Susan Carland: "Truly engaging with Muslim women is the best place to start"

Melbourne-based author and academic Dr Susan Carland tackles the relationship between Muslim women and gender equality in her new book.

By Grace Jennings-Edquist

Dr. Susan Carland is an activist; a lecturer at Monash; a researcher; a former Australian Muslim of the Year; and a mother of two. She’s also one half of an Aussie power couple (she’s married to your mum’s fave TV personality, Waleed Aly). 

Most recently, Carland also became the author of Fighting Hislam, which examines the oft-debated relationship between Feminism and Islam. The book, which started as Carland’s PhD thesis, examines how Muslim women can stand for gender equality while holding fast to their faith.

“So often, other people (Muslim men, non-Muslim feminists) feel they can tell Muslim women what the issues are and how they can be best solved,” Carland tells me. If the Australian feminist community wants to stop alienating Muslim women, a good starting place would be “listening to Muslim women speak about their own experiences, and how they think things can be best tackled,” she adds.

Generations of pious Muslim women have devoted themselves to fighting sexism, Carland argues: Many continue to do so today by staging pray-in protests, teaching Islamic classes to women and girls, writing their own female-friendly translations of the Qur’an, and making films with Muslim protagonists.

“The women I spoke to for my book often used their religion to push back against the sexism in their lives; they would use religious arguments to challenge the patriarchy they faced, either through reinterpreting religious scripture, or by bringing classical religious arguments to stop things like domestic violence or women’s access to the mosque,” says Carland, who converted to Islam at age 19.

Against a backdrop of shallow and sometimes ugly political discourse around what it means to be a Muslim today (see: the rise of Islamophobia fueled by the likes of One Nation), the book truly engages with issues that face Muslim women – and makes a case for a more inclusive form of feminism.

“A desire to add some nuance to the conversation around Muslim women and sexism” drove her to write the book, Carland says. “At the moment, it’s very black and white, with almost no insight. It’s frustratingly pedestrian, and I wanted to try to enrich it in some small way.”

Fighting Hislam: Women, Faith and Sexism by Susan Carland (MUP, RRP $29.99, eBook $13.99), is out now.