The Untapped Potential of Muslim Women

The Untapped Potential of Muslim Women

Emma Brown

On Feb. 11, from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. in Memorial Union room 104, Oregon State University will host speaker Hasna Maznavi for a seminar titled, “The Untapped Potential of Muslim Women.”

Maznavi is a comedy writer and film maker who opened the first all-women’s mosque in America in Jan. 2015, and has since garnered media attention. As an American born Muslim, Maznavi and other Muslim women had a desire to participate in religious ceremonies where women have historically been segregated from the men or turned away.

Courtney Campbell, the Hundere Professor in Religion and Culture at OSU, was the driving force behind bringing Maznavi to speak.

“There is a great sense of insecurity amongst those who historically haven’t been part of the American mainstream,” Campbell said. “We are going to be making a statement about how inclusive and welcoming a campus Oregon State University is.”

The intent of this seminar is to inform the OSU community about a group that is often under represented. Maznavi will offer her own personal input on the matters of stereotyping in America as well as share her personal experiences as a successful Muslim-American woman.

“In the context of our university and in the context of cultural phobias about muslims, about cultural stereotypes around muslim women in particular, she will be very good for us to have on this campus,” Campbell said.

The Oregon State Religious Studies club plays a key role in getting conversations similar to Maznavi’s started around campus. Throughout the year, the Religious Studies Club hosts small discussion dinners based around topics such as “religion and the body” and “religion and death.” Maznavi will be the first expert to attend one of these discussion dinners on Thursday.

Kevin Osterloh and Rena Lauer, faculty advisors for the Religious Studies club, believe that this seminar will greatly impact the OSU community.

“(Maznavi) offers a really interesting way to break down stereotypes,” Lauer said. “American attitudes towards Muslim women tend to be very stereotypical. (Maznavi) is a person who is deeply traditional in some ways, she is a deeply religious Muslim woman, but she doesn’t cover her hair. She engages in the modern world and is also part of her traditional community. She really embodies this breakdown of stereotypes.”

The goal of this seminar is not to just inform the general public about the misconceptions of Muslim women, but to get an open, engaging and informed conversation started amongst members of today’s society.

“Once you get to put these issues on your radar screen, you get to see how important they really are,” Osterloh said. “All of us are part of a conversation, whether we know it or not.”

The announcement of this lecture was met with a few disagreeable comments, but the organizers do not see any reason why this should impact the seminar.

“I would invite people in and listen to what the speaker has to say, then draw your judgement and conclusions from that,” Campbell said. “But come in with an open and respectful mind.”  

Tori Hittner and Lauren Stoneburner are members of the Religious Studies club and attest to the importance of these lectures, seminars and discussions, and the impact they have on the academic growth of students.

“Once we graduate, I think most of us will look back and recognize these lectures as gifts that we should have taken advantage of,” Hittner said. “Brilliant people like Ms. Maznavi regularly visit OSU, bringing with them unique perspectives and lessons that could revolutionize the way we live our own lives.”

Stoneburner had similar sentiments.

Lectures like these are humbling and inspiring,” Stoneburner said. “Being able to meet and listen to (Maznavi’s) thoughts in person is a reminder that it is possible, as one person, to make an impact in our world. For my own thinking, it makes my own dreams seem possible.”

The lecture is open to the entire Oregon State University community.