Defense of Dr. Samar Habib
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
A few Fridays ago, we published a link about the uproar
over an Islamic studies course, entitled Women in Arabic and Islamic
Literature, taught by Dr. Samar Habib at the University of Western Sydney in
We at MMW believe that knowledge is power (yes, clichés and all), and
institutions of higher learning have a duty to provide students with as much
information as possible, as well as with tools to build critical thinking and
decision-making skills. It's up to the students to decide what they believe
past this point.
Not only does this sound like an awesome class, but one that is necessary.
Muslim women's voices are notably absent from large parts of Islamic history
and literature; it's important to encourage and highlight these women because
they speak of half a population's experience. Our history holds a lot of great
female thinkers, writers, and political figures, and their contributions
shouldn't be ignored or belittled, but taught alongside the contributions that
Muslim men have made to our history.
Muslim groups, including the Australian National Imams Council and Muslims for
Peace, have attacked both the university and Dr. Habib herself, accusing the
class of "promoting lesbianism" and "[giving] a negative view of
women in Islam". Several stories such as the one above have been published
in the Australian press. We have been unable to find a press release from the
university or from Dr. Habib. However, there has been plenty of negative press from the class’s
opponents, notably by a group called Muslims for Peace (not to be confused with
the U.S.-based group of the same name). Ironic, huh?
Anyway, because the entirety of the press surrounding this issue has been
negative, we felt it important to air this email we received in support of Dr.
Habib and her class. This email is from a former student who has given her
permission for us to publish her voice.
I would like to point you to this article: http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,25197,23637358-5013404,00.html
There are many articles just like this one circulating the Australian Media,
and it enrages me.
I took this class: Women in Arabic and Islamic Literature with [Dr.] Samar
Habib, and it is one of the best classes I have ever taken.
I am Muslim and I must say that there is no foundation to these accusations.
We studied many different types of Literature, 3 of those were I Am You by
Elham Mansour, Nafzawi's Perfumed Garden (I loved it actually), and various
Bukhari Ahadith pertaining mostly to Aisha.
I absolutely loved the course. [Dr.] Samar Habib did not ever push anti-Islamic
sentiment down anyone's throat. She was educated and well-knowledgeable and
held a feminist's view that I admire. The fact that she said that women are
oppressed in Islam is not incorrect. It is true, but not because of Islam,
rather it is because of a patriarchal society that likes the idea that men have
the power when it comes to translation and transliteration of Islamic text.
We also studied the Qur'an as it relates to hijab. We (the class) all agreed
that the Qur'an does not specifically say that believing women must cover their
heads. But it is implied and it comes down to personal choice whether to hijab
or not to hijab. The one point always made though was that there is more to
Islam than hijab. We all have other obligations. It seems that the 5 pillars of
Islam are forgotten over issues like to shake hands or not to shake hands and
Anyway, I would just like to know your views. I have written to countless
newspapers about my experience in the class, but of course I have been ignored.
I also want to add that there were many non-Muslim students who walked away
from the class with a better understanding of Islam. Many of them realised that
Islam is not a religion where women are seen as inferior. History, and the
action of certain Muslims, have obscured the 'real' Islam. They were able to
hear many different points of view; especially from those who actually took the
The course was also not entirely about Islam. As the name of the course
suggests, it was also about women in Arabic literature. That was the reason for
reading novels like I Am You; which has absolutely nothing to do with Islam,
but rather homosexuality in Beirut: a secular Arabic culture.
If any of you can find other links or discussions, please feel free to post
them in the comments.
Zeynab at 12:00