Asma Uddin will speak on feminism and Islam at the Rothko Chapel as part of their “Concept of the Divine” series.
Asma Uddin will speak on feminism and Islam at the Rothko Chapel as part of their “Concept of the Divine” series.
Photo courtesy of Asma Uddin

Headscarves Can Be Empowering, Says Asma Uddin

After 9/11, when the dominant rhetoric claimed Islam was oppressive to women’s rights, Asma Uddin found herself in the midst of a religious crisis. She almost lost her faith completely. But that very questioning led to the work she does today as a lawyer specializing in religious freedom and as the founder of a web magazine, altMuslimah, which explores gender and Islam. That’s the story she’ll share in Feminist Perspectives of the Divine in Islam, the final installment in the Rothko Chapel’s “Concept of the Divine” series.

“The topic is less an academic or legal approach to women’s rights in Islam [and] more so the experience of contending with gender issues in the context of a relationship with God,” says Uddin. “Religion isn’t something that for a lot of us you can just give it to us and we’ll accept it and implement it perfectly and not have any questions.”

Uddin admits that her personal journey has been messy, but she thinks it “captures the true nature of what these issues are and how we contend with it in terms of our lived experiences. [I hope the audience can] see through my story how everything they thought was so black and white isn’t; it’s quite nuanced, and quite human and relatable.”

The questions Uddin says she’s had to contend with became explicit while she was in college, and they reflected the dynamic both in and out of the Muslim community. “A lot of people who are not Muslim, when they think about Islam, they think about the woman who is covered,” says Uddin. “How can that be empowering? How is that compatible with a feminist perspective?”

Ultimately, Uddin came to the conclusion that “feminism has to be about choice, even if that choice is something that you perceive as anti-feminist or anti-women’s rights or anti-empowerment.”

But Uddin hopes audiences see through to the other side too, to women who have taken an item like the hijab to the next level, like the modest Muslim fashionistas on social media who have turned it into a fashion statement. “Even Nike has produced a headscarf,” adds Uddin.

Asma Uddin will speak at 7 p.m. May 25 at the Rothko Chapel, 3900 Yupon. For more information, call 713-524-9839 or visit rothkochapel.org. Free, with a suggested $10 donation.

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