Muslims
  2. A space for Muslim women to be feminists and be able to adhere to their faith or not
  3. Take the time to really listen to alternative narratives
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