DC is brimming with conferences on vital issues with leading thinkers; opportunities abound to network and share and mingle. But I don’t think I’ve attended an event that has spoken to the core of who I am and what I wrestle with as a woman, mother, professional, and Muslim, quite like the AltFem launch event last month.
The topics discussed were instantly relatable – a more inclusive and broader view of feminism that embraces women of faith; religious values as they relate to dating, marriage and gender roles; and the honorable role of motherhood recognized by sacred texts, if not always by society. It felt comfortable to be in that space. To hear strong, accomplished, faithful women articulate views, many of which I hold but don’t always have the conviction to voice, especially in a town that prioritizes a very different definition of success.
The panelists were women (and one man) of faith and substance, who spoke with honesty and sincerity. There was a real mix of speakers, reinforcing the theme of inclusivity – a Jewish writer, bouncing her six week old baby on her chest, speaking of the centrality of motherhood in her faith and her goal to raise her daughters to be proud of their Jewish identity; a Muslim woman in hijab, married at 18 based on her father’s understanding of Islam, expressing gratitude towards her son who married a Catholic woman, for forcing her “to practice what we say we believe”; a lesbian Catholic woman challenging us to re-imagine terms such as ‘submission’ and ‘obedience’ not as disempowering, but as potentially liberating.
I admired the conviction of these women to put faith front and center, to use it to guide their mothering, inform their decision-making, and empower their identities. They were unapologetic about their priorities, knowing they were rooted in something much deeper than societal norms.
There was much to think about, and the conversations that started that afternoon have continued over gatherings and dinners, soccer game sidelines and twitter, and ultimately in my own heart and mind.
By Salma Hasan Ali
Salma Hasan Ali is a writer, blogger, and Contributing Editor of The Islamic Monthly
Participating on the motherhood panel at the AltFem launch event ranked top among my favorite experiences as a speaker and scholar. As an academic who normally gives talks featuring the stories of other American Muslim women, I was afforded the rare opportunity to present my personal views on faith, feminism, and mothering, which influenced my decision to become a stay-at-home mom.
I shared that the Qur’an teaches me to honor and promote feminism, but to do so on the terms of my faith. I define feminism in its most fundamental form, that is, as the movement to establish women as the equals of men. In very intentional ways, the Qur’an focuses on women and establishes them as equal spiritual and intellectual partners with men. At the same time, the Qur’an upholds social practices considered patriarchal, such as modesty codes and marriage practices. Like many others, I interpret such social practices in light of God’s justice, love for women, and clear Qur’anic statements of men and women’s equality. Such pro-woman interpretation has been called Islamic feminism.
My view on motherhood as an awesome role emerges from my Islamic feminist worldview. In the first verse of the Qur’an’s chapter titled “Women,” God commands humanity “to honor… the wombs.” Through this verse, I see the Qur’an as elevating and honoring capacities that are unique to women, namely, women’s experiences as child bearers, which includes our unique ability to breastfeed.
In a society that does not honor women’s unique capacity as mothers, the Qur’an is reminding us that this role, although not our sole role, deserves our attention and respect. The Qur’an’s reverence for women as mothers provided me with the faith and insight to focus on motherhood over my profession as a college professor. I shared with the audience the ways in which this choice has been liberating for me, including strengthening my faith in God, who has blessed me to continue to pursue my dreams as an author with the publishing of my new book Women of the Nation: Between Black Protest and Sunni Islam.
Most fulfilling about my AltFem experience was discovering that while we live in a society that undervalues the awesome role of mothering, my message resonates with women of all backgrounds, indicated by the Jewish and Christian women also featured on the panel and with the overwhelmingly positive feedback that I received from audience members.
By Jamillah Karim
Jamillah Karim has a Ph.D. in Islamic Studies from Duke University and is an author, home educator and public speaker.