American Muslim women visit Islamic politics course for panel discussion

American Muslim women will discuss cultural stereotypes related to their religion and way of life this week as part of an Islamic politics course.

History professor Steve Tamari and philosophy professor Saba Fatima are co-teaching the course, for which the panel discussion will take place at 9:30 a.m., Thursday, in Founders Hall 0111.

Tamari’s purpose for holding the panel is to make students and the community in general aware “that Muslims are as much a part of American social fabric as people from any other cultural or religious tradition.”

Additionally, Tamari said it is important for students to “experience the world” outside of textbooks.

“I don’t think there’s a better way to get a sense for what Muslim Americans think or do or believe than to actually meet some,” Tamari said. “So, I know we have many Muslims on campus, but I think this group represents in a way a more diverse sort of spectrum in terms of age and occupation and ethnic background, linguistic background.”

Tamari has conducted similar panels in the past for other classes, but it fits with the Islamic politics class because of a section on gender.

Dr. Anjum Hassan, of the Washington University School of Medicine, helped arrange the speakers. Tamari said she brings a “collection of women” from different ethnic backgrounds, or even someone who has converted to Islam, to “try to represent the spectrum of Muslims.” Tamari expects between three to six women to be on the panel.

He said the women will address general Islamic stereotypes. A lot of non-Muslims from the West “identify Islam with women and with the veil,” according to Tamari.

“There are all these stereotypes about how Muslim women are oppressed or submissive or held down because they’re veiled, or Islam is somehow inherently anti-woman…,” Tamari said. “I think their goal is to counter some of those stereotypes.”

Because the panel discussion is being held in a classroom setting, Fatima said students can “feel free” to voice concerns and the women are “open to answering all sorts of questions.” They, according to Fatima, will discuss religion, theology, politics and women’s rights, among other topics.

As a feminist, Fatima said it is important for women to speak for themselves. Readings by a male Muslim, for example, do not “carry as much weight as if I have a reading by a female Muslim,” according to Fatima.

“We wanted a forum because I know that the topic of women in Islam [and] women controversies are one of the misconceptions that the West generally has about the religion…,” Fatima said.

It is also important, according to Fatima, to have a “diversity of voices come and speak to the students.”

“To be able to hear narratives from somebody’s life… that carries a lot of value…,” Fatima said.

Tamari said he hopes students come away from the discussion being challenged or with a new perspective.

“I think in general the media, the popular media, portray Muslims in a less than favorable light,” Tamari said. “So my hope is that they will come away with a diff perspective, a first-hand perspective and maybe it will challenge some stereotypes or some preconceptions people have.”


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