A New Perspective on Islam, Women and Identity

I am a woman born in the Dominican Republic, where the most prevailing religions are Catholicism and Christianity. My parents were not critical of other religions, maybe because there were no other religions back home.

Here at the University of Victoria, and mostly though my volunteering with the UVic Global Community, I constantly find myself involved with people from all over the world, and from many different religions.

I have made new friends yet something so important for some of them, such as their religion, had never come to my mind. I had not really asked questions to better understand them, until recently.

I had the opportunity to attend “Discovering Islam,” an event organized by the Muslim Student Association on March 2nd, where different speakers presented different topics. From all of the topics, the one that caught my attention was “Women in Islam,” mostly because of all the images we see in social media nowadays.

I feel that most of the information we get promotes Islam as an oppressing religion for women. Where women are forced to cover their bodies, and of course we–the new generation–cannot accept this. We fight for equal rights, we fight for women’s empowerment and independence and overall we fight for equality.

Nonetheless, many of those misconceptions were shattered that day. I had already heard from my Muslim friends that Islam is a religion that empowers women and that the hijab was not a sign of oppression, but of freedom. It sounds conflicting, no?

Yet I learned that there are logical reasons women choose to cover themselves. No, they are not forced to cover their bodies. There are Muslim women that do not cover their bodies. It is their decision.

I also learned that, as obvious as it might sound, there is a big difference between what Islam is about and the culture of the country where it is practiced.

Did you know that in some countries women are forced to cover their bodies because of their history and cultural background, not because of the religion they follow? The same way it is part of the culture in the Dominican Republic to have the “man of the house” and many times we find that women are actually expected to stay in the kitchen. I can proudly say that these thoughts are changing back home.

“Islam is not something that keeps people away from being the best human being they can be.”

I cannot imagine how hard it must be to be a Muslim woman with all the turmoil going on around the world, yet they cover their bodies and walk with strength and power. Having this sort of conversation happening at UVic is a blessing and an amazing opportunity for leaders to rise in the community.

As a member of this multicultural community, I feel the duty to inform myself. Not because it will help me love more deeply, but because it will help me promote what I consider to be right. To promote acceptance and openness.

The fact that we can have this sort of conversation at the university is also a blessing. I am proud to call UVic my university. It certainly has given me a global perspective, it has connected me to other cultures and has helped me become a more caring human being.

I believe no course can offer this sort of experience and connection and this is only possible because we feel comfortable here. We feel comfortable to be free and talk about what is important to us, whether they are LGBT rights, women’s rights or Islam in the community.

BTW, I know it is finals season, so good luck everyone!

PS. Special thanks to Rawan Mirghani for the beautiful photos! 

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