My next entry will have an interview with Brigid Maher, director of the documentary, discussing her inspiration for Veiled Voices. Below is more information about the film and the lives of the three women featured. If you would like to learn how you can view the documentary, please click for air dates (US only), more information on how to get a screening in your area, and make sure you watch the trailer.
Above all, make sure you read the next blog with Maher and if you have any questions that you would like to ask – send me a message before 10pm Cairo time (3pm EST) Tuesday, Feb. 23.
Women across the Arab world are redefining their role as leaders in Islam. Veiled Voices investigates the world of Muslim women religious leaders through the eyes of three women in Lebanon, Syria, and Egypt. Shot over the course of two years, Veiled Voices reveals a world rarely documented or filmed before now and explores both the public and private worlds of these women. The stories of the women featured give insight into how Muslim women are now increasingly willing to challenge the status quo from within Islam, promoting Islam as a powerful force for positive transformation in the world. Each triumphs over difficult challenges as they carve out a space to lead in Islam and their communities.
*My personal favorite* Ghina Hammoud faces a personal challenge in gaining legitimacy as a leader as a divorced woman, since divorce is controversial in conservative communities throughout Lebanon. Although she has been a television personality for 15 years and founded and runs her own Islamic Center in Beirut, she lost many followers after she split from her husband. Despite these setbacks, Ghina has found strength to rebuild her life through her role as a community leader. Ghina inspires and helps other divorced women while counseling others to stay in marriages if possible. Her story is fraught with contradictions, yet these contradictions also humanize her and show why she has been able to retain a devoted following.
The story of Dr. Su'ad Saleh demonstrates how, in a country that is known for having the highest number of women religious leaders and teachers, these women still fight for public recognition by the Egyptian religious authority at al-Azhar, the famous Cairo mosque and university founded in the 10th century. Su’ad, widely considered the most influential female religious leader in Egypt, leads this fight through her weekly television show, “Women’s Fatawa,” a “telephone call-in show” in Egypt through which people solicit her advice and religious judgments based in Islamic Shari’a Law, “fatwas.”
Unlike her two counterparts Lebanon and Egypt, Huda al-Habash has both institutional support and the support of her husband. She teaches women in Damascus, and lectures all over the Middle East, helping people “move…from ignorance to knowledge.” Her husband speaks eloquently about how he takes on domestic tasks to support his wife’s endeavors to teach and travel across the Middle East. Huda’s story reveals the benefits that can happen when a woman is unfettered in her pursuit of leadership. Her daughter, Inas, who studies International Studies at American University, Sharja and hopes to correct misconceptions about Islam through her own actions.