Fatima Mernissi (1940-2015) was a prominent Moroccan sociologist, who was important for the development of feminism in the Muslim world. In 1975 her book,Behind the veil, was published. The subject about the Islam and the struggle between the sexes, made her the granddaughter of Simone De Beauvoir and Maghreb. The Guardian granted her as one of the hundred most influential Arab women. Her works researches the intersections between power, gender and the Islam and makes a connection between the West and the Arabian world. Although not enough light was shed in the Western society and in the academic world.
The VUB chair has its goal to honor Fatima Mernissi her oeuvres and to conform this on an academic and on a social scale. The chair wants to create a context where the urgent problematic intersection between gender and Islam can be critically researched and discussed. The Fatima Mernissi chair as herself wants to make a connection and emancipate.
The Fatima Mernissi chair connects closely with the values of the VUB, and also with her engagements in Brussels. Brussels had emerged itself as a ‘city of minorities’ (32% of the population has a migrant background), as a result of the various migration movements. In the present-day the possibility of living together despite different ethnicities, religions and languages is being questioned by many. In the aftermath of international terrorism, the emerge of ISIS and the concerns of radicalism, the Islam is being called more into question. The Islam is seen as a religion where the equality between men and women are being perpetuated and are incompatible with the European norms and values. The tensions utter into returning conflicts, which concentrate on the role of women in the Islam (the veiling issue, discussion about the burkini), but also on the identity and values of the Islamic youth. The chair wants to situate itself and engage in the academic and social debates.
The Fatima Mernissi chair has an academic and socially oriented aim. Within the academic pillar scientific research will be set up with the following focus on:
- The so called ‘Muslim affair’, in particular the framing of power, gender and Islam in the actual scientific and social debates. Hereby there is a particular focus for innovative and critical voices.
- The identity and the sense of identity under the Muslim population in Europe, with particular attention for the youth. Here we focus on new ideas and practices, which grow within the Muslim population itself. It involves identity formation and the shaping of masculinity and femininity in feminism and the Islam.
- Opportunities and inabilities of the current political structures and cultures of present liberal democracies in the light of integration of the Islam in Europe.
- Brussels and her several dynamics and communities.
From 1 January 2017 the VUB, more specifically RHEA, the VUB’s centrum of expertise in Gender, Diversity and Intersectionality will appoint Iman Lechkar to set the line of investigation. The Fatima Mernussi chair will be surrounded by an advisory board with internationally reputable scientist from the domain.
The second societal pillar contains a dialogue between science and the society (opinion-makers, civil society organizations, artists, activists and all kinds of interested parties) about the broad theme power, gender and Islam. There are a lot of researchers and thinkers within the academic world, who are active within these topics, whereby they critically interpret the Islam and take a closer look at the role of gender, power and religion within societal issues. The knowledge which is being produces is not always approachable for a wide audience. Also, the research will be launched in the context of the academic pillar of the chair but cannot stay at the VUB campus and has to have an important role in supporting the society in the city of Brussels. Moreover in the society itself are various initiatives developed to critically rethink the Islam and find ways to create the society in a positive way. We believe that, through academic knowledge and insights concerning these themes as well as a platform for public debate, we can grant an important and constructive contribution.
An important part is the annual readings Academia meets Society, where we create a forum for innovative and critical voices for activists, policy-oriented and artistic activities. For this, a curator is annually appointed, who sheds light on a central subject and other speakers of events, who further deepen in these topics.
The first edition of the readings Academia meets society of the Fatima Mernissi chair in 2016-2017 focusses explicitly on Brussels, people of Brussels (immigrants, youth and women) civil society organizations, Brussels students and the Muslim youth in particular. It aims at thinking processes and practices, which will strengthen the cohesion in Brussels. The university wants to present itself as a worthy partner for civil society organizations in certain mutually enforcing projects and events. We will detect in interaction with the members of the organization and the youth we can attract to our readings, what our projects and events will mean.
From the 28 of March till the 30 November 2017 different readings and events will take place under the name “Academia Meets Society: Slam the City” within the framework of the Fatima Mernissi chair.