Scholars in Context: Naima Mohammadi
Jadaliyya's Scholars in Context series consists of Q&As in which scholars of the Middle East describe their research and the paths they took to arrive at it. The series provides a platform for these scholars to highlight the significance of their work, identify the audiences they seek to reach, and outline their future research trajectories, giving readers an in-depth look at the latest research in a given field.
Jadaliyya (J): What is the main focus of your current research and how does it connect to or depart from your previous work?
Naima Mohammadi (NM): Most of my research has been conducted in the field of Muslim women’s issues as a minority group. My research deals with women’s struggles for recognition of their ignored or misrecognized gender and religious identities under the rule of secular or/and Islamist regimes. I argue that groups with excluded social identities reconstruct new symbols and cues to distinguish themselves from the majority group. To this end, I addressed the subcultures of Islamic veiling as a visible religious symbol among Muslim women's communities. I began my research with the implication of the burqa in the Persian Gulf region. My findings indicate that the burqa is not solely an Islamic garment; it acts as an articulate language with the potential to eliminate the confinements imposed on women by the hegemony of the patriarchal system as well as religious ideologies, empowering them to socially interact and communicate with other members of the society. I also worked on the niqab, another type of Islamic face veil, in Baluchistan region. The niqab carries a certain symbol with respect to ethnic-religious structures and operates as a powerful cultural signifier of otherness in debates over the decentralization of the Shia-Persian majority in this context. This breadth of the meaning of the Islamic veil extends even to international Muslim students in European contexts.
The other part of my research investigates sexual ethics and marriage in Islam, such as special types of marriage and family which are not approved by conventions of human rights but are still common or recommended among Muslim populations. I specifically studied the new social movements by Muslim women in cyber spaces and the attitudes of Muslim men on the privileges and beneficiaries they obtain from polygamy, extrajudicial divorce rights, taking concubines, and so on. My book, The Sociology of Polygamous Families, investigates one of the most exceptional family lifestyles of Muslim women in the Middle East. This book is the result of ten years of careful field study and narrative analyses with indigenous women in deprived parts of the Baluchistan region. My commitment to public engagement and my role as a science advocate led me to present my research findings to the Research Center of Islamic Consultative Assembly, where I led a discussion about the consequences of this religious tradition for those who have been suffering from conflict and stressful family relationships. The book is currently my main resource on teaching “Marriage in Islam” in the department of sociology and law at the University of Pittsburgh.
J: What particular topics, issues, and literatures does it address?
NM: Post-colonial feminism, intersectionality, and Indigenous feminism are the theoretical frameworks I usually address in my research works. I also respect the idea of Inclusive University to minimize the sense of exclusion and misrecognition of minorities.
J: What brought you to this work? What was the source of inspiration?
NM: My faith in global feminism brought me into this work. I feel like feminism as an emancipatory movement has been hijacked by white, middle-class, Western women, and it is high time to rely on an intersectional approach and postcolonial, indigenous feminism to address the main issues related to women of color, Muslim women, subalterns, and indigenous women, as well as female diaspora subjectivities in academic environments. I am also inspired by the current movement in Iran, “Woman, Life, and Freedom.”
J: What audiences would you like to reach, and what kind of impact would you like your research and writing to have?
NM: I am interested in highlighting the most important issues for Muslim women in Western academia and raise their voice for gaining more support by activists and feminists cross the world. I write to my sisters and women advocates for a more inclusive perspective and recognition.
J: What other projects are you working on now?
NM: I would like to articulate the concept of “Islamic feminism” alongside “Black feminism” as emancipatory movements for Muslim females in non-Muslim majority countries, such as the United States. I am interested in putting Colored and Covered Muslim Feminism in dialogue with global feminism. Another project that is taking my attention is to take a specific perspective on Baloch women’s circumstances, including those who are under “double jeopardy”—considering, on the one hand, the dominance of the patriarchal tribal system and conservative religious beliefs, and, on the other hand, the severe repression from central governments and misrecognition and exclusion. They are unable to speak about their gender identity under the shadow of gender stereotypes, discrimination, and segregation in their own community. However, they play very active and provocative roles in the current movement in Iran, which is still going on.