The Fourth International Conference on Islamic Feminism met in Madrid, Spain this October, and Etin Anwar, assistant professor of religious studies, was in attendance. Delivering a presentation on Islamic feminism and spirituality, Anwar was one of many Islamic scholars – and more than 1,300 attendees – from around the world to speak on feminism in relation to Muslim women.
The biennial conference, organized by a number of institutions including the United States Embassy in Spain, the Iranian Embassy in Spain, and the Women’s Institute (Ministry of Equality), seeks to locate sources of resistance to Islamic feminism and form ways in which to face these challenges. This year’s initiative focused heavily on Sufism and feminism, as well as secularism and human rights.
“Islamic Feminism refers to the intellectual and social movements to promote equality and eliminate discrimination of women in the Western world,” says Anwar. “It is returning to Islam as a frame of reference. It is a rediscovery of ritual, histories, and principle.”
Although this was the fourth conference held on Islamic Feminism, this was Anwar’s first time attending. “This conference really brings together scholars on Islamic Feminism to discuss and strategize, to put together programs that are useful for each other and the future,” explains Anwar.
Not only is the conference an important forum for discussion – it is one of the only forums for such conversation. “This is the only place where men and women openly talk about Islamic Feminism,” remarks Anwar. Other unique – and significant moments – included a Friday prayer led by a woman; a duty traditionally performed by a man.
Anwar spent a portion of her time in Spain in the Basque towns of Bilbo and Portugalete, where she also addressed feminism in the Muslim community. A part of Gite-Ipes, an organization that promotes the study of sociology and culture, Anwar gave two lectures on the role of women within society and within Islamic philosophy and theology. “The enthusiasm people showed in the question and answer sessions was amazing and inspiring,” says Anwar.
Anwar’s lecture prompted great interest in the community of Bilbo and was given an extensive interview featured in the local paper, Berria, the next day. In the interview, Anwar discussed the complexities of being an ‘Islamic feminist.’ “Anti feminists believe that Islam is an absolute truth and it cannot be replaced with any ideologies. Associating Islam to feminism poses a problem to the legitimacy of Islam,” explained Anwar. “However, faith-based feminists propose that the terms ‘Islam’ and ‘feminism’ are compatible because both seek to promote justice and the elimination of oppression.”
Videos of the conference can be found at http://feminismeislamic.org/.
Anwar holds a B.A. from State University for Islamic Studies in Bandung, Indonesia, a master’s degree from McGill University and a doctorate from the Philosophy, Interpretation and Culture Program at the State University of New York at Binghamton. Anwar is also the author of “Gender and Self in Islam.”