Women's lib becomes a gender jihad for MuslimsSydney Morning HeraldNovember 01, 2005
By Giles Tremlett in Barcelona
Marching under the banner of a new jihad, Islamic feminists have launched what they hope will become a global movement to liberate Muslim women.
A meeting in Barcelona, which drew women from as far away as Malaysia, Mali, Egypt and Iran, set itself the task of squaring Islam with feminism.
That meant not just combating 14 centuries of sexism in the Muslim world, participants said, but also dealing with the animosity towards Islam of many Western or secular feminists. They insisted that many of the fundamental concepts of equality embraced by feminism could also be found in the Koran.
"Gender jihad is the struggle against male chauvinistic, homophobic or sexist readings of Islamic sacred texts," said Abdennur Prado, one of the meeting's Spanish organisers.
Sexist readings had been provided by Muslim scholars who, over the centuries, have been almost exclusively male. "Male chauvinism is the destruction of Islam as a well-balanced way of life," Mr Prado said.
A leading voice was Amina Wadud, an African-American theology professor who provoked outrage when she led mixed-sex Friday prayers in New York this year. She said her commitment to change was born from studying the Koran and the realisation that "horrific things were being done in the name of religion".
With obstacles such as the stoning to death of women, polygamy and the legal inferiority of women in some countries, progressives admitted there was a long climb ahead.
The greatest danger was the spread of radically conservative, Saudi-backed schools of Islam. "They don't want to go forward; they want to go back," said Dr Wadud, who also led mixed prayers at the Barcelona meeting.
Raheel Raza, a Canadian of Pakistani origin, said it was hard to break the mould. "I already have a fatwa against me. I don't want to be murdered on the street," she said.
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