ZAHIRA ABDIN CHAIR
Muslim Women and Gender Studies
* Goals and Objectives
In the conviction that enlightened knowledge, as much as sound belief, is the premise for responsible and moral action, and that its absence or confusion diminishes the human status and subverts the socio-moral order, the Zahira Abdin Chair sets out to fulfill a conspicuous need and to remedy a precarious social condition. In a global world, this condition knows no boundaries. Accordingly, the scope of its address extends to multiple constituencies. For obvious reasons, those immediately targeted for engaging a discourse, are expected to come from within the Muslim community, the ummah. The nature and parameters of this discourse are a function of its context. Globalization has simply exacerbated conditions in the post-colonial world, and the historical encounter with the West has added its dimensions to the general disorientation, particularly in the Muslim world. The resurgent interest in Women and gender questions, as it spreads from the West to the Rest, aptly epitomizes this double disarray, while the prominence of Islam in global politics is further amplified in the paradoxical visibility attending Muslim women worldwide. The meaning of the Zahira Abdin Chair and the uniqueness of its mission, need to be seen against this background.
To note, this is the first initiative of its kind, a Chair dedicated to Muslim Women Studies in the West, without being of the West. Hosted in a nascent academy equally compelling in its mission and vision, it strives to bridge the historical rift between (an outgrown and mythical) ‘East and West,’ at the same time as it sets out to reform and renew Muslim thought, reclaiming for it its proper role as a light and beacon unto the world. This Chair devotes its efforts and ingenuity to addressing possibly one of the most intractable fields of the age, and it is committed to its pursuit in terms that challenge and transcend the dominant paradigm.
It is notably in this latter sense that we speak of the 'West' when we seek to establish a distance from the West. It is in terms of the historical association of Europa with a complex of misguided and self-serving ideals, ideas, and interests that are transformed into an ideology of domination and subjugation and exploitation. Obviously, it is not in terms of a geography, or a culture, or a tradition that we single out the West, for in this sense, the West is no different from the 'rest' - a player in a world of diversity and plenty, where each brings its tradition to enrich the whole and where, throughout history, each of these traditions intertwines and overlaps as it develops and grows: to affirm and fulfill the beauty of the dictum : 'that (we) may know one another.'
Against the above background, the Chair sees its academic and intellectual agenda in terms of a two pronged strategy of deconstruction and reconstruction, to critique and to edify. This strategy takes for its field and scope the area designated in the prevalent academic curriculum under women and gender studies, a field that subsumes for us here at Muslim Women Studies, community and family as primary and pertinent arenas of related interest and inquiry. We assume the initiative to critique a tradition ‘from within,’ while at the same time, seeking to reform and construct on the basis of an authentically grounded paradigm drawn on the original and originating sources of Islam. (Qur’an and the sunnah as an explanatory source and adjunct to the Qur’an). In affirming the enduring value, validity, and viability of these Sources, it also hopes to articulate a model of thought and action in its field that can contribute positively to the ongoing debates and policies gender related issues, in a global forum. In a more general vein, the goals and objectives of the Chair are conceived within a broader tradition of scholarship that strives to retrieve and appropriate the best in a universal and perennial tradition identified with the divinely revealed sources of human enlightenment and guidance. In doing so, it seeks to align itself with the forces that make for a global cultural renewal.
Organization & Implementation
Scope of Activity
In action- Seminar in Cairo: March 2000
Encyclopedia on Women in Islam
Scholarships, Grants, Fellowship
One of the most conspicuous absences that the Chair strives to fill is that of providing a hospitable setting for reflection and dialogue. There is a dire need for scholarly and public exchange and interaction on 'Women in Islam' and on Islamic perspectives on women and gender-related issues. The objective would be to evolve a consensual threshhold of reasoned and Islamically grounded perspectives, together with a cogent framework from which it would be possible to launch an alternative scholarship. On a practical plane, this would give direction to policy-making options and counter the one-dimensional variants that command the field. This kind of reflexive dialogue and exchange needs to be clearly distinguished from the conventional da'wa among Muslims which amounts to preaching to the converted, or preaching to convert - or, to clarify and explicate (bayan). These no doubt may be valued ends in themselves, but it is not what we have in mind.
While there is a growing body of informed knowledge that is becoming available to an interested public, and to which we hope to contribute and further build, we wish to reinforce and supplement knowledge production with a community of networking. We need to form a nucleus for well grounded, coherent, and sustained discourses in the field, discourses that are open and open-minded, engaged and committed, and that go beyond the controversies and stereotypes that confound and obscure. We are equally intent on avoiding and transcending the self-righteous and dogmatic, as well as the random, arbitrary, and irresponsible opinions that have long held a community at ransom, and divested it of its potential. The 'community' in question refers to both the educated elements in the ummah, as well as the specialized academics whose interests impinge on the general fields of the humanities, social sciences, and religious studies, venues through which one comes to treat with women and gender-related issues.
With this end in view, we hope to explore and selectively invest in a variety of media and opportunities that pave the way for its realization. This includes teaching, holding seminars, promoting workshops alongside our ongoing research and publication projects. It covers the gamut of our objectives and activities that are ultimately designed to lay the enabling ground-work and enduring foundations for that alternative scholarship and community.
Copyright © 1999 [The Abdin Waqf- Endowment -
M.A.F.]. All rights reserved.