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ISSUE 121 VOL 18 PUBLISHED 4/25/2008

Sessions discuss women in Islam

By Elizabeth Mitchell
Associate Editor

Friday, April 25, 2008

This past weekend, students of the St. Olaf Muslim Student Association and Multicultural Awareness and Community Outreach held the Islam and Women Conference. This was the first such conference organized for the St. Olaf community.

Hosted over the course of Friday afternoon and most of Saturday, the event aimed to answer several questions, such as those listed on the event's Facebook group: "Do you want to know why thousands of Americans become Muslims each year? Why roughly 75% of them are women? What is it about Islam that attracts all these people? Is Islam really oppressive toward women?"

Organizers sought to answer these questions through a program which included question and answer sessions, a general information presentation on Islam and women with guest speakers from the Islamic Resource Group.

Conference-goers participated in a number of breakout sessions designed to elucidate women's historical and contemporary roles in relationships to Islam.

The sessions included Muslim women and literature, the hijab (the secrets behind the veil), and Myths, Misconceptions and the Facts.

In addition to sub-sessions, the conference featured a local guest speaker Muslim activist Magda Saikali. She discussed women's rights in Islam. The final event was a panel discussion.

Religion professor Jamie Schillinger felt the conference was "an important moment for the college." He said, "It is important for Muslim perspectives to be represented, and that they are discussed and shared." He also stated that the conference "did an excellent job bringing Muslims in the area and making a connection between that local community and the larger questions&if we want to talk about these issues, we need to start with women who are nearby, get a chance to make those valuable connections."

Sagirah Abdus-Shahid '11 said, "I think this conference had a positive effect on the students and staff that attended it, because it answered and clarified a lot of the misconceptions and questions related to Muslim women. People really enjoyed the workshops, I think because they were able to discuss and have a lot of their questions answered."

In terms of the view of Islam on campus, Abdus-Shahid said, "I hope that we, the St. Olaf community continues to have event like this to increase awareness of minorities, like myself, on campus and to improve and foster good relationships between people of all backgrounds and communities."

Schillinger feels that "the college is committed, in theory, to presenting a global perspective, and in theory ought to be very interested in Islam, as so many view the world through Muslim eyes."

Schillinger believes Islam and Islamic culture needs to be included more in campus discourse, "The study of Islam is under-represented, although I understand why &. Islam is important, but there are so many important things."

Schillinger also expressed regret more students did not attended the conference, although "it did show that some students are interested in and concerned about these issues & St. Olaf right now is lucky in that we have a good group of Muslim students, and that these students are far more important to the college than their numbers suggest."

In order to spread awareness about the conference, leaders of the Muslim Students Association tabled outside the cafeteria last week, They informed students of the conference schedule and program of events.

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