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Halaqah offers intellectual venue for young Muslim women to discuss and challenge ideas

By Hanna Rahman –

The Muslim Students Association (MSA) at Arizona State University (ASU) held its first sister’s halaqah, a religious gathering for learning about Islamic theology, of the year on the evening of Sept. 9. Fifteen women ranging from freshmen to seniors gathered in the university’s Lattie F. Coor Hall to discuss an article by an American Muslim scholar, Dr. Sherman Jackson, on Liberalism and the American Muslim Predicament. The president of MSA, Sarah Syed, led the halaqah.

Dr. Jackson is the King Faisal Chair in Islamic Thought and a professor of religion and American studies and ethnicity at the University of Southern California. He received his PhD from the University of Pennsylvania and is known for his lectures on democracy, Islamic law and political issues.

In the article, Dr. Jackson suggests that while the white community can often speak with no assumed biases and full authority in discussions on “humanity” as a whole, people of color can often only speak about their respective race.

Dr. Jackson further suggests that liberal freedom gives ethnic and minority communities the ability to detach and liberate the individual from the constraints of tradition.

During the discussion of these ideas, Leila Jamal, 18, a freshman from Phoenix, commented, “We are trying to adapt Islam to the Western norm. We see that as if something is wrong with Islam and we shouldn’t have to change anything.”

The turnout was significant for an early MSA event. The halaqah lasted an hour and a half, and Syed focused discussion on questions designed to encourage critical thinking and the sharing of thoughts and comments. Organizers hoped that the small and intimate group of young women allowed participants to speak freely without judgment.

In light of recent anti-Islam protests on the ASU campus as well as at local mosques, the ASU MSA has placed emphasis on providing an opportunity for young Muslim women in particular to speak their mind and engage in discussion about their identity in an intelligent way that draws on respected scholarship.

“I enjoyed this discussion as it allowed me to voice my opinion and see what others had to say. I really like going back and forth with others in intellectual conversation,” said Nafisa Thorpe, 19, a sophomore from Philadelphia.

The MSA hopes that future halaqahs will share the same intimate atmosphere and encourages all sisters to attend and share their opinions. Mariam Fayad, social activities director for the MSA sisterhood, said, “What I personally expect is for people to come in with contrasting opinions, and to discuss why and how their opinions emerged. There are a lot of interpretations of Islam and we want to provide a safe environment for everyone.”


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