chapter  8
Muslim Feminists in Western Academia
Pages 13

In September 1994 I was in Cairo, attending the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) and completing the last phases of my fieldwork. The ICPD was an extremely dynamic forum, wherein Egyptian women-of all political convictionsmobilized and vocalized their interests and demands in an unprecedented manner. It was also a forum which brought together Egyptian and Arab women in what was referred to as “the Arab Women’s Caucus”. One of the intentions of this caucus was to coordinate the viewpoints and demands of Arab women active within the parallel NGO Forum and to present these in some coherent and effective fashion to their colleagues in the “official” Conference-being held at a distance which was nominally in close proximity to the venue of the NGO Forum, while nevertheless being conveniently distant. Going into the dynamics of the (un)successfulness of this particular Caucus-interesting though they are-would fall outside the objectives of this text. What should be mentioned, however, is that this was an excellent opportunity for me to come into contact with a great many Egyptian and Arab women who shared my self-same position of being activists in the field at the same time as being involved in Western academic research on the women’s movements in their respective countries. I met altogether twenty-five women from Egypt, Sudan, Jordan, Palestine, Tunisia, Algeria, Libya, and Iraq. They were a dynamic, interesting, and enlightening mix of different characters, backgrounds, political orientations, and approaches to academic work. But they all had several characteristics in common, especially the Muslim faith-though practised or adhered to very differently. Furthermore, these Muslim women were, either directly or indirectly, involved with Islamic studies in the respective Western universities to which they were attached. Each of them was studying and researching the different kinds of women’s activism in her own country and culture, and hence confronting issues of anthropological and social significance in general.