Gadaheldam shines light on African Islam

The Black Collegians Program at SMC hosted the lecture "Afro-Islamic Societies and Women," last Thursday. Guest speaker Najwa Gadaheldam highlighted some prominent issues concerning the lifestyles and hardships that mostly women face in Afro-Islamic culture. Gadaheldam works as an industrial development officer at the United Nations Industrial Development Organization in Vienna, Austria. She has taught at many universities in Africa and she was apart of the Faculty of Salzburg Seminar's third International Study Program in 2004.

"I am very excited about this, " Black Collegians program counselor Sherri Bratford said about the opportunity in having Gadaheldam come to speak up on these issues to raise more awareness and knowledge to the public about African Islam.

One main focus of her presentation was the importance of the concept of human rights and cultural legitimacy. "The whole world is talking about this now, " Gadaheldam said in her introduction.

In Africa, religion is central to the cultures of many of the African societies. In particular, African Islam is not static. It is consistently being reshaped by prevalent economic and social conditions, according to Gadaheldam's data.

The women who practice the religion have certain limited freedom when it comes to their everyday practices. Examples include the fact that proposing marriage to a permanently married woman is not allowed, and a female virgin needs the permission of their fathers to marry.

Gadaheldam acknowledged that sexual assaults against the women are becoming more widespread and tolerated. However, statistics in the presentation also showed that 76 percent of the women in a survey conducted in Kenya viewed the act of polygamy positively.

Kathy Flynn, counselor at the Bundy Campus, said how she has come across women of polygamist marriage and similar cultures in her international travels. "I found these women to have a definite strength about them," she said, helping break down the impression that the women in these religions are only weak and vulnerable.

"In any society, the conventions on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women, requires thoughtful and well-informed engagement of religion," Gadaheldam said, a thought that was echoed throughout the lecture.

Gadaheldam sought to hopefully raise more awareness and questions of what can be done to help eliminate the discrimination women face in African Islam, while at the same time aiming to quash common misconceptions about the religion of Islam in Africa. She helped bring to light, with the agreements of other students, that the Islamic religion itself isn't totally to blame. "It's not the religion, it's the practitioners," she insisted.

Gadaheldam also stressed the fact that not all hope is lost, how not all women have it bad and that more and more everyday women are getting opportunities to succeed as their own person, and be independent. "It is all about making this global issue a progress towards betterness. Everyone could and should put their hands together in this, " she concluded.