As part of the Institute’s “Civil Society in Comparative Muslim Contexts” Seminar Series, a full-day event was organised on June 15, 2001. Three speakers explored civil society within different contexts: Dr Norani Othman on Southeast Asia, with a specific focus on Malaysia and Indonesia; Dr Ziba Mir-Hosseini on gender and civil society in post-revolutionary Iran; and Professor Abdou Filali-Ansary on the concept of “civil society” and its manifestations in the Maghreb.
Dr Ziba Mir-Hosseini’s presentation, “Debating Women” began the proceedings by discussing her recent fieldwork in Iran. She examined gender participation in the public sphere through the publications of women’s magazines and journals and how this particular media form has become a forum for discussing ideas of religion and politics in the Islamic Republic. She concluded her presentation by premiering an excerpt from her soon-to-be released documentary Runaway (2001) set in southern Tehran.
Adding to Dr Mir-Hosseini’s presentation, Dr Farhang Jahanpour, an international media commentator on Iranian affairs, provided his own reflections on Iran’s recent elections and its future prospects for civil society.
Dr Norani Othman continued the discussion by presenting her observations of the recent history of civil society movements in Southeast Asia and how civil society in its contemporary manifestations is linked with the economic success of the “tiger economies.” In her presentation, “Islam and Civil Society in Southeast Asia”, she also addressed how the activities of various Muslim organisations in these countries are affecting civil society and in particular family law in the region’s two Muslim-majority countries: Malaysia and Indonesia.
Professor Filali-Ansary ended the day with “Civil Society in the Maghreb”. He argued that the concept of “civil society” itself has a variety of meanings and uses that we need to be cautious about – notably with regards to the phenomenon of NGOs and the debate surrounding their civic role today. He also drew attention to the precursors of civil society in pre-modern Maghreb and in the wider context of the Muslim world.