"Women and Islam" lecture

Tonight I had the privilege of attending a lecture at the Rosegarden Turkish American Cultural Center here in Portland. I signed up for their mailing list a while ago to follow any Turkish language classes and read about this lecture in one of the emails they sent out.  It was given by Dr. Sophia Pandya from California State University, Long Beach, and I really enjoyed it.

First, I should tell you how nervous I was when I arrived.  The building is pretty much unmarked, the only reason I knew I was in the right place was because I saw women with the hijab entering.  I wondered if I was inappropriately dressed (tank top and capris) but decided to venture in and find out.  When I came in the door, there were only men, so I tol done who approached me that I was there for the lecture and he walked me to a room where the women were waiting.  So in I walk, only about 1/3 of the women wore hijab but I was definitely showing more skin than anybody else.  I asked if I should cover up and they said absolutely not, from then on they did nothing but smile at me, introduce themselves, and inquire as to who I was.  They were simply lovely.  One young woman I met, named Selen, was especially helpful. She has been here in the US for about 2 years having come from Istanbul. Her husband got a job here so she’s working on a Master’s degree at PSU in Engineering.  She graciously answered my questions, made sure I understood where to go and when (not that it was complicated, I just didn’t want to offend anybody so was slightly more careful than normal).

The lecture itself was an excellent introduction for me. Even though I have a B.A. and a Master’s degree in Religion, both degrees focused on Christianity. I know so little about the history of Islam as well as the culture.  Dr. Pandya started by showing us clips of American movies and shows depicting Arabs.  It was horrifying.  American’s have done such a great job of depicting Arabic Men as evil and dangerous and Arabic Women as timid and beaten.  We have depicted Arab nations as being backwards and uneducated.  It made me think about what a responsibility Hollywood has to be more cautious about its’ depictions of other cultures. Hollywood has the power to do a lot of harm to people.

In discussing the patriarchy of Islam, Dr. Pandya started by reminding us that the Prophet Mohammed was actually quite progressive. He made it so that women could inherit property, he consulted women on matters of faith, and he in general made life a bit easier for women.  The patriarchal part of Islam came later when the center of the Islamic Empire was moved from Damascus to Persia.  There, Islam encountered Zoroastrianism, which as it turns out was very patriarchal.  Unfortunately, Islam picked up may of its’ ideas from Zoroastrianism that often hurt women.  It was interesting to understand that history. I did some research on Zoroastrianism in Graduate school, but really only focused on early Zoroastrianism, nothing past Jesus.  I do believe that Zoroastrianism played a huge part in the apocalyptic world of Judaism and Christianity, but I had never thought about some of the other roles it had played. I need to do more research on it I guess.

I really loved the stories of women here in American who are helping to change how Americans view Islam as well as the face of Islam as a whole.  There is a movement called the Hizmet (which means service) also known as the Gulen Movement that is focused on inter-faith dialogue, education, and helping people who are in need.  I gather that the Rosengarden Center here in Portland is part of the Hizmet movement.  They put on meals during Ramadan for non-Muslims to introduce us to their practices and to share their beliefs in general.

I’ve emailed Dr. Pandya to see if I can get a copy of her presentation because there were some other points that I want to share (but silly me didn’t bring a notebook to take notes).  Overall, I’m so glad I went!  I will definitely be going back to the Rosegarden for more activities!

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