By FATIMA PATEL & GRAHAME ANDERSON
More than 250 women from across the UK left this annual three day conference in no doubt the oppression of Muslim women must end now. The core of the event at the Mercure, Bradford Bankfield Hotel, centered around an opportunity to take ownership of the discourse surrounding Muslim women, alongside challenging the widely held stereotypes of Muslim women being submissive. To this affect, the first day of the conference in early October was opened up to men, in order to get the full spectrum of views on an important range of topics.
Subjects open to discussion ranged from much needed intra-faith dialogue on shaping religious discourse around feminine readings of the Quran, the Status of Women in Islam and Muslim Women and Religious Authority. The dialogue will feed into and inform the current discourse taking place nationally about Islam, and its place in modern day Britain.
A Question Of Judgement
Dr Sahira Dar a GP and holistic therapist, said: “On the oppression question I know we answer it for the general media. We shouldn’t even be asking it now, we have passed that stage. “I did a talk to a mixed non-Muslim audience about how my husband let me out to do this and how he is looking after the kids – ‘Hi I am so glad to be here, pity my husband couldn’t be here, he is busy looking after the kids’ and it was along those lines and everyone laughed, because it was targeted at that audience. But I think among professional women, let’s get past that Let’s move away.”
It was certainly a view shared by a group of women from Glasgow. When asked how they managed to escape their families, considering it’s a 250 mile journey from Scotland to Bradford and being Muslim women, who are perceived as being ‘oppressed’ but coming alone to the conference. They all jumped to scream: “We are not oppressed.”
This positive response was re-affirmed by a group of professionals also from Glasgow. “I think these conferences are very important” said Asma Ali, a lawyer for the Scottish police force.
Memuna Qayum who offers counselling added: “Yes, they are really important and give different perspectives which is invaluable.”
Speaking For Women Of All Faiths
In fact, women of all faiths from London to Wales, Newcastle to Leicester, and even a delegation from Germany, enjoyed a programme of high calibre internationally renowned speakers, participating in panel discussions and intensive workshops. These included sessions with subject experts covering themes from Muslim responses to extremism, the legitimisation of Islamophobia in the mainstream and the role of faith communities in building resilience. There were ample opportunities for questions and answers during dedicated panel discussions. Highlighted speakers included Professor Salman Sayyid, Head of the School of Sociology and Social Policy at the University of Leeds, Lily Piachaud, Projects Officer at the Jo Cox Foundation, Professor Emerita at the University of Louisville, USA, and The Rt Revd Dr Toby Howarth, Bishop of Bradford who commented: “I am impressed and encouraged by the level of scholarship and insight the Daughters of Eve Conference brings together, and also offers to Bradford and beyond.”
The event also created a huge impression on artist and writer Gillian Holding who added: “It was a genuine privilege to have the chance to attend this conference. Being able to listen to a range of diverse exchanges and reflections on Islam in a warm and hospitable atmosphere was wonderful. I enjoyed this real opportunity to listen from within, and it was yet another important reminder of how misleading it is, to see and talk of Muslims as a single homogeneous community.”
Bana Gora, CEO of Muslim Women’s Council says, “The aim of the conference was to create the space to debate current issues affecting the Muslim community with other faith communities. It was also to challenge prevailing narratives about Muslims generated by politicians and the media, and critically analyse the role of Muslims in contemporary society.” The Muslim Women’s Council is a proactive organisation led by the needs of Muslim women. The group provide a local and regional platform for Muslim women to network, and to develop confidence to engage on issues of concern affecting Muslims living in the UK. They also Promote greater understanding and confidence between Muslims and the wider society, including the media, policy makers and the public. A leading aim is to engage with senior decision makers and leaders, to hold them to account and influence policy. The delegates also had the opportunity to relax and unwind with a glamour night featuring live musical entertainment with Shabnam Khan, as well as a bazaar.
Thinking Out Of The Box
Dr Sahira Dar added: “This event is geared towards a certain kind of Muslim woman, not just for Muslim women, but a woman that wants to take on that lead. Whether that’s in her home or in her community and to equip herself and you need that intellectual stimulus and you don’t get it everywhere. “In terms of how much I will change when I go home, I don’t know yet, but certainly it makes you think wider, then what you did think”
Taking Home A Clear Message
The overriding message from the conference was a simple one however. The question of oppression must end now.