PORTLAND, Maine — Two days before delivering the University of Maine School of Law’s Justice for Women lecture, human rights advocate Zainah Anwar met with high school students in Portland and Lewiston to discuss life as a young Muslim woman in Maine.
Anwar of Malaysia said Wednesday that she told young women from Deering and Lewiston high schools that the Muslim world is changing and that Islam recognizes equality and justice.
“It was an opportunity to talk about issues,” she said. “We talked about what the Quran says on various issues — polygamy, hijab, modesty — and some of them said they wanted to form a girls’ group.”
The teens told Anwar about pressures to dress a certain way — one girl spoke of wanting to wear pants, while another described her mother’s concerns about hijab — and described difficult encounters in shopping malls when people comment on their hijab, telling them to “go home.”
Anwar is a founding member of Sisters in Islam, an organization focused on ending the use of Islam to justify discrimination against women, and director of Musawah, a global movement that has brought together scholars and activists from more than 50 countries “to produce new feminist scholarship in Islam, to train activists on women’s rights in Islam, and to challenge the evasion of human rights standards,” according to a release.
She is a former member of the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia, is the author of “Islamic Revivalism in Malaysia: Dakwah Among Students,” and writes a column, Sharing the Nation, for The Star.
Anwar said Wednesday that the language she and others have heard from President Donald Trump’s administration “is no different than the Muslim extremists.”
“It’s the language of exclusion and the language of fear and threats,” she said. “They’re using God to justify misogyny and using God to justify the kinds of actions they want to take, whether it’s on the issue of abortion or men and women’s relationships, or men’s superiority, or misogyny. That exclusivist language and invoking God’s name to perpetuate the patriarch and … to violate human rights.”
Anwar will deliver the law school’s sixth annual Justice for Women Lecture, “What Islam, Whose Islam? The Struggle for Women’s Right to Equality and Justice in Muslim Contexts,” on Thursday evening in the Abromson Community Education Center.
She will describe the work being undertaken in the Muslim world, “particularly the dominant understanding of Islam in the U.S. — that it’s oppressive, that it’s violent, and that it breeds extremism. But there’s a lot of change going on in the Muslim world — new scholarship that upholds equality and justice and the possibility of reform to bring awareness of all that is changing with human rights and women’s rights.”