Women took center stage at the 8th annual conference of the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy (CSID), presenting their views on women’s rights in Islam and Muslim societies.

Most of the audience at the April 27 conference was made up of women; almost all of the panelists at the daylong session and all but one of the moderators were women.

Presenters ranged from a University of Richmond law professor who quoted extensively from the Quran to back her contention that the Muslim holy book supports gender equality, to a pair of Canadians who told of their own experience in engaging minority Muslim women in the political process in that democratic nation. Other participants came from Great Britain, Iran and the Philippines.

The targeted focus on one issue was a departure for CSID, a Washington-based nonprofit advocacy group whose past annual conferences have addressed the broader concept of the compatibility between Islam and democracy.

Opening the conference, CSID President Radwan Masmoudi cited what he termed substantial misunderstanding over the issue of women’s rights in Islam, “both in the Muslim world and in the West.” Going back to the roots of the religion, he said the Prophet Muhammad, in his farewell speech, emphasized the rights of women and urged all Muslims to ensure they had equality with men.

But Masmoudi acknowledged that, “while Islam gave rights to women that were revolutionary 1400 years ago, compared with other religions and civilizations, ”¦unfortunately that status was not always maintained.” Now, he said, “If anything, we are unfortunately behind.” . . .

In an interview between sessions, Masmoudi said the conference amounted to one front in “a battle of ideas for what Islam means in the 21st century,” countering “the opinions of the extremists who say that democracy and women’s rights are un-Islamic.”

“We need to show that they are not only compatible with Islam, they are required by Islam. This is what Islam demands,” he said.


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