Islamic women remodel cultural roles through sculptureNovember 8, 1996
Web posted at: 10:30 p.m. EST (0330 GMT)
From Correspondent Walter Rodgers
BEIT RIMA, West Bank (CNN) -- The Palestinian village of Beit Rima is a man's world. Islamic tradition and tribal custom relegate women to lives at home; sermons at their mosque broadcast to the village tell them "Muslim women must be taught to obey God."
But ever since an education center opened in the village, a group of Islamic women is rebelling against the man's world they were born to. The center teaches women to sculpt, a skill that has Beit Rima's religious leaders up in arms.
"They are doing shapes of the human body, which is forbidden under Islam," a Palestinian Sheikh said through an interpreter. "Making an image of man, even in clay, is to imitate God. Allah will punish them in the Day of Judgment."
Some women at the center came to escape punishment. All are seeking a second chance in life. Each tells a sad story.
Kayan was just 13 when forced to marry by her father. Six months later she produced no child, so her husband divorced her."For a divorced woman, there is no future in village society," Kayan said. She was kept at home, shunned for 12 years, until this sculpture class.
Sahar Amali runs the Adult Education and Rehabilitation Center, which is changing Palestinian women's lives. She says it teaches them that they are more than just machines to make babies. They learn they are somebody, and that they have beauty and self-worth. "It is very hard in the Arab world, and in the Islamic culture, to talk about your own feelings," she said.
"As Palestinians, we don't fight only against the enemy, the national enemy. You will fight against anything in your society who stopped your dream. You will fight to be a free person."
In their quiet art, the women at her center assert themselves in clay. Female figures become larger, more dominant than men. Their teacher, Palestinian artist Jamal Afaghani, said their assertion is a dramatic turnaround from the beginning of the course, when "it was very hard just to push them to talk."
Just the fact Afaghani -- a man -- was teaching them violated strict cultural mores. They became the targets of malicious gossip. But they persisted and their mental walls collapsed, and in the process, Afaghani said, "They discovered that their body is more beautiful than the man himself."
One of his students spoke about the change in herself. "Before, it was threatening to look or even talk about a man's body, even as clay. Now, I can shape a man's body and I can do whatever I want," she said.
Prior to the Center's existence, these women never had a sense of their own beauty. Now, their art has become an act of defiance. "I belong to this age. I will never go live in areas that belong to 2,000 years ago," Amali said.
Some village husbands and fathers are slowly coming to accept this project, but in his next sermon, the Muslim sheikh attacked the center as un-Islamic, and urged men to stop their women from coming here.
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