"From Nazareth to Canada: Palestinian and Indigenous Faith with Shadia Qubti" Transcript
Season 1, Episode 16
Shadia Qubti: But it's also partly like the theology, you know, if God calls you to do something and you keep at it, you will succeed. You will conquer your Goliath, right. I would say it's American exceptionalism. It's not really theology.
[The song “Citizens” by Jon Guerra fades in. Lyrics: “I need to know there is justice/That it will roll in abundance/ And that you’re building a city/ Where we arrive as immigrants/ And you call us citizens/ And you welcome us as children home.” The song fades out.]
Sy Hoekstra: Welcome to Shake the Dust, leaving colonized faith for the Kingdom of God, a podcast of KTF Press. My name is Sy Hoekstra here with Jonathan Walton and Suzie Lahoud.
Jonathan Walton: Today, we have an interview with Shadia Qubti. She has worked in peacebuilding and advocacy initiatives for 15 years through local and international organizations in Palestine and Israel. As a Palestinian Christian, she is particularly focused on amplifying the voices and perspectives of women and other minorities.
Born and raised in Nazareth, she studied international relations and English language at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, conflict resolution and non-violent action at Trinity Dublin College in Ireland, and she is currently pursuing a degree in interreligious and indigenous studies at Vancouver School of Theology in Canada.
Today, we talk with her about her decision to study indigenous theology, how indigenous theology is changing her thinking and practice as a Palestinian Christian, the dualism of Western theology, the inadequacy of Western theology to address intractable social problems, patriarchy in the Palestinian church, and so much more.
Sy Hoekstra: One more quick thing on this interview, Shadia’s audio is not the best. It's our fault, not hers, but the episode is totally listenable. She says a lot of great things, so we wanted to bring you the episode. But just so you know, I just wanted to flag that.
Suzie Lahoud: As a reminder, if you like this show, the best way you can support us is by going to KTFPress.com and subscribing. That gets you our weekly newsletter, curating resources to help you in discipleship and political education as you seek to leave colonized faith for the Kingdom of God, bonus episodes of this show, and writing from the three of us. It also supports this show and other projects we're working on like future books. And you can now get a free month of that subscription by going to KTFPress.com/free month. Again, that's KTFPress.com/free month.
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Sy Hoekstra: All right, now that that's out of the way, here is our interview with Shadia Qubti.
[“Citizens” by Jon Guerra fades in briefly, then fades out.]
Suzie Lahoud: Shadia Qubti, thank you so much for joining us on Shake the Dust today. We're just so excited to have you.
Shadia Qubti: Thank you. Thank you for having me. I'm very excited to be with you and really to have a conversation today.
Suzie Lahoud: Yeah, well, we've definitely been looking forward to this conversation and have been following some of your work. And just to launch right in and give folks a little bit of a sense of your background and what you're doing right now, you're studying with indigenous theologians at the Vancouver School of Theology as part of your own attempt to figure out what it means to be a Palestinian Christian. Can you explain why you would travel so far and study in such a different tradition for that purpose?
Shadia Qubti: Well yeah, excellent question. There are several ways I was trying to kind of think about this and how to say it, because each one of us is on a journey, and we meet people and things happen that kind of take us on our path. I think for me, part of the opportunities I had was to travel a lot with my work. So in some sense, everyone says it, like the world is so small, and it's very true that if you get to travel and you get to go to different places around the world, it shrinks that distance. And it was actually in one of those conferences that I went to, part of kind of my work with the Christian community, I met an indigenous leader, and it was this forum that has a conversation between theologians from the Global South and the Global North.
And it was just kind of hearing the experience of different indigenous theologians from the South primarily that resonates a lot with our context as Palestinians. And that kind of intrigued me. I'll be honest, I didn't know... I mean, you know, most of my familiarity with indigenous North American context is from the movies, from Hollywood culture. So I didn't know much, and part of this intrigue-ness was to kind of come and see what it is and to kind of, in a sense, like date indigenous theology to see kind of, what can we, what is our shared language? What can I learn from this context, and how can I take it and self-reflect my context?
And you know, just some of the traditions. So in this conference, this indigenous leader was praying over another person, and he used the ritual of using the feather and burning sage. And I just found that was fascinating, because when you go to different Christian conferences, especially if you're from an evangelical context, it's kind of like going to the airport. They're all the same. Like it's all kind of the same setting. We have these similar worship, similar, I dare to say rituals or liturgy. And seeing something different, seeing someone express their faith differently just really raised my curiosity a lot. So that's kind of one aspect why I'm kind of doing this.
But I think also, I've been working a lot, in the context of the Christian community we talk about Israel, Palestine, and social justice. And to be very honest with you, sometimes it's exhausting. I mean, this work is very exhausting. You burn out because you are one person hitting this huge, huge, huge wall, and you can get tired. And for me, it was time to kind of just say, “Okay I'm doing the same thing and expecting different results. Maybe it's time I just took this time to say, ‘Okay, I’m intentionally creating a distance because I want to see things differently. I want to try to see things differently.’” So it's this kind of shifting or trying to see things from different entry points, so maybe to get revitalized, to get inspired. To keep that oomph to keep going, because working for the Palestinian issue sometimes can be very, very hard.
Suzie Lahoud: Yeah. Wow. Thank you for your vulnerability in sharing that. Just to go back to a point that you made about these Christian conferences, even global Christian conferences that you attend. We recently had Kyle Howard on our podcast, and he talked about how… specifically he was talking about white evangelical seminaries in the United States, but just about how without realizing it, a lot of times what's being taught, or pretty much all the time what's being taught, is white theology, but they don't realize that. And it's just sort of packaged as “This is theology. This is how you study God, and learn about God, and worship God.” And I think it's so helpful how you unmask that we do have rituals that we practice. We wouldn't call them that, but those are culturally based things and those things need to be decolonized and we need to be able to find and appreciate, and even take part in other forms of expression of learning about God and being in his presence. Yeah, so I appreciate the way that you sort of unmasked that.
Jonathan Walton: Yeah. So following up with that, what are some of the indigenous traditions and practices that you hope to bring to the fore as a Palestinian theologian, as you decolonize your own theology and bring in some indigenous practices, what are some you’re hoping to integrate?
Shadia Qubti: I think again, for me, it's kind of still this ongoing process of learning and being willing to kind of try to learn a lot, at the same time self-reflect. And I just want to say, just a few points before kind of answering, because even when we say indigenous traditions, there is an assumption which is very true, is that it's very diverse and it's very varied. And within Canada alone, there's more than 600 different indigenous groups that have their own rituals and traditions. And also, as an international student here in Canada right now, we have to also acknowledge that I am benefiting from a history, a painful history that indigenous people here have suffered from settler colonial nation-state.
And many of us come to US and to Canada as Palestinians, or coming from the Middle East, we're here to seek a better life because we come from war-torn countries. But we also come to a context that has its own history of wars and wrongdoings. And part of trying to say, like we have to be also, be attentive that part of our pursuit for a better life should also extend to our neighbors where we are here. So be proactive and mindful to behaviors, policies, and decisions that are hindering the survival and existence of those on the margin in this context here. And I think that's part of these indigenous tradition and practices that I’m kind of learning as I go.
In a sense, yes, we come from a very painful, I come from a very painful context, but there's also other people who come from a painful context. Can I make room for, am I able to kind of listen and learn from them and have this shared experience of struggles? And really a lot of the writing, a lot of the commonality with indigenous conflicts here is about that theology of struggle or theology of resistance. Because in many ways, there are a lot of similar experiences of being colonized, treated in a way that is inferior to the dominant culture. But also there is… and I think indigenous context here, which I'm really fascinated by, is the, how the worldview, you know. How the understanding of things is different.
I'll give you an example, this idea of how we, as those who grew up evangelical, how we understand the word “spirituality,” and how an indigenous person understands the word “spirituality.” And that, look at that relationship with the land that's so important. Even if you look at something like food, if you notice, Palestinian culture is so centered about food, it's also part of our, it's part of our hospitality, it's part of our meeting together. And I've noticed a lot of time when Palestinians travel to different cultures and they’re eating their food, the point of comparison is always their mothers’ food. “That’s not good. It's not as good as my mom's cooking.” Of course it isn’t going to be as good. There's this pride in our food.
But really a lot of our dishes, and that can be true for a lot of other Middle Eastern cultures, it comes from an ancestral knowledge and connection to the land, that we have acquired and passed on to generation and generation. I mean, it's nothing… I don't think our parents or even we, use a lot of cookbooks to cook our food. It's usually the family that teaches us or the auntie that comes and kind of shows us how to do it. Because it's not just about the ingredient, it's how your particular family combines the ratios. But that’s all really, in some sense, there is a spiritual element in that, that we kind of don't look at because we have this… we’re influenced by the Western understanding of separation between mind and body, soul and the body.
So our spirituality is confined to this understanding that spirituality has to do with our thoughts. With what we're thinking. Very, very seldom do we look at what is our body? What are we bringing with us to church? What am I bringing, what am I eating? What am I consuming myself with? That's also part of who I am. That's part of my spirituality and connection to God. And so, just looking at kind of our symbols, whether it's the olive tree and the different foods. Palestinian food is primarily vegetarian, because this knowledge of which plants to eat, when to eat them, how to eat them, there's something very rich there.
I mean, and I think another example to look at this in connection to the land, is if you look at embroidery, Palestinian embroidery- tatriz. And in indigenous context, there is a similar tradition called regalia, that these are dresses that are usually worn in ceremonies in indigenous cultures, but it's the same concept that's these dresses are made, they're made by the person who's wearing them or it's passed on from generation to generation. But if you look at the history of tatriz, it's a storytelling that's very, that’s passed on from matriarchal ancestry, that tells the story of our ancestors, of a time and place that happened. And they were just sharing, they were narrating their stories based on what was around them, whether it's a bird or it's a cypress tree, or it's, you know, different elements in the dress told their stories and even how they were made. And at one point, everything was made from natural resources, from plants and insects.
So again, this ancestral knowledge that's passed on, and we kind of keep it in a very disconnected from our spirituality. And it just made me start thinking as I was learning from the indigenous context, I mean, our weddings now everyone wears white dresses. That wasn't necessarily the case. But even in our churches, all of us go to church and we dress kind of in Western attires. We don't wear our traditional gowns anymore. But even at the conferences, I think there's only one or two conferences that I attended that actually had the Palestinian tradition or a traditional dress. Usually, those we wear them in graduations. Sometimes the gowns have embroidery on them, but why have we disconnected our culture from anything that we consider spiritual? Just looking at the Canadian indigenous context and reflecting on my context, these are some of the things that I'm trying to kind of grapple with and understand.
Sy Hoekstra: Can I ask going back to something you said before…
Shadia Qubti: Yeah.
Sy Hoekstra: You mentioned that you came to study indigenous theology, in part because of a certain amount of, I don't know, exhaustion associated with some of the issues that come up consistently when you're doing theology and doing your kind of work in Palestine. But then my first thought was, well, you're moving to a context and learning from people who have just as many issues of justice and pain in their context. And I mean, you mentioned that immediately thereafter. So is there something about dealing with the difficulties that other people are facing, or learning from people who have been in a different context that is sort of less exhausting? Or how… is that actually easier for you to handle in some way? Does that question make sense?
Shadia Qubti: Yeah, no, excellent question. I mean, again, I also went to school, I have another degree in Ireland. And the Irish context as well, which was what fascinated me to kind of go and study in Ireland was also their context and their conflict and to kind of learn from that, because I think I'm not trying to distance myself. I want to kind of keep digging and keep trying to figure out how to keep going, you know? How do we keep advocating and fighting for equality and justice as Palestinians? And I think there's much to learn from others, because we're not the only ones, again, who are doing it in a sense. And the context here, it's… well, it depends on how you view history. It's a long, prolonged history. A very painful history. And I think having that ability to look at it and see and understand the struggle. Yeah, there is something there that helps. There is power there I think. There is a lot of comfort in that journey to keep going at things and to explore them in order to understand yourself better.
Sy Hoekstra: Yeah. It’s not escapism for you. You're trying to dig deeper and push further.
Shadia Qubti: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
Sy Hoekstra: So you talk about a little bit about the differences between liberation theology and post-colonial theology and indigenous theology. So can you help us understand kind of the distinction between those things and also how they overlap and intersect?
Shadia Qubti: Sure. I mean, let’s start, I think, if you think about what do we consider, in theology, what do we consider to be the source of, what tells us about God? In the academia, there's like four sources agreed upon. Christian faith was revealed by scripture, illuminated by tradition, brought to life in personal experience, and confirmed by reason. So there’s four elements that kind of tell us more about God. And religious experience, it’s about whose experienced it, but it also reflects a certain class, race, ethnicity, and gender. So, and we know like academia, including theology, usually those who had these positions of telling us what is theology, was a specific group of people, mainly white, mainly men, dictating what theology is and what it's not.
And so liberation theology kind of started that burst of this bubble, to say that it's not really just that particular class in a group that can understand stuff, but it's actually coming from the poor and oppressed. They are the ones who do theology. And it's constantly kind of challenging the theory and the practice, the gap between them. I mean again, the distinctions of, I was trying to really trying to figure out like, what comes first, but that's the whole idea. These types of theologies, they burst the bubble and they flatten the hierarchy. They're like, no, there's no hierarchy. Like everyone…. anyone's experience, whatever class, race, ethnic group they come from, that's their… that's, they can, they have a different understanding of God and we need to elevate that.
So indigenous theology looks at the ethnocentric, the colonization. The colonized is the one to speak and the one to kind of elevate their voices. So post-colonial, it looks at the power relations. White dominant systems and how these kind of inform ideologies. Again, the other is at the center. It's not the powerful, it's the colonized or it’s the disempowered. And I think this whole process of, you know what I'm saying, like how to deconstruct. Like I want to, I'm constantly deconstructing what I know, or my theologies, which means to critique it, to challenge it, and sometimes to reject things. So, and I try to reconstruct it, reconstruct some theologies where you reconsider, you create, you build.
This is the whole like prophetic imagination. That's really what theology is about, is how do you understand God, and it gives you that space to kind of express where God is in your specific context in your specific time. And I think, think about it. Again, like the language that we use, look at our worship music, some of our… I mean, again, I say I'm an evangelical. And evangelicals pride themselves that they have no liturgy, but that's a liturgy. If you have no liturgy, that's already setting a liturgy. What are our traditions and rituals? And then if you want to decolonize theology, like you mentioned Suzie, is like the dominant culture of Western Christianity. What are aspects of our theology that kind of maintain that imbalance, or that status dominance of Western Christianity?
And so the indigenous theology, again, like my question, what does it mean to be a Palestinian Christian? What is our image of God? What does mission look like for us? So it's kind of just these processes that are ongoing all the time. You kind of try to create and deconstruct and deconstruct as you go.
Jonathan Walton: Along with that, I know you've overlaid these great definitions and you've given some specific examples about how this has informed your theology and your orthopraxy. So I'm wondering if you could name some specific ways that the things you're learning have reformed and refashioned your theology and how you hope to live out your faith as a Palestinian theologian.
Shadia Qubti: Yeah. I think the… I can think, I can give you two examples. When I moved here, which was not long time ago, this is my second year here. I actually got more and more interested in gardening. And back home I dabbled in it. I didn't really, my dad loves to do gardening. I think with the deconstruction of connection to the land of what we are practicing or trying to, when I do my garden, for me, it's become kind of this spiritual time. It's time to reflect, because it's not always, God doesn't necessarily speak to us in the big things, sometimes it's in the small things.
Again, being attentive like that as Palestinians, we used to be agrarian culture. And so agrarian culture, this ancestral knowledge that we know the plants, and we have this relationship with the land that's also, that respects the land in a sense. And we are in a context that people are trying to subdue us and subdue the land. And so where do we stand in this? So for me, gardening, taking in that practice, it's part of that. It’s connected to this process. Because there's something to be learned about putting a seed and this anticipation, and there's a space that you don't know what's going to happen, when it's going to open up, you try your best to make sure the soil is good, it's sunny, it's not moist. But there is a point where you just wait and something happens and the seed opens and it starts growing.
So there's something very… there's a lot to learn from that. And I think for me, it's opened up a lot of conversation with my dad. Like what's the best way, where do I put the cucumbers, like sun direction, or tomatoes? But it's kind of keeping that tradition, even though I'm away, I'm far, so far from home, but to keep these traditions and then learning from that process and seeing it all connect together, it's kind of strengthening my understanding of what does it mean to be connected to the land and how these practices are part of our… you know, it's a part of our embodied experience as beings.
Another example, it's really reconsidering like what is the relationship between our knowledge and power? Like how do we know what we know and what are the sources of these, of our knowledge? Because even our understanding of God, many times it's impacted by this dualistic worldview, a Western worldview of like body, there’s one hand, mind. So we have this, this is spiritual, and this is earthly. When we have these distinctions, inadvertently we're rejecting, many times the message is reject the earthly, embrace the spiritual. And so growing up, having a personal relationship with God and focusing on your salvation and the salvation of others, in a way, its also indirect message was, don't care about things that are happening around you, the most important thing is spiritual salvation.
And it's really, as a Palestinian, you grew up in a context and all of a sudden you've become the enemy, you've become demonized and perceived as God's enemy because your presence is hindering the second coming of Christ. And you're like, how is that spiritual? What happened to the dualistic worldview of like, don't concern yourself with things that are in the material world? So there's these dissonances that have been created between what you are taught and what is being done about it. And then you have to go back to kind of, why is that the case? Then let's go back.
And so again, these kind of processes that you try to pinpoint. And sometimes, interesting, like I'm saying the disembodied and the embodied elements of our being, but it's a lot of time where all of that- academia, it's science, right, it's all about the thought, the mind, and what we think and how we say what we think and expressing it. And that is one aspect, but it's not everything. There's also the experience of our bodies, our ancestry, what we bring with us as well as we journey together.
Sy Hoekstra: It sounds like a little bit, what you're saying is that the evangelical way of making that distinction, or the Western way of making that distinction between spirit and body was done selectively, right? There were, sometimes. Yeah. Right. So I think what you're saying is, or at least a part of what you're saying, is that indigenous theology kind of eliminates the ability to make that distinction selectively by eliminating the distinction entirely. Is that right?
Shadia Qubti: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. Because yeah, indigenous understanding is like, everything is connected, right? We're interconnected. It’s not really this dual separation. But absolutely, yeah. I am trying to say that this dualistic worldview should be rejected. I do reject it. But it's also like, what do you do then? What's the alternative? How do we rebuild something else that's different that can replace that? But sometimes it's to critique and to challenge is also part of that, and it takes time to replace it with something else.
Sy Hoekstra: Yeah. I think probably related to that, you have talked about how your upbringing in evangelical tradition, gave you some kind of Western ways of thinking and practicing your faith, that made it really difficult to fruitfully interact with kind of these seemingly intractable global problems like war or poverty or hunger. Can you elaborate on that a little bit?
Shadia Qubti: Sure. Yeah. I think a lot of the… on one hand, yes, I was brought up Baptist evangelical. From that perspective, I mean, I did have, I do feel like my upbringing in terms of understanding God and who God is came from that tradition, and it was very powerful and life-changing for me. But at the same time also, yes, there were also other things that were not life-changing, they were challenging, and kind of pinpointing what they are.
So when I, my choice to work in peacemaking, to try to be active, because I was, I believe that as Christians, we are supposed to, we are agents, we become ambassadors of our faith and it's part of our calling, is to be at peace with those around us and to kind of take my faith seriously. And so in that sense when I… my career was really working in parachurch organizations and trying to kind of promote this. What does peace, what does God's shalom look like? I think part of it is maybe, it's also maybe I was naïve, a bit young, but it's also partly like the theology that you are brought up, that if God calls you to do something and you keep at it, you will succeed. You will conquer your Goliath, right? But I think this is, trying to deal with the Israeli-Palestinian context, even in the church, to try to say guys, “We are, Ephesians 2, break the wall of partition. We need to be one, we need to be united. It doesn’t matter if our ethnicities are at war. Our calling is to be, we are brothers and sisters of Christ.”
But at the same time, it's the same group that comes and says, “No, God destined us to be enemies. Go read your Bible.” Or “Arabs, or peace will never happen here. We actually need war because that's when God comes back.” And so you have these, again, these contradictions to things that you thought that we're supposed to be peacemakers, what’s wrong about… Like why is it so bad to try to have peace? Like, why do we want destruction? Is that why God created humans so that they can be destroyed? There are these, all of these questions that come up. And in the end, I think they just make things or show you how complicated and the different layers to try to address an intractable problem.
Israel, Palestine, it has so many layers. It's so entrenched. To think that because I want to do peace, because I'm doing God's work it's going to be solved, it's somewhat like a, that's what I would say it's American exceptionalism, it’s not really theology. So this impact of the understanding. The same thing with poverty. Poverty… it’s something that the church here in Vancouver tries to address. Even though this is North America, there's availability of food. In British Columbia before COVID, one out of eight households were insecure. After COVID, it's gone up to one out of seven.
Sy Hoekstra: Food insecure?
Shadia Qubti: Food insecure. So a lot of churches, what they do is they offer food programs. So they open their facilities to try to give people to come and have food. Now, I can also say, well, they've been doing it for 20, 30 plus years, poverty is still here. If anything, it's gotten worse. Does that mean the church shouldn't continue doing food programs? No, but it also means that maybe one track is food program, but we really need to also look at the root causes, try to understand the context a bit more, and try to kind of work on different layers and different sectors to try to kind of address the problem together.
All that to say that, issues that are intractable, we have to also acknowledge, and I think part of my process is also to acknowledge that we cannot rely on the outcome to continue or not to continue doing what we're doing. But I think in many times, theology kind of doesn’t prepare us for this reality. And we think, another example, evangelism in the classical evangelical view, is that only Christ will save the world. In practice, what that meant was, we need to evangelize everyone so that… because once everyone is a Christian, there'll be no problems in the world. Or something from that perspective.
And that's completely, that's completely not necessarily the full picture.Because even as someone who tries to do reconciliation, even within the church we couldn't agree. We couldn't get our theologies to kind of converse with one another. So what does that mean? So how do we then approach and how do we then engage in social justice knowing that? I think a lot of the work starts with our theology.
Sy Hoekstra: Yeah. I've been thinking a lot recently, and I hear this, and what you're saying, I think, is that when you have a theology that is a lot about strength and victory and the inevitability of your success; when you have that American exceptionalism instead of theology, you, I think, end up actually being like quite weak. It's sort of counter-intuitive, but like a theology of strength and victory, I think, makes a lot of people unable to handle difficult problems and things that are intractable like you're talking about. It creates a lot of despondency in Christians and in a lot of Western Christians and just when you expect to win all the time and you don't, you face problems that are just because the world is broken and you're not going to fix them anytime soon, it makes it, I don’t know, incredibly difficult to do the kind of good that God wants us to do amidst suffering.
Shadia Qubti: Yeah.
Suzie Lahoud: So Shadia, you also have thoughts on people who are on the margins in the Palestinian context, particularly women. How do you think Palestinian theology can challenge systems of patriarchy?
Shadia Qubti: Yeah. I mean, as a Palestinian myself, I grew up in the church. I then continued to work in parachurch organizations, but it's still faith-based. And so my leadership, my ability to be a leader was through the parachurch organization. But you also, as you kind of grow in leadership and you have opportunities, you kind of see that there are less, there are not as many women on the tables as men. And the conversation and the discussion about why are, how can we bring more women in the table, is always there. But many times, you reach this point, well, we don't have enough women, or we don't know how to bring more women to the conversation.
And so for me, I was always kind of being like, “No, you need to invite women. You need to advocate for women and to have them to be here.” What I realized here when I came here and I was kind of, again, introduced to indigenous culture, it just kind of highlighted that actually patriarchy is also a Western Christian problem. It's not really just because I'm very Middle Eastern and we’re patriarchal. It’s a problem of the church. Because in Canadian indigenous cultures, some of them are matriarchal, and actually it’s the church that made them patriarchal or tried to enforce patriarchal structures on them. And for me I was like, “Oh wow, I never thought about that.”
It just changes my perspective because I think the gender, the fight for gender equality is kind of influenced more by secular Western society. How do we then challenge and keep the question about why are women not in the conversation and how do we bring more women to the conversation? And it's a lens that I always have with me, it's not just about gender. It's any kind of… in any setting, in any meeting, I'm not just looking at who is in the conversation, but also who's not. And I think it's something as a minority, you kind of always just develop that lens. And it's good. It’s good always to have it and to keep that in mind.
Because even if you think about it, can you think of a Palestinian woman that has spoken, I mean, not just necessarily in the church, but also outside of the church? How many women can you name who’ve spoken on these particular issues? And then you have to ask then, if not many, why? What is the reason? And many times when Palestinians are invited to conferences, this imbalance is enabled by the organizers because they want the Palestinians to come, but they also need to be aware that again, our experiences differ to have kind of a platform to speak and to have a platform to share what it's like to be a Palestinian mother, a grandmother, sister, young person, has a different challenge than an equivalent male.
I think, how can Palestinian Christians challenge patriarchy? I think it starts by telling our stories and making sure we have a place at the table to be heard and to advocate for issues that are affecting also our lives as well as the society in general.
Sy Hoekstra: So then is it not so much the theology as we might understand it, but it's more when you talk about the, like a way that Palestinian theology can help challenge patriarchy, you're talking more about what you've been talking about with indigenous or liberation theology of people being able to tell their stories and having room to say them in the church, speak with their experiences and that being the kind of theological approach outside of how like a Western person might understand what theology is.
Shadia Qubti: Yeah. Yeah, because again, like, right. If patriarchy is a Christian or global church issue, those who will challenge it, is those on the margins within that system. So if it's patriarchy, then it's women. So it starts with women speaking up, getting more platformed to be able to challenge the system, to identify what needs to be challenged and to kind of say this power structure needs to be deconstructed. And I think in many ways in the West, feminist theology, as well as in the Americas with mujarista theology, they’ve started to kind of unpack that. But in the Middle East, we haven't yet kind of developed what that looks like.
In addition for that, I want to kind of mention, there are quite a few Palestinian and Arab theologians out there. You just have to be intentional in looking for them. How academia also is, academia in general is very biased or kind of unequal to women. If you look at the process of citation, the more citations you have, the more publishing you have. But, I don't know if you know the book of Caroline Criado Perez, she wrote a book called Invisible Women, and she kind of did all this data and looked at how the data is biased in a world that's designed for men. So she kind of said studies have shown that women are systematically cited less than men. Another study shows that men usually self-cite 70 percent more than women, and women tend to cite each other more than men do. So there's kind of this publication gap that kind of just keeps moving on.
And it's true. Like when someone speaks and you want to try to refer others, you kind of either tend to keep it in your circle. What's around you and who you know. And in the same way, I want to do that as well. I want to cite other women and kind of guide us to some other names that are Palestinians who are working in theology and not necessarily just regarding patriarchy, but in general. That they're there and they're working, they're just not necessarily in the forefront of the public discourse.
Sy Hoekstra: Could I… I have sort of a two-part question. One is, could you give us a couple of examples of Arab women theologians that our listeners might not know about? But then our listeners are also obviously mostly English speaking, so they would have to be people who are publishing in English.
Shadia Qubti: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. Well, and this is the thing, I mean, I also want to point out that most of the theology written, even like Palestinian theology and indigenous theology, you enter a system that's set. You want to engage in a current system. And so most of theology, and if you think about it as well, like if you want to be a good theologian, you don't necessarily go to the holy land where things… where God spoke to humanity, no. You go to where that… you go to the West, most likely that's where they’re theology students, because in a sense, that’s where you get that acknowledgement, and you get the learning.
And so again, most of the Palestinian writers and theologians, they do engage in that academic setting. So most of their writing is in English. Actually very few do writing in Arabic, and that's the challenge is actually to write more in Arabic than in English. But again, because you're also engaged and you want to become a theologian and you want to engage and influence the current discourse on Israel, Palestine, or other theological matters. So language is also, plays a lot in it.
So some names just to give you some, Grace Al-Zoughbi Arteen, she's originally from Bethlehem, currently in the UK. And she kind of, one of her publications was, she listed 18 female theologians and Christian leaders you should know that are Arab.
Sy Hoekstra: Oh, great. Well then let's link to that article. If you want to, if you could send it to us, then we will have that article linked in the show notes then.
Shadia Qubti: Absolutely.
Suzie Lahoud: Shadia, one thing, since you brought up feminist theology, one thing you also mentioned in sort of the lead up to this conversation in the exchange that the four of us were having, you mentioned how feminist theology in some ways has itself also been sort of colonized, and so a lot of female theologians prefer to frame things within the lens of womanist theology. Could you explain the distinction between the two and what that difference looks like, how that framing is different?
Shadia Qubti: Absolutely. Yeah. So if we go back, you remember when I said there's like four sources of theology and personal experience usually came from white men. And in the same way, same thing with feminism, is that when it started, it was a specific class of women, like white women were writing about feminist issues. That's why there's a lot of hesitation to use this term, because of its, because of the dominance of that specific people group that dominated the conversation. So there is usually the preference is to do womanist, which has to do a lot with more Black theological experience, as well as mujarista, which is more or less the South American experience of women. Look forward to see what that looks, like what words we can use in the Middle Eastern context.
Suzie Lahoud: Yeah. Well, Shadia, thank you so much for your time, for joining us today. Where can folks follow you, and is there anything else that you would like to plug, any other resources that you would like to point our listeners towards?
Shadia Qubti: I must admit, I'm not as active on social media as before. They can reach out to me on Facebook. And I want to just plug in the podcasts that me and two friends did together. It's called Women Behind the Wall. And again, the idea of the podcast was to offer an entry point, a different entry point to talk about Israel, Palestine. And so the idea was to record and play stories of Palestinian women and how they intersect their gender and faith and the conflict. And they're short stories, 30 minutes. The website is built in a way to help kind of any terms that are said in the story to kind of help unpack what that means. And so, yeah, it's womenbehindthewall.com.
Suzie Lahoud: Yeah. And I should say we actually referenced your podcast. I don't think we knew how to like tweet at you when it happened, but we referenced it in one of our first newsletters. Yeah.
Shadia Qubti: Oh, wow.
Sy Hoekstra: That’s right. Yeah.
Suzie Lahoud: Just because we were just so impressed by that resource, so yeah, definitely happy to include it in this episode and in the show notes so folks can access it. I agree that, just highly recommended it.
Thank you so much again. It's just been such a privilege to have you on today.
Shadia Qubti: Oh, thank you for having me. As someone who's tried to do a podcast, really, you guys do great work and I thank you so much for this opportunity really.
[“Citizens” by Jon Guerra fades in briefly, then fades out.]
Sy Hoekstra: Thank you so much for listening. Please remember to check out KTFPress.com and consider subscribing. And remember that you can get a free month of our subscription at KTFPress.com/freemonth. Please follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter @KTFPress. Hit subscribe or follow in your podcast player. And please do tell your friends and family about us. It is so helpful and we really appreciate it.
Our theme song, as always, is “Citizens” by Jon Guerra. Our podcast art is by Jacqueline Tam. And we will see you all next week!
[“Citizens” by Jon Guerra fades back in. Lyrics: “Where we arrive as immigrants/ And you call us citizens/ And you welcome us as children home/ Where we arrive as immigrants/ And you call us citizens/ And you welcome us as children home.” Song fades out.]
Jonathan Walton: Yeah, so following up with that, as you've been learning and growing, what are some of the… [Baby Everest cooing in the background]
Sy Hoekstra: Oh, Jonathan, can you…
Jonathan Walton: Oh, sorry. Sorry, can you… She's totally there. Sorry.
Jonathan Walton: I was trying to talk fast. [Suzie laughs] What are some of the indigenous traditions and practices… [Baby Everest coos]