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Educate Women to Defeat Islam Fundamentalism

Interview with President of Moroccan Communities in Italy

ROME, OCT. 1, 2006 (Zenit) - Fundamentalism can be defeated through education, especially the education of women, says Souad Sbai, president of the confederation of Moroccan communities in Italy.

A Moroccan native, Sbai has lived in Italy for 25 years, is director of the Arab monthly magazine Al Maghrebiya, for Arabs living in Italy, and is a member of the Islamic Council, established by the Italian government.

She also attended the meeting Benedict XVI held with Muslim leaders Sept. 25 in Castel Gandolfo.

In this interview with us, Sbai comments on Islam fundamentalism, especially the challenges facing women in Islamic cultures.

Q: What is your impression of the address Benedict XVI gave to the University of Regensburg on Sept. 12.

Sbai: The Pope responded to controversies by turning the page, proposing again the path of interreligious dialogue, reminding of the right to reciprocity.

It was an historic meeting. However, we have never doubted his words. The troubles and violent reactions arose over a misunderstanding, but were also the work of extremists who were waiting for an opportunity to attack the Pope and create unrest among the moderate Muslim community.

We must not fall into the error of the extremists who do not want dialogue. The dialogue between Islam, Judaism and Christianity is ancient; it has existed for centuries and must continue. The extremists must be isolated and, with calm, personalities will arise who can consolidate a moderate and positive Islam.

The presence of the Islamic Center of Rome at the meeting with the Pope was important and significant, as the mosque of the Eternal City is the largest in Europe and there are moderate people who want dialogue.

Q: The Holy Father made an appeal to reason. What do you think?

Sbai: Without reason, one goes nowhere. All religions take reason into account.

Q: So where does one begin?

Sbai: From this point of view, I believe that one must begin by helping women who have been denied freedom and the right to education. In Italy, 86% of immigrant women from Muslim countries are illiterate. It's a scandal! These immigrant women, who cannot read or write, must be helped to emancipate themselves.

They are women who live in segregation, subjected, victims of extremists who want obedience to laws that don't exist. These women must be helped. Christians and Muslims must undertake a mission to remove these people who live in illiteracy and violence from their tragic situation.

When one is illiterate, one is unaware of one's rights and duties. These women are isolated and humiliated in the heart of the West, which is the homeland of human rights. I am not worried by racists, as I can speak with them and fight them. What is worse is the indifference of those who close their eyes as if nothing was happening.

Q: But many Muslims are afraid of Western customs, considering them corrupt.

Sbai: I am concerned to see that some Moroccan women arrive in Italy and begin to wear the veil -- something they didn't do in Morocco. Sometimes there is a mixture of traditions among immigrants from Somalia, Morocco, Afghanistan and Pakistan, who tend to fundamentalism. Thus, we come across women who speak of infibulation, of the total veil, and of polygamy, practices that we have already surmounted in Morocco. Few women know that in Morocco family law has changed and that there are more rights.

From my point of view, the task of the Italian government is to concentrate on the work of literacy of immigrant women, without being too concerned about being criticized for the process of assimilation. I was born in Morocco; I have lived in Italy for 25 years; I feel Italian, but I haven't lost any of my traditions. I certainly don't go looking for negative traditions ...

Q: Is economic development a threat for Muslims?

Sbai: The real threat is fundamentalism, not development. Many Muslim families are afraid that if young girls are emancipated they will go naked on the streets. But not all women in Italy dress in a provocative way. One must not go by exaggerated examples that appear on television programs to think that all is like that. The vast majority of Italian women dress and live in a sober and virtuous way.

The risk consists in adopting the fundamentalist theses as a reaction. The fact is that it is necessary to go forward so that universal human rights are respected. Reference must be made to the values of freedom, as the Pope stressed on Sept. 25. Respect for freedom is a value that cannot be negotiated.


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Islam, Fundamentalism, Women

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