More on the WISE Conference
As I mentioned earlier, a wide range of opinions and practices were represented at the WISE Conference, which was absolutely wonderful -- having all of us together in the same room.
One of the main focuses of the conference was the development of guidelines for an eventual shura council of women. Needless to say, with such a diversity of women in the room, there would be, necessarily, some very different ideas about what such a shura council might look like.
It was heartening that everyone agreed it is important for the eventual council to be as diverse as the attendees of the conference. People from different races, nationalities, schools of thought or branches of Islam -- all should be represented.
At the same time, it was fairly clear that Daisy Khan, the conference organizer, and others were expecting to include only women who had gone through traditional training in an Islamic university, or under the supervision of a cleric, mufti, etc. I find this very problematical for many reasons.
1)It essentially confirms that, despite all claims to the contrary, we do have an ordained clergy in Sunni Islam. Of course, Shi'i Islam has always had an ordained clergy, but Sunnis will tell you most vehemently that we don't have a clergy in Islam. Reality is, we do have a defacto clergy, as demonstrated by requirements that people offering opinions have to receive a certain type of training and/or recieve endorsement from particular people who have had that training. That is the definition of a clergy.
If we truly are not going to have a clergy then authority should be determined in a variety of ways -- popular support being top among them. If an individual's reasoning/opinions resonate with a large group, then they should be considered a valid interpreter, as far as I'm concerned. Similarly, education in a Western institution should not be discounted. Many scholars educated in the West have an excellent grasp of Islamic legal procedure and should not be rejected simply because their schooling came from a university that is not run by Muslims.
This is particularly important if you want to include the diversity that everyone insited was necessary. Many extremely knowledgable community leaders have not and will not be able to take two or three years from their lives to attend universities overseas. When I was studying, most of those universities wouldn't take women for degrees in Islamic law anyway.
2) Insisting upon one criteria for scholarship threatens to reinforce the hegemony of traditionalist, conservative Islam. Sufis, for instance, may well not have attended traditionalist universities, as they are often not welcome, but that does not mean their leadership should be discounted.
This is doubly problematic because traditionalist Islam tends to be less than ideal when it comes to women's rights. There is an awful lot of apologetic discourse coming from women who adhere to conservative Islamic practice. That's not a problem if their opinions are balanced by scholars/leaders from other sides of Islam, but if everyone has to have authorization by a handful of universities or scholars, then those opinions are likely to go unchallenged.
3) Where does it leave the Shi'a, who have different institutions and a defined clergy? If Shi'i women are not being ordained at the higher levels, will they be able to make significant contributions to the shura council that are seen as valid by the clerical heirarchy? Do we need a council for Sunnis and another for Shi'i because the participation of Sunnis on a council talking to Shi'a will automatically result in their opinions being discounted, and vice versa -- will Shi'as participating in a shura council whose opinions are aimed at Sunnis render that council's opinions invalid for a large group of people?
Along these lines, another issue that was raised was whether the notion of an all-female shura council was a good idea at all. Would men simply pooh-pooh an all women's shura council as tainted by feminism? (Not my way of thinking, but the way some conservative clerics might see it, just to make that clear.) Might they simply ignore it as the unempowered are often ignored? Would it be better to start the council with all women and then invite selected men so as to have the greatest impact?
Obviously, the whole point to forming this kind of shura council is not just to talk to ourselves, but to make a difference in the world. These kinds of questions need to be answered. If we do challenge the hegemony of tradtional, conservative educational institutions, will we be shooting ourselves in the foot, as we will be dismissed as amatuers, acting without knowledge or authority? If so, is it better to send progressives and sufis to these universities so they can be "qualified"?
I know of one progressive Imam who did just that, PMU Board member Imam Daayiee. Now he has official imam training, so his credentials are solid, no one can discount his opinion because he is "just" self-taught. Maybe this is the answer, rather than trying to challenge the hegemony from without (at least at this juncture).
Much to think about!Islam, Feminism