Reflections from the Women in Islam Conference

Photos Courtesy of NIEUWWIJ.NL, KECIAALI.COM. WILLIAMS.EDU [TOP LEFT TO RIGHT], UNCC.EDU, AMALIAH.COM AND MUSLIMJOURNAL.NET [BOTTOM LEFT TO RIGHT] || Smith hears from prominent female, Muslim scholars and discusses Islamic experiences at Smith.

Photos Courtesy of NIEUWWIJ.NL, KECIAALI.COM. WILLIAMS.EDU [TOP LEFT TO RIGHT], UNCC.EDU, AMALIAH.COM AND MUSLIMJOURNAL.NET [BOTTOM LEFT TO RIGHT] || Smith hears from prominent female, Muslim scholars and discusses Islamic experiences at Smith.

Zoya Azhar '20
Assistant Opinions Editor

Smith hosted a conference titled “Contemporary Women in Islam: Politics and Identity” on Feb. 9 and Feb. 10. It was a unique opportunity for students and faculty to hear female Muslim scholars speak about their research and their experiences. 

The guest speakers included Dr. Amina Wadud, who is a research scholar at the Starr King School for the Ministry; a multi-religious seminary affiliated with the University of California, Berkeley; Kecia Ali, who is a professor of religion at Boston University and Saadia Yacoob, assistant professor of religion at Williams College. 

Su’ad Abdul Khabeer, who teaches at the University of Michigan was also present to speak about her work as a performance artist, as were rap and hip-hop artists Mona Haydar and Tavasha Shannon “Miss Undastood.”

The event was quite well attended and the interim Dean of the College Susan Etheredge was also present. Dean Etheredge’s presence at the student panel is particularly important to consider. 

The student panel consisted of Muslim Smith students from across the class years and each student spoke about some aspect of their experience or their views about Islam. 

Enas Jahangir ’18 chose to speak about her research on homosexuality and homophobia in Islam and whether the question should be so steeped in binary or reevaluated. Salma Khan ’18 and Su’di Abdirahman ’18 spoke about life post-9/11 and carrying multiple identities, respectively. Yacine Fall ’21 spoke about how Islam and her activism go hand in hand. 

In the engaged Q&A session that followed, a Smith faculty member asked what Smith was doing right and what it wasn’t, to support the Muslim community at Smith. 

In response, the student panelists highlighted various areas which needed improvement, but also the areas that Smith is doing well. 

Panelists mentioned a need for increased accountability in Smith Administration. If a mistake has been made, own up to it. They mentioned the halal dining initiative at Smith, how the improvement since the last academic year is palpable and that converting Cutter-Ziskind dining hall into complete Halal and Kosher dining hall is much appreciated. 

However, they argued, there is no reason to stop here. There still exists a difference between how Kosher and Halal dining is served. Whether the problem is the meat sourcing or the lack of creativity in menu choices, halal dining at Smith can continue to be improved. Regular conversation between Dining Services, Center for Religious and Spiritual Life and the students would go a long way. 

It was also brought up that, unfortunately, the conference itself was not catered with halal food. 

Additionally, although it was not brought up, I would also stress that halal options at Dawes, the gluten-free dining location on campus, could also be improved. It would particularly be useful for Muslim students who cannot eat anywhere except Dawes and then find their religious needs not met. 

I am hoping there will be a positive response from the College to these suggestions and that the student body and administration can collaborate on some initiatives. Smith took the right step in organizing this conference and allowing some diverse voices a space to speak. 

Hopefully, there is more to come.