European Muslim Women: Spirituality and Responsibility Discussed at WISE Conference

November 23, 2006

Author: IlhamAllah Chiara Ferrero

Source: The American Muslim

The theme of women’s spirituality is arousing increasing interest and not only in the Islamic world, where, for example, the great Muslim women saints of the past still today provide us with valuable food for reflection. At the same time, in a more general sense, we should consider the responsibilities that the spiritual life involves, now as always.

True spirituality is, in fact, hard to find in a period in which secularization has relegated religion to the private sphere, confusing exterior witness with ostentation and proselytism. It is first and foremost a responsibility linked to the custody of a sacred store and the capacity for the transmission of traditional knowledge that has been preserved over the centuries, since the very beginning of the Islamic revelation. A Hadith (a saying of the Prophet Muhammad) states that “Islam was born a stranger; it will finish as it started, a stranger” and that “the sun, which rises in the east, will, at the end of time, rise in the west,” indicating, also from a geographical point of view, the space to which men and women will be called, in the course of the eschatological events, to bear renewed witness to their faith. It is, in fact, natural that spirituality should be renewed thanks to the effort necessary to adapt oneself to situations and conditions that had never occurred in the past, avoiding the sterile and nostalgic repetition of forms.

In this sense, Europe now plays a special role in the mediation between East and West: it is, in fact, not only the land that gave birth to modernity and is the seat of Catholic Christianity and the principal patriarchates of Orthodox Christianity but is also affected by a growing presence of Islam, which cannot only be associated with the East. For some time a number of European Muslims have been engaged in seriously investigating the theme of Islamic spirituality and the role of Muslim women.

There are many challenges, or rather trials, that a religious woman must face in order to live a spiritual life in the modern world. Some of these obstacles depend on the internal difficulties of the Islamic community, which is experiencing a period of great intellectual decadence, with the fundamentalist tendencies exploiting the formal aspects of the religion and emptying it of its spiritual content. Thus the woman’s role is also diminished together with its symbols and values, which end up by acquiring a purely ideological significance. This is the case of the Islamic veil and female virtues such as discretion and modesty, which are wrongly associated with passivity and segregation.