Muslim women speakers at The Hawth

On 27th January 2010, Crawley Inter Faith Network (CIFN) organised a talk at The Hawth, in association with "Faith Matters" as part of their "Making your Voices Heard" project.

The two Muslim speakers were a human rights lawyer and a writer on issues of the Middle East, women and race. Both speakers were on tour from the USA.

The Elgar room of the Hawth was packed with people. I arrived as the lawyer, a former teacher, was describing some aspects of life for muslims in the US.

She said there was an assumption of guilt for Muslim detainees, and that the supreme court upheld a ruling supporting the profiling of Muslims. She contrasted the media description of a Muslim killer as a "terrorist" with the description of a Chinese killer as "mentally ill"; neither had terrorist connections.

She wants to challenge the media stereotype of Muslim women, pointing out that they are all different individuals, and not oppressed by the men of their community.

The Muslim writer wants Muslim women to assert themselves and break out of their passivity. She competed in a national martial arts competition and sent a photo of herself to her family in Iraq. Within a few days, the image had spread across the nation.

There were several Religious Education (RE) teachers present, including the CIFN development worker Ishrat Naveed. We were told that RE teachers are poorly qualified, especially in Islam; however, they are oprimistic for the future.

Mohinder Galowalia, the new chair of CIFN, described how the term Allah is used by Muslims in some countries to refer only to the God of Islam, e.g. Malaysia, but in other countries the term refers to God generally. He concluded by reiterating his desire fo CIFN to concentrate on humanity and the similarities between religions rather than on their differences.

Questions and comments were invited from the audience. One person asked about a Muslim lobby group in the US. We were told that this had not yet come to fruition and was a work in progress.

Another attendee said that we should concentrate on fighting for the equality of all community groups, rather than for their own specific religious group.

A CIFN member with experience of women's groups in Egypt spoke of the value of hearing personal accounts of religious people. At each meeting of CIFN, a member of a different religion is invited to give their personal story.


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