09. November 2007
Ambassador Susan McCaw, Minister Abdul Jalil and Farah Pandith.
The Camineum of the National Library in Vienna was packed; more than 300 people joined the conference.
Shirin Tahir-Kheli und Edit Schlaffer
Tahir-Kheli was appointed by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to serve as her Senior Advisor for women’s empowerment, where she will focus on multifaceted outreach to the women of the Muslim world. During her career of service, Ambassador Tahir-Kheli has acted as Head of the United States Delegation to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights and was appointed to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.
Haifa Al Kaylani is well known in international government and business circles as a high-impact change agent focusing on leadership in cultural and gender issues, brining diverse skills and experience to her personal mission of encouraging greater cultural understanding between Arab and international communities and supporting a strong role for women in that process. In 2006, Al Kaylani received recognition as one of 21 Leaders for the 21st Century by Women’s eNews in New York. In 2007, Al Kaylani was named as one of The Muslim Power 100 Leaders in the United Kingdome and received the Education Excellence Award. The Arab International Women´s Forum: www.aiwfonline.co.uk.
Manal Omar, moderator of the second panel, is regional program manager for the
Middle East, Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States at OXFAM. She is a longtime Women without Borders partner and spent several years working and living in Iraq and Jordan.
Ed Husain and Shaukat Warraich from the Right Start Foundation.
Husain is a British writer who, although labeling himself as a “traditionalist”, rejects orthodox Islamic teaching in arguing that Muslim women should be allowed to marry non-Muslim men. In an interview in The New York Times, Husain stated, "In traditional circles, Muslim women are not allowed to marry non-Muslim men...But in a pluralistic world in 2007, where non-Muslim men and Muslim women are marrying, you can't say, 'You can’t do that.'"
As Senior Advisor to the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, Farah Pandith’s focus is on Muslims in Europe and issues relating to countering violent Islamic ideology. Prior to joining the US Department of State, she served as the Director for Middle East Regional Initiatives for the National Security Council and was responsible for coordinating U.S. policy on Muslim World Outreach and the Broader Middle East North Africa initiative.
Parvin Ali ´s FATIMA Women’s Network (www.fatima.org) is a socially responsible women’s network for all women, but with a particular emphasis on women and families from diverse and disadvantaged communities. FATIMA is the only organisation that has been involved with every national initiative for Muslim women including the Preventing Extremism Together Task Force after the 7/7 London bombings. Parvin is also the UK representative for the European Women’s Lobby on issues related to migration and faith, as well as a member of the World Islamic Businesswomen’s Network Task Force. In the Queen’s Birthday Honours List, she was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire for her services to diversity.
Zümrüt Gülbay and Ms. Nas, a delegate from Germany.
Gülbay is Germany’s youngest female university professor ever, where she teachers international commercial law at a specialist college, and is a member of the German Muslim Summit. She embarked on her fast-lane career and completed her studies in a record time of six semesters.
Amr Khaled is a Muslim motivational speaker who promotes grassroots development efforts and has launched an organisation called “The Lifemakers”, which involves youth becoming involved in service projects that will draw them closer to Islam and help them become active in building a better future for their communities. Khaled is also chairman of the UK-based “Right Start Foundation” (www.rightstart.org.uk) that is committed to building bridges between civilizations and nurturing constructive and positive co-existence between cultures, faiths, minority groups, and host communities. Khaled’s popularity lies within a young, middle-class Muslim community, and his success in reaching out to this group stems from his use of everyday language to discuss issues that face people daily.
f.l.t.r.: Ed Husain, Amr Khaled, Shirin Tahir-Kheli, Elisabeth Kasbauer, Parvin Ali, Edit Schlaffer, Zümrüt Gülbay, Farah Pandith, Ambassador Susan McCaw, Dato Seri Shahrizat Binti Abdul Jalil, Haifa al Kaylani
Documentation of the Women without Borders conference. An event in cooperation with the US Embassy Vienna and the US Mission to the European Union
October 18th 2007, National Library Vienna
We would like to thank our speakers, not only for their engagement, but also for their inspiration and commitment.
The conference proved to be an outstanding success and we have received an influx of positive feedback confirming that the diverse backgrounds and varying perspectives of both our speakers and participants, and the value placed on these differences, will contribute to a bright future that includes communities living together in peace and with respect for each other.
We look forward to seeing the ways in which positive and powerful networks of individuals and organizations, as a follow up of the conference, will lead to increased understanding and awareness, and we hope that, when we meet again, it will be in celebration of this ongoing commitment to ourselves and each other.
Edit Schlaffer and the Women without Borders team
Below please see excperts of our distinguished panelists.
Susan McCaw, current US Ambassador to Austria, officially opened the conference:
Today’s conference will try to reflect the reality and also the challenges that we face. It [Muslim issues] also happens to be a very timely subject here in Austria. The last couple of weeks have been the subject of a lot of debate around the Muslim immigration. Even this week, the EU released a survey that ranked Austria near the bottom in terms of its immigration efforts.
Austria interestingly is the only Western European country that recognizes Islam as an official religion. Despite this official status, integration is lacking and remains a highly sensitive issue.
It is important that we discuss the Muslim issue. Whether through birth rates, conversion, or immigration; from Los Angeles to London, from Boston to Brussels, the population of Muslim communities is increasing. And there is every indication that this trend will continue.
We Christians, Jews, Hindus, atheists, and Muslims are living together and we will continue to live together […] but the more important question is how we shall live. Shall we live in segregated, isolated communities where the immigrants and their children are relegated to urban standards where there are limited economic opportunities or shall we live comfortably, as members of a diverse community which respects the other? The choice is easy. But choosing that is not. But it is possible. I think it has a lot to do with misperception and misunderstanding. In survey after survey, many non-Muslims in Europe and in America simply do not understand Islam. As we advance the ladder of integration of Muslim, we will achieve greater success […] in the appreciation of Islam. In doing so, we must not forget the important role of women […]. There are various areas where women touch in society. Women are the ones who dedicate themselves in raising and educating the children. They are the ones who are essential components in the fabric of the family, neighborhood, and the community. Generally, it is the women who are providing and supervising the health care of the family […]. If we succeed in integrating women in the larger community, their husbands, fathers, and sons will follow.
Edit Schlaffer, Founder and Chair of Women without Borders:
The post 9/11 world is one of heightened awareness. From North America to Southeast Asia, populations of diverse cultural and ethnic backgrounds are more conscious of each other’s presence, and age-old fears of the ‘other’ have been revived. But these fears have no place in a world in which we work and live so closely together. Muslim populations of the United States and Europe are no longer a minority.
But how involved are Muslim women in terms of numbers? How can Muslim women confidently participate and contribute to their societies and operate as a visible force for positive change? How can young Muslim males find their place alongside their female counterparts in a transforming society?
Encouraging the active participation of Muslim women in the public sphere will be one of the pressing challenges of the next decade.
With all these challenges, questions and hopes, we begin our expedition into the future, and notice that the waters upon which we sail can be rough.
This expedition begins at a crucial point in history. Only a few days ago, prominent Muslims went public in voicing their fears of the future, urging Christians to join them in establishing a world in which the two religions can peacefully coexist.
But are calls for mutual respect enough?
We also must consider the younger generation: the future. We should enable them to formulate their own solutions which they can identify with. Such competent young adults can help to shape an integrated, productive, and peaceful Europe in the future.
So with this said, we set sail on the expedition. In order to travel safely, our tools must be words, not weapons.
We need to sharpen and polish these tools and must begin with asking the right questions.
This is why we are here today: to listen with an open mind, and to discuss critically, but fairly. If we fail to do this, feelings of frustration and exclusion will prevail and parallel societies will become the norm.
We have created a female-dominant panel because we believe women are bringing about change through words and meaning, not violence and weapons. Women have created a different landscape across the world and if Muslim and non-Muslim women are ready to build a sustainable alliance, they will be the driving forces of change in our societies. From Riyadh to New York, from Amsterdam to Ankara, the knowledge society becomes female. We must appreciate and make use of this new female talent pool – whether she travels in miniskirts, business suits, abayas or hijabs.
Senior Advisor for Women’s Empowerment Office of the Secretary of State, US Department of State
Brave men and women are speaking out about the kind of reforms that they seek for their own countries including political choice and human rights, transparency and laws that enable opportunity and innovation, the creation of educational systems that produce skilled graduates ready to enter the workforce and, most notably, their full political and economic participation. This conversation includes a focus on the empowerment and the expansion of their rights in every aspect of society,
The universal longing for freedom and dignity is surely beginning to transform the Muslim world. In places like Iraq, Afghanistan, and Lebanon, citizens are boldly declaring that the future of Islam does not lie in empty ideologies of terrorist violence, but in the growing chorus of democratic reform that can be heard today throughout the Islamic world.
Islam is not a new religion. It has centuries-old history of literature, mathematics, poetry, art, and architecture […]. It is an extended interregnum between years gone by and the hopeful future of ‘living together’ that is our focus here today.
We need to rally the voices of Muslims who can speak most directly to millions in the Arab world left behind in the global movement toward prosperity and freedom […]. We must encourage more Muslim leaders to add their voices, to speak out against radical extremists who infiltrate mosques, to denounce organisations that use the veneer of Islamic belief to support and fund acts of violence.
Dato’ Seri Shahrizat Binti Abdul Jalil
Minister of Women, Family, and Community Development, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
As I understand what I read, the world thinks about Muslim women as oppressed, disempowered, and often in need of patronage, subservient and slave, especially to the men, without a voice, certainly with no sense of humor, possibly uneducated, not worldly, a victim of polygamy and the worst in this millennium, or victims of genitalia mutilation, and so many other negative perceptions.
Malaysia is a multi-racial and multi-religious country of some 26.6 million people of whom 60.8% are Muslim, 18.9% are Buddhists (mostly Chinese), and Christians…about 10%, Hindus are about 6.5%.
When Kofi Annan came to Malaysia in July 2007, this was his speech and I quote: “Malaysia’s enviable system of religious realism can play an important role in a world dangerously divided by religious faith”. How true! Now how do we do it? I can tell you it was not by chance. It was the combined wisdom and effort of both the government and our people. We are a constitutional monarchy, yes we are a Muslim country and we are a democracy.
There is no separate world between Muslims and non-Muslims in Malaysia and we have been able to bridge the difference because we love what we are without hating what we are not. A government can have Islamic values without the level of being Islamic. Today in the West, much has been talked about the clash of civilization or clash of fundamental interests, which certainly has led to mistrust, fear, and prejudices like Islamophobia and even war.
I believe, of course, with due respect to all who were affected, that we have to move on from 9/11. It is very sad that it would appear that every Muslim may have to pay the price of 9/11. No self-respecting Muslim will ever say that what happened on 9/11 is something good.
I would like to extend a hand to everybody to say that the time has come for all of us to be together and enjoy and celebrate diversity that exist in the world and look at all of us as one. I think we can only achieve this if we are honest in making sure that we do not make a political or an economic agenda out of Islam.
Haifa al Kaylani,
Founder and Chairwoman, Arab International Women’s Forum, London
I am delighted to share with you my experience as an Arab British Muslim woman living in Europe […]. I was born in Palestine, brought up in Lebanon, educated in England, and married to a Jordanian, and for more than 20 years have been a UK citizen, living in London while maintaining homes in the Arab region.
We are living in one world united by technologies that make distances shrink and bring economies together. The advantages of these new technologies, however, are too unevenly distributed. This imbalance in the distribution of our world’s resources and our labour’s fruits between regions, countries, genders, generations, and ethnic groups is one of the core problems to the theme of today’s meeting – living together – but how?
There is no one single approach that can assure a peaceful and enriching life together among the many different groups of Muslim immigrants that have moved to Europe over the last 50 years and those born here. There are many differences between Muslim immigrants socially, ethnically, culturally, and religiously; there is no Muslim voice, either in Europe or elsewhere, that can speak for all.
There are Muslims in Europe who see their identity as resting on the concept of Umma, but there is also a growing group of young Muslims born in Europe who wholeheartedly identify themselves in their values, behavior, and appearance as Europeans as do their Christian, Jewish, or secular neighbors, partners, and colleagues.
Europe is losing out because of this failure to successfully implement its laws promoting equality and banning all forms of discrimination, a failure increasingly turned into political virtue by parties and governments pushing tougher policies and laws against immigration and enforcing integration and identity change.
Improving opportunities for participation in political, economic, and cultural affairs and reducing segregation are important strategies for enlarging our common room and making it a true space for dialogue, cooperation, and integration.
Even in countries with the highest employment rate among male Muslim immigrants – Great Britain and Germany – 37% of them are without a job and thus an income. 65% of Muslim immigrant women remain outside the labour market. Improving education and job opportunities for immigrant Muslim women will better the chances for their children and increase the prosperity for their families and local communities.
Finding the right tone for the debates is an important strategy to make the common room a place where many of us wish to be.
author of The Islamist, a former Islamist radical, London
I am going to be brutally honest about my take on this theme of co-existence and how Muslims and others can live together, but I strongly feel that it is about time that we should address these issues openly, candidly, and without pulling punches and trying to be inoffensive.
All changed the moment I went to secondary school. There I was suddenly in an environment where I felt I am not comfortable in. It was all male, all Muslims, and predominantly Asians. For five years I was exposed to what I call now a mono-cultural ghetto as opposed to a multicultural experience.
By the age of 16, despite being born and raised in Britain, I found myself having no non-Muslim friend, no white friend, no female friend, and my experience was not unique. I had two options at 16 or 17 in terms of what sort of people I should hang out with, people I should befriend. One was newly arrived immigrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka and so on who I did not identify with […]. There was a second option, which is getting involved in a gang culture like drugs, gang violence, and so on where people like me didn’t feel that here we belong. I came from an orthodox religious family as many of my generation did, and we had a certain affinity toward religion. So my parents and I started getting involved with a certain mosque in London. Initially, it was a social network. It was about having a desire to have friends, a desire to fit in […]. Slowly I found myself at odds with my parents. I was reading books written by people like Maududi. Those who know a little bit of Pakistan know that he who created the organisation called Jamaat-e-Islam, which is a strong Islamist organisation in the Indian sub-continent. I found myself books written by Sayyid Qutb, a man who was hanged by Egyptian government for writing Milestones […]. I can tell you these books give you a certain mindset, a certain worldview. These books told me for five years in my life that Islam was not a religion; rather it was an ideology, a political movement, which was there to cause a revolution, to throw the West.
That sort of rhetoric of extremism, confrontation, the desire to see destruction has been seeded in me at age 16, 17, and 18 thanks to reading these books and hanging out with people who are called Islamist.
Between 1991 and 1994 millions of Muslims were uprooted, thrown own, raped, abused in Bosnia. As a British teenager in London, I was then exposed to radical Islamists, political Muslims coming onto our streets and saying, “Look, Bosnian Muslims are white, blond, blue-eyed, have been living in Europe for over six hundred years and yet Orthodox Christian Serbs are killing them in thousands. What chance does someone like me have in the long run in Britain? That’s a powerful question for an 18-year-old to contend with.
Muslims living in Europe have a transient mentality of going away of going back home someday, wherever that is. I have got news for you: This is home, we belong here. We are born and raised here. And we are European Muslims. How do you deal with that?
First thing is to root Muslims to Europe and that includes, on the part of the mainstream native European population, to stop seeing Muslims as guest workers.
The ghettos built up around Europe need to be broken, disseminated, whatever you want to do, but they need to end. In my view, integration is a two-way street. There is no point calling the mainstream Europeans to embrace Muslims, the Muslims need to start embracing the mainstream Europe as well.
And here the changing role of Muslim women has to come up. I don’t say that as a cliché and I don’t say that because this is a Women without Borders’ event, but I recently had a baby daughter, three months old, named Camilla. I look at her and I think how it feels to grow up in a world when she is 21 or 22 […]. Her testimony in court…how about that? Two women’s testimony equal to one man’s. Do I want to inherit whatever wealth I have that she only gets half of what my son will get, one third of what my son will get? I am not questioning the Quran, I am just asking the Muslims to update themselves.
Farah Pandith, Senior Advisor, Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, US State Department, Washington, USA
The most recent German Marshall Fund survey found a significant spike in the percentage of Europeans who feared that immigration, terrorism, and Islamic fundamentalism would impact their lives directly […]. On the question of immigration, the portion of people who said it was likely to affect them personally went from half to two thirds. At the same time, surveys of immigrants in Europe reveal they do not feel welcome and that, in fact, many feel they are not European. To understand does not mean to agree in all cases. It does not mean to justify the extremists on both sides who seem to monopolize debate […]. We aim to understand the problem so we can solve it, and therefore deny the extremists the very oxygen they need to survive.
The first is, what are the forces preventing integration? By forces, I don’t mean anything sinister or conspiratorial. I mean, technological, economic, and cultural forces, both internal to the immigrant population in Europe and to the indigenous European populations.
There’s a question of whether these differences have deepened, paradoxically, especially among the generations that were born here. The question is whether these European-born Muslims integrate into their societies less than their parents who were born outside. The question is whether, in their search for identity, Islam has become for Muslim youth a matter of identity more than of religion. And, if it has, does that matter?
While the generation that immigrated was forced to watch Austrian, French, or German programming, their kids sometimes have grown up or live in “virtual Morocco” or “virtual Algeria” – they may live in Antwerp physically, but the TV programming they watch, the websites they visit, and the music they hear comes from elsewhere.
How can you be both modern and honour your cultural and religious traditions, for example? How can you balance the various nuances so you value all of your identities? How can you be a Muslim in Europe?
The status of women within society is worth looking at apart. The “culture-within-the-culture” situation in which Muslims find themselves has continued practices relating to dress, marriage, and the like that are not acceptable in European societies. But many of these practices are the result of cultural traditions rather than Quranic injunctions.
Constraints on women’s freedoms, especially of movement, dress, and action cannot always be squared with laws in Europe or America, or indeed with societal norms. Also, the women must be educated on what the Quran says on their rights. They must be able to read it for themselves.
The trick is to make the success of Muslim women a point of pride for the community and the family. Muslim women have shown themselves to be avid learners, good students and great workers, and inspiring leaders when they enter the workforce. Anything that can be done to increase the talent pool of Muslim women and raise their profile and role in the broader society would contribute to a solution.
Parvin Ali OBE, Founder and Director of the FATIMA Women’s Network, Leicester, UK
Muslims are able to live today harmoniously only if they could address the issue of confused identity, ignorance about faith, and poor leadership opportunities for women.
It is apparent that Muslims have to speak out about the challenges of terrorism. Despite the overall condemnation that the Muslim population worldwide faced among them, a very few have managed to gather the courage to speak about the religious paradox about this crime against humanity.
Non-Muslims are looking to Muslims to articulate and demystify that face and also to disseminate to the audience and these Muslims have already feared and have never really chosen to explore in detail. Not only that they are very ignorant about their own faith, but their practices are not predicated on any religious faith. They are simply tribal practices. The voices that were heard are generally those of Muslims who are reported as ethnic Muslims arguing that ethnicity is the primary marker of identity for Muslims.
Muslim women are beginning to wake up to the fact that even if they choose their faith over culture and wear their hijab, they are not going to be granted the basic human rights such as having free access to the mosque or executive positions within the community, or trusted to speak with the authority on their faith, or even make important decisions about families’ welfare and education.
Young people try to find a way to negotiate and survive, But they live a schizophrenic life based on simultaneously pleasing their parents and their community while also pursuing activities whether they can drop the act of conformity with the image of being a practicing Muslim. In the UK, where you have access to free education, free health care, and good living standards, these Muslim youth are proportionally more likely to be unemployed, have lower levels of education, and to commit anti-social behaviour than non-Muslims. For young Muslim women, the picture is more poignant. They are often well-educated but fail to secure employment commensurate with their skills and, consequently, take low paid or part-time work.
Organisations like Fatima are asking the government to truly understand how diverse the Muslim communities are. Because of this, it is more critical for women to have their own voices as, too often, their voice is round out by the stronger one, by most mafias who believe that women should neither be seen nor heard.
Increasingly, Muslim women are recognizing the power they can access once they understand that religion is to a great extent a human construction and that, therefore, it is perfectly acceptable for them to question it and challenge the religious laws. The role of organisations like Fatima is to empower the women to reconstruct their religion through new cultural, religious, and legal knowledge. Human rights emerge or are reconstructed through participation, primarily basing on the cultural community and ultimately reaching the civil society.
With developing leadership and building social capital, we believe that the Muslim women will bring transformational change and also ensure that Islam is actually culturally relevant to UK Muslims today.
Fachhochschule Anhalt in Bernburg, member of the German Muslim Summit, Berlin, Germany
If Muslims demand respect and space, they are right and they have to get this. They have to get respect and space in every society. But allow me to demand something for other groups, like for the Christians or for the secular people. They also have the right to get respect.
To start to talk to each other is just the start. The result of talking to each other should be the respect of each group, not just tolerance. I don’t like this word. Tolerance is like “oh you are not so cute but I like you.” I mean respect […]. Let us look at real life. I will give you some example of this real life. I am part of the Muslim community and I recognize a lot of things. If they talk about Christianity or secular people and if they talk about atheists and the pork eater, is it disrespect? No. But if we don’t give them the respect, then how could we expect respect from them?
We educate our children to be proud of our root, their religion, and that is good that we do that. Everyone should be proud of who they are and what their religion is. But in the same way, we have to teach our children to be respectful of other cultures and religions. If we don’t do that, we don’t fulfill the duties of our religion.
I expect everyone, irrespective of their religion, to accept this democratic structure, which is the decision of the majority. And, of course, every minority has the right to find space in the society. But the minority has to realize that living peacefully together means to compromise. You cannot live in a majority situation and expect everything that you wish to be fulfilled.
Let me go back to the constitution, I believe in one thing. I believe that with our democracy, and in the middle of Europe, it is possible to live together with everybody, ever religion. And if we agree with these fundamentals, if we all respect and accept this democracy, we will find everyone of different question about living together very flexible with different answers. Some of them would be popular, some of them would be unpopular, but none of them would be part of any extreme position.
Amr Khaled, Journalist, Founder and Chairman of the Right Start Foundation International, Birmingham, UK
If you want to build a better future for the Muslim women and youth here in Europe, we first need to convince them with this message: “Say yes to the positive integration with the mainstream European society and maintaining his or her roots, his culture, and his values”. In the Western civilization, the materialistic issues are very important and in the East, the feeling and emotional and spiritual issues are much more important than anything else. This is their culture. And there are many things that can harm Muslims in their feelings […]. If you want positive integration, if you want to live together as a family, the emotional, spiritual feelings, which are very important for some of the members have to be sensitively taken care of.
We need to listen to the women and youth in Europe. We need to listen to their problems, needs, hopes, and aspirations. And after we listen to them, we need to open a dialogue with them. I asked the women and the youth in the Middle East and Europe to send their dreams to my website. Can you imagine how many dreams I got? 700,000 dreams after two months! I asked them to prioritize their dreams and in the women’s section the women said they wanted to participate in their societies, they want to contribute.
The media and the world leaders always focus on the differences between the Muslims and the West. I believe that the commonalities are much bigger than the differences. Why are we talking about differences? Do we want to clash? By doing this, we are putting the moderate voices in the Middle East in a very critical situation and we give the chance to the extremists to start the fire.
I did a survey amongst youth last year to ask them if they are ready to start their small business. And I told them that for doing so they need partnership with the West, with the multinational companies.
90% of the Arab Muslim said that they are ready to extend their hands to anybody, to any organisations who can help them for a better future. The majority of the Arab Muslim youth want to build and not to destroy.
Please click on the links below for some media reports:
"The gender agenda" - The Guardian (from Ed Husain)
"Zusammen leben, aber wie?" - "Living together, but how?" Kurier - german
"Für Frauen-Power in der muslimischen Welt" - "For female power in the muslim world" Der Standard - german
"One Man, Two Cultures. A British Islamist Steps Out". From Edit Schlaffer
"Ich bin eine mediterrane Preußin" . "I am a mediterranean German" - Kurier (german)
"Facing the Realities of Islam in the West" - The Vienna Review
"We, the enlightened Muslims" - "Wir, die erleuchteten Vollzeit-Muslime" - Die Presse