“Islamic feminists are those who advocate the universal tenet of feminism – equality between the sexes – considering political Islam, while Muslim feminists are those who advocate the same in isolation of Islam, but are nonetheless Muslim”, explained Dr. Shehada.
Furthermore, Dr. Shehada said feminists in the Middle East are ostracized by radical Islamists and secular feminists. The former refuse to work with Islamic feminists because they consider feminism in general heresy, while the latter believe the two concepts – Islam or Islamism and feminism – are incompatible.
Dr. Shehada identified another challenged faced by many women in Middle Eastern societies: they face various stigmas, which have not always been successfully bridged. The most obvious examples include Iran and Saudi Arabia, the two countries in which Islamist hardliners consolidated control of government and society “beginning with the Six Day War in 1967 and ending with the Islamic Revolution of 1979”, using them to stymie efforts at achieving women’s rights. Nonetheless, the improvement in women’s rights has been quite noticeable, especially since Islamic feminism as a movement emerged as a part of the various faith-based movements of the 1990s, she noted.
Dr. Shehada also engaged in conversation with various members of the audience, both during the question and answer phase of the lecture and after the lecture. Members of the audience, especially Burch Diplomacy Club members, actively participated by sharing their views on the topic and asking questions.
After the lecture, several students participated in an informal coffee and tea session with Dr. Shehada, where they discussed the current state of feminism in the Middle East and explored ways for students to become involved in the work conducted by her International Institute for Social Sciences in Rotterdam, Netherlands.
She expressed a high degree of satisfaction with the organization of the lecture and the organizers themselves, as well as with Burch University.
Dr. Shehada is a leading expert in fields relating to political Islam. She has taught advanced sociology, qualitative methodologies, comparative epistemologies, feminist theories and gender & development and extensively researched the anthropology of Islamic law in the Middle East and Europe. She was a researcher at the Institute for the Study of Islam in the Modern World (ISIM) in Leiden, Netherlands. Currently, Dr. Shehada is lecturer at the Erasmus University Rotterdam in the Netherlands and a researcher at the International Institute of Social Studies.