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Fatima Mernissi (©Roeland Fossen)

Introduction

Fatima Mernissi died in Rabat at the age of 75 on 30 November 2015. As a leading Moroccan sociologist and writer, she was of great importance in the development of feminism in the Muslim world. As a result of her 1975 book Beyond the Veil: Male-Female Dynamics in Muslim Society, she was given the nickname ‘the Simone de Beauvoir of the Maghreb’. The Guardian proclaimed her one of the hundred most influential Arab women. Her oeuvre explores the combined topics of power, gender and Islam and builds bridges between the West and the Arab world.

Starting from the context of the city of Brussels and in line with the values of VUB the passing away of Fatima Mernissi inspired VUB and two of its prominent alumni, Saïda Sakali and Yamila Idrissi, to create an academic chair to spread the ideas of Mernissi. After a successful launch of the chair on 26 January 2017, the Fatima Mernissi Chair organized a first series of lectures and workshops on power, gender and Islam, entitled Slam the City, Academia Meets Society. Slam the City is a reference to the pounding dynamics in society which the metropolis of Brussels is confronted with. This project provided a platform to use this energy in a creative and constructive manner, in order to establish a more inclusive and cohesive fabric in Brussels. The program was created in an open dialogue with different Brussels cultural and socio-cultural organisations, artists, activists, youngsters and secondary schools.

Commissioned by VUB and in the framework of the Fatima Mernissi Chair, visual artist Saddie Choua created an impressive artistic portrait of Fatima Mernissi entitled Je crois qu’il y a une confusion chez vous. Vous croyez que moi je veux vous imiter. #FatimaMernissi

The Fatima Mernissi Chair is an initiative of RHEA, in collaboration with Crosstalks.

Goals

The Fatima Mernissi Chair has both an academic and socially oriented pillar. Within the academic pillar the chair aims to set up scientific research that focuses on the following topics:

  • The so-called 'Muslim issue', more specifically the framing of power, gender and Islam in contemporary scientific and social debates. The main focus lies on innovative and critical voices.
  • (Perceived) identity among the Muslim populations in Europe, with special attention to youngsters. Here we focus on new ideas and practices that grow within the Muslim populations themselves, among others we deal with identity formation and the interpretation of 'masculinity' and 'femininity', of 'feminism' and 'Islam'.
  • Explore the possibilities and limitations of the current political structures and cultures of contemporary liberal democracies set against the integration of islam in Europe. 
  • Brussels and its diverse dynamics and communities. 

The second, socially oriented pillar involves a dialogue between science and society (opinion makers, socio-cultural organisations, artists, activists and other stakeholders) on the broad topics of power, gender and Islam. 

Within the academic world there are quite a few researchers and thinkers active on these topics, whereby they critically interpret the Islam and zoom in on the role of gender, power and religion in society's problems. The knowledge that is produced here, is too often not disclosed to the broad public. Therefore the research that started in the framework of this chair should not be limited to the confines of the VUB campuses, but rather it should play a significant role in promoting coexistence in a city such as Brussels. Furthermore there are numerous initiatives from the social and cultural sectors that critically rethink Islam and that look for ways to positively shape how we coexist. By creating a platform for public debate we are convinced that VUB can play an important and constructive role in the mutual exchange of knowledge. 

An important catalyst for this are the annual activities Academia meets Society in which we create a forum for innovative, critical voices that we unleash on a number of activist, policy oriented or artistic activities. Since 2017 chair holder Iman Lechkar gives shape to this series of activities.

  • 2017: Slam the City. The project Slam the City started from the need to create positive dynamics that offer solutions for the crucial social issues that a metropolitan city is confronted with.  Slam the City refers to the pounding with which the metropolitan city Brussels is confronted and offers a forum to use that energy in a constructive and creative way to create a more inclusive and cohesive Brussels.
  • 2018: The Fatima Mernissi Book Caravan. Inspired by the caravane civique founded by Fatima Mernissi to strengthen disadvantaged citizens in their development and citizenship, we started the Fatima Mernissi book caravan in 2018. By means of literature, the Fatima Mernissi book caravan wanted to acquaint Brussels youth with an artistic and socially relevant discipline and inspire them by engaging them in dialogue with various writers and (slam) poets, with particular attention to Flemish Belgian-Moroccan authors.
  • 2019: Forgotten queens: women and power. Forgotten queens is inspired by the book of Fatima Mernissi, Sultanes oubliées, Femmes chefs d'Etat, or in English: The Forgotten Queens of Islam. Fatima Mernissi emphasizes in her book the strong tradition of female leaders in the Islamic world. In a three-part series of activities on women and power, the project wants to zoom in on mechanisms that ensure that the male elite remains and is reinforced, thereby restricting the female potential or making it invisible. Forgotten Queens aims to inform Brussels by means of easily accessible lunch conversations and larger public events with Moroccan, Belgian and international speakers about (in)visible mechanisms that prevent women from being treated equally, in both the West and the Arab world.
     

Chair holder: Iman Lechkar

Iman Lechkar holds a master's degree as a translator English-Spanish-Arabic, a master-after-master in International Relations and Diplomacy and a PhD in Social and Cultural Anthropology. Her linguistic as well as social and cultural expertise allows her to analyse and teach about societal tendencies in an interdisciplinary manner. Iman is particularly involved in higher education. She has performed doctoral and post-doctoral research at KULeuven and is active as a docent at Odisee. 

Iman Lechkar studies forms of Islam in the West and is specialised in anthropology of Islam, multiculturalism, critical theory, gender theory, Islam studies and in the politics and history of the Middle East. Both in her research as well as in her teachings Iman Lechkar attempts to combine different intellectual, social, cultural and historic traditions. 

Besides that she is also involved in the socio-cultural sector in Brussels and Antwerp where she tries to shape the debate on Islam, diversity and minorities in the Belgian context. 

Period

2017 - 2019