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My trip to Malaysia to Attend the WISE Conference

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My trip to Malaysia to Attend the WISE Conference

Dr. Syeda Sultana Razia,

Associate Professor, BUET

I have traveled to Malaysia to attend the WISE (Women’s Islamic Initiative in Spirituality

and Equality) conference organized by New York based organizations ASMA (American

Society of Muslim Advancement) and Cordova Initiatives. About 200 participants (mostly

women) from about 60 different countries attended the conference. The organizers

sponsored the airfare, and food/lodging for all the participants from 16th to 20th July 2009

in Impiana Hotel at Kuala Lumpur.

Despite few organizing pitfalls the conference was an enormous success in exposing the

participants to the diversified activities of Muslim women from all over the world. It also

provided the big picture and directions of the ongoing development work of women

activists in Muslim world. The participants who were invited are mostly involved in real

life work and could be classified as moderate to liberal Muslims. Among them were NGO

workers, journalists/columnist/editors, writers, media personalities, lawyers, students and

experts of Islamic Shariah/Islamic studies/sufism, (I met one lady who is well versed in

Ibnul Arabi). Women like Dr. Nafis Sadik, (Under Secretary General. UN), Dr. Amina

Wadud, Samina Ahmad (Rock band Junoon’s business manager), Santanina Rasul, (first

Muslim Senator of Phillippines, elected twice in 1987 and 1992) are some of the

renowned names participated in the conference. Marina Mahathir and Mrs Abdullah

Badawi of Malaysia were also involved with the organizers. For unknown policy reasons,

the members of the mainstream Islamic movements were, however, absent in the


A number of presentations dealing with women empowerment were made by participants

from different part of Muslim world. Several workshops on specific topics were offered

by the experts of related fields. An all female Shura council, Muftiyyah training program

and Muslim women’s fund were launched in the conference. A book of biographies of all

participants were published and made available to the participants free of cost.

My personal observations on the conference and participants are

1. The injustice towards Muslims worldwide gave birth to a people who are

passionate to identify themselves as Muslims whether they are adherent to the

Islamic ideology or not. 9/11 gave birth to a similar brand of Muslims in American


2. Marriage and divorce law as practiced in different Muslim societies are the two

most discriminating laws facing by Muslim women irrespective of their

geographical location. Bringing justice to female rape victims is another

problematic area common to all Muslim societies.

3. More and more Muslim women are studying Shariah, Islamic studies etc as topics

of interest and matriarchal reading of Quranic text is becoming popular among

these women.

4. Interest in Shariah and academic degree in related fields (either from secular or

religious school) were considered as the main criteria of selecting female only

members of the Shura council. This council would be responsible for carrying out

Ijtihad and issuing fatwa on different women issues on behalf of WISE.

5. Hijab was treated as a cultural and optional practice of Muslim women.

6. Practice of Sufism and spirituality were very much visible in many of the

participants who were well versed in congregational meditation similar to those

prescribed by silva or quantum method.

7. It was reported in one of the workshops that although socially and legally

prohibited, sexual promiscuity, premarital and extra marital sex are becoming

more common in many Muslim countries (including Pakistan, Indonesia, Middle

east, Jordan etc). It was also specifically mentioned that the virginity of unmarried

boys and girls in Muslim society is becoming a myth rather than a reality. It was

suggested that the stigma related to sex without marriage should be removed from

Muslim society. The workshop was led by Ms Seyran Ates, a German lawyer,

writer and publicist of Turkish origin. She believes that marriage is not a necessary

condition for forming a family. In personal life she is a mother of one girl and

never married.

8. It was also interesting to observe that organization (NGO) like Sisters in Islam of

Malaysia, although controversial, is effective in many ways and has strong Islamic

philosophical base supported by personality like Dr. Amina Wadud.

Future considerations towards gender justice

1. Marriage and divorce law should be made more legible, convenient to both parties

and related resources should be readily available. Pre-marriage training and

counseling regarding the requisites, rights and responsibilities of marriage should

be arranged and the content of nikahnama should be made familiar to the potential

brides and grooms.

2. Punishment and conditions for punishment of adultery (Zinah) and their

applicability in contemporary world should be reviewed and revised by the

mainstream scholars. Special attention must be paid so that rape case is not mixed

up with adultery.

3. In past, the strict interpretation of women dress code, i.e. hijab led to seclusion of

women from social life and caused major damage to Muslim society although

situation is improving since last century. However, too many arbitrary and ‘liberal’

interpretations of Quranic terms Khimar, Jilbab and Juyub have caused the dress

code to lose its essence of modesty. This is evident in many westernize Muslim

societies where Muslim women cannot be distinguished from non-Muslims by the

way they dress-up. In present world the dress code of Islam can be used as a guard

against widespread vulgarity and nudity. Hijab with its essence of modesty should,

therefore, be encouraged and popularized in Muslim societies not only to fulfill the

religious obligation but also to combat the malaise of indecency.

4. The breaking down of family as institution is complete in the West. The vibes of it

is being felt in Muslim societies as a group of so-called progressives are trying to

create social acceptance of sex without marriage as a natural phenomenon. It is an

irony that when the activists of the west are raising voice against the enduring

sexual exploitation of women in the name of sexual liberation, our progressives are

encouraging the very vise of sexual promiscuity in Muslim society in the name of

social need. We have faced similar line of arguments in favor of legalizing

prostitution in Muslim societies. Nevertheless, it is imperative that Muslims all

over the world take necessary actions to prevent social permissiveness and family

break down at once.

5. The patriarchal reading of Quranic text as well as interpretations of incompetent

people in many occasions led to injustice towards a particular section of the

society i.e. the women folk. The matriarchal reading of the text is potentially as

harmful and as susceptible to unqualified interpretations as patriarchal reading.

Thus the main objectives of the present day scholars and activists should be to

focus on the methodology towards balanced interpretations and to put emphasize

on the competency of the interpreters in terms of both intellectual ability and


6. Last but not least, fatwa and interpretations should preferably be issued by a body

of competent scholars (representing both genders and different school of thoughts)

rather than individuals.

Finally, my write-up would be incomplete if I do not acknowledge Ms Daisy Khan

(Executive Director of ASMA) whose brainchild is WISE. She is an example of those

extraordinary people who has the courage to give up profession for passion. Ms Khan

spent twenty-five years as an interior architect before committing to full-time community

service. I salute Ms Khan and her relentless team for organizing a successful conference.


Author: bashirmahmudellias

I am an Author, Design specialist, Islamic researcher, Homeopathic consultant.

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