women symbol with the crescent logoThis October the Fourth International Congress on Islamic Feminism was held in Madrid, Spain.

The conference hosted over 1,500 globally represented attendees and lecturers who discussed topics on Islamic Feminism, including: problematics in defining Islamic Feminism, Qur’anic hermeneutics and feminist readings of the Qur’an, gender equality in the Middle East and Feminist Activism, and gender rights justice in the construction of male superiority over women in Islam.

One of the goals of these continued conferences is to validate Islamic Feminism as a growing phenomenon by providing a forum for intellectual discourse.  Aiming to celebrate and support women’s rights groups and organizations around the world as they work toward reinterpreting scripture, giving women an educated voice and challenging patriarchal systems that use religion to subjugate women.

Two weeks after the conference closed, Saudi Arabia was voted onto the executive board of UN Women.

Saudi Arabia. Where women cannot drive it is illegal for women to drive, vote, or leave the house without a niqaab and where there is strong, enforceable social pressures to cover. Saudi Arabia. Where some women cannot visit a doctor, travel, go to university, work or leave their homes without the expressed consent of their male guardian. Saudi Arabia.  Ranking 130th out of 134 countries for gender parity.  Saudi Arabia. Where Saudi UN officials defend polygamy by saying it’s required to help satisfy the sexual urges of men. Saudi Arabia. Where there are no laws protecting against child marriage and where rape victims are routinely punished for being alone with a man and charged as adulterers. Saudi Arabia. Home to Islam’s most holiest sites, the birthplace of the Prophet, and the main source of petrol-funded, political Islam.

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sign for the women's section: Blue Mosque, IstanbulThere’s a barrier in front of me and it’s covered in orange felt.  An unknown brown stain sits right in front of my face.  Coffee?  The imam is talking about supporting our community — I think.  I can barely hear him over the din of women gossiping about their children or that new muslimah who wears her hijab in a bun.  I wonder if it’s me they’re talking about.  What is that, coke?  When I put my forehead against the carpet in prostration I can smell feet.  The men are just on the other side of the barrier, and no one bothered to use odor eaters.  Seriously, is it a dirty water stain?  That’s disgusting.

Partitions dividing the women’s and men’s sections is just one of many contemporary additions to our North American mosques.  But unlike water fountains and basketball courts aimed at providing needed services, the barrier aims to silence and shut women out of the community under the guise of sacred personal space.

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