A diverse group of 45 students and faculty gathered over a traditional Middle Eastern dinner Wednesday night to listen to and discuss contemporary Islamic issues facing society.
Mona Eltahawy, OU's activist-in-residence for the Center for Social Justice and professor of a three-week course, was the honorary guest at the dinner hosted by Joshua Landis, Walker Tower faculty-in-residence. Landis, director for the Center for Middle East Studies, organized the event to cultivate open discussion about Eltahawy's experiences as an activist working to promote women's freedoms in Islam.
Eltahawy, a journalist and international public speaker, abstains from wearing the hijab and leads a more liberal lifestyle than conservative Muslims, but she said she doesn't think that should keep her from practicing her religion.
"God belongs to me too and I will not give God up because of all those lunatics out there," Eltahawy said. "For me, Islam is more than rituals and for all the rules of 'do' and 'don't'."
For Eltahawy, her fight against these rules started when she moved from London to Saudi Arabia when she was 15 years old. Eltahawy said she found a very misogynistic Islam in the Middle Eastern country. At first, she wore the hijab to fit in with the society, but when she started university in Saudi Arabia, she found books written by scholarly women that changed her way of thinking.
She said learning about and then defying the religious standards set by men was daunting at first, but she eventually took on an activist role.
"Choose the thing that scares you the most because what terrifies you is usually what you need," Eltahawy said.
Eltahawy now fights to ban the wearing of hijabs and disagrees with feminists who fight for the women's rights to choose whether or not to wear the hijab.
"Don't sacrifice women for the sake of fighting that right wing because when you fight this right wing so much, you ignore the right wing telling women they need to disappear [behind a hijab]," Eltahawy said.
Another topic addressed at the dinner was the United States' motivation to invade Iraq and liberate women.
"The liberation must happen from within," Eltahawy said.
Students who attended the dinner were engaged in the discussion, and brought up topics they thought were important and needed Eltahawy's input.
"It was really interesting, especially me being Muslim. I really had this conservative idea of Islam and she really changed how I think about it." said Rafeef Al-sammarraie, first year international student from Iraq studying civil engineering.
The dinner lasted over two hours, and students continued asking questions, actively engaging in the discussion.
"This is a way to bring culture, timely headlines, something that's interesting and not like the regular lecture; in a format where you can have food, dialogue and debate in an open house setting and in a friendly setting," Landis said.