On Tuesday December 1st, 2015 a delegation of 11 leaders from the MENA region visited KARAMAH as part of the Department of State’s International Visitor Leadership Program on Human and Civil Rights Advocacy and Awareness. The visitors came from different countries in the Middle East and North Africa and represented different governmental and governmental and non-governmental institutions. Among the group of leaders were human rights attorneys from Algeria, Kuwait, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, human rights activists from Iraq, Egypt, and Palestinian territories, and a member of the Tunisian parliament.
The visitors wanted to explore the historical context of human rights advocacy in the U.S., and the role and organizational structure of associations, NGOs, and religious organizations in advancing U.S. civil rights and equal opportunity. The visitors also sought to understand the influence of human and civil rights activists on policy at the national, state and local levels through lobbying, media, and grassroots campaigns. They were specifically interested in analyzing human rights concerns related to issues including disability rights, freedom of press/speech/religion, access to education, and due process.
The meeting started with an introduction of KARAMAH’s history, mission and programs by Ms. Aisha Rahman and was followed by an interactive question and answer session. The following are selected questions and answers from the meeting:
Q: What is KARAMAH’s approach regarding including women in the public sphere and the decision making process?
KARAMAH’s approach, said Ms. Rahman, relies on the Islamic tradition. “We believe that our strength comes from our faith. In fact, women have always been a part of the public sphere and to think otherwise is to revise our history.” Ms. Rahman then shared a few stories from the prophetic model underscoring this position. She shared with the group that when Prophet Muhammad moved to Madinah, the first to pledge allegiance to him (bay’ah) were 4 women. Sayyidah Khadija was a successful businesswoman, Sayyidah Aisha was a scholar of Islam and Sayyidah Umm Salamah counseled the Prophet on political issues. This is the Islamic model of women’s participation which we have to revive. “We have to look at how patriarchy relegated women to certain roles.”
Q: Advocating against female genital mutilation in my village in Egypt, I am facing a lot of resistance from some imams. How do you deal with this?
In order to affect holistic change, one needs to build relationships with a cross section of the community. KARAMAH believes that the way to distinguish between culture and religion is to first and foremost know your faith—know your Islam. KARAMAH is a scholarly organization and builds on the premise that with knowledge of Islam, some of these problematic practices will change. With respect to resistance from some imams, again, the most powerful tool that you have is your faith. Arm yourself with knowledge of the Qur’an and the Sunnah of the Prophet—if you formulate arguments from an Islamic perspective you will not only gain legitimacy with naysayers, but you will also be convincing. Read “Female Genital Mutilation: An Islamic Perspective” by Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad.
The guests were impressed by KARAMAH’s work and achievements and were interested in seeing KARAMAH’s work expand in their region as well. KARAMAH is looking forward to working and collaborating with these leaders to further their initiatives and goals in their respective communities.