'A Light in Her Eyes' Examines the Role of Women in Islam

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Over the past 17 months, Syria has been thrown into chaos with first the Arab Spring uprisings then President Bashar al Assad's brutal crackdown. The Assads have ruled Syria since 1970, and while the family has remained secular, Syrian citizens have become more religious.

Many of the Syrian Muslim clerics agree with preacher Abu Ishaq Alhwyn, who explained in an interview that "If a woman does as the prophet said, worships God, then she should stay home as much as possible," or with cleric Saad Alkahthan, who says, "Regarding women's prayer, praying at home is better than in the mosque… the Prophet said, 'Their homes are better for them.'"

A new movement of Muslim women is daring to challenge these prevailing views. One of these women is preacher Houda al-Habash, the founder and director of a Qur'an school for girls at the Al-Zahra Mosque in downtown Damascus.

Houra and her daughter, Enas, accentuate the differences between the actual Muslim religion and Islamic extremists, emphasizing the rights the Qu'ran grants to women. As Houda tells her students at their graduation: "What I really wish from you girls is to speak up if there’s something you don’t like. You are free in your choices, free in your way of thinking, free in your faith, free in everything. Women can be teachers and students, women can rule and arbitrate. Does religious law allow a woman to be president? Yes! Don’t shut off your brain. Don’t give up your right to choose."

A new documentary about Houda al-Habash and her school premieres tonight on POV, the documentary series on PBS. The film is called The Light in Her Eyes, co-directed and produced by Julia Meltzer and Laura Nix. Afra Jalabi, who also joins us, is a member of the Syrian National Council.