April 6, 2007

Panelists discuss image of Muslim women

Marking the third night of Islam Awareness Week, the Middle Eastern Studies Students Association (MESSA) and the Muslim Students Association held a panel discussion April 4 addressing the topic of women in Islam.

The panel consisted of three Muslim women speakers, including two U of C graduate students in Middle Eastern Studies: Lindsay DeCarlo and MESSA President Sahar Ullah. Yasmin Mogahed, the third guest speaker, is a journalist whose work addresses the role of women in Islam compared to Western culture. Rahaf Kalaaji, who is an events coordinator for MESSA, moderated the discussion.

"Today, Muslim women are used to gauge the health of the community. Outsiders, or Westerners, are interested in the question, 'what does she reflect of Islamic society?'" Ullah said.

The panelists discussed how Muslim women in America are concerned about their public image. Ullah said they worry about the Western media's focus on issues of liberation and oppression for Muslim women, as well as the public's fixation on the topic of dress. "We need to move away from this discourse," Ullah said.

Yasmin Mogahed read from one of her pieces in which she argued that women achieve purpose and empowerment through Islam.

DeCarlo, who converted to Islam three years ago, spoke about her experiences as an American Muslim. She has worn a hijab, the veil often worn by Muslim women, since last year. "People automatically assume that you're foreign if you wear a hijab," she said. "I'm from New York City."