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Islam Awareness Week Aims To Promote Understanding

April 4, 2006
By FRANCES GRANDY TAYLOR, Courant Staff Writer

Though Islam is viewed by many as a faith that restricts a woman's freedom, four of every five converts to Islam in America are women, says Jane I. Smith, who has studied the experiences of American Muslims in general, and American Muslim women in particular.

Smith is one of several scholars attempting to dispel stereotypes and misconceptions about Islam this week during the first "Islam Awareness Week" at Trinity College.

"Bridging the Gap: Islam's True Colors" includes daily events through Friday that explore topics ranging from the controversy over images of Muhammad to the pressures faced by Muslim students on college campuses.

There is a real curiosity among non-Muslims about Islam and women, said Smith, a professor of Islamic Studies and Christian-Muslim relations at Hartford Seminary, and much of that interest is focused on the veil or the headscarf, and images of women in Afghanistan who are oppressed by society.

"In America," Smith said, "Muslim women are not confined to the home, and they have all kinds of opportunities for participation in public life, in ways that women don't always have in other places. ... American Islam for the most part welcomes this, and encourages women to claim their role in society."

Smith's new book, "Muslim Women In America: The Challenge of Islamic Identity Today," is one of several recently released that look at the lives of American Muslim women. Smith said American Muslim women are taking new roles in their faith.

"They are learning Koranic recitation and meeting in study groups to discuss religious matters. ... It is definitely the case here that they are taking roles that are not common" in other places, Smith said. Women are attracted to Islam by its daily rituals and its "clear message of one God," she said.

Tuba Nur, a practicing Muslim from Germany, said the differences between cultural tradition and religion in Islam need to be better understood.

"Arranged marriages, for example, are not religious issues; that is a tradition of a society," said Nur, a Turkish-German Muslim woman who specializes in Christian-Muslim relations. Nur will discuss the rights of women according to the Koran and the Hadith, a book which contains the sayings of Muhammad.

"A woman can work, but she is not obligated to share her money in the way the man does; she is not obligated to do housework; if she does it, it will be rewarded by God as an act of charity," Nur said. "I think there is a lot about the rights of women that many Muslim women and men don't always know about."

The recent storm of controversy over the Danish caricatures of Muhammad showed the broad range of religious sensibilities.

"The image of Muhammad has become distorted. Many people perceive him in light of current political events," said Hisham Mahmoud, a lecturer at Yale University who will speak Wednesday evening about the life and times of Muhammad and how Muslims view him.

Muslims consider any depictions of the prophets - from Moses to Jesus to Muhammad - offensive because all are seen as sacred, he said. "Depictions of God as a man with a white beard on `The Simpsons' or `The Family Guy' are just as offensive."

Among the free, public events that are planned as part of "Bridging the Gap: Islam's True Colors" at Trinity College:

A lecture by Jane Smith on "American Muslims: What Are They Facing Now?" tonight at 7, Mather Hall, Terrace Room C.

A lecture and discussion by Hisham Mahmoud on "Prophet Muhammad Through Muslim Eyes," Wednesday at 6 p.m. at ASAA House, 65 Vernon St.; dinner will be served.

"A Conversation on Islam and Women with a Muslim Woman," with Tuba Nur, Thursday at noon at Mather Hall, Terrace Room C. Lunch will be served.

Open prayer service and Q&A with Muslim Chaplain Sohaib Sultan, Friday at 12:30 p.m., Rittenberg Lounge in Mather Hall.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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