We are currently reorganizing the Arabic Forum, Riwaq, into a subsite with its own navigation structure - in the Arabic language. We hope to make it more user friendly for our Arabic speaking visitors by combining all the material in Arabic under one roof and trying to be more consistent in observing leads and burps for that collection in a uniform language. Given the fact that we are bi-lingual, and some of our activities might be coming more from the circle of friends of the Chair in Cairo in particular, we owe this much to our visitors. However, we will still operate, at least for some time to come, on the basis of a main site which will continue to embrace pages in both languages, accessible from the root directory (which is English) -in addition to the upcoming all Arabic site that will be accessible from its logo on the right - the gilded dual arched doorway to the 'Riwaq'.... The blue logo button in the upper right hand corner will be maintained to lead visitors through the main site - as before, retaining the integrated structure, and allowing visitors their choice of more than one access to the Arabic content pages. However, new material and rubrics in Arabic will be posted through the new portal and accessed exclusively from the Arabic subsite.
M.A. F. - April, 2007
Welcome to our Forum!
Muslim Women Studies is a site that is sponsored by the Zahira Abdin Chair for the Study of Women and Gender. Its objective is to stimulate, inform, and enlighten in the general area of women's studies with a focus on Islam and Muslim societies and cultures. It targets a community of lifelong learners who share an interest in these fields and invites them to join with us in rethinking their areas of interest from a perspective that is informed by an Islamic world view and epistemology.
We are fortunate to be launching our site at a time when literally dozens of others with similar interests have come to the fore. Many institutional and personal sites have emerged to promote different aspects of a common concern, whether in the field of gender scholarship and networking, or simply in areas pertaining to interest in and about Muslim women. There is much that can be learned from some, and we have shared affinities with others. [See Links] But at the end of the day, we hope to bring to the field something new that complements existing efforts and extends horizons.
Our site reflects our priorities, as well as our vision, mission, and objectives.
A Word about Muslim Women Studies!
While Women's Studies has developed over the past two or three decades as a thriving interdisciplinary field, we believe that Muslim Women's Studies, in contrast, lags behind. This may need some explaining in view of the equally thriving rate at which the literature on women in Islam and women in the Muslim world has grown over roughly the same period. To explain this anomaly we need to briefly identify our premises.
We distinguish between two basic approaches to studying women in the Muslim world. The one takes its point of departure from the theoretical assumptions in mainstream (Western) academy. These evolved out of the European intellectual tradition that reached its apogee in the 18th century model of Enlightenment. This approach is admirably competent on many counts, beginning with its methodological rigor and systematic applications, its institutional set up, the magnitude of its resources as well as its sheer scale and scope. Yet, it is not at all certain that methodological competence can be equated with reliable or relevant inquiry in a particular field of study, especially in cultural and social studies. Nor can the prevalence of a dominant academy foreclose the field to alternative scholarship or intellectual initiatives.
Knowledge is an open quest ever challenging its adepts to tap alternative sources and question established assumptions in search of new ways to understand and grapple with the complexity of social questions and moral issues. It is this critical posture that informs the quest for an alternative approach to studying women in Islam and the Muslim world. That alternative approach is not only a possibility, but a necessity.
The reason why we consider this to be a pressing need at this point in the development of the scholarship in the field is twofold. First, there is a need to streamline the growing volume of research and writing over the past two decades and we do not believe this to be possible on the basis of the prevailing paradigm. [‘Streamline’ suggests among other things a framework for critical evaluation and discourse.) The fact that recent empirical and theoretical work has produced some valuable elements that could be taken up to advantage in rethinking the grounds for an alternative academy enhances the possibilities of going beyond the constraints of the dominant paradigm.
Conversely, it is inconceivable for the modern academy to remain impervious to the increased self-awareness in Muslim societies that reflects on both events and consciousness. It is this pressure coming from below that provides an impetus to reconsider the structure and fundaments of that academy if it is to survive as a relevant and meaningful enterprise.
Indeed, the growing rift between a wealth of output and an inadequacy in the conceptual framework and tools to deal with the material at hand, underlies the anomaly that casts its shadows on the scholarship in the field of Muslim women studies. Notwithstanding the sustained effort and superb quality of some of the research and writing in recent years, we are convinced that the breakthrough can only come from a paradigm shift that moves the field beyond the constraints of the current dominant paradigm that divests much of this effort of its potential.
Our self-mandated mission is to address this need and to overcome the current anomaly. We propose to do so through exploring and cultivating an alternative perspective on knowledge and life through which it may be possible to gain insight and understanding that are more consistent and compatible with the reality of the subject of our research and observation. This reality is much richer and more complex than a one-dimensional naturalistic or materialistic paradigm supposes. We believe that an openness to Islamic sources, experience, and precedent, can help us go beyond the prevailing reductionist fallacy that impoverishes our humanity, as much as it undermines the potentials of all genuine scholarship.
By approaching Muslim Women('s) Studies as an autonomous and integrated field of inquiry, instead of pursuing it as a 'subfield' within one or the other disciplines or of the area/ culture studies under the dominant academy, we also aspire to pave the way for an alternative paradigm and model of scholarship. We refer to the mode of knowledge that informs this paradigm by the terminology of the 'tawhidi episteme.' Tawhid refers to the central tenet of Islam, that takes the Oneness of God for the foundation of human cognition and values and the source of their coherence. While the cognitive values that ground our knowledge are contingent on our belief-system, one does not have to be a confessed Muslim to adopt and apply the resulting holistic approach to knowledge of the world. This is as much as to say that the alternative perspective is not exclusive to Muslims or to the study of Muslim societies and cultures, but is of universal import. What is prescribed in the tawhidi episteme is an outlook, a Weltanschauung or world view, but not a particular faith, even though a preliminary faith in the transcendent and the Unseen may be a logical corollary to the adoption of this view.
In this new scholarship we hope to benefit from existing methodologies and research, without burdening or constraining this benefit with the limitations of a flawed paradigm. We may then be in a position to contribute positively and constructively, not only to the specific area of Muslim Women Studies, but to the interdisciplinary fields of Women and Gender (and Family) studies more generally, as well as to the constituent and varied disciplines that impinge on these studies.