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Exploring Communities of Muslim Women throughout History

The National Endowment for the Humanities and the Office of Public Engagement host a discussion on places and moments in time when communities of Muslim women began to expand their legal rights.

The more globalized and change-intensive the times, the more important it is to expand our knowledge of the world, near and far, past and present. Accordingly, the National Endowment for the Humanities has developed a Bridging Cultures initiative to highlight specific histories and cultural traditions of various communities around the world.

In this context, the NEH and White House Office of Public Engagement gathered together an audience on May 30th to hear from two scholars who have used NEH funding to explore places and moments in time when communities of Muslim women began to expand their legal rights. The presenters were:

Dr. Afsaneh Najmabadi heads a team of scholars and students who have created a visually stunning and historically expansive digital archive of artifacts from women living during the time of the Qajar dynasty in Iran (1796 through 1925).  Women’s Worlds in Qajar Iran is a unique archive of artifacts gathered by researchers from a wide variety of private collections around the world. This groundbreaking archive is important for its content collected from 44 families and 7 institutions in Iran and around the world. As significantly, it serves as a model of how digital platforms can help deliver museum quality content on humanities subjects to people across the globe.

Dr. Mounira Charrad from the University of Texas at Austin received a grant from the NEH to complete research for a book she will publish examining family law reform in Morocco in 2004 and Tunisia in the 1950’s with an emphasis on the sociological implications of progressive legal change.

Dr. Azizah Al-Hibri served as the event’s moderator.  Dr. Al-Hibri is a founder of KARAMAH (meaning “dignity” in Arabic), a U.S-based non-profit organization composed of Muslim women lawyers who seek to advance human rights for Muslim women worldwide.  She is a law professor at the University of Richmond. 

After the formal presentations, Dr. Al-Hibri joined Dr. Najmabadi and Dr. Charrad in a discussion with the audience, which further explored these pivotal moments in history and underscored the importance of continuing historical scholarship focused on women and their rights in Islamic societies.

Jim Leach is the Chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities.