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Co-curators of the MUSLIMA exhibition interviewed leading Muslim women from around the world to discuss their work and the role of women in Islam and public life. Full interviews are available within the exhibition.

Shirin Ebadi, Iranian lawyer who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003

“In undemocratic countries such as Iran and Saudi Arabia, the authorities justify their human rights violations by resorting to Islam and by framing their actions as religiously sanctioned. Thus, no one has the right to object to their actions and if one dares to do so, he/she would be accused of violating the religion and face severe punishment.”

“Islam has different interpretations, like any other religion. We must promote an interpretation of Islam that is in harmony with human rights and democracy. The undemocratic regimes take advantage of religion to promote their own undemocratic ideologies.”

Dr. Sima Samar, Chairperson for the Afghan Human Rights Commission

“I believe that in Islam the actual style of the Hijab is not mentioned anywhere, therefore the burqa that is used in Afghanistan is not mentioned either. I see these misreadings as a misuse of religion, as well as the use of religion against women.”

“Unfortunately, most of the women in Afghanistan are suffering from osteomalacia. Osteomalacia means softness of the bones and it affects women who do not have proper nutrition and access to reproductive health care, etc….On top of that, by wearing cloths and burqa they are not exposed to the sun. The repeated pregnancies, the years of ongoing nursing combined with lack of exposure to the sun because of wearing the burqa means these women have insufficient calcium and vitamin D.”

Fahima Hashim, Director of the Salmmah Women’s Resource Center in Sudan

“The fundamentalist trajectory overlooked the women’s rights gained during the women’s movement of the 1950s….Women, especially in big cities, had freedom of mobility, education, work, freedom of speech, health services, and dignity. Fundamentalist misogyny shackled the social fabric. Women’s recognition as full, equal human beings faded. It used to be that women could walk around freely in school, streets, to restaurants, etc., wearing mini-skirts and sleeveless dresses without being harassed or questioned.  I inherited the legacy and heritage of that life in the Sudan I use to know and enjoy. The struggle continues.”

Alia Hogben, Executive Director of the Canadian Council of Muslim Women

“It is true that there are two difficult realities for us—one is from within the Muslim communities and the other is how non-Muslims perceive and treat us. In many instances, the issues within the Muslim communities are far more difficult to deal with. There is a strong drive for conservatism; for a monolithic understanding of the religion; for rigidity and traditionalism. Sadly, this is fairly powerful, because the message comes with a lot of financial resources. The countries which lead are usually Saudi Arabia and Iran and their influence is widespread and pervasive.”

Farah Pandith, U.S. State Department’s Special Representative to Muslim Communities

“There are a couple of common trends that I have seen. The first is that which spans men and women. The issue of identity: what does it mean to be modern and Muslim? What is the difference between culture and identity? These are questions that young people are asking all over the world. The second trend is a question that I have heard all over the world, whether I am talking to a person in Bosnia, or I am talking to a young person in Senegal, or a young person in Malaysia. A lot of young women are asking me questions about the role of women in Islam. And there isn’t, frankly, enough out there that is textured, so that these young people can have the conversation that explores and asks questions.”