Panelists, from left to right: Safiya Balioglu, Latifah Kiribedda, Imani Jaafar-Mohammad, and Hend Al-Mansour. Photo credit: Catherine Tsen
Last night I had the honor and pleasure of moderating a panel discussion on "The Many Voices of Islam: Drawing a Distinction Between Culture and Religion" at St. Catherine's University. The panel was organized in conjunction with a touring exhibition of art by women from Muslim cultures, which you can read about here.
The goal of the evening was really quite simple - to share stories, and help people who aren't familiar with Islam to understand the size and diversity of the Muslim diaspora, especially in regards to women.
One of the frustrations shared by many of the panelists was how they feel lumped together into a stereotype of a silent, oppressed woman dressed all in black. Imani Jaafar-Mohammad is a lawyer and a partner with her husband in their firm. She says she knows many people assume she wears a head scarf because he forces her to, but in fact it was entirely her own decision. Her modest dress did not stop her from swimming competitively or playing on a basketball team.
For Hend Al-Mansour, the experience is quite different. She left her native Saudi Arabia because of the oppression she experienced there. In Saudi Arabia women cannot drive cars, and they make up only 5% of the work force. Al-Mansour still finds great beauty and richness in her religion, but wrestles with how it's used politically in her home country to keep women submissive. Meanwhile she works as an artist and is pursuing a masters in art history, specializing in Arab art, at the University of St. Thomas.
Safiya Balioglu, born in Germany, converted to Islam when she was 23. She says she was attracted to the devotion of the religion, and how spiritual practice is incorporated into daily life (five daily prayers). But raising her children with her Turkish husband in Germany was not easy, and she felt ostracized by her own culture. When he got a job offer in the U.S., they decided to make the move. Balioglu says she was impressed by how warm and friendly people were with her, and seemed not to care about the fact she was wearing a headscarf. Her children are now enrolled in a Muslim magnet school, and she couldn't be happier.
Latifah Kiribedda is the voice of a new generation of Muslim women. Born and raised in Uganda, Kiribedda is an outspoken feminist and devout Muslim who applied to St. Catherine's University because she felt a kinship with the values of the institution. She sees it as her own responsibility to share the stories of her faith in order to help people understand what it does and does not stand for. She asked all the women in the audience wearing hijabs to stand up and show off their colorful scarves, saying that here was proof not all Muslim women wear black from head to foot.
All these women share a common faith, but their stories varied drastically. And while they were able to answer many questions from the audience about customs and religion, they sometimes had to agree to disagree on what those answers were, based on their own experiences. But if these four women are any indication, they point to a bright and strong future for their faith and for all women.(6 Comments)
Posted at 2:06 PM on March 3, 2010
by Marianne Combs
Filed under: Events
Yes the Oscars are this Sunday, and yes, there are some great films and actors up for awards this weekend. But rather than watch other people walk down a red carpet, why not imagine yourself the star of your own drama? Take yourself out for a night on the town, see and be seen, and enjoy some quality entertainment right here in your own home town.
Theater Latte Da presents "Violet" at the Guthrie Theater. Featuring a score by the same woman who wrote the music for Tony Kushner's "Caroline, or Change," "Violet" tells the story of a young white woman, emotionally and physically scarred, who sets out on a journey in the Deep South to find a cure.
The Minnesota Cuba Committee and Minnesota Film Arts present the Cuban Movie Festival, featuring winners from this year's festival in Havana, Cuba. Screenings will take place at the St. Anthony Main Theatre in Minneapolis; the festival will present general audience discussions after each showing.
This weekend choirs from around the region are descending on Minneapolis for the North Central Division Conference of the American Choral Directors' Association. While you probably aren't interested in attending such sessions as "Why can't my choir sing in tune?" or "Successful Middle School Survival," you might be interested in any one of the several concerts at Orchestra Hall in conjunction with the conference. Performances run tonight through Sunday.
The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra takes Bruch's Violin Concerto on the road this weekend (along with works by Rossini, Mozart and Strauss) to Wayzata Community Church on Friday and St. Paul's United Church of Christ on Saturday.
Mixed Blood Theater presents "Somebody/Nobody," in which Hollywood starlet Sheena seeks refuge from her celebrity lifestyle and Loli, an unemployed mechanic from Kansas, wouldn't mind getting a little fame for herself. Performances run through March 14.
The Old Log Theater presents "The Dixie Swim Club," a play about five Southern women whose friendship began many years ago on their college swim team. The story focuses on four weekend reunions over the course of thirty-three years. Remember, Old Log is a dinner theater, so you can show up early for a meal and drinks before the show.
Got any plans for your weekend? Let me know...