01
Jun
10

veiled voices… a film by Briget Maher

On Link TV- a publicly owned channel for unsensored, and unbiased television programs from around the world, broadcasted the short film ‘Veiled Voices’ by Bridget Maher. This film documents the life of three public, and influential, women of Syria, Lebanon, and Egypt who are making strides in empowering women through their teachings of Islam in mainstream, contemporary Arab society.

Each of these women is different from the other in age, social status, and family composition, yet all share a common passion and goal to empower Muslim women through their teaching of Islam- Qur’an, Jurisprudence, etc.

From Egypt is Dr. Su’ad Saleh- widow, mother to a journalist, and grandmother. She is a high standing graduate of Al-Ahazar University, teaches, has her own talk show, and even put in her application to be considered for the category of female- the first, Mufti. Sadly her application only received one vote, but I find it a remarkable accomplishment because it was not rejected outright. She states that Islam means a balance to everything, to be in Islam you need to balance all aspects of inner and outer, public and private life. She says she is sadden to see the potential of Islam reduced to hijab, niqab, beards and men. She has about 20 books published, teaches regularly -saw her in action as they filmed one of her classes- she is no joke. She says Islam has been so reduced that women limit their studies to the superficial level of anything because they have been taught they won’t be able to realize their full potential. Her daughter, who is married with children and is also a full time journalist in economic affairs, says that having her mother also work full time during her childhood taught her self reliance. That a working woman can be an excellent or terrible mother based on her personality alone. Dr. Saleh states that even those women who dedicated their whole lives to their families must also be considered as important and should not be belittled or feel belittled- each has a responsibility; each fulfilling it to the best of their abilities. That no woman should be forced to be one or the other exclusively.

From Lebanon is Sheikha Ghina Mahmoud, mother of twin girls, divorced, and head of a female Islamic Center- she teaches and organizes charity work to benefit women. Her classes are always full. This woman as dowry ask her husband to not stand in the way of her calling to teach Islam. Sadly, at the peek of her career she divorced and her daughters were taken away. Her husband being the instigator of malicious rumors that cost her, her daughters, her students, and her following. Since then she has rebuilt her image and reputation, but she states the stigma of being divorced is so strong- as high in intensity as the divorce rate. She cries over the situation of not having her daughters and states there is nothing in Islam that allows for this separation of mother and child. One of her twin girls when asked, started crying because she misses her mother terribly. Sheikha states Islam doesn’t force women to marry who they don’t want to. That parents should talk, discuss the issues and giving advice but never forcing. But having experienced first hand what happens to women when they divorce, she now feels a woman should try at every cost to maintain the marriage. She also does private tutoring. One of her students, who does not wear hijab, stated she trusts the Sheikha because she is a teacher first and foremost. That even when she knows, in this woman’s case, that hijab is out of the question; she still teaches her all other aspects of her religion. The Sheikha states that her calling is to serve, to teach and not pass judgments on anyone- that it is not her prerogative.

The third is Huda Al-Labash from Syria. She is married with children, one of her daughters is studying International Affairs in a University in Georgia, USA- . Al-Labash teaches and encourages open dialogue from her students because it allows for deeper understanding of any concept in Islam. She does travel quite a bit and her husband says that he is supportive because he believes in her work. He says that many a times she can be gone for a month traveling to other Middle East countries and he does everything that is required in the household in her absence. Her daughter says that living abroad has taught her that we don’t educate people enough about Islam, because we do not study it with enough intensity to be able to have meaningful discussions; and that her professors know even less of the regions they supposedly teach about, meaning the cultural and religious aspects that complete the picture of Muslims [and therefore make them three dimensional] . The Mufti of Syria says that no where in Islam is it stated a woman cannot be a public figure. The only thing she cannot do is lead the Friday prayers in Jummat. He reiterated that while there is nothing in Islam that limits the role in society a woman can perform, she is given the commandment like men to maintain her modesty.

So tell me then, when did the female scholars of Islam start to lose their importance, when the wives of the Prophet SAW taught some of the very scholars whom Muslims read and respect. Among the top three scholars of Islam is Aisha. Her ahadeeth are the strongest based on her intimate and immediate connection with the Prophet SAW. So what happened, when did things slide into oblivion? Why did they slide into oblivion? I remember seeing a video of Sheikh Hamza Yusuf where he cried as he denoted with decreasing numbers the female scholars, teachers, and scribes that disappeared off the annals of Islam in the last 1400 years, century by century. And he said he was ashamed of the level to which women have been relegated in Islam, saying truly Mohammed SAW knew who were and would be the best among his people.

We are not who we’re suppose to be, simply because we have taken away (and have allowed it to be taken) a precious component of the synergy in Islam- a woman’s place in it.

These women of mainstream Islam with their hijabs and jilbabs look no different than their contemporaries, but their minds are founts of wisdom and learning that I wish I were able to tap. I remember many years ago studying with a group of Jordanian women who were as strong in conviction and passion as the women depicted in this film. They were as inspiring because theirs was a gentleness of approach but a thoroughness in delivery, that you couldn’t help but to want to be in their presence.

Now these are truly Muslimat!

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