(Written by Dr. Riffat Hassan and endorsed by many women. The signature endorsements are growing in numbers every day.)

We are writing this statement to strongly protest against the inclusion of Parvin Darabi, Ph.D, in a panel entitled "How can you get to heaven when you can go to Mars? Feminist Challenges to Religion," on Friday, March 31, 2000. We also wish to express our deep concern about the presence of a large number of persons in the room who cheered ever time Dr. Darabi made a hate-filled and mocking statement about Islam, the Qur'an, the Prophet Muhammad, or other religious figures (Moses and Jesus). The atmosphere created in the room by the wild and derisive cheering of these people made many persons of faith, especially the Muslims, feel as if they were in the midst of a rally of a hate-group, such as the neo-nazis or the Ku Klux Klan, rather than at a conference dedicated to celebrating women representing a diversity of belief systems and cultures. The hostility, marginalization, humiliation and intimidation that was experienced by women of faith during this event raises important questions both about the intentions as well as the agenda of the conference organizers.

With reference to Dr. Darabi's presentation, we wish to make the following points:

1. Dr. Darabi has a degree in Engineering and is not academically qualified to be a participant in a session on religion and theology. She has no credentials on the basis of which she could trash Islam - the religion of more than one billion people in the world - a religion which is also now the second largest, and the fastest growing, religion in the United States. We wish to ask the organizers on what basis Dr. Darabi was part of a panel with a number of well-known theologians.

2. Dr. Darabi's hatred of Islam and Iran, the country of her origin, is related to personal causes. If the conference organizers were keen to provide her with a forum, they should have placed her in a session where people share their personal stories rather than one in which the participants expected an interchange based on sound knowledge and an educated critique of religion.
Dr. Darabi passed judgements upon religion, particularly Islam, which were totally erroneous ans misleading, quoting mistranslations of some words from the Qur'an entirely out of context, distorting hadiths or traditions of Prophet Muhammad and making factually inaccurate statements relating to his character.
The purpose of making statements such as "he was married 26 times and made love to each of his wives each night," or that he "married one of his wives at age 6 and consummated his marriage with her at age 9," or that "these three men (Moses, Jesus and Muhammad) came and left" was to incite ridicule and contempt with reference to persons revered by millions of people. That these statements were wildly cheered by many persons who stood up and clapped and made loud noises of approval shows that the atmosphere in the room was strongly loaded against persons of faith.

3. Those who came to listen to the panelists assumed that the presenters were experts in the area of their respective belief systems. Dr. Darabi professed to be an atheist but instead of focusing on her belief system, atheism, she chose to attack Islam, which she obviously detested. Because of her privileged position as a presenter, Dr. Darabi's comments were regarded as authoritative by persons in the audience who did not know about Islam. She was thus enabled to paint a very negative and distorted picture of Islam. She repeatedly misquoted the Qur'an and the hadith and misrepresented significant facts of Muslim history. When Muslim women in the audience raised their hands to register their protest or make a correction, they were totally ignored and never given an opportunity to speak.

We would like to make the following points to the organizers of the conference:

1. It is your responsibility to ensure that the atmosphere in which a discussion is conducted is one in which basic rights of all human beings to be treated with respect regardless of class, color, creed or sex, is honored. Since this conference professes to be "global" and welcomes women from all belief systems and cultures, it is your responsibility to vreate and maintain an environment in which a religion, which is central to the lives of millions of people, is not trashed by a presenter who has no theological credentials, to the accompaniment of wild cheering. It is also your responsibility to have as a moderator of a session on a sensitive subject, a person who is able to conduct the proceedings in an orderly fashion in an an environment which is not saturated with mockery, sarcasm and hate-filled jeering. There is a line between freedom of expression and license to incite hatred and ridilcule which must be observed. We feel that by allowing Dr. Darabi to proceed with her malicious presentation, followed by the dramatic act of donning a "chador," the moderator failed in her responsibility as an objective and fair facilitator.

2. Dr. Darabi had widely circulated a hate statement about Islam (appended) prior to the session on Friday, March 31, 2000. We believe that the organizers were aware of her viewpoint and and that by putting her on a panel of experts on religion, they exhibited a deep prejudice not merely toward Islam, but also toward those who work within a religious framework, as opposed to a secular one. It was the obligation of the organizers of the conference and the moderator to see to it that the environment was an open and receptive one where the discussion of feminist religious perspectives could be conducted within the parameters of civilized and enlightened discourse.

3. The endorsement of Dr. Darabi as a presenter in a panel pertaining to religion by the organizers gives the impression that the agenda within the "feminist movement" in the U.S. is to delegitimize the importance of religion in many women's lives and to draw a distinction between emancipation, secularization and rationality, and oppression, faith and irrationality. This delegitimizes the value systems of women of faith and the decisions that they make based on their faith. In other words, it denies women's freedom of choice when they choose to make decisions based on religious conviction, as opposed to any secular philosophy.

4. What we experienced on Friday, March 31, makes us deeply apprehensive that the model of women's liberation which is being promoted at this conference is one based on the value system of radical western feminists, represented by individualistic, libertarian, white women of the North. This leads, amongst other things, to the denial or marginalization of the value of the work of many feminist theologians who have struggled against Western and Eastern cultural practices and prejudices to ameliorate the situation of women who are not given the option of exercising their human rights given to them by the normative texts and teachings of their religions. It also leads to a denial of the capacity of women of faith to shape religious discourse, and to challenge patriarchal assumptions on which established religions and other popular cultures have created hierarchies that relegate women to an inferior and subordinate position. Denial of this capacity is disempowering and negates the very basis of this conference.

At a conference which is authentically international, it is necessary to ensure that the environment is truly inclusive and empowering for all participants. We hope that the organizers of this conference will take serious note of what we have said and make an effort to rectify the damage that has been done. One way to do this would be to make it possible for this statement to be read at a meeting of the General Assembly.

We also want to bring to your notice that a significant number of women from Asia and Africa have come to this meeting with great difficulty and at great personal expense. Many of these women feel alone and alienated because no effort has been made by the organizers to create a mechanism whereby they can can engage in significant intercultural dialogue or networking with other women. These women have not been particularly recognized; no international dinner has been arranged in their honor nor have they been given any special opportunity to share their knowledge and experience with the larger group. This leads a number of non-American, non-white women to feel that there is an attitude of cultural imperialism which pervades this conference, and that their presence is only a token one.

2000-04-03 Mon 12:14ct