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Author and political activist Samina Ali shares her Islamic experiences

Photo by Elizabeth Clayton

Correction: In the Oct. 20 article “Author and political activist Samina Ali shares her Islamic experiences,” we neglected to report the organizers of the event. The English Center for International Women put on the event.

Samina Ali, one of the seven organizers of The Daughters of Hajar, spoke at Mills to discuss, in brief, her connection to the organization and read from her book Madras on Rainy Days.

The Daughters of Hajar, an organization advocating women's equality in Islam, is taking the lead in educating women about their rights in the Muslim community and raising awareness of those rights worldwide to combat the perpetuation of women's oppression in Islam, Ali said on Tuesday, Oct. 18.

Though the organization has only been in existence for the past two years, it has already created much needed change for the Muslim community.

On June 4, 2004, seven Muslim women, members of The Daughters, joined by male supporters, marched on a mosque in Morgantown, W. Va. and prayed in its main hall to reclaim their Islamic rights as women.

The leaders of this mosque had requested that all women coming to visit enter into the mosque through the back door and pray, separately from the men, in a balcony.

The Daughters' courageous act worked to reverse the request, and it upheld the rights of all Muslim women to be able to enter in through the main doors and pray in the main halls of all mosques countrywide.

"Meeting someone that courageous makes me want to learn more about what her organization is doing in the U.S.," said Interim Director of the Student Diversity Program Mary Galvez.

Apart from sharing her involvement as part of The Daughters of Hajar with the Mills audience, Ali read a passage from her book that touched on her personal experience of being bicultural, growing up in both America and India.

She said that the most important thing is being educated enough in your religion or faith to choose what you will do for yourself.

"Become thoroughly educated in your religion, no matter what it is, and ask yourself whether you believe it or not," Ali said, speaking of how to end religious oppression.

As a Muslim woman, Ali does not believe that she needs to be liberated by an outside force.

"We can do it ourselves," she said. "We are doing it ourselves."

She shared that many people of other cultures, like Americans, feel that the women of Islam are put down because of their religion, and this idea of religious oppression becomes tangled with the idea of Middle Eastern culture.

Ali noted the importance of defining culture apart from religion and vice versa.

"I hope that women listening will do something or know that doing something to create a change is possible as women," she said, adding that she also believes changes in our society need to come from women – a determining factor in her desire to speak at Mills.

"I think that it's important to have many viewpoints about culture brought up, and I really enjoyed her point about the media's portrayal of culture and religion. It was very educational," said MFA student Shilpa Arora.