I think I speak for many of the Muslims in Dunedin when I say the last few days have been incredibly stressful. It is Islam Awareness Week (IAW) and the days that have been leading up to this event haven't only been physically and mentally tiring but also emotionally draining.
As the Ameerah I'm given a certain amount of responsibility to ensure IAW runs well and every year MUSA holds a session called 'Converts Night' and we usually have a couple of men and women who converted/reverted to Islam and they speak to the audience about why they chose Islam as their religion. Converts Night is my favourite event out of everything because it's always interesting to listen to other people's experiences with Islam. As a person who was born as a Muslim there's a lot that I take forgranted and when I learn about how much strength and faith others have, it never fails to inspire me to become a better Muslim.
However, this year's Ameer (President) of MUSA decided that no Muslim sisters should speak during Converts Night. He informed us 3 days before the event was going to take place. As you can imagine, many women were furious with his sudden decision. For the first time ever we were told that women are not allowed to give speeches in front of non-mahram men because it would create too much attention towards them. The didn't consult any of the sisters and there was no discussion about it. He simply said no and referred us to the Imam of the mosque to justify his decision. In effort to obtain a clearer understanding of this problem the girls, some aunties and myself decided to consult the Imam ourselves. To cut the long story short this is what he told us:
A woman's voice is her awrah and she shouldn't give speeches or make presentations where non-mahram men are present.
So what about us going to Uni, attending lectures and tutorials, working in group projects not only with non-mahram men but also non-Muslim men?
That is permissible because it is a necessity.
But isn't it a necessity for women to take part in da'wah and share their stories with non-Muslims so they can have a better understanding of the religion? So what about the sisters being at the exhibition. Wouldn't it be wrong for us to speak to non-mahram men then?
No, it's not and no, because they are seeking knowledge.
But isn't it the same thing???
We asked all sorts of questions but his answer was still the same and the women were very upset at the way the situation was handled. Why were we told on the eleventh hour? Why didn't the men discuss this issue with us? I personally thought it was quite hypocritical as well. Despite how we felt the members of MUSA peacefully agreed to disagree on Monday. The sisters decided that they weren't going to speak at Converts Night because they didn't want to cause further problems as the whole idea of Islam Awareness Week is about educating non-Muslims regarding the beauty of our faith.
The girls who were going to speak wear hijab and dress modestly. Furthermore, they will be speaking in a non-alluring manner about a serious matter - their faith. Why are some men making such a huge deal out of it? At the same time, I also didn't want to disrupt the peace within the committee and community so that's why I came to the conclusion that we should set the problem aside for now and discuss it after Islam Awareness Week. The boys agreed and that was that.
However, the word got out to some of the older members of the community and that's when things started to get ugly. Some of the older men and women were adamant about the girls rights to be able to speak. Honestly, I completely understand where they were coming from but I just didn't think this was the time to continue arguing. A group of women threatened to stage a protest and to contact the media and the police if the Ameer insisted that the sisters don't speak. I didn't think that they would actually do it.
Oh but they did.
You can read about last night's protest here. It took place just outside the room where the Converts Night was going to take place and things did get a little heated up but no one got physical and hurt anyone. However, a lot of people think that because it got out in the media the Muslim community will now bear a bad reputation. A couple of emails were sent around about how people should be punished for going against the Ameer, yadda yadda... come on, get a grip! He made a mistake and he needs to own up. And while the issue became larger than it should have and the media shouldn't have been informed about this internal conflict, I believe people had every reason to be upset.
If a woman is modest in the way she dresses and behaves and a man still thinks she's too seductive then don't you think the problem is actually HIM? Why do women have to compromise their rights, identity and beliefs all the time?
In the past few days, I've been questioning so many things about myself and my religion. I had to keep reminding myself that what happened was stemmed from differences of opinion and it shouldn't be attributed to Islam because you can find Muslim female scholars and leaders in many countries around the world not just today but during the time of the Prophet (pbuh) as well. God knows best.
So where do we go from here?
In my opinion, the conflict wasn't handled properly from the beginning right until the end. I know that a forum will be held after this week so we can finally talk it over and get the issue solved in a peaceful and respectful manner but I think the most important thing is to make sure that we learn from this experience. This is an opportunity for the Muslim community to improve the way they communicate. Ignoring different opinions will only make people feel marginalised and angry. If there's anything that I've learned from yesterday it is that we should always choose our words wisely and be tactful because by not doing so is precisely how this entire problem began.