Amplifying Women Ulama’s Voices: Training and Dialogue on Gender and Islam

Since KUPI was established in April 2017 during the first Indonesia women ulama congress in Cirebon, held on 25-27 April 2017, KUPI has made remarkable works on areas of socialisation of KUPI’s fatwa, support the growing of women ulama education system, advocacy of women’s issues, and institutional development. Considering the effective voices made by KUPI on the area of advocacy, by providing religious opinion to support gender-sensitive policy, The Asian Muslim Action Network (AMAN) took an innitiative to bring KUPI to international.

To start, in collaboration with The Center of Excellent on Women and Social Security, Walailak University, and with the support of Oxfam Thailand, a set of exchange learning between KUPI and women ulama from Pattani has begun last year. Gender-based violence was agreed to be a connecting topic to be response from the perspective of Islam. Four days workshop on exchange leadership Forum attended by women and men muslim leaders from various background was able to set the tone on how KUPI might engage with Muslim Thailand context and bring reform from within. Bringing perspective from Malaysia, with its social political and cultural dynamics, the forum became much more rich in term of comparation.

The exchange leadership workshop was not just bringing a ton of hopes for muslim women from the South to use religion as source of peace, but more than that, to sharpen their practical skill on using islamic text from Quran and Hadist to support their argumentation was urgent. From the workshop, it was obvious that there is a need to engage more diverse islamic institutions in supporting advocacy on eradicating gender based violence (GBV). The problem is how to convice them to support our agenda?

This year, series of capacity building training on women’s rights in Islam were started in Bangkok on 27-29 July 2019. The training aimed to increase skill on Islamic study methodology using mubaadalah to support re-reading islamic texts from the Quranic verses and hadist, that support partnership between women and men. 30 women leaders and ulama were selected to join 3 days training to learn basic concept of justice from islamic perspective, understanding gender construction in muslim culture, introduction of mubaadalah (resiprocicy) as perspective and tool of analysis, and application of mubaadalah to response populer gender narratives that are bias to putting women as a second class.

We selected some representatives of participants of training, along with Women Ulama from Indonesia and Malaysia, to have a dialogue with Fathoni University, Pattani. The aim of dialogue was to open a conversation on the women’s leadership and Islamic institution support in ending violent against women in the South.

I. Process of Training

This training aimed to enhance skill of interpretation of islamic text using mubaadalah (reciprocity) approach that has introduced by KUPI as a methodology to release fatwa (religious opinion) that is more gender sensitive. The training was focused into three parts; Basic conept of gender and Islam, foundation of justice in Islam, Introduction of mubaadalah as perspective and methodology, application of mubaadalah into cases of Gender Based Violence (GBV) in South Thailand, and Follow up.

Dr. Nur Rofiah started session of the foundation of perspective on gender and Islam, by elaborating basic concept of sex and gender. According to Dr. Rofiah, sexual and reproductive organs of women and men have brought different consequences to the social life of women and men. For instance, pregnancy as consequences of sexual relation between men and women, obviously put women in longer reproductive roles comparing to men. Unlike men who do not have direct reproductive roles during pregnancy, women is carrying pregnancy for 9 months 10 days, following with 3 months post natal care. This reproductive experiences lead to three way of thinking;

1) Radical way of thinking; men have power over women, in which men are single subject of live and women have to do absolute obidience, and zero freedom of expression
2) Soft way of thinking; perception on men are primer subject while women are secondary subject. women can express their idea and thought but men is the final decision maker.
3) Equality of way of thinking; perception on women are equal as men, in which both women and men have equal access, control, participation, and needs in social live.

Both radical and soft way of thinking under patrichal society, where men are considered as first class and the final decision maker, leads to gender injustice experiences for women, such as stereotyping, subordination, discrimination, marginalization, double burden and violence against women.

In Islam, women and men are methaphored as a cloth for one another. Meaning both women and men are mandated to protect each other, and bring comfort for one another. This message is clear to eradicate discriminative and harmful practices in the past that treated women as an object of sexuality. In in which unmarried women were under father’s power, married women were under husband and women widow was hand over to son. Islam reveals to reform the way people’s thinking and culture of bias, including gender bias causing gender injustice that cover idea of

Mubaadalah as approach
Dr. Faqihudin Abdul Qadir started to illustrate the foundational concept of mubaadalah where men and women are kholifah fil ard (leader of the world), which brings consequences for both men and women are entitled to contribute to the happiness, justice, welfare and peace inside the family and society.

As perspective mubaadalah gives positive inquiry approach when we deal with problem in our community. In the case of gender based violence (GBV), mubaadalah as perspective encourages us to analysis the gender relations in the family and community, to understand how women is being positioned in the context of community. It is a process to understand case by looking at one of root causes is gender inequality. There are many triggers of gender based violence such as unemployment, drug abused, alcohol, and others. However, we need to go further to see the root causes of the case.

Secondly, Mubaadalah encourage us to think problem-solving-oriented approach, without looking for who’s need to be blamed is we want to approach as many actors as possible to be part of solution, instead of pointing them as causing factors. Therefore, positive inquiries in approaching this issues, often to increase more possibility to engage male actors or the hardest actors.

Thirdly, mubaadalah presents by offering principles of islamic teaching, to bring people coming from different background to have consensus building and willing to be part of solution. Therefore, formulation of question is important and finding the basic concept in Islamic teaching that can protect everyone from destruction and dangerous are important.

Reform from Within: Resistence v.s Liberation
During the training, participants were showing their overwhelming feelings. In one side, the training was able to provide better lens to understand how Islam supports in preventing VAW, moreover to provide a tool of liberation for women victim and survivor of Gender Based Violence (GBV), to get access for justice. For women advocate, the new approach called mubaadalah has given a strong weapon to defend on the rights of survivor of GBV as well as to continue advocacy in assisting the survivor to get access to justice.

On the other hand, the recognition of the important of equality among women and men in the perspective of Islam, created some uncertain feeling for some of participants. Narratives of resistence was often expressed repeatedly to ensure that they would not do resistence to their local culture, where men often taking a lead over women in the society. The narrative of “mubaadalah is good, but we still need to perserve as istri soleha (pious wive)”, “men as leader of women”, and others. It indicates that participants gained so much confidence that mubaadalah will provide a woman friendly islamic argumentation, so hopes among survivor of GBV raises. On the other hand, it seems participants have to prepare resistence from the people when they hear about the new islamic argumentation over protection of survivor of GBV or event to prevention of GBV is a compulsory for muslim, both men and women.

Male Engagement in Program

Male’s engangement on the context of promoting gender equality and women empowerment is unavoidable. Reflecting from the experiences of KUPI, where male ulama who innitiated and enganged in KUPI has proven to create a better dynamic in formulating a specific approach and narrative when we work with male audience. Therefore, in doing intervention with Southern Thailand, bringing some males ulama on the process of exchange, capacity building and dialogue, would definitely encourage female participants to carefuly identifying the male narrative used to perceive GBV, so they can prepare better answer.

The involvement of four male representatives from Islamic Committee from provinces of Yala, Naraatiwat and Pattani during the training, certainly provided better understanding on the basic concept of reciprocity (mubaadalah), sharing collection of Quranic verses and hadist that support gender equality, but also to provide a reflective room for males to understand why gender based violence exist in muslim society.

Though there were still some resistance to gender equality, but mostly male participants agreed on preventing of GBV, because it caused negative impact to well being of women and families. Especialy, when it comes to concept of “istri sholeha” (a pious wife), some male participants were strongly showing their preference to maintain the old concept, rather than to apply mubaadalah. For instance, for them, women’s obligation is to serve husband, and she might not be able to take further roles in society withouth husband’s permission.

Two books were given to male participants, especially from Dr. Faqih, to encourage them to have intensive engangement with the writing, so they can have a longer reflective moment in understanding “mubaadalah” (resiprocity of women and men), and slowly crafting their new image as a new man (a man with strong support to gender equality).

II. Process of Dialogue
On 30 July 2019, The Asian Muslim Action Network (AMAN) in collaboration with Center for Excellence on Women and Social Security of Walailak University (CEWSS) and Oxfam Thailand, initiated a dialogue with Islamic Institutions in the South of Thailand, namely Fatoni University, Syekhul Islam (Ulama council) and the Council of Muslim Women’s Organization Cooperation for Peace , the so-called Salafi oriented group presenting literalist, puritan and conservative theology. The dialogue on 30th July 2019 was attended by key actors in the areas of Islamic studies, gender equality and women’s empowerment from Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia.

From Thailand, we had Vice Rector of Fatoni University, the leader of Syekhul Islam Office in the South, community based Islamic organizations, and some women lecturers as well as activists who have been actively engaging in research, community development and advocacy. From Indonesia, we invited a representatives from initiative women and men of Indonesia Women Ulama (KUPI) and representatives of Ulama from Malaysia. The Forum was discussed about the important of “silaturrahim” (relation building) and Muslim women’s leadership in religious knowledge in the South of Thailand.

Bringing the narrative of partnership between women and men, to talk about gender equality and women’s empowerment, the conversation with Salafi groups became more friendly, including touching the issues of gender-based violence in conflict area in the Deep South of Thailand. When the most stiring up child marriage case in Pattani, Islamic Committee at provincial level had little knowledge to response, because there was no single women representative in the committee. The dialogue was concluded by two agreements which were potential collaboration in promoting the role of women Ulama, and potential representative of women Ulama in the Islamic committee at provincial level.

Follo up
There are four follow up that agreed by participants :
1. Socialization of the new knowledge on mubaadalah and open dialogue about it
2. Bring discussion of mubaadalah into ISlamic committee
3. Discuss more the book of mubaadalah with others to advance the understanding on mubaadalah
4. Engage a dialogue with experts or local leaders and get their impression to mubaadalah,