Exploring themes as important in today’s world as feminism, the neo-liberal and radical kinds of it, capitalism and how it exploits women’s labor, a nine-day workshop was held in Qom, Iran at the University of Religions and Denominations. This program was organized by the international department of URD by the joint efforts of the Director General of the International Relations and Cooperation, Dr. Mahdi Salehi and the Director of International Short Courses, Dr. Zahra Sharif.
This workshop, titled Women’s Studies in Islam and Iran, invited participants from several countries, the most prominent of which were Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Australia, Lebanon, Macedonia, Tunisia, Pakistan and Iran. The VP of Iran in Women and Family Affairs, Dr. Masoumeh Ebtekar, delivered a speech in the opening ceremony of the workshop, followed by a visit to the university’s library.
The themes touched by the professors all focused on women as an integral part of the society and how different cultures and religions perceived them. Professor Günter from Albert Ludwig’s Universitat Freiburg, Germany discussed with the participants the modern role models that the media and culture present for women in comparison with Islamic teachings and Mrs. Abedi spoke about the status of women in Iranian literature and arts. Dr. Badreh, a faculty of the Islamic Azad University in Tehran, lectured about Islam and feminism, discussing how gender justice and equity were preferred in an Islamic point of view over gender equality and similarity.
The most distinguished lecture of the session, however, was by Dr. Mohammed Sami’ee from the University of Tehran. Dr. Sami’ee discussed modern day orientalism, capitalism and how it affects family life. He discussed imperialist ideas, making reference to Rudyard Kipling’s The White Man’s Burden and how women and family structures occupied central roles in the reforms imposed by imperialist powers. Family, he stressed, was something that suffered the most at the hands of modern-day capitalism. He explained how the West’s idea of liberalizing women promoted such suffering of family life, all in the favor of the capitalists to profit from. Fatima Nesr, a Lebanese-German participant of the course from Albert-Ludwigs remarked that:
“In my opinion, the biggest problem women face is that they are not aware of their value and that is not dependent on the country or the culture you live in. In general, as Dr. Sami’ee said, in today’s world women are sold as commodities and that’s how they grow up. They will always have in mind that they have to look a certain way and behave a certain way otherwise they’re not ‘good enough for the market’ and that is a huge problem.”
Another important lecture was delivered by Professor Liselotte Abid from the University of Vienna on the topic of veiling and modesty in different religions. She pointed out that hijab wasn’t something unique to Islam. Rather, it was practiced by Christians and orthodox Jews in pre-Islamic periods. She made references to the portraits of different Christian and Jewish religious figures including Saint Anna, Saint Mary and others. A visit to the Institute of Research on Women and Family was also scheduled, in which the participants met with Dr. Alasvand and listened to her talk about the status of women in the first three Islamic centuries. Other important lectures included talks on the status of women in Islamic legal system by Dr. Tofiqi; women’s social activities during the Islamic Republic era by Dr. Shakuri Rad; women in Iranian media by Dr. Qasemi; chastity in religions; gender in the Qur’anic narratives by Dr. Dehqan and women and higher education by Dr. Hoseini Muqaddam and Dr. Fereiduni.
Dr. Rifaat Lenzin, a participant of this course and a lecturer at the University of Berne, Switzerland remarked that: “For me, as a Muslim based in Europe, the Iranian approach to the topic of women’s rights and feminism was most interesting. As a scholar of Islamic studies, I profited most from the lectures on gender in Qur’anic narratives and of the status of women in the Islamic legal system.”
Dr. Luna Farhat, affiliated with the Islamic University of Lebanon said that these lectures “gave an insight on the modern status of women in Iran [and] also presented approaches that differ from the ones given by western scholars.”
This workshop also consisted of a cultural tour of Esfahan, Matinabad and Tehran to give the participants a brief insight into the Iranian culture and traditions, which the participants seemed to like a lot.
“This country will always stay in my memory not only because of its beautiful mountains, unique and breathtaking canvas and extraordinary buildings or ability or art but mostly because of its people, their kindness and their hospitality,” remarked a participant after the tour.