Gender in the Muslim Atlantic Workshop

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This spring we launched the first Muslim Atlantic workshop at the annual British Islam Conference held by New Horizons in British Islam in London. As a part of the Bridging Voices project, these roundtable workshop sessions worked around the theme of ‘Gender in the Muslim Atlantic’ and focused on the sparking discussions on difficult issues including sexuality, abuse in the post #MeToo era and gender lines in Muslim communities across the Atlantic.

We structured the workshop sessions to build progressively through Islam and gender-related themes, beginning with ‘comparing the UK and US’, then ‘the impact of #MeToo and social media’, and finally looking at ‘intersections of race, class, and discrimination’.

At the heart of these discussions were questions like;

What are the pressing debates within Muslim communities about gender in the UK and the US today? How do the two contexts compare when it comes to this issue? What aspects are relatable between the two settings and what gets lost in transatlantic translation? How do the common experiences raised by #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter play out in these two contexts? Why do Muslim communities find it difficult to face issues of abuse and discrimination in their communities? What role does social media play in the lives of Muslims across the Atlantic?

One of our main aims in this Bridging Voices project has been to promote transatlantic conversations among Muslims. So we invited three female Muslim contributors each from the US and from the UK to kick off our conversations. Dr Shabana Mir, Dr Kayla Wheeler, and Dr Sylvia Chan-Malik joined us from the US, and from the UK, we had Dr Shuruq Naguib, Dr Khadijah Elshayyal, and Dr Zainab Kabba. They represented a range of institutions, from Rutgers University to Cambridge Muslim College.

The sessions flowed naturally and led to lively conversations, debates, and the sharing of perceptions and experiences across British and American contexts. Our contributors gelled brilliantly together and had much to say in the conversations, while happily sharing the floor time with a very diverse set of scholars, activists, and members of the public. A range of ages was represented from teenagers to retirees who chose to join the roundtables and moved the debates forward.

The most heated conversations came in the session on the #MeToo movement when we discussed Muslim public figures who have come under fire for alleged sexual harassment and the culture of deference to Muslim celebrities that has made these cases difficult to challenge and in some cases, encouraged victim-blaming. All three sessions raised key transatlantic differences in how Muslims discuss and experience issues of gender, particularly when it comes to intersections with race (salient in the US) and postcolonial dimensions (salient in the UK). As the first in a series of workshops of this kind, these sessions confirmed there's so much to be gained from these kinds of transatlantic dialogues and raised a range of key questions for us to track in the continued work of the project. We hope you can join us as we continue this exciting journey!

The Muslim Atlantic