Dr. Nimat Hafez Barazangi discusses evolving female identity and Islam

SIANNEH JENSEN

Staff Writer

Dr. Nimat Hafez Barazangi, research fellow at Cornell University, invited us to “keep an open mind and an open heart” as some things she shared that her personal life experience might seem strange and contrary to current perceptions of Islam and Muslim female identity.    

She began her talk with the title of “Muslim Women’s Identity and Reforming Muslim Societies”, by stressing that the true message of Islam as it concerns women has been rarely practiced due to conservative bias of male Muslim scholars.

So, with an open mind we sat by hanging onto Barazangi’s every word as she spoke urgently of the geo political conflict affecting women and girls around Islam.     

“There has never been greater a need and dive to rethink the meaning of Islam as well as Sharia law.” said, Barazangi. 

Although women practicing Islam have received informal education in the religion, higher learning is necessary to challenge the assumptions and bias that were traditionally formulated in development of Islamic thought.  Despite the Quran being ascribed to transform social norms, women were often excluded from developing principles of Islamic thought.

Yet, all humans are equal to do justice against themselves and others.  In other words, we must look to divine guidance to transform Muslim societies and to achieve justice. The idea that women are inferior in faith and reason is directly contradictory teachings of the Quran, in fact women are the same in faith, and soul.

It became apparent why women are disadvantaged in Islamic society as Barazangi compared Quranic verses to Hadith narratives, often perceived to be as authoritative as the Quran of what are a series of reports on words, actions, and deeds of the Prophet Muhammed. 

She diagnosed that the issue is with mindset, representation, and practice of Islam. 

Barazangi remarked that, “there is not a disconnect with Islam but, with Muslims understanding of its practice.   

For example, some narratives institutionalized by male Muslim conservatives have managed to deny women their own interpretation of Quran as well an opportunity to shape Islamic thought and policies since the beginning of the 7th century when the Prophet Muhammad established Islam.

Many Muslims ignore that the basic teaching of modesty does not require the covering of the head. 

Traditionally, head covering was practiced prior to Islam’s established and continued for cultural reasons.

Just as Muslim scholars and populists are becoming more conservative, a new wave of scholar activists is responsible for interpretations of Islam empowering women.

“There will be no reformation until Muslims rethink Hadith and its role in the daily life of each Muslim man and woman.” 

Even though the results will not be immediate there is some hope that women will acquire higher Islamic learning. 

By stressing the importance of Muslims rethinking both, the Quran as well as the Hadith, the documents, words, and deeds of the Prophet Muhammed within a social and political context respective to their identity we may begin to achieve justice in Muslim society.  After all, “the woman is the foundation of society. If she is not well versed in the religion then the society is lost.”