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INTELLECTUAL CONVERSATIONS ABOUT FAITH WERE TYPICAL AT THE DINNER TABLE when Dr. Azizah al-Hibri was growing up in Lebanon. Her father and grandfather were Islamic scholars. A teacher hired by her family came to their home to instruct her in the Islamic scriptural texts. She was encouraged to read, think, and ask thoughtful questions. T ose experiences and her subsequent involvement as a


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graduate student in the U.S. feminist movement led her to refl ect on the role and place of women in predominantly Islamic societies. As her interests in women’s issues deepened, she discovered how the intertwining of faith and culture in Islam impacted women’s standing. “I went back and


looked at faith with new eyes. T at’s how I was able to separate faith from culture. I was not scared to approach the reli- gious texts,” says al- Hibri, a University of Richmond emeritus law professor who’s written extensively about Muslim women’s rights and human rights in Islam and who was appointed in 2011 by President Barack Obama to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. Her analysis of women’s rights under Islam informs the


programs proff ered by Karamah Muslim Women Lawyers for Human Rights, which she co-founded in 1993. Based in Washington, D.C., Karamah, which is derived


from the word “dignity” in Arabic, is an organization of several fi rsts: It is the U.S.’s oldest Muslim women lawyers’ organization (and may be the only one), the oldest Muslim women’s group, and one of the oldest Muslim organizations. Its signature program is a three-week law and leadership sum- mer session that attracts women from all over the world. Karamah combines education, outreach, and advo- cacy in eff orts to explain Islam to audiences around the


DIVERSITY & THE BAR® MARCH/APRIL 2014


BY LEKAN OGUNTOYINBO


KARAMAH—MUSLIM WOMEN LAWYERS FOR HUMAN RIGHTS


world. Islam remains a mystery to many in the West and correcting misconceptions about the faith is a priority for Karamah. T e organization also seeks to empower Muslims—and Muslim women in particular—by helping them understand the diff erence between culture and faith. T e grant-funded organization is not member based, but


thrives through affi liations or “circles of friendships” with like-minded groups and individuals around the world. Karamah offi cials say that over time certain cultural


practices regarding women in predominantly Islam societ- ies have been blended with the Islamic faith. For example, women’s roles in their homes and how much say they can have over their fi nances.


“Islam gives


CERTAIN CULTURAL BELIEFS ARE BEING TOUTED AS


“ISLAM GIVES A LOT OF RIGHTS TO WOMEN BUT


RELIGIOUS BELIEFS.” —AISHA RAHMAN


a lot of rights to women but certain cultural beliefs are being touted as religious beliefs. Our challenge is to dissect what is the faith and what is culture,” says Aisha Rahman, execu-


tive director of Karamah and a graduate of the University of Tennessee College of Law. She notes that the Prophet Muhammad’s fi rst wife Khadija was a businesswoman who not only employed him but proposed their marriage. His second wife Aisha helped lead warriors into battle. “We’re challenging these cultural norms. Karamah is


showing what Islam is,” she says. Adds al-Hibri: “In many Muslim countries part of the


duties of the wife, which is viewed as religion-based, is that she takes care of the household.” She says that according to an analysis of the principles of


the Koran by Islamic jurists, it is actually the responsibil- ity of the husband to ensure that food is provided for the household and it is also his responsibility to hire someone to take care of household matters. But Karamah focuses mainly on the law.


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