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Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Kultur-, Sozial- und Bildungswissenschaftliche Fakultät - Institut für Asien- und Afrikawissenschaften

Islamic Feminism and Muslim Women’s Activism in South Asia: Comparing India, Pakistan and Bangladesh

Joint research project (2010-2012):

Islamic Feminism and Muslim Women’s Activism in South Asia: Comparing India, Pakistan and Bangladesh

funded by Gerda Henkel Foundation

 



 
 



Project coordinator:

Prof. Dr. Nadja-Christina Schneider

In cooperation with:

Prof. Dr. Gudrun Krämer
Institute of Islamic Studies, Free University Berlin and
Berlin Graduate School Muslim Cultures and Societies (BGSMCS)


International Conference:

  • "NEW MOBILITIES AND EVOLVING IDENTITIES: Islam, Youth and Gender in South and Southeast Asia" from 20.04. - 21.04.2012 in Berlin, for more Information about this conference click here.
  • Im Rahmen dieser Veranstaltung hat die Hörfunkjournalistin Daniela Siebert Interviews mit mehreren Vortragenden geführt. Die daraus entstandenen Radiobeiträge im Deutschlandradio und im WDR5 finden Sie hier

    http://www.dradio.de/dlf/sendungen/tagfuertag/1753504/ und hier

    http://www.wdr5.de/nachhoeren/diesseits-von-eden.html (Sendung vom  

    13.05.2012, ab Sendeminute 12).

  • Als Teil der ausführlichen Dokumentation dieser Konferenz finden Sie an dieser Stelle Videoaufzeichnungen zu den folgenden Panels (Zur Orientierung finden Sie das vollständige Konferenzprogramm hier):

- Welcome address & Keynote address / Film talk (The Ghetto Girl) with the director

(Jan-Hendrik Olbertz, Vincent Houben, Meena Sharify-Funk, Claudia Derichs, Nadja-Christina Schneider, Ambarien Alqadar)

- Translocal Feminisms, New Agendas

(Nida Kirmani, Rafia Zaman, Nadja-Christina Schneider)

- Gender orders and changing gender roles

(Sylvia Vatuk, Michael Peletz, Rachel Rinaldo, Susanne Schröter)

- Islam as Lifestyle - Focus on media and consumerism

(Thomas Gugler, Manja Stephan)

- Expert Talk - Doing Research on Public Intellectuals and the Issue of Leadership

(Gudrun Krämer, Claudia Derichs, Susanne Schröter, Schirin Amir-Moazami)

- Impressions

  • Der Konferenzbericht von Frau Professor Schneider ist in ASIEN - The German Journal on Contemporary Asia, Nr. 124/Juli 2012 erschienen. Sie finden den Bericht hier: (Link zur PDF).


International Workshop:

  • "NEW APPROACHES TO GENDER AND ISLAM: Translocal and local feminist networking in South and Southeast Asia" from 29.04. - 30.04.2011 in Berlin, for more information about this workshop click here.

 


 

The Final report about the Sub-project of Shahnaz Khalil Khan "Framing women’s terrestrial and online discursive landscapes in Jammu and Kashmir", you will find here.

 



PROJECT DESCRIPTION

This research project is jointly conducted by the Cross-Section for Mediality and Intermediality in Asian and African Societies (Humboldt University) and the Institute of Islamic Studies (Free University Berlin). It will look at the communicative strategies and practices as well as the new forms of organisation of Muslim women’s rights activists in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Our research is based on the assumption that a new generation of social actors is currently emerging in South Asia, among whom a growing number of Muslim women (and men) are adapting and applying - in very diverse contexts - the discursive strategies and practices of an Islamic gender critique often labelled as ‘Islamic feminism’. A second basic assumption is that these new kinds of ‘translocal connectivities’ and also ‘mobilities’ (of ideas, people and practices) would not have been possible without the rapid medialisation of South Asian societies since the 1980s and 1990s. Two sub-projects will thus look at Muslim women activists who actively engage in debates on secular-national gender discourses and especially in the ongoing dispute about the raison d’être and reform of religion-based personal laws. The aim of our research is to show how the (trans)local dynamics of the global discourse attached to ‘Islamic feminism’ are - at least to a certain degree - instrumental for the emergence of new communicative spaces, forms of agency and discursive practices that are highly relevant for the dialectic relationship between secular-national and religious discourses as well as for the question of a national identity of South Asian Muslim women and men as citizens.

On a second level, our project is interested in a comparison between these dynamics of an Islamic gender critique in the geographical regions of South Asia and Southeast Asia. A workshop in 2011 will bring together academic scholars and activists from both regions. This is going to be a closed workshop but we are also planning to hold an international conference in 2012 on “Gender, Islam and Feminism: Comparing South and Southeast Asia” and this conference will be open to the public and the media.

Sub-project 1: The trans(local) dynamics of “Islamic Feminism” and the Emergence of New Subjectivities among Muslim Women in India (Nadja-Christina Schneider)

The Self that is postulated and referred to in the context of the Islamic gender critique which has been labelled as „Islamic feminism“, is the so-called new Islamic Self. Although it may seem to privilege the social and communal over the individual, this “Islamic self” is currently expressed in very different ways in India - and of course, for very different purposes.
According to Nilüfer Göle, the increased public visibility of Islam and the specific gender, corporeal, and spatial practices underpinning it trigger new ways of imagining a collective self and common space that are distinct from the Western liberal self and progressive politics. After the assertion of a collective form of difference, we observe, according to Göle, a transformation of these movements from a radical political stance to a more social and cultural orientation - but this cultural orientation is certainly no less political. On the level of the re-conceptualisation of authoritative religious knowledge, one could thus argue that the contemporary Islamic movement has also created the precondition for an Islamic gender critique and feminist qur’anic hermeneutics, since Islamic or “Islamist” organizations were among the strongest proponents of a return to the normative sources of Islam. The discourse of Islamic feminism is also based on the interpretation of the scriptural sources, although obviously not from a patriarchal or neo-patriarchal perspective, but from the perspective of gender justice. Accordingly, Ziba Mir-Hosseini has called Islamic feminism the “unwanted child of political Islam”.

In my project, I will look at the translocal and local dynamics of “Islamic feminism” in India. I am especially interested in the relationship and dialogue between these Islamic makings of the self and the specific forms of new female subjectivities that are currently evolving among a fairly large - though obviously not homogeneous or monolithic - group of Muslim women’s activists in India. By exploring this question, I do not mean to imply that religion or religion-based discourses define the identity, belonging or personal narrative of every Muslim woman in India. However, I would argue that they play a very central role within the new forms of agency and communicative spaces that are indeed relevant to an increasing number of Muslim women in India who are actively seeking a public role, not only in their community but also in Indian society in general.

A number of eminent historians have shown that Muslim women and men alike have constantly strived for new or for re-definitions of existing women’s rights since the second half of the 19th century. But in spite of many attempts to counter the essentialist construction of the Muslim woman as a „passive victim“, the stereotypes seem to persist. Although many of the Muslim women and organisations have been active for more than 20 years, it seems Indian media have only very recently started to cover their activities and agenda to a recognizable extent, which is also the result of an increased media activism on their part. Nevertheless, the relationship with the Indian (mainstream) media remains highly ambiguous for many Muslim women (and men) in India - activists, writers and film directors alike - as the predominantly negative and biased representation and perception of the Muslim minority in India has been and until today continues to be a very central issue of concern and debate among Indian Muslims.

Sub-project 2: Muslim Women's Activism in Jammu & Kashmir 1947-2010 and the Medialisation of Islamic Feminism (Shahnaz Khalil Khan)

In this research I would like to examine the discursive category of Islamic Feminism in Indian Administered Jammu & Kashmir (J&K). Initially, I will problematize the categories of 'Islamic' and 'Feminism' and explore reactions to the label/discourse amongst feminists. In the context of J&K, I will also examine who the local women actors are and if they identify themselves with the discourse of Islamic feminism. If so, are they representing new organisational forms or the “feminisation” of existing patriarchal organisational forms and the co-opting of the 'Muslim Women's Agenda' into broader nationalist, separatist and militant movements. To what extent does this transform secular gender discourses? By undertaking this part of the research, I would like to establish the degree to which the discourses of Islamic feminism in J&K are home-grown phenomena and/or represent a trend towards a transnational and normative exploration of gender and Islam.

Furthermore, it is essential to highlight the historical involvement of Muslim women in publicly promoting their agendas in J&K, in order to contextualise the relatively late arrival of Islamic feminism in women's rights discourses. How did Muslim women gain access to public spaces and were they part of transnational knowledge production and communication of Islamic/Secular/Socialist/ Feminist discourses? This will allow me to analyse the role of Muslim women in the struggle for education, the inclusion of the women's agenda with respect to the Naya (New) Kashmir Manifesto and their involvement with Women's Self Defence Corp in 1947.  

There is resistance to Islamic feminist agendas as well as secular feminist agendas, therefore it is important to examine possible sources of this resistance in J&K and establishing this  leads the research to question what form does women's counter-resistance take. Here I would like to examine the role of Art/Music/Drama as sites of medialisation which can facilitate this counter-resistance.

In questioning the dichotomy between the categories of South Asian Islam as pluralistic and tolerant in the Sufi tradition and normative Islam as non indigenous, essentialist and a threat to plurality, I would like to see to what extent Muslim women actors are utilising aspects of both to promote their agendas. With reference to Kashmiriyat (or Kashmiri-ness is the basis on which a nationalist ideology was formulated during the Dogra reign (1846-1947) and particularly in the early 20th century) and the pluralistic, tolerant Sufi Islamic ideal, I will ask whether this is in fact just a mythical aspirational tool for the promotion of ethno-nationalism and if it forms a part of a present day Islamic feminist discourse on identity in Kashmir. Regarding normative Islam is it ‘non-indigenous’ or has there historically been a local movement for “pure” Islam and support for an Islamic Caliphate and/or has there been an adoption of the 'unwanted child of political Islam', i.e. Islamic Feminism?