What Islam Really Says About Women by Alaa Murabit (Full Transcript)

Alaa Murabit

Full text of Alaa Murabit, The Voice of Libyan Women Founder, on what Islam really says about women at TED conference…

Listen to the MP3 Audio here: What Islam Really Says About Women by Alaa Murabit – TED Talks MP3


So on my way here, the passenger next to me and I had a very interesting conversation during my flight. He told me, “It seems like the United States has run out of jobs, because they’re just making some up: cat psychologist, dog whisperer, tornado chaser.”

A couple of seconds later, he asked me, “So what do you do?”

And I was like, “Peacebuilder?”

Every day, I work to amplify the voices of women and to highlight their experiences and their participation in peace processes and conflict resolution. And because of my work, I recognize that the only way to ensure the full participation of women globally is by reclaiming religion.

Now, this matter is vitally important to me. As a young Muslim woman, I am very proud of my faith. It gives me the strength and conviction to do my work every day. It’s the reason I can be here in front of you. But I can’t overlook the damage that has been done in the name of religion, not just my own, but all of the world’s major faiths. The misrepresentation and misuse and manipulation of religious scripture has influenced our social and cultural norms, our laws, our daily lives, to a point where we sometimes don’t recognize it.

My parents moved from Libya, North Africa, to Canada in the early 1980s, and I am the middle child of 11 children. Yes, 11. But growing up, I saw my parents, both religiously devout and spiritual people, pray and praise God for their blessings, namely me of course, but among others. They were kind and funny and patient, limitlessly patient, the kind of patience that having 11 kids forces you to have. And they were fair. I was never subjected to religion through a cultural lens. I was treated the same, the same was expected of me. I was never taught that God judged differently based on gender. And my parents’ understanding of God as a merciful and beneficial friend and provider shaped the way I looked at the world.

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Now, of course, my upbringing had additional benefits. Being one of 11 children is Diplomacy 101. To this day, I am asked where I went to school, like, “Did you go to Kennedy School of Government?” and I look at them and I’m like, “No, I went to the Murabit School of International Affairs.” It’s extremely exclusive. You would have to talk to my mom to get in. Lucky for you, she’s here. But being one of 11 children and having 10 siblings teaches you a lot about power structures and alliances. It teaches you focus; you have to talk fast or say less, because you will always get cut off. It teaches you the importance of messaging. You have to ask questions in the right way to get the answers you know you want, and you have to say no in the right way to keep the peace.

But the most important lesson I learned growing up was the importance of being at the table. When my mom’s favorite lamp broke, I had to be there when she was trying to find out how and by who, because I had to defend myself, because if you’re not, then the finger is pointed at you, and before you know it, you will be grounded. I am not speaking from experience, of course.

When I was 15 in 2005, I completed high school and I moved from Canada — Saskatoon — to Zawiya, my parents’ hometown in Libya, a very traditional city. Mind you, I had only ever been to Libya before on vacation, and as a seven-year-old girl, it was magic. It was ice cream and trips to the beach and really excited relatives.

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