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Yesterday, I went over the presentations at the NVIC conference “Female Actors in the Egyptian Islamic Public Sphere-Increasing Significance through Increasing Mediatization;” today, I’ll cover the speakers’ day.
Four female speakers were invited, representing different messages and perspectives. The speakers were Dalia Younis, a final year medical student who is the moderator for her mother’s website and preaching business; Dr. Suzan, a neurophysiology professor who is also a female preacher; Kawthar Kholy, the head of the social department in OnIslam; and myself.
First session, each of the speakers had 20 minutes to describe what their messages are, what tools they use and who their target audience are. I went first. Then Younis spoke about her mother’s preaching work, which started few years ago. Younis’ mother insists on two things: she only preaches in mosques and she never takes any money for it. Her audience is women of all ages, and recently they started dedicated classes for children, where they use playing as a teaching and preaching method. She showed some pictures of a simulation for the Hajj and sacrifice to teach kids about these Islamic rituals. When she created the website, she told us that the fact that most of her students are not familiar with computers (according to her)—they were mainly concerned with having a website that is easy to use for someone who has no computer experience.
Kholy told us about the beginning of OnIslam as one of the projects by MADA Media, an Egyptian corporation for media development, and that the main goal behind establishing this website as a whole was to create a peaceful website for the cross-cultural dialogue that could lead to a more tolerant world:
“We are an impartial institution, which does not follow any particular religious ideologies or schools. Our primary goal is to create a general atmosphere for more intimate cross-cultural dialogue in this very critical and judgmental world we live in. We are a social and not a religious website.”
Naturally, her main focus was on female participation in the website, either as followers or the editors who work for it. Kholy described OnIslam as a family-friendly environment where they value the role of a woman as wife and a mother in that they show flexibility when it comes to issues like working hours.
When the social department was first launched, the aim was not only journalistic as to publish news, but also to offer consolatory services for people in general and women specifically, in every aspect of their lives. That’s why their target audience was all the family members because their aim has been to help all of them to be active in society through a frame that respects their beliefs, and preserves their identities.
“When it comes to women, we don’t focus only on women to enhance their image. We feel that we have to address both men and women because when we say image we include the whole society. Our discourse is mainly targeting empowerment regarding the traditional dilemmas from the perspective of ‘human rights.’”
When the social department at OnIslam wanted to have a role in the feminist discourse, they assumed their focus would be on activists and journalists mainly because of their involvement. But the surprise was that also family members could and would be as proactive as activists and that it would be of more use to address these all women as well in their feminist message.
According to Kholy, the English section of the website is always very active. Two examples of their involvement with the real life problems of the community are the “Divorcee Club” where they try to help these women through consultation and support. They also have a separate section for victims of rape and abuse. The other example is what they have been working on for some time now, which is to build a network for feminist activists where they can exchange experiences and also gain support and strengthening their voices.
I was asked about how Islamic my discourse is, so I told them how I get a lot of “This is haram” and “You should stop calling yourself a Muslim” and “Take off your veil” comments because of what I say. I get a lot of comments about topics like living alone and marital vows being haram, even though they have little to do with religion.
Another question I received was how I see the media help in spreading a culture of violence. I told the audience about the last movie I watched, where a man slapped a woman in what was supposed to be a funny scene. Violence against women has been portrayed in out movies as a normal thing and this should change.
It was so interesting to find that so many people are so interested in listening to women’s point of view and role when it comes to Islamic discourse, especially when it is such a very diverse discourse. It was a very useful experience for me and was a pleasure to participate in.