The Rights of Women and Minorities in Islam and Muslim Societies

 Muslim-majority societies are broadly perceived in the West as falling short of adhering to universal human rights standards when it comes to women and minorities, particularly religious minorities.  Facile explanations are often offered to explain this phenomenon, among them the supposed immutability of the Sharia or the religious law.  This conference aims to explore these critical issues in a more rigorous, academic manner from a variety of perspectives and interrogate commonly held assumptions about the rights of women and minorities among both Muslims and non-Muslims.  Democracy and civil society after all are rooted in the full equality of its citizens, regardless of gender and ethnic or religious background.  What are the prospects for achieving such gender and religious parity for Muslim societies in the near and long-term future?  What trends appear to be the most promising and what most discouraging? 


We must remember, of course, that the term Muslim societies covers a broad swath of the world which is internally culturally, socially, ethnically and, to an extent, religiously diverse.  The Eighth Annual Conference of the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy will be devoted to exploring the complexities of this highly important topic today in the context of democracy and democratization in these diverse Muslim-majority societies.  Paper proposals are invited from prospective participants on the following five broad topics.  Possible topics are not restricted to the ones that follow but proposals must establish their relevance in general to the issues of womens and minority rights and their impact upon democratization processes in the Islamic world.


1. How do traditional views on women and gender roles affect womens participation in the political and economic spheres?  How are Islamic and Islamicizing discourses being deployed to empower women in these spheres in some cases and disenfranchise them in others?  What are the various perspectives (traditionalist, modernist, reformist, absolutist) on the Sharia and its adaptability to changing circumstances?  What is the Sharias relationship to fiqh or jurisprudence and how does it affect the formers applicability?


2. What are the resources within Islamic religious and intellectual thought and historical practices that may be fore fronted today in support of the equality of women and of minorities?  How effective will an indigenous Islamic human rights discourse be in undermining patterns of discrimination against women and minorities?  How may a universalizing idiom of human rights be derived from the Islamic tradition(s)?  How successful will a specifically Islamic feminism be?


3. How do cultural practices intersect with religious beliefs to create a certain hermeneutics of gendered behavior?  In other words, how are existing cultural norms which militate against womens equal rights and sense of well-being given a religious veneer in order to justify their continuation?  How are women lawyers, scholars, and activists challenging the status quo in some cases and effectively dismantling discriminatory laws and practices (for example, the recent repeal of rape laws in Pakistan)? 


4. How has the rise of political Islam or Islamism in the twentieth century affected the rights of women and minorities in Muslim majority societies?  What has been the predominant view in these movements in the first half of the twentieth century?  How have women activists themselves, like Zaynab al-Ghazali, influenced the gender dynamics within these movements? 


5. How can moderate Islamist movements be harnessed to promote gender rights and the equality of citizens today?  What is the spectrum of views now current among these groups in various parts of the Islamic world? What bearing does this have on the prognosis of future political developments in the region? 


Both broad theoretical studies and specific case studies are welcome.


Paper proposals (no more than 400 words) are due by January 25 , 2007 and should be sent to: Prof. Asma Afsaruddin, Chair, Conference Program Committee, 1625 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, Suite 601, Washington, D.C. 20036.  Tel.: (202) 265-1200 .  Fax: (202) 265-1222.  E-mail: [email protected]


Authors of accepted proposals will be notified by February 15, 2007 and final papers must be submitted by March 31st, 2007.