This is the eighteenth installment of a series of interviews I am conducting with academic philosophers about their religious practices. In this series of interviews, I ask philosophers about their religious practices and the influence on their philosophical work. Follow the links for parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16 and 17. The contributors The contributors are in various stages of their career, tenured and untenured. Interviews were conducted through e-mail and responses are not edited.
This interview is with Saba Fatima, assistant professor at Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville.
Can you tell me something about your current academic position and work, and your religious affiliation/self-identification?
I am an Assistant Professor at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville in the Philosophy Department. I am also the current Religious Studies Advisor. Among other courses, I teach contemporary Islamic social & political thought, and philosophy of race. My research interests include non-ideal theory, philosophy of race, and feminist philosophy. I employ the tools these sub-fields provide me to better understand the current political context surrounding Muslims. My teaching and research interests were influenced quite a bit by own experiences.
I am a Muslim. I belong to the Shia sect (Fiqh-e-Jafria) of Islam. I grew up in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. Early in my life, I didn’t realize we were Shia. I have a faint memory from when I was a kid, realizing one day that we were Shia and being very scared in school. I thought that ‘they’ would come take me away. It was of course unfounded fear of a child, but even as a child, I knew that Saudi Arabia was far from a friendly place for Shia Pakistani expats to work. Our family would host and attend religious gatherings in secret because of fear of persecution. The government still sees Shias as polluters of Islam, and has a contentious political relationship with Shias (within its own borders and elsewhere).
When I moved to Karachi, Pakistan, I never discussed my religious identity. Because my school friends did not know, anti-Shia sentiment would occasionally rear its head. However, it was certainly not anywhere as terrible as Saudi Arabia. Since our extended family had lived there for many years, our neighbors knew we were Shia, but they were friendly and it was a non-issue. When I came to the United States for my undergraduate studies, I again encountered anti-Shia sentiment in the immigrant Muslim communities. This is all, of course, one (very important) aspect of who I am and what my upbringing has been like. For example, one cannot escape anti-Muslim sentiment in the West, or sexist attitudes, both within religious community and the wider society. Even as an adolescent, I always had strong feminist tendencies, but I remain wary of feminist threads which drown out women of color voices or justify imperialism. These experiences were fundamental in my decision to pursue graduate studies in Philosophy and they continue to guide my research.