Ethan Zuckerman: Most of our Forbidden Research con­ver­sa­tion so far has been in the realm of the sci­en­tif­ic and the tech­ni­cal. But those aren’t always the areas in which research finds itself off lim­its, some­how dif­fi­cult to talk about. We’re now going to switch gears quite sharply and move on to a top­ic where to the extent that research ends up being for­bid­den, it’s real­ly for cul­tur­al rea­sons. And it’s real­ly peo­ple’s in many cas­es inabil­i­ty to accept the idea that Islam, a reli­gion prac­ticed by more than a bil­lion peo­ple world­wide, can be com­pat­i­ble and com­plete­ly con­so­nant with issues of human rights and wom­en’s rights.

So we have two speak­ers who are going to talk about this top­ic in a ses­sion that we’re call­ing Rites and Rights.” We’re incred­i­bly lucky to have with us Alaa Murabit, a physi­cian and activist, a UN advo­cate for the sus­tain­able devel­op­ment goals, from Libya. We’re also very very hap­py to have with us Saeed Khan, who teach­es Middle Eastern stud­ies at Wayne State University, research­es exten­sive­ly on Islam and the dias­po­ra, and the pol­i­tics of the Islamic dias­po­ra in the US and the UK. So let me wel­come them both to the stage for Rights and Rites. 

Alaa Murabit: That round of applause was both for Missing Pieces, but more for me. Because I nar­rat­ed it.

We’ve been hav­ing this con­ver­sa­tion about tech­nol­o­gy and about for­bid­den research with­in the sci­ences. And while they may not seem very con­nect­ed, I would argue that they actu­al­ly are. If we look at a lot of the things we’ve been speak­ing about today, be it genet­ic engi­neer­ing or the things that occur in our dai­ly lives, the chal­lenge of repro­duc­tive rights, or glob­al peace and secu­ri­ty, a lot of the stag­na­tion, a lot of the chal­lenges, are actu­al­ly root­ed either in the per­cep­tion of reli­gion or in the polit­i­cal manip­u­la­tion of reli­gion. People uti­lize it for their own polit­i­cal and eco­nom­ic advan­tages every day. And regard­less of how much we research, we find that actu­al­ly putting it into prac­tice and pol­i­cy becomes quite dif­fi­cult because we have to deal with one another.

I’m joined by Saeed Khan who is a pro­fes­sor at Wayne State University and has actu­al­ly done quite a bit of work on Islam and the chal­lenges of moder­ni­ty. And today we’ll be tak­ing the con­ver­sa­tion through about four key points. We’ll be talk­ing about the per­cep­tion of Islam or Muslim women here in the United States, and then more­so glob­al­ly through­out the Global North.

We’ll then be talk­ing about why the polit­i­cal cli­mate and secu­ri­ty cli­mate are actu­al­ly quite dif­fer­ent than the real­i­ties on the ground, and how that trans­lates. And we’ll be ref­er­enc­ing specif­i­cal­ly cur­rent poli­cies on coun­ter­ing vio­lent extrem­ism, because that is such a hot top­ic both in the Global North and the South.

And final­ly we’ll be fin­ish­ing off on what are the key next steps in this dia­logue? Is it research? Is it pol­i­cy? What needs to be done to actu­al­ly change the sit­u­a­tion for the 1.7 bil­lion Muslims and for every­body else?

So I’m going to start by ask­ing you, giv­en the work that you’ve done and the research you’ve done on Islam, what are the per­cep­tions here in the US

Saeed Khan: Uh…well, not great, I think it’s fair­ly safe to say. But there is a recent Brookings Institution sur­vey that was done last week, as a mat­ter of fact, which showed that things are slight­ly improv­ing vis-à-vis the per­cep­tion of Muslims, maybe not so Islam per se. And it’s inter­est­ing to see that this report came out after the tragedy of Orlando. That despite that, there seems to be now the turn­ing of a prover­bial cor­ner in how peo­ple per­ceive Muslims. And part of that per­haps is an inten­si­fied civic and polit­i­cal engage­ment by Muslims, par­tic­u­lar­ly those liv­ing in America, more broad­ly North America.

But when I take a look at Islam with­in the Western con­text, I actu­al­ly invert the method­ol­o­gy. I’m more inter­est­ed in see­ing how our Western soci­ety’s mutat­ing instead of look­ing at the muta­tion of Islam per se. In the United States, we are liv­ing through quite a bit of a par­a­digm shift when it comes to the demo­graph­ics of the coun­try, par­tic­u­lar­ly as we’re lurch­ing toward 2043, when by most esti­mates the United States is going to become a major­i­ty minor­i­ty country.

Because tak­ing a look at this phe­nom­e­non that is some­times and col­lo­qui­al­ly called Islamophobia, I noticed that the per­cep­tion of Muslims by broad­er soci­ety was erod­ing the far­ther one moved away from 9‍/‍11. And this seemed to be at least ini­tial­ly coun­ter­in­tu­itive, that if there were ever a time when peo­ple would have the most neg­a­tive per­cep­tion of Muslims, it would be right after the ter­ror­ist attacks in 2001

But there was a slide that per­sist­ed through­out the aughts and into the 2010s. And espe­cial­ly cul­mi­nat­ing around 2010, some of you of course remem­ber the con­tro­ver­sy of the so-called Ground Zero Mosque,” as well as Reverend Terry Jones (not the Monty Python Terry Jones) want­i­ng to come to Dearborn, Michigan and burn Qurans. And this was also coin­ci­dent with the August 2010 Time mag­a­zine cov­er sto­ry Is America Islamophobic?”

And so I start­ed to take a look at var­i­ous mark­ers in order to test the hypoth­e­sis of in fact, what’s the rela­tion­ship of Islamophobia with then the changes that are hap­pen­ing to the United States? 2010, the US cen­sus comes out and shows that for the first time in American his­to­ry the num­ber of non-Hispanic white births is being out­paced by non-white births. Fast for­ward to 2013, and the Pew Center for the study of reli­gious life in America com­ing out with a sur­vey show­ing the reli­gious demo­graph­ics. For the first time in American his­to­ry it’s a coun­try that is no longer major­i­ty Protestant. So we find then that the White Anglo-Saxon Protestant essen­tial­ism of American iden­ti­ty was now becom­ing less white and more brown, less Anglo-Saxon and more Latin American, less Protestant and more Catholic.

And I was try­ing to sit­u­ate Islamophobia with­in this. And for a group which depend­ing on the sur­vey is either 0.6% of the pop­u­la­tion or 3% of the pop­u­la­tion, this is a group that is invari­ably lack­ing in social and polit­i­cal cap­i­tal, which makes it a fair­ly easy target.

Murabit: So I’m going to play dev­il’s advo­cate a lit­tle bit and say, regard­less of Islamophobia in America, I could argue that there seems to be a per­cep­tion, even from peo­ple who may not nec­es­sar­i­ly be Islamophobic, that Islam does not exist with wom­en’s rights. That the two are mutu­al­ly exclusive.

Khan: Right.

Murabit: Now, that’s some­thing that’s been very appar­ent based on almost every research con­ver­sa­tion that’s been had. That there’s a moral oblig­a­tion for the US to pro­mote wom­en’s rights and by default then, min­i­mize the role that Islam can have polit­i­cal­ly. What are your thoughts on that?

Khan: Well, in the United States in par­tic­u­lar, we find then that the Muslim woman becomes the site of con­tes­ta­tion. And we see how she is instru­men­tal­ized both domes­ti­cal­ly as well as in a for­eign capac­i­ty. That some­how or the oth­er she needs to be saved. She needs to be saved from her own reli­gion. She needs to be saved from our own cul­ture. She needs to be saved from her own patri­ar­chal ontology.

And as a result of this, you find then that the man­i­fest des­tiny of sal­va­tion, of eman­ci­pa­tion, becomes such a strong trope. And it’s fas­ci­nat­ing in the European con­text where there’s also a moral pan­ic occur­ring, that the mag­num opus of post-Enlightenment phi­los­o­phy, the European Union, every­one get­ting along, seems to now be struc­tural­ly and sys­tem­i­cal­ly flawed.

And as you see with this graph­ic here, you find of that here are some Muslim men, osten­si­bly cler­ics or at least pious, who are rap­ing mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism. And it’s also fas­ci­nat­ing to see that it’s not just the Muslim woman who’s being instru­men­tal­ized here but it is also Europe that per­ceives itself as being a woman being raped or hav­ing her con­sent tak­en away from her.

Murabit: Well, I tie this a lot into the work that I’ve done on sex­u­al vio­lence and con­flict, because we often dis­cuss how wom­en’s bod­ies are seen as the bor­ders of a nation. And so while many peo­ple argue with Islam and hon­or killings, that Muslim soci­ety see Muslim women as the hon­or of that fam­i­ly or that com­mu­ni­ty. But what strikes me is that’s actu­al­ly quite sim­i­lar, when we talk about Europe. Despite the fact that it is not a Muslim coun­try, women are def­i­nite­ly seen as the hon­or of the com­mu­ni­ty. And that’s why we saw the polit­i­cal out­rage fol­low­ing the attacks in Germany.

So, I think where I would like to veer this to, then, is from a more glob­al per­spec­tive— If we’re now look­ing okay, so there is this assump­tion that women are objec­ti­fied and oppressed, need to be eman­ci­pat­ed, as you said, that Muslim women do not have agency or capac­i­ty. Then why are we ask­ing Muslim women in par­tic­u­lar to be our our tools for first infor­ma­tion in coun­ter­ing vio­lent extrem­ism? Why now are we empha­siz­ing the role of Muslim women in glob­al secu­ri­ty? Why now, if we have argued for so long and we have spo­ken for so long about the need to lib­er­ate them, be it in Iraq and Afghanistan, wars have have been start­ed based on this assumed moral­i­ty to pro­tect Muslim women? Why now are we say­ing okay, so they are key in this fight?

Khan: Well, I think it’s the under­stand­ing soci­o­log­i­cal­ly of not only their vis­i­bil­i­ty in the pub­lic sphere, espe­cial­ly when we see the debates hap­pen­ing in Europe, but also the cen­tral­i­ty of Muslim women when it comes to the nuclear fam­i­ly. And so we find that as a key­stone or as a linch­pin, to go ahead and place this focus and to usurp the nar­ra­tive of them, essen­tial­ly to take the agency not just away from them but from the Muslim com­mu­ni­ty, becomes then a very easy and exploitable measure.

Now, in the case of Europe, about a decade ago, at the time pres­i­dent Nicolas Sarkozy when it came to the hijab ban was speak­ing on behalf of Muslim women. He was say­ing the rea­son or the impe­tus for this ban is to lib­er­ate Muslim women osten­si­bly from them­selves. And what was iron­ic about this is that Sarkozy saw him­self as a walī, which is a term in Arabic which means guardian or cus­to­di­an. And it’s par­tic­u­lar­ly rem­i­nis­cent to the old­er soci­ol­o­gy of Islam, of trib­al soci­ety. Now, that soci­ety was pred­i­cat­ed on three major fac­tors: being patri­ar­chal, being trib­al, and being custodial.

So as soci­ety has moved on, and par­tic­u­lar­ly Europe with Rousseau’s social con­tract and most of our inter­ac­tions being con­trac­tu­al, here was Sarkozy being a throw­back to a bygone time in Islam which actu­al­ly Islam has evolved from. From cus­to­di­al soci­eties to con­trac­tu­al soci­eties. And he felt the need to now be the trib­al chief­tain for French Muslim women despite the fact that of course they haven’t asked him to do so.

Murabit: So then how do we mar­ry that, the sense that in the Global North we’ve decid­ed to dic­tate and say what can be worn, what can’t be worn, what they are capa­ble of, that they need to be pro­tect­ed, etc., with the fact that we polit­i­cal­ly sit down at tables with the coun­tries which most export and sup­port the nega­tion of wom­en’s rights under the name and under the guise of Islam?

Khan: Well, I think part of it is we have to decon­struct this fal­la­cy of moral­i­ty being the prime dri­ver of for­eign pol­i­cy. I would say that it’s not—and of course peo­ple are free to debate this that it’s immoral—but just for the sake of sym­me­try I’d like to keep moral­i­ty and immoral­i­ty out of the equa­tion and say that at best it’s real­ly an amoral rela­tion­ship.

And it’s remark­able how, then, the nar­ra­tives form in the lim­i­nal spaces. I think ear­li­er we were talk­ing about how the lim­i­nal­i­ty between a wom­an’s legs then becomes both how Muslim women are per­ceived and cer­tain­ly how Western women are also, with the secu­ri­ti­za­tion of the West, need to be pro­tect­ed from this men­ac­ing threat that is com­ing out. 

So when we take a look at how, then, an amoral trope is employed, how to rec­on­cile deal­ing with gov­ern­ments, how to deal with soci­eties that are oppres­sive, it comes down to the dol­lars or it comes down to the euros. And it’s fas­ci­nat­ing to see these con­tra­dic­tions with­out any sense of guile, with­out any sense of self-reflection. And I’ll give you one exam­ple, again going to France. And by the way if any­one’s French, I apol­o­gize. I’m not try­ing to be bash French. I love fly­ing Air France, by the way. So hope­ful­ly that’ll serve me as cover.

Now, this is inter­est­ing. This is actu­al­ly a Belgian a woman, and these are the cat­walks of Paris. It’s per­fect­ly okay to feel as though you’re cham­pi­oning Muslim women and try­ing to lib­er­ate [them] from the fortress” of their phys­i­cal coun­te­nance being oppressed behind a burqa and the niqab, unless you can prof­it from it. So whether you are Girbaud or whether you are Dolce & Gabbana, and you are able to then make it part of haute cou­ture, then it’s per­fect­ly acceptable.

In Paris today, a woman wear­ing the hijab going to Tati, which is a down­mar­ket dis­count cloth­ing store, spend­ing twen­ty euros is seen as an exis­ten­tial threat to French val­ues and iden­ti­ty. But, a woman in a full burqa, from Qatar, who’s on the Champs-Élysées at Hermès burn­ing through two hun­dred thou­sand euros is wel­comed with open arms. So you see it has some­thing to do with eco­nom­ics being if you will the new moral­i­ty and the new mark­er by which these rela­tion­ships are nego­ti­at­ed and contested. 

Murabit: But I’d argue that it’s always been the moral­i­ty. That’s how potent reli­gion became politi­cized in the first place, was because peo­ple real­ized it would make some money. 

Khan: Well, there’s a dif­fer­ence between I think the politi­ciza­tion of reli­gion and the com­mod­i­fi­ca­tion of religion. 

Murabit: Fair enough.

Khan: And so I think what we’re find­ing here now is that every­thing’s for sale.

Murabit: Fair enough. I’ll agree with that, but I do think that the two go hand in hand.

Khan: Absolutely.

Murabit: So, in Libya a lot of our work has actu­al­ly revolved around uti­liz­ing reli­gion and uti­liz­ing scrip­ture and the say­ings of the prophet (hadiths) to actu­al­ly be able to change the con­ver­sa­tion. Because while reli­gion may not be the cause of vio­lence, the manip­u­la­tion of reli­gion is def­i­nite­ly what fires peo­ple up or what excus­es violence. 

And so a lot of our work has revolved around work­ing with imams, so reli­gious schol­ars and lead­ers, to actu­al­ly talk about the under­ly­ing ori­gins of where this con­ver­sa­tion start­ed. Because when Islam was first brought into our soci­eties, the rea­son it was in part­ly embraced was actu­al­ly because it was seen as lib­er­at­ing women. It was seen as putting them in a bet­ter posi­tion than they had been in in pre-Islamic times. It had been seen as afford­ing them more rights, afford­ing them more access, afford­ing them more opportunity. 

So we want­ed to see where that devi­at­ed. And it became very very clear in much of the work that we did that there was a great polit­i­cal change in the 1970s and 80s in par­tic­u­lar, in my region, in the North African region, that had a lot to do with the expor­ta­tion of ideals from Saudi Arabia, and the expor­ta­tion of a par­tic­u­lar method­ol­o­gy of Islam from Saudi Arabia. And that was able to reach oth­er coun­tries, because of glob­al­iza­tion. Because now we had their radios. Now our schol­ars went to Saudi Arabia to get edu­ca­tion and came back. When the age of satel­lite came, we got to see, for twelve hours a day, Saudi Arabian schol­ars speak about the right way a woman should dress, the right way a woman should look, and how impor­tant it was to keep women out polit­i­cal and pub­lic life to ensure the integri­ty of the fam­i­ly unit. Because if she is too busy run­ning a coun­try she can­not run a home.

So it became excep­tion­al­ly impor­tant for us to actu­al­ly attack this head-on. And I still remem­ber one of our meet­ings in Libya when we were speak­ing about tran­si­tion­al jus­tice, because sex­u­al vio­lence in con­flict had been a great issue. And we were sit­ting across from the United Nations polit­i­cal mis­sion. And we had quite a few young men who were part of our local tran­si­tion­al jus­tice teams.

And so the UN mis­sion asked the Libyans, Well, where are your women?” Because out of about thir­ty peo­ple I was the only woman in the room. And they looked back at the UN team and said, Well, where are yours?” Because the UN team did­n’t have a sin­gle woman with them.

So it became very inter­est­ing to me that we often cite wom­en’s rights as a cause for us to become involved, for us to stand upon. Be it sex­u­al vio­lence in the UK’s ini­tia­tive there, or Iraq, Afghanistan, and how often we cite Iran as being a lim­iter of wom­en’s rights. But at the same time, we don’t ever hold to account coun­tries which have ful­ly sup­port­ed this. And I know you and I had been speak­ing ear­li­er about the spe­cif­ic rela­tion­ship that the West has with Saudi Arabia. And giv­en this new­found­ed or new­ly reju­ve­nat­ed rela­tion­ship with Iran, how that might change.

Khan: Well, there’s a cou­ple of dif­fer­ent ele­ments to that, Alaa. I mean, first of all let’s remem­ber back at the 1995 Conference on Women in Beijing, and some very well-intended Western del­e­ga­tions came into the con­fer­ence assert­ing the need for greater choice for women when it came to their repro­duc­tive health­care. And par­tic­u­lar­ly this was an issue deal­ing with how to have access to med­ical procedures. 

Well, it kind of back­fired in a place like India, where peo­ple start­ed to use the ultra­sound in order to then deter­mine the gen­der of the fetus and then have selec­tive abor­tions based on that gen­der. Which cre­at­ed an epi­demi­o­log­i­cal if not a demo­graph­ic a cri­sis in some provinces like Rajasthan.

At the same time, it’s also impor­tant to take a look at when it comes to the Orientalism by which we tend to look at not just women in these coun­tries but entire regimes and gov­ern­ments. It’s always a mat­ter then of see­ing how we can exploit it, what can we sell.

Now, case in point in Saudi Arabia, of course there’s this dis­trac­tion about an anthro­po­log­i­cal anom­aly. The fact that Saudi women are not per­mit­ted to dri­ve. And this becomes then the lit­mus test or the barom­e­ter of an entire soci­ety, irre­spec­tive of under­stand­ing, again, the under­ly­ing soci­o­log­i­cal and anthro­po­log­i­cal cul­tures. We’re look­ing at a pop­u­la­tion of thirty-five mil­lion peo­ple. But the rea­son I use the num­ber thirty-five is that at the same time, not only do we cor­re­spond and inter­act with this coun­try at the high­est lev­els, we also sell them thirty-five bil­lion dol­lars in weapons. 

So the idea, then, that we have a will­ing market—

Murabit: Which then usu­al­ly end up in the hands of extrem­ist orga­ni­za­tions that we then com­bat with bil­lions of dol­lars, twen­ty years later.

Khan: Whether we turn a blind eye or not to this is I think still an open ques­tion that’s being debat­ed. But it’s kind of inter­est­ing to see that a year on from sign­ing a deal which osten­si­bly removes nuclear weapons from the region, we also then high­ly inten­si­fy our sale of con­ven­tion­al weapons to go ahead and deal with a phan­tom men­ace that we had pur­port­ed to go ahead and reduce.

Murabit: And then we’ll be fight­ing again in twen­ty years.

Khan: Boy, I mean, you’re wait­ing that long?

Murabit: So I will open the floor to ques­tions in a moment, but before that I do actu­al­ly hope­ful­ly want to leave you on a bit more of a pos­i­tive note. Because I would like to think that there is a sil­ver lin­ing. And that is that I always say the future of the Islamic faith, in my opin­ion, is inar­guably and very fear­less­ly female. 

And I say that because in the past ten to fif­teen years [I] have seen a com­plete I want to say rev­o­lu­tion of thought about the inter­pre­ta­tion of Islam led by women. And civ­il soci­ety has real­ly kind of tak­en a lead­ing role in a lot of the devel­op­ing coun­tries and in a lot of the post-conflict and tran­si­tion­al coun­tries in the Middle East and North Africa and Asia Pacific, where we see them say­ing okay, so this can no longer be what the blue­print for our soci­ety is, or for our cul­ture is.

And there seems to be an inter­est to sep­a­rate cul­ture, which is a very very strong pro­po­nent of a lot of the more tra­di­tion­al and archa­ic fea­tures, from reli­gion, and from the inter­pre­ta­tion of reli­gion. And for me this is key because for the past 1,600 years, the inter­pre­ta­tion has been very solid­ly male. And it’s been elite male. It’s men who have author­i­ty and have pow­er, and have the abil­i­ty to cre­ate more author­i­ty and pow­er based on what they say they find in the word of God. And you’d be amazed at how hard God is to debate with when some­body says that they’re sure that’s what he said. 

So for women in par­tic­u­lar, it’s been an uphill bat­tle because the sec­ond you begin to debate a lot of what has been inter­pret­ed, your hon­or comes into ques­tion, your integri­ty comes into ques­tion, your sheer human­i­ty comes into ques­tion from a lot of peo­ple, some very well-intentioned, who sim­ply prac­tice the faith but feel as though you are going against the word of God.

So I think what I would like to open up ques­tions on is real­ly first, rec­og­niz­ing what we do have and we inar­guably have, and we’ve spo­ken about it a lot, the tra­di­tion­al­ists with­in the faith who dis­like this cur­rent trend of more open inter­pre­ta­tion or at least more inclu­sive inter­pre­ta­tion. But also how we’re going to mar­ry the polit­i­cal and the eco­nom­ic, which we’ve empha­sized tend to be dri­ving a lot of the deci­sions made in our regions and glob­al­ly, with the moral, and with the reli­gious, and with the social. And with the cul­tur­al, which will take much much much longer.

Khan: Oh, absolute­ly. I mean, I think it’s impor­tant to rec­og­nize that Islam, when we’re look­ing at states of mat­ter, and this is some­thing I always chal­lenge my stu­dents on, ask­ing them which state of mat­ter it is. And usu­al­ly you can fig­ure out where they are on the reli­gious spec­trum with the answer that they give. And I know there’s four states of mat­ter. I’m here at MIT. I know about the plas­ma, okay. I took some NatSci cours­es as well. 

But the so-called tra­di­tion­al­ists will say, Oh, it’s a sol­id.” Some who are per­haps a lit­tle bit more ascetic in their out­look will say it’s a gas. And I say no, it’s actu­al­ly a liq­uid, because it takes on the vol­ume or the dimen­sions of the ves­sel in which it finds itself. And that ves­sel of course is the cul­ture. And so that’s why you have all this cul­tur­al diversity.

But the point that you made ear­li­er is so crit­i­cal, of in 1979 with the expor­ta­tion of a very essen­tial­ized cul­tur­al par­a­digm from Saudi Arabia. This then rup­tured the organ­ic cul­tur­al evo­lu­tion and mar­riage of reli­gion in so many dif­fer­ent parts of the world. And part of the rea­son that that hap­pened is that these soci­eties start­ed to devel­op inse­cu­ri­ties that their Islam was not authen­tic. Many of these places were very syn­cret­ic when it came to their Islam because of how het­ero­ge­neous their soci­eties were. South Asia with Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, etc.,

Murabit: They could­n’t read the Quran them­selves. They could­n’t speak Arabic…

Khan: They did­n’t have Arabic as their lin­gua fran­ca, so they became high­ly depen­dent, then, on the search for authen­tic­i­ty. And of course the Saudis were only too hap­py to do so with the kind of author­i­ty that they were try­ing to assert. 

The rest of the Muslim world, espe­cial­ly South and Southeast Asia and to a cer­tain degree Sub-Saharan Africa, devel­oped a kind of theo­cul­tur­al penis envy, in the sense that they said, Well, we don’t real­ly know, so we will defer to you.” And so you notice it is from that point where things start to start to tip.

Regarding how wom­en’s agency needs to then be deployed, it has to be both on the the­o­log­i­cal­ly inter­pre­tive as well as the soci­o­log­i­cal­ly inter­pre­tive. So in a sense what they need to do is have an inter­ven­tion of Foucault and the fat­wa. They have to under­stand how social con­trol has real­ly then been such a major part of the equa­tion when it comes to who holds the levers of pow­er, the exclu­sive levers of pow­er, when it comes to this interpretation. 

And you’re find­ing Muslim women now are not only push­ing back and chal­leng­ing that author­i­ta­tive struc­ture but doing so in a much more sophis­ti­cat­ed way. Some of you are prob­a­bly aware of—

Murabit: As you would expect, of course. [laughs]

Khan: … Point tak­en. Now where was I? Some of you are prob­a­bly famil­iar with the fat­wa that was just released a cou­ple days [ago] from Saudi Arabia say­ing that Pokémon Go is a sin. Okay. Now, most peo­ple have dis­missed this off because they see it as being just anoth­er embar­rass­ment for Muslims to have to now answer to. Wow, they’re even tak­ing the fun out of hold­ing up your phone and walk­ing into walls and all the oth­er things that Pokémon Go does.

But the fact that the fat­was or the advi­so­ry opin­ions that Muslim women are seek­ing are much more refined than these kinds of fat­was which are obvi­ous­ly the prod­uct of con­sul­ta­tion— Somebody had asked the ques­tion of a cler­ic to say, Can I play Pokémon Go and not go to Hell?” Muslim women aren’t deal­ing with things that are that argot.

Murabit: No, that’s very true. And I actu­al­ly want to point out some of the work that we’ve done in Libya and real­ly kind of look­ing at both the social and polit­i­cal, and reli­gious, involve­ment of women as I think being the sin­gle great­est game-changer. Not only for Islam but I think for every faith. I think when every faith becomes more inclu­sive it tends to change from being an orga­nized reli­gion meant to con­trol and oppress and gain pow­er, and becom­ing more of a faith where you can actu­al­ly feel as though you have a connection.

In Libya we were able to start a cam­paign called the Noor Campaign. And it’s actu­al­ly now been repli­cat­ed glob­al­ly and has been cit­ed in the United Nations Security Council Global Study on Women, Peace and Security. Because with­in six months, by work­ing with the reli­gious insti­tu­tions and get­ting a lot of— As I’m sure many of you know, wom­en’s rights orga­ni­za­tions do not have a lot of innate cred­i­bil­i­ty. So we end­ed up hav­ing to bor­row some from a lot of the reli­gious insti­tu­tions. And we worked very very close­ly with them as well as with social and polit­i­cal thought lead­ers with­in our com­mu­ni­ties, and some trib­al elders, and a lot of the more tra­di­tion­al leaders.

And we went through schools, uni­ver­si­ties, mosques, etc. on the ground, and with­in six months were able to reach over 2.2 mil­lion peo­ple indi­rect­ly. And that’s in a coun­try of six mil­lion. And over 57,000 direct­ly, hav­ing them com­plete sur­veys on where they think the root of this prob­lem is. What is the root of vio­lence in our com­mu­ni­ty? And a lot of peo­ple will cite answers that are I think often left out of our con­ver­sa­tions. So some will def­i­nite­ly say, Well, you know what, it’s my reli­gious duty.” But the vast major­i­ty will say, Well you know, my grand­fa­ther was attacked.” Or, The land that I don’t own any more is because they came and they took it from me.” Or look at what they’re doing to our neigh­bors or our cousins in Country X or Country Y.

And by doing this, by being able to actu­al­ly ful­ly mar­ry this con­cept of reli­gion as an excuse for vio­lence, and manip­u­lat­ed reli­gion actu­al­ly as a cause to pro­mote vio­lence, with cur­rent geopo­lit­i­cal real­i­ties and secu­ri­ty real­i­ties, we were able to have a more hon­est con­ver­sa­tion about what was hap­pen­ing. And from there cre­ate actu­al strate­gies which com­bat­ed extrem­ism. So being able to say okay, so if the prob­lem is that you don’t have a job and they’re pro­vid­ing you mon­ey and that’s why we’ve joined, then why don’t we talk about pro­vid­ing you a job in your local area. Rather than say­ing well, reli­gion is clear­ly the prob­lem so we have to close down all the mosques. Because by clos­ing down those com­mu­ni­ty cen­ters, we actu­al­ly have more peo­ple stay­ing at home sit­ting on the Internet and find­ing what do we call it, the deep web? Finding all those kind of dif­fer­ent inter­pre­ta­tions of Islam which have actu­al­ly lead for us to be in this sit­u­a­tion now.

So I’ll open up the floor to any ques­tions any­one may have. Do we have any? Easy ques­tions only, obvi­ous­ly. I have a rule.

Audience 1: I have a com­ment, hon­est­ly, more than it’s a ques­tion. And maybe this is the first time I’m speak­ing about this in pub­lic, but as some­one who’s from the Middle East, I’m all the time very much sur­prised that we all the time, even when we dis­cuss that in the West, we man­age to look at things as we have to be a tribe. One of my major prob­lems with coun­tries like Saudi Arabia or even the mod­er­ate Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan [is] that they have a state reli­gion and then there are all the laws and all the things that have to apply to my life have to be com­ing from that reli­gion. And even today I mean, I was was a woman who wore a hijab when I was thir­ty, and I stopped wear­ing a hijab four years ago. And I would even wear the prop­er full hijab with all of the things.

And one of the things I noticed when I stopped wear­ing that hijab [was] that I stopped being that cool Muslim.” Because why do you care if a woman is wear­ing a hijab or not wear­ing a hijab? That’s my prob­lem with the whole con­ver­sa­tion that is going on all the time in the Western coun­tries, about we do all the time have to prove, as a woman, who is Muslim and wear­ing a hijab. You know what, I’m mod­er­ate. I’m amaz­ing. I can do cool things. And now, with not wear­ing the hijab or just being like a woman who could be any­one, I’m all the time not get­ting the same kind of sta­tus that I used to have before.

I’m also think­ing when we’re all the time try­ing to dis­cuss the top­ic of Islam and women, we all the this time go back to the point zero of hav­ing us all as one block. My dad’s name is Mohammed, and I trav­el to Yemen and Egypt, and then I would be going into secu­ri­ty checks all the time in London and Paris board­ing to America. And in the coun­tries where I come from, they look to me like, You know, you’re sec­u­lar. You don’t want to…” It’s just like you’re all the time stuck in the mid­dle, and I feel like… I mean, I’m just rais­ing this idea of we all the time have to touch on the top­ic as [if] we were all one block, we all were born from Muslim fam­i­lies, and we’d still be the same. And then how I look and what I’m wear­ing will just affect a lot how peo­ple will have stereo­types about my life. And I just kind of find this very— We’re in 2016 and we still need to say, Oh you know, there are cool women Muslims that wear hijab but they can still be doing amaz­ing things.”

And then the American— Yeah, there are, but there are oth­er women who are also from that region and not nec­es­sar­i­ly that per­son, and basi­cal­ly does not want to be ruled or asso­ci­at­ed with a state that has a reli­gion. There are a grow­ing sec­u­lar— I have a lot of friends in Tunisia, which I think is the most pro­gres­sive Arab coun­try, who basi­cal­ly, not wear­ing a hijab, and they drink alco­hol, and they still fast. And they some­times play. And they have some rules that they fol­low in their lives. 

I don’t want to like— I don’t want to go so long. Okay, that’s the last thing I want to say. The last thing I want to say is just like, because we’re try­ing here to talk about for­bid­den research” and for­bid­den ques­tions is, why do we all the time have to be looked at as one block with all the same char­ac­ter­is­tics and cat­e­go­ry? That’s it. Thank you.

Khan: Thank you. Well, I think your point is extreme­ly salient and exact­ly why for for­bid­den research is the meta­nar­ra­tive here. It’s in order to unpack a lot of these mono­liths that have been cre­at­ed, a lot of these very reduc­tive tropes that are then ascribed to say well, there’s only two kinds of Muslim women. There’s the either or the or. And the need to then move beyond that. 

But the point that you made regard­ing state reli­gion, if you’ll allow me. The United Kingdom has a state reli­gion, as well. So I don’t think it’s a phe­nom­e­non that is just lim­it­ed to the Muslim world. There is a state reli­gion. It’s about how civ­il soci­ety nego­ti­ates and nav­i­gates with that state reli­gion, and what is the process of polit­i­cal and civic par­tic­i­pa­tion, and then cre­at­ing some kind of a soci­ety around that. So I’m not sure how much the state reli­gion, by itself, then becomes a restric­tive measure.

[inaudi­ble com­ments from Audience 1]

Murabit: I would add, though, in terms of how you were talk­ing about this reduc­tion between being one type of Muslim woman or the fact that we’re all looked at very homo­ge­neous­ly, that’s not iso­lat­ed only to Muslim women. That’s actu­al­ly some­thing that the female gen­der suf­fers with, or female sex suf­fers with entire­ly. And if we look at that from a women, peace, and secu­ri­ty per­spec­tive, when we talk about wom­en’s inclu­sion in peace and secu­ri­ty glob­al­ly, regard­less of whether it’s a Muslim coun­try or not, they are often looked at [as] vic­tims and sole­ly vic­tims, and now only recent­ly some peo­ple look at them as vic­tims and per­pe­tra­tors, right?

If we talk about it in a social, you are either a prude or a whore. You’re either a…in cul­tur­al terms what was it? Kim Kardashian or an Ayesha Curry. You are one of always two, right? So that’s not some­thing that’s lim­it­ed only to Muslim women. That’s a reduc­tion that exists with­in the entire sex. And it’s the way that unfor­tu­nate­ly unless women take stronger roles, in my opin­ion, in pol­i­tics, pub­lic life, and secu­ri­ty in par­tic­u­lar, that will con­tin­ue to stay, so.

Khan: Well, isn’t the point that John Irving made in The World According to Garp— He said that in this crazy mixed-up world, a woman is either some­body’s wife or some­body’s whore, or fast becom­ing one of the other.

Murabit: Well, that’s a fair way of saying.

Please say your name.

Michael Sigurski[sp?]: I’m Michael S. In regards to Muslim coun­tries, gov­ern­ments, cul­tures, that use a par­tic­u­lar inter­pre­ta­tion of Islam to sub­ju­gate women, do you know of any exam­ples or meth­ods to change that? And in a broad­er sense, do non-Muslim coun­tries have any place to try and change the inter­pre­ta­tion of Islam, or does that kind of change have to come from Muslims?

Murabit: So I’ll give you a spe­cif­ic exam­ple, actu­al­ly, of some of the work that women are doing in this space. In Morocco four years ago now, there was a young woman who was raped and was then forced to mar­ry her rapist. And it was under the exist­ing law, based on inter­pre­ta­tion which said that if you are raped the man has a choice: he can either suf­fer the con­se­quences or he can rape his vic­tim. And it was actu­al­ly a group of women Islamic schol­ars and civ­il soci­ety activists who said, Wait a sec­ond. If your excuse for this law is reli­gious, then we’re going to find how your inter­pre­ta­tion is not in line with the faith.” And it took them about a year but they were actu­al­ly able to com­plete­ly over­rule that law for every­body following.

In Algeria, you have the [?], which is about 3,000 women who now are real­ly the social and moral com­pass for their local com­mu­ni­ties. They’re the ones who go into the com­mu­ni­ty, they’re the ones who actu­al­ly help to deal with a lot of the more tra­di­tion­al” res­o­lu­tions to con­flict. So rather than going to an offi­cial court, you’ll go through that sys­tem. So they do exist. They are still on a much small­er scale and that’s a lot in part because of the polit­i­cal sys­tems which are exer­cised a lot of Muslim major­i­ty coun­tries, where it is very cen­tral­ized pow­er, very con­trolled, very mus­cu­lar type of author­i­ty. But they do exist.

Do I think that any­body else has the right to rein­ter­pret Islamic legal struc­tures and sys­tems oth­er than Muslims? I def­i­nite­ly think all voic­es need to be heard and it needs to be inclu­sive, but I don’t think it’s sus­tain­able unless it’s indige­nous. I think being real­is­tic, if we’re talk­ing about cul­ture, cul­ture is some­thing that peo­ple gen­uine­ly need to believe needs to change, and want to change it with­in their own soci­ety, right. And and I think if any­thing is imposed, it fol­lows a his­tor­i­cal tra­di­tion of things being imposed in a region and auto­mat­i­cal­ly becomes dis­cred­it­ed, becomes unsus­tain­able, and becomes opposed, just by nature. And it could be some­thing won­der­ful. It can be vac­cines, and peo­ple can be sus­pi­cious because of the his­to­ry that impo­si­tion has had, right. 

So I do think it has to be indige­nous, and I think peo­ple with­in the region have to gen­uine­ly start say­ing okay, so what inter­pre­ta­tions of faith? Because Islamic law…it changes. It’s based on your own inter­pre­ta­tion, or on the inter­pre­ta­tion. So what inter­pre­ta­tions of faith are influ­enc­ing our laws? Who are they ben­e­fit­ing? And how do we alter them to ben­e­fit the glob­al community?

Khan: I mean, I think the his­tor­i­cal colo­nial record unfor­tu­nate­ly pro­vid­ed quite a bit of a taint to the organ­ic devel­op­ment of law and jurispru­dence in many Muslim coun­tries with the removal of Sharia and then the impo­si­tion of European legal codes. And it’s impor­tant to under­stand that these legal codes come with their own his­tor­i­cal, cul­tur­al, eco­nom­ic, and polit­i­cal back­ground which is inor­gan­ic to the coun­tries in which they are then being imposed. And a lot of what we find now is a kind of walk­ing back to find a sys­tem restore point in time where things were pris­tine. And unfor­tu­nate­ly going back three hun­dred years with a soci­ety that has already moved three hun­dred years beyond and is mov­ing incre­men­tal­ly faster from that point makes it a Herculean challenge. 

Murabit: Next question?

Natalie Gyenes: Hi there. My name is Natalie Gyenes and I work here at the Center for Civic Media. And I’m won­der­ing if, sim­i­lar to for exam­ple Christianity where there is a cen­tral voice with whom espe­cial­ly in dias­po­ra com­mu­ni­ties you can esteem them with high regard, and as reli­gion pro­gress­es they can have greater influ­ence over the gen­er­al pop­u­la­tion with­in and out­side of a par­tic­u­lar reli­gion. In Islam, does that voice exist? Who can it be? And who should it be in the future, espe­cial­ly with increas­ing wom­en’s rights and the voice of women com­ing to sort of the fore­front of reli­gious interpretation?

Khan: I’ll take it? 

Murabit: You can go ahead. I’ll [inaudi­ble].

Khan: Sure. The easy answer is it depends. There’s actu­al­ly cer­tain schools with­in Islam that have a cen­tral fig­ure. So if one were to take the anal­o­gy of Christianity, there is a Catholic side to Islam. The Aga Khan, for exam­ple, who is the fig­ure­head and author­i­ty for the Ismāʿīli com­mu­ni­ty is such an indi­vid­ual. Within the broad­er Shi’i com­mu­ni­ty, you have what are known as the mar­jas, the high­est rank­ing cler­i­cal author­i­ties. And peo­ple whether they are in Tehran or Dearborn will go ahead and fol­low the procla­ma­tions and inter­pre­ta­tions of the author­i­ty. Within the Sunni con­stel­la­tion, it is a much more decen­tral­ized cler­i­cal authority. 

And it’s always fas­ci­nat­ing that when I have dis­cus­sions with­in an inter­faith capac­i­ty, some of the most ardent advo­cates who are seek­ing a sin­gle voice for the Muslim world are them­selves Protestant Christians. And I’ve nev­er real­ly under­stood that because they’re much more accli­mat­ed to the idea of decen­tral­ized cler­i­cal author­i­ty. But I can appre­ci­ate why they’re seek­ing that mono­lith­ic voice. Unfortunately what it does is it flat­tens the land­scape. And it does­n’t then take into account the cul­tur­al nuances which have to be under­stood in one way or the other.

And to take a look at Islamic jurispru­dence, par­tic­u­lar­ly among Sunnis, the four major schools of law which devel­oped, at least two of them devel­oped because of geo­graph­ic con­sid­er­a­tions. The Hanafi school, for exam­ple, is a very decen­tral­ized school which defers to jurists with­in a par­tic­u­lar locale, and I’ll give like one example.

To go ahead and use the jurispru­dence over water access of Medina is going to be dif­fer­ent from the water access laws that affect Baghdad, because one is in a desert and one is in a very fecund area. Another which was a con­se­quence and a reac­tion to that said, Well, now you’re get­ting to be too dif­fuse when it comes to your laws, so let’s go ahead and focus on Medina because this was the Prophet’s city.” So you have to under­stand that these legal sys­tems work as dialec­tics to one anoth­er. That’s all been in place. It’s more of a mat­ter of who’s hold­ing the levers and who’s try­ing to assert one of these schools over the oth­ers as a form of power.

Murabit: And in today’s polit­i­cal real­i­ty that’s unfor­tu­nate­ly what’s hap­pen­ing. So in a lot of Muslim major­i­ty coun­tries where the reli­gion is part of the state, you actu­al­ly do have a cen­tral fig­ure who is ordained by the polit­i­cal leader. So reli­gion and pol­i­tics tend to get mud­dled very quick­ly, and peo­ple are being told things in the name of reli­gion that actu­al­ly ben­e­fit the polit­i­cal author­i­ties. And the best exam­ple of that is Saudi Arabia, where they made a clear nego­ti­a­tion with the reli­gious lead­ers to be able to afford them their own indi­vid­ual pow­er to be able to main­tain their polit­i­cal pow­er. And that’s some­thing that unfor­tu­nate­ly has shaped, I would argue, Middle East and North Africa in par­tic­u­lar, Sub-Saharan Africa, and Asia Pacific as well.

Khan: And I think there’s also this implic­it impu­ta­tion of reli­gious author­i­ty which is then con­ferred upon lead­ers. And I think the place to watch right now is of course Turkey, and to see the way that peo­ple regard Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Here is a civil­ian politi­cian, but there are peo­ple who regard him as almost being a neo-Ottoman sul­tan. And if you recall, in the Ottoman Empire after 1517, the sul­tan was also the calif.

Murabit: So I think we have two ques­tions. We’ll take— Oh sor­ry, three ques­tions. So we’ll take all three at once, and then we can answer because we have to wrap up soon. 

Bennett[?] Krauss Hi, I’m B. Krauss. Something that real­ly res­onat­ed with what you said dur­ing the pan­el was how wom­en’s bod­ies are seen as the bor­ders of coun­tries. And I want to ask if you could fur­ther elab­o­rate on that point but also elab­o­rate on the chal­lenges and dan­gers of secu­ri­tiz­ing women, as well as… Especially today when we see greater involve­ment of women in secu­ri­ty deci­sions, how do we approach involv­ing women in these secu­ri­ty deci­sions but also refrain­ing from secu­ri­tiz­ing women? And what’s the bal­ance there, what’s the approach? Thanks.

Murabit: Next.

Audience 2: Both Ayaan Hirsi and Salman Rushdie of course are still under fat­wa of var­i­ous kinds that pre­vent them from freely appear­ing at casu­al meet­ings like this one. I was curi­ous as to how one address­es Islamic jurists with regard to the iniq­ui­tous nature of some fatwas.

And also I’m curi­ous as to, giv­en the deep tra­di­tion of envi­ron­men­tal law in Islam, reflect­ed for exam­ple in the debate over water poli­cies in Medina or Mecca or wher­ev­er, how that long­stand­ing inter­est in the equi­table divi­sion of envi­ron­men­tal resources can be mapped into the Western conversation.

Zuckerman: So, a brief response to the gen­tle­man and to Natalie’s ques­tion. We are unfor­tu­nate­ly miss­ing friends from this pan­el, includ­ing Intisar Rabb, who is a schol­ar of Islamic jurispru­dence who’s at Harvard Law School. She got a bet­ter offer, which was tonight’s Eid cel­e­bra­tion at the White House. And occa­sion­al­ly, Obama trumps even us. 

But she works on a remark­able project called SHARIASource that looks at the wide vari­ety of reli­gious inter­pre­ta­tion, and real­ly cel­e­brates the diver­si­ty of Islamic jurispru­dence as one of the great strengths of the faith. And she’s going to be at the Media Lab at some point this fall. I would just ask that you look at the cal­en­dar, and if you’re inter­est­ed in that top­ic come and see her as well, because that’s real­ly her area of interest.

The ques­tion that I want­ed to ask, I was real­ly struck by your analy­sis that since the 1970s this very con­ser­v­a­tive Saudi vision of Islam has had a great deal of pro­mo­tion through satel­lite chan­nels, through net­works of schools… I’m curi­ous whether there is the pos­si­bil­i­ty for alter­na­tive visions of Islam, more pro­gres­sive, more fem­i­nists visions of Islam, going after that same sort of PR cam­paign. Where would that come from? How would we start that? And and is that too sim­ple a solu­tion to the prob­lems that you’re so right­ly pos­ing today.

Murabit: So, I’ll start actu­al­ly by first answer­ing your ques­tion about real­ly fol­low­ing the path of the 1970s, and I think it’s actu­al­ly quite dif­fi­cult. Because the land­scape is a lot less focused. Back then if you had one radio station—and in many parts of the world you can still actu­al­ly have one radio sta­tion and reach every­body with­in that com­mu­ni­ty. But now you’re also com­pet­ing with numer­ous forms of media, and numer­ous voic­es. And that tends to dilute the cred­i­bil­i­ty to a lot of people.

So I think it’s a lot more dif­fi­cult to do it with the speed and effi­ca­cy that Saudi Arabia was able to do it. And also there is the inher­ent cred­i­bil­i­ty of being Saudi Arabia. Of being the most holy place in the world. So it it tend­ed to lend the schol­ars that came from there cred­i­bil­i­ty and sup­port, and the finan­cial sup­port that came from the polit­i­cal arm was key. And I don’t think that we cur­rent­ly have any­thing which com­petes with that. I do think that right now in Islam, I think for the first time a lot of schol­ars have been forced to look at it. To look at the inter­pre­ta­tions a lot more closely. 

And you can see about two months ago, over 7,000 Islamic schol­ars released a state­ment which com­plete­ly opposed extrem­ism and sup­port­ed peace and secu­ri­ty, etc. And I think it’s the first time that they’ve actu­al­ly had to be held account­able for in many ways a lot of their actions and the actions of their insti­tu­tions which have sup­port­ed a lot of these vio­lent acts, and actu­al­ly inter­nal­ly start say­ing okay, so what can we do. 

And I think that is how this will have to hap­pen. I think it will have to actu­al­ly be through exist­ing, estab­lished insti­tu­tions tak­ing account­abil­i­ty and say­ing, We’re going to change what we’ve been say­ing, and we’re going to actu­al­ly rec­og­nize that we have to have reli­gious account­abil­i­ty rather than polit­i­cal pow­er.” But also from civ­il soci­ety gain­ing strength with­in the region. And I think from the fact that we do now have dif­fer­ent plat­forms that we can speak from. So you’re going to hear a lot more voic­es that you haven’t heard in the past.

The ques­tion on the secu­ri­ti­za­tion of women actu­al­ly is a won­der­ful ques­tion. Women as bor­ders is some­thing that we’ve seen since the begin­ning of con­flict. If you want­ed to invade a coun­try, you were advised to rape the women so that they could have your off­spring. Your off­spring would not be as will­ing to fight you in the future. So it was almost a long-term peace process. And so women have often been seen— Because they are the bringers of…whatever, you know, eth­nic­i­ty, reli­gion, nation­al­i­ty that you are, right? And so they hold a sig­nif­i­cant pow­er sim­ply in their abil­i­ty to prop­a­gate a group.

Now, in the secu­ri­ti­za­tion of women, which is actu­al­ly since 2000 the United Nations had the Women, Peace and Security res­o­lu­tion which actu­al­ly stat­ed that women were key agents in secu­ri­ty but they also had key vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties in con­flict. And that’s actu­al­ly been a guid­ing prin­ci­ple for a lot of wom­en’s rights orga­ni­za­tions and activists, myself includ­ed, on how we gain access with pol­i­cy­mak­ers to be speak­ing about wom­en’s inclu­sion in peace and secu­ri­ty. Because pri­or to then we did­n’t have any offi­cial doc­u­men­ta­tion which pro­vid­ed us that kind of author­i­ty or credibility.

The prob­lem with the coun­ter­ing vio­lent extrem­ism and secu­ri­ti­za­tion agen­da is that in the past two years, with the pri­or­i­ty of coun­ter­ing vio­lent extrem­ism, a lot of research has shown that the degra­da­tion of wom­en’s rights is actu­al­ly the very first indi­ca­tor that extrem­ism, and par­tic­u­lar­ly vio­lent extrem­ism, will hap­pen in a coun­try or region. And that the very first peo­ple who know about it are the women.

So the women will tell you two to three years before it hap­pens, Bel Haddadi[sp?] said he said he’s going to come and he’s going to start break­ing down our walls.” Two or three years before it hap­pens, We can no longer dri­ve in the night.” People are telling us what to wear.” They’re try­ing to seg­re­gate the uni­ver­si­ties,” right? And the issue here is now the glob­al secu­ri­ty com­plex has decid­ed okay, so if women know this two to three years before, and research is show­ing that what they say means vio­lence will hap­pen in the long term, we need to start talk­ing to the women.

And so they’ll start speak­ing with a lot of wom­en’s rights activists, which is a won­der­ful thing. The prob­lem is in the secu­ri­ty of those women when they talk to the glob­al com­mu­ni­ty, right. So those women will go and have a meet­ing with some­body who comes in a bul­let­proof car, and they’ll go back to their com­mu­ni­ty where every­body knows their name, knows where they live, and knows how to hurt them. 

And so you find a severe increase in the assas­si­na­tions and in the silenc­ing of wom­en’s rights activists in the region, because they’ve dared to speak up about things with­out being offered pro­tec­tion. So secu­ri­ti­za­tion becomes very very dan­ger­ous if we don’t pro­vide the struc­tur­al capac­i­ty to actu­al­ly sup­port the peo­ple on the ground who we’re ask­ing to risk their lives, to be tak­ing these steps to cre­ate the kind of cul­tur­al and social change we need with­in women in Islam. 

Khan: I think at the same time, just add to that, we have to also take a look at the secu­ri­ti­za­tion of the Muslim woman in the West. If one takes a look at the polit­i­cal land­scape in Great Britain, groups like the EDL (the English Defence League), Britain First, even BNP, the ban the burqa has been deployed by all of them in their polit­i­cal cam­paigns because of the dan­ger of the Muslim woman wear­ing the burqa. What is she car­ry­ing with her? Is she a threat to your safe­ty, to your secu­ri­ty? Not from a cul­tur­al stand­point any­more, but com­ing into an area and det­o­nat­ing some­thing. So it’s inter­est­ing to see how there’s that secu­ri­ti­za­tion ele­ment that’s going on.

Regarding your ques­tion on alter­nate tropes of Islam, I think that Saudi Arabia for a long time has been a Jenga game. And as peo­ple are now start­ing to extri­cate each piece from the over­all edi­fice, there is some promise. Otherwise Saudi Arabia has been very effec­tive in allow­ing peo­ple to tac­it­ly see equal signs. Saudi Arabia is in Arabia, is in the abode of Islam, is Islam. And so if you start tak­ing out those equals signs, then it puts their author­i­ty, or the per­ceived author­i­ty over peo­ple, in a pre­car­i­ous situation.

And last­ly, the ques­tion that you asked which I think is very impor­tant, how to engage with with Muslim jurists. First of all, there is a huge amount of debate and dia­logue going on among qual­i­fied schol­ars already. I think some of the prob­lems that we find is on the mar­gins, where peo­ple are pseu­do-schol­ars, and those peo­ple who are not them­selves trained in the Islamic sci­ence of jurispru­dence. They’ve just sim­ply stayed at a Holiday Inn Express and think that they are in fact a jurist. 

What we find is also an inap­pro­pri­ate pre­sump­tion made by a lot of Muslims that they are bound by every fat­wa that comes out. First of all a fat­wa is an advi­so­ry opin­ion. It is not a ver­dict. And the only peo­ple bound on it are those who are under the juris­dic­tion of that fat­wa. Which of course makes it very dif­fi­cult if you’re liv­ing in the United States to say that I have to be bound by some­thing com­ing out of a tra­di­tion­al­ly Muslim country.

Lastly, the point on envi­ron­men­tal resources. This is a huge issue because of of course water rights. And here again you find the kind of dis­il­lu­sion­ment hap­pen­ing when it comes to civ­il soci­ety, to the deci­sion mak­ing that their gov­ern­ments are mak­ing when it comes to the exploita­tion of envi­ron­men­tal resources. It is a huge area of debate. Unfortunately it is a debate that is being sup­pressed in a lot of parts of not just the Muslim world but even more globally.

Murabit: So, thank you for let­ting us solve all the glob­al polit­i­cal and reli­gious prob­lems. We’ll be here all day to answer any [inaudi­ble].

Zuckerman: Thank you so much to Alaa and Saeed. Just a fan­tas­tic pan­el. Such great food for thought.

Further Reference

Session live­blog by Natalie Gyenes, Willow Brugh, and Sam Klein.

Forbidden Research overview

Video archive for this session