Question 11. How does IONA view the role of Muslim women in the context of Islamic activism? Does IONA allow its female members to contribute fully within the organization?
According to the Qur’an, Muslim men and Muslim women are helpers and supporters of each other. This was fully demonstrated by the active participation of women in the community of the earliest followers of Prophet Muhammad (SAW). In our own times, there is no denying the absolute necessity of both men and women to participate in Islamic activism. Any attempt at creating an activist organization that excludes women is doomed to fail.
Since the Islamic obligations discussed above are just as relevant for Muslim women as they are for Muslim men, IONA's call is directed equally at both genders. Women are as encouraged to join and be active in IONA as are men.
At the present moment, female members of IONA have their own organizational structure, separate from that of men. In organizational or educational gatherings, men and women are generally separated through a wall or partition; when this is not feasible, men and women sit in different parts of the room and minimize their mutual contact as much as possible. Women are encouraged to wear loose dresses that fully cover their bodies, except their hands and faces. Many IONA members wear a face veil as well, as a sign of their modesty, piety, and commitment to Islam; however, the organization does not view the face veil as mandatory. Men are strongly urged to avoid unnecessary contact with women who are not their immediate relatives, and also to exercise self-restraint by lowering their gaze when they have to interact with women.
Even though women are normally segregated from men, they are very well appreciated for their positive contribution to IONA and are given the maximum possible support from the rest of the organization.
It should be noted that the precise role of women in the contemporary world is an area of heated debate and intense contestation among Muslim communities. This is because the Shari’ah, as understood and interpreted by our blessed predecessors during the classical era, has placed numerous restrictions on the social role and mobility of women. On the other hand, the social and economic realities of the world have changed tremendously since the time when the classical jurists derived their rulings and legal opinions. This combination of factors has made the question of gender roles one of the most controversial among Muslims today, as well as one of the most urgent. The situation is exacerbated by the relative stagnation in the juristic conversation during the last two hundred years, as well as by the contemporary crisis of religious authority in Islam.
IONA as an organization is fully aware of the constant need for growth and improvement. As the number of female members of IONA increases, the women's side of the organization is likely to become more active, disciplined, and better organized. At the same time, as the female members of IONA become increasingly conscious of their crucially important role, they are likely to exercise greater influence within the organization. Similarly, as the knowledge and experience of both male and female members of IONA regarding the Islamic tradition improves, they are likely to devise more authentic and ingenious solutions to the challenges of gender relations and roles.