The group, called INSPIRE, aims to help Muslim women reach their full potential. INSPIRE is also trying to reclaim the term 'jihad' from extremists. INSPIRE's director and co-founder Sara Khan says 'jihad' means a struggle in the way of God, and not the so-called 'holy war' perpetrated by violent extremist groups. Ms Khan spoke to me from her London home .. and it's her daughter Hannah, you can hear occasionally in the background.
Presenter: Sen Lam
Speaker: Sara Khan, director & co-founder of Islamic women's group, INSPIRE
KHAN: Jihad Against Violence is driven by Muslim women in standing up to the violence experienced by women and girls in the UK, and all forms of violence, including terrorism and violent extremism. Over the last few years, we have witnessed acts of terrorism such as the London bombings in 2005 and we've also witnessed acts of extremists who're trying to sow discord in our societies. Islam, instead of being recognised as the faith for peace, has now become synonymous with violence, and all things negative, including the oppression of women. There was a poll that was conducted last year, which indicated that almost 70 per cent of Britons believed that Islam represses women. And we just felt as women, we can no longer sit in silence and to watch our faith being used to justify crimes, particularly by those who are carrying out these crimes in the name of good faith. And so we thought let's launch a campaign and a campaign which resonates not just with British Muslims, but very much with anybody, anybody who's against the idea of violence, violence against women, violence that's been carried in the name of Islam.
LAM: And Sarah, as you say, Islam according to the Quran, empowers women, so is that part of your aim as well, to make available to women, the information, possibly including Quranic scholarship as well?
KHAN: Absolutely, I mean that was one of the prime reasons why we set INSPIRE up in 2009. We felt that when it came to good scholarly literature around the role of women, it was very weak on the ground. I mean, if you go into many of the Muslim book shops today, what you find there and what the problem is with the Muslim communities in the UK is there tends to be the dominance of conservative interpretations around the role of women. And we wanted to highlight was that there are alternative interpretations which are much more in line with the contextualised times that we're living in today, the fact that we're living in the 21st century in the West and that there are scholars out there, including Dr Khaled Abou Lel Fadl, who came to our conference this weekend, to talk about the fact that, Islam is a way of life which empowers women. And to provide resources, scholarly papers, to the wider public and to make it far more accessible, because the problem is that kind material is not really accessible and that's something we're very keen on making a difference in.
We fundamentally believe that women have a peace-building role, they can make such a difference in their societies, but they need to be educated, what their faith teaches, so that if their sons or daughters come back and say, "Look this verse, seems to be advocating something," You can actually say "This what that verse actually means".
Just to clarify, it doesn't matter what faith you come from, what culture you come from, we know that domestic violence occurs to all women, regardless of what faith you are. In the UK the statistics show that one in four women suffers from domestic violence, the fact that two women are killed a week in this country by a former partner, or an ex partner, so domestic violence affects all women.
But what we wanted to emphasise in particular, with the Jihad Against Violence was placing an emphasis and a responsibility on Muslim leaders within our community. To say, "Look, anyone who's justifying any type of violence, whether it's female genital mutilation, whether it's honour killing or honour crimes," to say, "look, this is unacceptable" - to highlight that we can no longer sweep these issues under the carpet, which unfortunately there are some within our community who do, and for the sake of justice, we should address them.
LAM: On this topic of domestic life for Muslim women, in Malaysia - a modern Muslim country - a group of women has set up what they call the 'Obedient Wives Club', saying that wives should be subservient to their husbands and should even pretend to be prostitutes in bed, to stop their husbands from straying. What exactly does the Quran have to say about wives being obedient to their husbands?
KHAN: You know, the Quran talks so beautifully about marriage and about relationships. I'd to love to find the day when you know, we hear an 'Obedient Husbands Club' I've never heard that one, but yes, there are women who do believe that .. I think that's down to some conservative interpretation. I think the fact that they've set it up, to prevent their men from straying, from having affairs, really is placing the onus on women, rather than saying "Look, as a man, you should be controlling your base desires, that you need to change your attitude," when really in this day and age, both men and women have the responsibility in ensuring that a marriage is a good one. And the tranquility between the hearts of a man and a woman within a marriage. And that's what should govern a marriage, it's a very beautiful way that God talks about relationships.