Feminist theologian to discuss rights of women in Islam

Riffat Hassan, a feminist theologian and professor of humanities and religious studies at the University of Louisville, will discuss Women in Islam: A Feminist Perspective at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 13, in the Edmund S. Muskie Archives, 70 Campus Ave. The public is invited to attend the annual Rayborn Lindley Zerby Lecture without charge. For more information, call the Bates College Office of the Chaplain at 207-786-8272.

Throughout her academic career Hassan, a native of Lahore, Pakistan, has challenged the conservative Muslim belief that women are inferior to men and repressive laws such as Pakistan’s Hadud Ordinance, which restricts testimony in rape cases to that of “four male believers.”

Hassan’s career as a feminist theologian is rooted in her 10-year study of the Koran, in which she found a gap between what the holy text outlined for women and what was actually happening to women in Muslim society.

“Development of a feminist theology in the context of Islam is essential if the continuing assault upon the rights of Muslim women is to be reversed,” Hassan said. “Women in general, and Muslim women in particular, need to know the point at which they became theologically derailed to reclaim their proper place in the world.”

Hassan believes that three foundational myths of the Book of Genesis have played a pivotal role in legitimizing discrimination toward women in the Jewish, Christian and Muslim traditions. According to Hassan, the myths declare that Eve was created from Adam’s rib, thus making her secondary; that Eve was the primary agent of expulsion from the Garden of Eden, making all women as daughters of Eve worthy of suspicion; and that Eve was not only created from Adam, but also for Adam, making her instrumental while Adam is fundamental to God. Though none of these myths are supported by the Koran, Hassan argues most male Muslims believe them to be true and use them to support unjust laws.

In 1994, Hassan spoke at the United Nations International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo, representing the Religious Consultation on Population, Reproductive Health and Ethics. She also has spoken on women’s rights at the Non-Governmental Organizations Forum of the U.N. Fourth World Conference on Women in China, which drew more than 30,000 women in 1995.

Hassan received her bachelor’s and doctorate from St. Mary’s College, University of Durham, England. She has taught at the University of Louisville since 1976 and has been an adjunct professor at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary since 1980.

The annual lecture honors the late Rayborn L. Zerby of Lewiston, professor emeritus of religion and dean of the faculty at Bates. Each year, the program brings to campus leading commentators on contemporary religious thought. Previous Zerby lecturers have included Holocaust chronicler Elie Wiesel and the Rev. Peter Gomes ’65, a Bates alumnus and minister of Memorial Church at Harvard University.

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