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Lecture fights Muslim stereotypes

Nikki Taylor | Friday, February 15, 2008

Dr. Fozia S. Qazi, a Center for Women’s Intercultural Leadership (CWIL) Fellow and professor of mathematics, spoke along with Razia Stanikzai, a Saint Mary’s senior international student from Afghanistan, about the western world’s thoughts on Muslim women Thursday in the Student Center.

The lecture, entitled “The ‘Other’ Veil: Muslim Women in the Western Mind,” was a part of the Diverse Students’ Leadership Conference (DSLC) hosted by the Student Diversity Board which has taken place at the College this week.

The lecture’s main focus addressed the way Muslim women are portrayed to the Western world. Qazi began by showing pictures of Muslim women who break the stereotypes.

“The prevalent stereotype of Muslim women is homogeneity, but there is a great deal of diversity,” Qazi said.

The Muslim practice of veiling is often associated with the oppression of women in the Western mindset, Qazi said. She first showed how veiling is a fairly common practice and is not associated with oppression in other settings.

Most religions have some sort of veiling, Qazi said. Jewish women are often depicted wearing veils, as is the Virgin Mary in Christian art.

Veiling goes back to the days of colonization in the Middle East. Before the Europeans could colonize they had to see the natives as inferior and uncivilized as a rationalization of their taking over, Qazi said.

Stanikzai spoke about hijab, which is the Afghani practice of wearing a veil. Hijab literally translates “to hide from view,” but it also means separation from something negative between you and your spiritual goal.

A part of hijab is the burqa, which is traditionally associated with Afghan women. Many women in Afghanistan were forced to wear a burqa by the Taliban regime, which is part of the reason why it is seen as oppressive to women, but many women wore the burqa anyway.

When they remove the burqa it is a sign of new political order, not women’s liberation. The real oppression was the women’s struggle for educational and economic opportunities, which were also banned by the Taliban, Stanikzai said.

“We believe that liberation comes from within. It is not passively received,” Stanikizai said.

There has been a recent resurgence of hijab in the Muslim world. Women are making the informed choice to veil. They see it as a sign of piety and also it gives them liberation from a preoccupation with beauty, Stanikzai said.

The burqa is also an important tool for Muslim women because it gives them anonymity and safety, she said.

The DSLC will continue today with workshops in the morning and will conclude with the keynote speech by Dr. Johnnetta Cole, the first female president of Spelman College, at 12:30 p.m, in the Little Theater.