Added: Alli Alfaro - Date: 08.05.2022 08:27 - Views: 11160 - Clicks: 589
Written by: Naima Bouteldja. I have been in Al Houda since I was It provides a religious framework for Muslim women and young girls living in Rennes. We work quite a lot in the mosques and, for the last ten years, what has characterised Al Houda has been the Sunday morning classes. They take place every single Sunday in a mosque in Rennes and enable Muslim women to meet, to deepen their knowledge of Islam, and it also allows them to share the experience of being a female Muslim and what it is like to live as a female Muslim in France.
Nowadays the Village of the Associations is spread across the whole month of March in the form of a series of conferences, meetings and debates that are organised by local organisations in partnership with the city of Rennes. They basically introduce their activities to the public. They gather under a big marquee right in the town centre and their activities are advertised by the city of Rennes. So each year, up until now, we were systematically met with rejection with the exception of one year where we managed to appear on the official booklet of the programme.
In fact, we only managed to secure a listing in the official programme of a conference we were organising, but it was something. And then camethe year with all the controversies around the issue of the hecarf, a controversy that fed all the popular fears.
For many months, and at least until mid, there was an amazing flood of racist and xenophobic rhetoric. You saw the re-emergence of the figure of the barbarian that had been manufactured during colonisation as well as the figure of the veiled woman either submissive through force or in the pocket of fundamentalist networks.
At the beginning of the academic year, again we asked to participate in the Village of the Associations. And since we were slap-bang in the middle of the controversy it all kicked off. So basically the town hall had gathered all the local associations to decide whether it was possible that our association could integrate into the Village of the Associations. In fact the meeting was unbelievably harsh with us and conducted in an atmosphere of total contempt and rejection. But this time, we told ourselves that what had just happened was unacceptable; and it was even more unacceptable as not a single organisation had supported us during the meeting, so we really had been alone.
What is it that allows you to imply that we, essentially, support stoning? So we decided to take the City of Rennes to court but we made a practical mistake by not using the right judicial procedure. The court could have refused our demand solely on the basis of this mistake and it would have then been entitled to close the case. We went to see solicitors who told us that we had two years to appeal but they advised us not to do so, and, anyway, by the end of the hearing, whose decision we received in March, we were exhausted.
We had taken a lot of pressure and we really needed a break. We had decided we wanted to be treated as equal, we had decided not to keep silent, we had decided not to bow our he, but ultimately at the end of it we just reaped two years worth of national controversy and intense media attention that contributed in unveiling an evident racism within French society. We were even told at that time, to show you how far communication had broken down, that we were operating in the field of irrationality.
So, when you get to that point, there is no longer any possibility of dialogue. But the breakdown in communication was not coming from us, in the sense that we carried on inviting representatives of local organisations, we carried on inviting the elected representatives of Rennes to our activities, and we did not despair either and we still submitted our requests for public funding laughter. No, now we are completely ignored. Before the hearing there was at least some kind of dialogue and they would answer us, but, since then, nothing.
Recently, during a town council meeting, we heard that the mayor of the city of Rennes himself said that we were a fundamentalist sect that wanted to veil women in the banlieues, so we really are totally stigmatised and dialogue is no longer possible. But at a local level in Rennes, we have very little support. We are in touch with some activists but they always work with us as individuals and not as representatives of their respective organisations. So we are in touch with members of the Revolutionary Communist Youth who actually have always been on our side and we also work with some activists from the Green Party with whom we managed in the past to organise debates on Palestine.
We survive on collections. We collect money in the mosques, we ask for money from individuals we know, and there is also the money from the individual subscriptions. Then we self-finance ourselves: for every debate we organise, we ask the public to pay a fee, which allows us to reimburse the travel expenses of the panellists and the price of the room. We really have slender means and every year we are left with no money in our bank. The Sunday morning classes are really the basis of everything. They provide a meeting space for both young and older women.
The teenagers, in general, participate in our theatre workshop. The Muslim families of Rennes know that there is this halaqa Islamic educational meeting on Sunday mornings and all our activities start from these meetings. In other words, some people come and propose themes for events as well as conferences they would like to organise or attend for the coming year, and then, from that point, we share the tasks amongst ourselves. Really the space we have created connects many different things: we work as much on social as on political issues.
We also self-educate and train ourselves and we are part of Presence Musulmane  which supplies us with an interesting educational framework.
We felt that was necessary because of the very high local demand and also because we have witnessed the emergence of a strain of literalist religious thought, that was very marginal in the past but is starting to affect more and more Muslims. The struggle against this school of thought is also one of our objectives. We want to confront it just by being ourselves, by remaining active and by speaking out, as Muslim women.
For example, the very presence of a veiled Muslim woman distributing leaflets in a market provides a counterbalance to emergent salafist thought, not just in the banlieues, as often said, but in all social spheres. Within Al Houda we define ourselves as feminist in this way. As for Muslim feminism, personally it starts from a very deep spirituality. We begin with the spiritual idea of equality before God, to state that all issues related to discrimination, all logic that reduces women to objects, women to their role as mothers, their role as spouses, their role as daughters — basically everything that is opposed to the principle of equality and justice — we have to struggle against because we need to remain faithful to a message that came to empower women.
This idea that Islam came to emancipate women can sound quite odd to many people and it also generally contradicts practices one can observe in many Muslim societies.
Second, within a context where, on the one hand, international news introduces western audiences to a caricature of fundamentalist and sexist religious groups, and where, on the other hand, the concrete realities of the Muslim world itself in terms of legislation, for example, on the family code and in terms of social relations where women are often relegated to the private sphere, suffering domestic violence etc are undoubtedly disastrous in relation to women.
In Afghanistan, for example, it is a whole people who are being deprived of elementary rights such as security, health, access to education and women, as in every society, are at the bottom of the social hierarchy. Afghan women at all levels suffer on two counts from insecurity, poverty and sexism, with the American occupation adding to difficulties.
For us, the Revelation carried an egalitarian and empowering message for women, and it is our duty to distinguish between contextual readings that, when applied through the lens of cultural patriarchy and sexism, pervert the sense of the Revelation, and the readings that are faithful to the meaning of the message.
We had an experience with the Collective of Feminists for Equality , of which I was a member alongside other members of Al Houda. And it was a very rich experience because they were feminists from all kinds of backgrounds. We spent one year campaigning in this collective and eventually chose to return to local issues and to concentrate on the work in our city of Rennes and in particular to concentrate on intra-community issues that had been neglected over the years. Now, generally speaking, the French feminist landscape remains very divided in its opinion of us, so the feminists that we are working with are those who have really developed a critique of colonialism.
In fact, we found ourselves in a similar scenario to that of our other struggles. We ended up working with feminists who had already worked a lot on, for example, the issue of the sans-papiers and on racism. As far as I am concerned, I am a western woman and I have been deeply shaped and influenced by western feminist literature. I have, of course, a greater sensibility towards African-American feminist literature. Of course, I will differ on some of their stances because they will oppose my spiritual legacy.
I feel totally an heir of it all. Simone de Beauvoir is very relevant for me. We will carry on with our local activities — organising conferences and classes — but what we really have our hearts set on, at this moment in time, is the work on this issue of feminism in Islam. Al Houda. She was also one of the original eleven atories, alongside Hirsi Ali and Salman Rushdie, of the manifesto, 'Together facing the new totalitarianism'.
It includes both non-Muslim and Muslim feminists and its charter states there is no 'one single model of liberation and emancipation for women' and calls for respect for freedom of choice on the wearing of the hecarf. The Institute of Race Relations is precluded from expressing a corporate view: any opinions expressed are therefore those of the authors. This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.
A Muslim feminist in France speaks out. How did you get involved in Al Houda? Could you explain the controversy at the core of the play presented at the Forum by your organisation? And do the local representatives respond positively to your invitations? Still, do you have any relationship with left wing, anti-racist and civil rights organisations? Do you receive public subsidies? How many members in Al Houda? We about thirty, with around a dozen who are very active.
How would you describe the role of your organisation? Coming back to your own studies now, how do you define Muslim feminism? What are your relationships like with French feminists, generally speaking? What are your future projects? Connect with. When you first time using a Social button, we collect your public profile information shared by Social provider, based on your privacy settings.
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A Muslim feminist in France speaks out