Windows into Islam 6

Windows into Islam 6

The series of 6 blogs, “Windows into Islam”, are a compilation from many of my other writings and speaking on women who live under Islam, and the result of conversations with others who have done When Women Speak… I-view courses, and my friend and colleague Moyra Dale, who first used the concept of windows into Islam.

Windows into Islam come from a class I taught online in 2023 for the Lilias Trotter Centre.

Window 6: Refugees and forced displacement

The statistics are staggering: an estimated 117.2 million people will be forcibly displaced or stateless in 2023 according to UN estimates. 52% of all refugees come from just three countries, Syria, Ukraine and Afghanistan. Women make a little over half of the refugee population. However, the numbers of women affected by these issues is disproportionately higher. Female-headed households, as a result of these crises, constitute an unrecognized challenge in many communities. Men have left for employment, been killed in war, set off on the refugee trail, all the time leaving women to manage without the provision and protection they might normally expect within a family.

Women who are refugees and forcibly displaced they often experience sexual and gender-based violence. As a result of poverty, they may be kidnapped, trafficked or forced into marriage. For many countries, like Syria for example, the progress that had been made on issues of gender equality has been lost as a result of war; for countries that home large numbers of refugees, like Lebanon and Turkey for example, issues impacting their women are hidden by allowing refugees to enter.

Many of the countries affected by conflicts and issues resulting in refugees and displacement of people are Muslim: Syria, Somalia, Afghanistan, Sudan, Myanmar, Yemen. The impact of wars and conflicts leading to the displacement of people is a contemporary issue for many nations where Islam is the dominant religion and its impact on women is disproportionate.

The contemporary world of Islam and our global world are being reshaped by these crises. While Muslim women want their religion to answer these profound and complex questions and issues, they seek experiences of faith and not just words or dogma. The violences women often experience as refugees or forcibly displaced mean they feel unable to practice their faith. They feel unclean, shamed and humiliated by so many of their experiences. Often forced to fend for themselves, women refugees and those forcibly displaced are finding new strength to challenge and leave old ways and patterns of being and expected to be. Women’s sense of identity and belonging is deeply challenged by the loss of relational connection that is so much a part of the way they engage with the world. This means they are often living without anchors to keep them connected and without the provision and protection those connections should provide.

Questions to explore

  1. What do you consider to be the key issues for Muslim women who are refugees/forcibly displaced? If you put yourself in their shoes try to describe how you feel.
  2. What opportunities does this create for the good news?
  3. What stories of women in scripture speak to women in this situation?

Good news for women

Our scriptures are replete with stories of women, families, tribes and nations who were forcibly displaced, the victims of war and conflict, held in bondage. We would do well to grow our understanding of the biblical narrative so that we can see the sweep of what it is to be God’s people who are displaced and who receive his protection and provision, are given an identity and safe place of belonging, and who God sees in their suffering and responds to. The Old Testament is a story of people on the move, sometimes called out, sometimes sent out but never left alone. God was always with them. Being able to see God’s hand in the sweeping narrative of individuals, families, tribes and nations on the move is required of us as we seek to walk with those who are refugees and displaced.

And then I think of God himself, in the life of Jesus, coming and making his dwelling among us, not as a permanent physical place of being (the Son of Man had nowhere to lay his head), but in relationships of interdependence with those who were around him. We have to rethink what it means to belong, to dwell, if we are to address the deeper heart issues of those on the move.

What does the Kingdom of God among us look like for those who are forcibly displaced and/or join the masses of refugees? The story of scripture tells us there is safety, there is protection and provision. Do we understand that? How do we communicate it?

© When Women Speak … January 2024

CH spent nearly four decades in South Asia and the Middle East working in education, community development and the Church, and has returned as part of Interserve’s International Leadership. A co-founder of the When Women Speak… network, her research has included women’s activism and social change in South Asia, violence against women and missiology. She is currently focussed on developing new streams of ministry among women who live under Islam and enabling women academics and practitioners to shape missiology and mission practice. She holds a PhD in Gender Studies (Australian National University).

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