On February 28, our college had the honor of having Doctor Farhana Yunus as a guest speaker tackling the topic of Islam and women. Unfortunately, the average American does not have sufficient knowledge about Islam, therefore this talk was a great way in gaining a better and more correct perspective about the religion.
The turnout was very good, and it could be seen from the faces of the audience that they were eager and willing to learn more about this monotheistic religion. Dr. Yunus began her talk regarding the term “Islamophobia.” This term has been thrown around a lot in the media and it penetrates a negative viewpoint towards the religion of Islam. Where does Islamophobia come from and why is there such deep hatred on a religion that revolves around peace and love? It all stems from a lack of education. Doctor Yunus suggested that lack of education is the leading factor that boiled people’s blood regarding sensitive issues such as religion. That lack of knowledge can easily snowball into fear and hate, as it is reflected from various incidents of individuals burning Qurans or shooting Mosques. It is proven that when we fear or hate something it is most likely due to the lack of knowledge or unfamiliarity we have with the subject. The best solution to these disparities is pure education and actually reading the Quran rather than getting opinions from uncertain sources such as social media.
She then began discussing the major logistics of the religion. First and foremost, there are 1.7 billion Muslims in the world and they come from all different walks of life. From Eastern Europe such as Bosnia to Central Asia such as Tajikistan, Islam is extremely widespread and full of diversity. The scripture they follow is referred to as the holy Quran, which is the word of god. In addition, Muslims believe in the same prophets as Jews and Christians. They pray 5 times a day and are large advocates for social justice. In fact, the main objective of the religion is to promote peace, do good and treat others with respect and sincerity. A Muslim’s main duties include taking care of the less fortunate, respecting their neighbors, and elevating the community they live in. All of these aspects were pointed out by Dr. Yunus in order to clear the various misconceptions and misinformation spread about the purpose of Islam.
She then refocused on women’s role in Islam. There is a lot of controversy and talk about women and how they are “objectified” in this religion. However, Dr. Yunus shed light on the issue. The Quran states that women and men are created equal and both are responsible to worship God. Something a lot of people may not know is that 1400 years ago in various predominantly Muslim countries, women were already getting equal pay, which is something the US is struggling with today. This subject then led several audience members to ask about the hijab and why only women had to cover themselves. Dr. Yunus first defined the hijab as a means of “being modest.” In her point of view, the hijab symbolized more than a scarf wrapped around her head, it is a way in which she is able to feel empowered. She suggested that it allowed society to see beyond her external self and instead, look deep inside to the person she is through the knowledge and substance she entails. At the same time, this does not mean men are off the hook in terms of wearing a hijab. It was necessary for men to wear, as she stated, an “internal hijab.” Besides having to dress modestly to a certain degree, men needed to be cautious of their internal actions. Islam states that men need to respect women, be kind, and reciprocate the same amount of modesty as women do, just through different means. Rather than objectifying or belittling women as our modern society does, it is essential to treat a woman with dignity and respect since women have always been welcomed with open arms in Islam.
Towards the end of the talk, Dr. Yunus wanted to dip her toe into Sharia Law. Sharia Law is a set of guidelines that all Muslims need to live by and it consists of 5 parts. Those 5 parts include preservation of religion, life, family, property, and knowledge. It can be seen as a moral code that Muslims must follow in order to live according to the religion. There are a lot of criticisms about Sharia Law from various politicians and historians throughout time; however, Dr. Yunus did not choose to highlight those critics.
So, how has our society today changed in terms of understanding Islam? Dr. Yunus has had numerous encounters with individuals who have been very positive and eager to understand the religion. This is a very big leap in comparison to post 911 when people would blatantly bash her because of the way she looks or tell her to “go back to your country.” She stated that “people have recognized that there are a lot more similarities than differences between the 3 dominant religions and everyone is becoming to have more of an open-mind.”
At the end of the talk, everyone left with a better and brighter picture of Islam in their head. For those who knew nothing about the religion, it was a good introduction. And for those who were curious to know more, it was a great way in enhancing their knowledge. Overall, it allowed for creating a platform to spread knowledge about a religion that has been extremely stereotyped and misinterpreted. At the end of the day, the hope is to come out of these experiences as enriched individuals who are on the path to become globally aware citizens, just as Rollins College aims to do so.