Thursday, November 23, 2006
  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
not ordained. It's far less organized than it seems. Seriously, if you ask them what's the criteria to be a Hojjatol Islam, there won't be anything concrete to define it. Most of these terms are actually fairly new, to be honest

Yes, there are higher level female scholars within shi'ism, but I've yet to see one come out to give fatwas yet- even though there's several higher scholars who do say women can be a source of taqleed (of course, there's some who don't).

LOL another prob of course is the "which shia you talking about" and then the whole conservative/progresisve thing within that context as well

what a mess
Well, I think an appropriate analogy is between Shi'a Islam and Protestant Christianity. Protestants have a variety of ordination practices, varying from denomination to denomination and even within denominations, and ranging from none at all, you just set yourself up as a preacher and go to it, to very rigorous training.

So ordination doesn't have to be organized. It does however, recognize a greater religious authority than Sunni Islam claims to recognize. But in fact, in Sunni Islam we have defacto priests, we just call them something else (sheikh, imam, muallam, mufti, etc).

And I agree wholeheartedly about the "which Shi'a" comment -- obviously there are different branches of Shi'ism and different approaches to theology in general. Once again, the question is, will the more conservative branches recognize the qualifications of those who are more liberal? And vice versa, cause liberals can be quite as intolerant as conservatives. :)
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Progressive Muslim, feminist, mom, writer, mystic, lover of the universe and Doug Schmidt, cellist, theologian and imam.

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Cane River
An interesting exploration of the gradual whiting of a family through slavery to modern days.

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English Language Islamic Fiction. We need more of it. Lots more.
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Wanda Campbell also known as Nochipa A very gifted poet and a gentle, compassionate soul. Nochipa and I are on the same page on sooooo many things
Writeous Sister Aminah Hernandez, she's got some excellent latino pieces and always has good writing info on her blog.
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Louise Marley Another great writer. I think Louise is one of the best sf writers exploring faith themes.
Ink in My Coffee Devon Ellington (who has numerous aliases) who is also the editor of Circadian Poems. A truly inspiring woman with a seemingly endless supply of energy.
Ethnically Incorrect With a name like that, isn't a given I'm going to enjoy this writer?
Freedom from the Mundane Colin Galbraith, another excellent writer, from Scotland.
The Scruffy Dog Review This is a new e-zine with an ecclectic mix of fiction, poetry, and non-fic, some really enjoyable pieces here.
Ramblings of a Suburban Soccer Mom Lara, another gentle soul, very thoughtful.
Circadian Poems A journal of poetry, new stuff up all the time.
Ye Olde Inkwell Michelle writes romance and is one of my writing buddies.
Muhammad Michael Knight The original punk Muslim writer. Like him or love him, Mike is always coming up with the unexpected.

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