Azar Nafisi
Professor, Johns Hopkins University
04:38

Azar Nafisi: Is Islam hostile to women?

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The Prophet's first wife was his boss.

Azar Nafisi

Azar Nafisi is best known as the author of the national bestseller Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books, which electrified its readers with a compassionate and often harrowing portrait of the Islamic revolution in Iran and how it affected one university professor and her students.  The book has spent over 117 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list.  Azar Nafisi’s new book, Things I Have Been Silent About: Memories, a memoir about her mother, was published in January 2009. 

Azar Nafisi is a Visiting Professor and the executive director of Cultural Conversations at the Foreign Policy Institute of Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, DC, where she is a professor of aesthetics, culture, and literature, and teaches courses on the relation between culture and politics.  Azar Nafisi held a fellowship at Oxford University, teaching and conducting a series of lectures on culture and the important role of Western literature and culture in Iran after the revolution in 1979. She has taught at the University of Tehran, the Free Islamic University and Allameh Tabatabaii. 

Transcript

Question: Is Islam hostile to women?

Azar Nafisi: : You know Islam like other religions . . . If you look at any other religion . . . I mean a lot of mandates in Islam are taken from Judaism or from Christianity in the same manner that Christianity was very much influenced probably just not by Judaism, but also by Iran’s ancient religion which was Zoroastrianism. Many of the mythologies are the same. So I think that these religions that came about, you know, 2,000 years ago or 1,500 years ago would not fit our . . . our modern interpretations of women. So I try to see it within two different contexts. If I see it within the context of its times, I see that for its times Islam did give women certain powers and certain rights that they didn’t have in their own societies. People bring examples of the prophet’s first wife, ..., for whom he worked. She was a very successful businesswoman actually, and .... I mean they . . . They figures that are very courageous women. But there are aspects of the religion that have come to the modern times which I feel are reactionary. I think polygamy is reactionary. I think in looking at Saudi Arabia where a girl is raped and then punished by law for being raped, her rapist is let free, but she is punished; where men and women are beheaded because of what they call adultery; you know all of this is against not just women – against humanity, you know? So there are those differentiations and modifications that we need to make.



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