Naropa to Host Symposium on Muslim Women’s Issues

Friday 2 October 2009

The Longmont Times-call:

Iranian human rights activist and 2003 Nobel Peace Prize recipient Shirin Ebadi will be in Boulder next week to speak about issues facing worldwide Muslim communities.

Ebadi will deliver a keynote address Friday night to kick off “Women’s Leadership and Activism in the Muslim World,” a daylong symposium Oct. 10 at Naropa University.

Panelists will address the changing roles of Muslim women, interfaith dialogue, conflict resolution, human rights issues and media studies in the Muslim world.

“The people in America and the West need to understand that President (Mahmoud) Ahmadinejad is not the only voice in Iran. Hear the voice of the Iranian people, for they are the true representatives of Iran,” Ebadi wrote in an e-mail to the Times-Call, which was translated into English by Pantea Beigi, Ebadi’s laureate liaison.

Ebadi was the first woman to serve as a judge in Iran. After the 1979 revolution, clerics demoted her and all female judges to clerks and later to “legal experts” in the Justice Department. Ebadi retired early and wrote books about social injustice. In 1992, she was granted a lawyer’s license and set up her own practice, which defended many human rights cases.

Globalization has forced local disputes to become international issues, she wrote.

“An example of that is during the early ’90s when the Taliban was taking over Kabul and progressing with their activities,” Ebadi wrote. “Did anyone ever see that 10 years later what was happening in Kabul, Afghani-stan, was going to affect citizens in NYC? This is why we need to care and realize that what happened in one part of the world is destined to affect all of us in other parts.”

Candace Walworth, chair of Naropa University’s Peace Studies Department, said the symposium will imbue students and community members with an appreciation for the pluralism within Islam.

“One of our goals is to amplify the voices of Muslim women leaders — to create a space for informed conversation,” she said.

The program is funded by a grant from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and the Cordoba Initiative, a multifaith nonprofit that works to improve Muslim-West relations.

Nabil Echchaibi — an associate professor of journalism at the University of Colorado at Boulder and associate director of CU’s Center for Media, Religion and Culture — will discuss what some scholars are calling the “Islamic Revolution.” Much like Gutenberg’s printing press fueled the Protestant Reformation, emerging forms of media are leading to “new voices of Islam,” he said.

More Muslims are using satellite television and the Internet because it’s a cheap mode of communication, and they often feel the need to clarify their beliefs after negative stereotypes emerged following Sept. 11, 2001, he said.

“9/11 has brought out a realization among many Muslims that they can no longer just stay inside,” Echchaibi said. “They had to be more open, get out there, present themselves to the world, and defend their religion and beliefs.”

Echchaibi is coordinating “Islam and Media,” an international conference Jan. 7 through 10 at CU, to continue the conversation. The goal of these dialogues is to illustrate the “dynamic Muslim discourse” happening in many communities, he said.

“This is not a stagnant religion that dates back to centuries ago and people just abide to it,” he said. “Clearly, there’s something going on in terms of trying to change some of the structure of authority in Islam.”

Boulder author and humanitarian Jennifer Heath will serve as a panelist for a discussion on peacemaking initiatives in the Middle East. Heath is the editor of “The Veil: Women Writers on Its History, Lore, and Politics,” an anthology of various forms of veils, including burqas. She is co-editing a book of Afghan women’s role in the post-9/11 world.

Heath, who grew up in Afghanistan, founded Seeds for Afghanistan on Oct. 7, 2001, the date the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan began.

The nonprofit organization has collected about 4 million packages of seeds to send to Afghans.

Peace can blossom in Afghanistan only when the people are in charge, she said.

“We — Americans and Europeans — have basically a single world view, and everywhere we go, we don’t look at the details and nuances of other countries,” she said. “Afghan women are not helpless, shrouded, ghostly creatures. You can’t go through 30 years of war and not be tough.”

She said she hopes next week’s symposium will dispel misconceptions and spread messages of peace.

“We all have to care about the world, or else we’re going to blow ourselves up,” she said.


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