Katherina Del Rio/Contributing Writer
Students, faculty and community members filled every seat and even sat on the floor to participate in a panel discussion about Islamic women at the Steven J. Green School of International and Public Affairs on Thursday, April 21.
The Role of Women in Islam panel discussion featured five community leaders and experts from Florida International University and were aimed at debunking common misconceptions about typical Muslim women, along with showing the diversity of the female Islamic community.
“It’s really important to clarify what we really think of women,” said Youssef Bouzoubaa, a Muslim senior studying management and marketing. “People think that Muslim women are undervalued.”
Panelist included: Karen Shah, vice president of the Broward Interfaith Council, Rabia Khan, resident scholar at the Islamic Foundation of South Florida and principle of an Islamic School, Isra Yahya Amin Ibrahim, student and secretary of the Muslim Student Association, Seema Pissaris, clinical management professor at Florida International University and Aslihan Akkaya, a visiting instructor in the department of global and sociocultural studies at Florida International University.
Each panelist gave a brief introduction on their family life, career and faith. Each woman’s story tied together only by their beliefs.
Shah was born and raised in Indiana and become a Muslim when she married her husband.
Khan, a single mother of five children, has memorized the entire Quran.
Ibrahim was the youngest woman on the panel and an active member in the Muslim community at Florida International University.
Pissaris was born in Pakistan and is a member of the Shia Ismali, a minority branch of Islamic faith.
Akkaya was born in Turkey and pursued architecture before studying anthropology.
The event proceeded with a question and answer session where attendees were able to direct questions to a specific panelist or all of the women. Questions varied from the media’s portrayal of Muslims today to marriage, education and radical Muslim groups.
The idea for the panel discussion was brought up to Dan Alvarez by Khan when she asked what initiatives were going to be taken for Muslim women in the FIU community.
“We can solve problems by having forums like this and talking,” said Khan.
The women stressed that what is shown by media does not represent the larger picture of the 1.6 billion Muslims and is often taken out of context. Islam is the fastest-growing religion in the world and the majority of Muslims live in Indonesia, not the Middle East.
“No one wants to hear the moderate voices,” said Pissaris.
While headlines of the extreme terror group, Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, are constantly displayed in the media, the panelists said nothing justifies what the group is doing. Adding that the group has killed more Muslims than non-Muslims.
The panelists emphasised that problems arise in media when scripture is separated from its context and only one piece of text is looked at.
“Any religious text can be abused by humans for their own manipulated reasons,” said Khan.
To break stereotypes about women in the Islamic community education is key.
“As millennials it’s our responsibility to unpack difficult content and have these difficult conversations,” said Ibrahim.
Pissaris encouraged those in attendance to go out and befriend a Muslim person, listen to their diverse story and keep the conversation going.
The panelists explained their rights to marriage, to divorce, to property and to education adding that there is a fight for all human rights.
“The millennial Muslims right now who are growing up here are American and they become the fabric of America,” said Ibrahim.
After the event concluded many attendees stayed to speak to panelists and ask more questions.
“Dr. Alvarez encouraged us to come and it was pretty interesting,” said Felipe Gomez, a freshman studying physics who hopes the event is bought back in the future.
The event was hosted for free by The Initiative for Muslim World Studies and the Middle East Studies Program along with the Center for Women’s Gender Studies.