Centre for Islamic & Middle Eastern Studies

One-Day Conference: Women, Islam & Resistance in the Arab World

On June 27, 2011 a conference on women, Islamism and resistance in the Arab world took place under the auspices of Birmingham Centre for Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies at the department of Theology and Religion, University of Birmingham. The conference brought together a group of respected specialists who discussed and debated the current discourse between women, Islamism and female forms of resistance in the Arab world.

Opening the conference, Professor George Joffe, from Cambridge University, set the scene for the rest of the papers, by highlighting the complex relationship between women and Islamic activism n the Arab world, especially in light of the current Arab spring. Dr Maria Holt from Westminster University explored the roles of women in the problematic area of “suicide terrorism”; based on research into women’s experiences of Islamic resistance in the Palestinian territories and with reference to the theories of Islamic militancy and violence against women, she argued that, far from being solely a male endeavour, resistance is a crucial method of survival in a situation which human security is severely compromised and the powerlessness of women and men constantly reiterated by the Israeli invasion and occupation. Dr Laura McDonald, from the University of Birmingham, discussed the situation of Islamist women in the Middle East and the implication they have on Muslim women’s activisms in the West. Haifaa Jawad, the organiser and director of the Centre, examined critically the struggle that is taking place in Iraq as a result of the US-Led invasion of that country in 2003 and its impact on the situation of Iraqi women. She also highlighted the involvement of Iraqi women in the resistance movement through the experience of women present at the sense. In the final paper of the conference PhD researcher Elisabeth Buergener from Birmingham University assessed that the situation of women in Syria, asserting that while the Syrian government is using the threat of Islamism to legitimise the suppression of the pro-democracy uprising in the country, the mainstream of the current Islamic movement in Syria is not a political movement. Rather, the example of how women are involved in the Islamic movement through da’wa, the call to greater religious observance, morality and piety, shows that the Islamic movement in Syria is a post-Islamic phenomenon.

Throughout the conference, which included academics, research students, and general public, there were lively and informative discussions, and the feedback was that the topics debated during the conference were topical and timely. The theme of the conference forms part of an on-going joint research project between Haifaa Jawad of Birmingham University and Dr Maria Holt of Westminster University the outcome of which will be a book on Women and Islamic resistance in the Arab World, focusing on Palestine, Lebanon and Iraq.

Haifaa Jawad