Islamic feminist scholar and Richmond University law professor Hazizah al-Hibri outlined a case for gender equality based in the theological tenets of Islam on Monday afternoon.
The lecture, sponsored by the Muslim Student Association, the Chaplain’s Office and other groups, aimed to educate students and faculty about the truth of gender equality in the Middle East. The lecture, which followed a Berkeley College Master’s Tea with al-Hibri on Monday afternoon, drew over 50 students interested in hearing the renowned Islamic jurist speak.
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Al-Hibri began her presentation by discussing Islamic and Western cultural traditions, comparing Muslim and Protestant religious hierarchies and stressing the democratic foundations of both societies. Al-Hibri described the democratic foundations of the first Islamic community and drew chuckles when she supported her claim with angelic proof from the Quran.
“[The angels] are very good,” al-Hibri said, “They don’t sin, but they argue with God. That shows us that there is democracy even in heaven.”
Al-Hibri explored the concept of gender equality in Islam’s theological underpinnings. She used the Islamic tale of the creation of Satan as a parable for gender prejudice. In the tale, Satan — then just another angel — refuses to bow down to God’s latest creation, man.
“[Satan] was arrogant,” al-Hibri said. “He said, ‘I am made of fire and man is made of clay. I will not bow down before a man of clay.’”
Al-Hibri said Satan’s experience is a relevant lesson about believing in one’s own superiority — or in the superiority of one’s gender.
“Regardless of race and heritage, we all have the same metaphysical origin,” she said. “Don’t be like [Satan], don’t think you’re better because you’re one thing and someone else is the other. That goes for male and female as well.”
Al-Hibri outlined her own conception of women’s rights in Islamic societies, specifically addressing equality in marriage as a major part of any women’s rights discussion.
“[Marriage] is not a service contract,” she said. “You are not hiring a cook, not hiring someone to wash your dishes. You are getting a companion.”
Audience members said al-Hibri’s academic fame was the principal draw.
Pharmacology student Fatih Mercan MED ’10 said he was excited to see al-Hibri in a more informal setting, having read her — as he described it — “very formal” work.
Usama Qadri ’10 described the lecture as “pretty enlightening.” He said he was surprised by al-Hibri’s dependence on basic theology, rather than more modern interpretations of both feminism and Islam, to defend her claims.
“I thought she’d be giving a more modern perspective,” he said. “But listening to her, all her arguments came from historical Qurani sources.”
Al-Hibri, a former Fulbright Scholar, is the founder and president of Karamah, an organization of Muslim women lawyers that addresses Muslim human rights issues both domestically and on a global scale.