Politics Magazine

House of Lords: Syeda Fatima Interfaith Conference

Posted on the 09 May 2014 by Mfrancoiscerrah @MFrancoisCerrah

Brief: Gender-based nepotism in history means that the achievements of females are ‎conveniently forgotten. It is imperative in our struggle for gender parity that such personalities are ‎given their rightful place theologically and socially as they are an authentic source of law and ethics. ‎
This multi-faith event is based on recognizing women as key players in our society today. The ‎audience and speakers will be from major religions in the U.K and in academic and leadership ‎positions.‎

Organisers: Rabbi Mark Winer,Julian Bond, Rubab Mehdi Rizvi, trustees, International Imam ‎Hussain Council ‎
In attendance: Lord Ahmed, Jamie Martin (deputy cultural attache at the US embassy), Tehmina ‎Kazi (BMSD), Zara Afzal (filmmaker) and many more.‎

My speech:‎

I am honoured to join you here today to celebrate the significant and yet often downplayed ‎role ‎played by women within our various religious traditions. Interfaith is so hugely important in ‎order ‎for us to learn from one another and grow together focused on our shared humanity. I try ‎and live ‎that interfaith in my own life as I have 2 Catholic Muslim kids and one orthodox Jewish ‎Muslim ‎baby. For those I’ve managed to confuse, I mean that my two oldest children attend a ‎catholic ‎school and my baby attends an orthodox Jewish nursery. I am blessed to learn so much ‎through ‎them and my interaction with their schools, I wouldn’t want it any other way!‎ ‎
Going back to our topic for today, speaking from within my own religious tradition, that is ‎Islam, ‎women played critical roles in the development of the faith, it’s teaching and its elaboration ‎in the ‎form of jurisprudential theorising. Despite having inspiring role models to hand from among ‎the ‎earliest generation of Islam, their contribution has been systematically downplayed and within ‎a ‎very short period of time, relative to history, women were once again marginalised, excluded ‎from ‎key institutions of power and learning and relegated to the domestic sphere through ‎theological ‎justifications. In order to reverse a trend according to which religion often feels like a ‎male sphere ‎in which women are a mere afterthought, we must resurrect these empowering ‎female figures, ‎highlight the multiplicity of roles they have placed in various spheres of life and ‎challenge the male ‎monopoly on sacred knowledge, starting by acknowledging the debt owed to ‎women in our ‎understanding of religion. Some of the most influential thinkers within Islamic ‎theology were ‎taught by female scholars and yet we find that while their names are common ‎knowledge, their ‎female teachers are forgotten from our manuals and heritage. The first university ‎in the world was ‎constructed by a Muslim woman, Fatima al Firhi, the Qarawiyin in Fes(9thC) and ‎yet today in many ‎parts of the world, women still struggle to receive the most basic of educations. ‎The Oxford based ‎theologian Shaykh akram Nadwi’s has himself compiled the names and ‎biographies of over 8000 ‎female scholars, many of whom traveled far and wide in pursuit of ‎knowledge and teaching! We ‎could list many Muslim women who are fantastic role models, but to ‎list just one, Fatima, the ‎daughter of Prophet Mohamed (pbuh) was a model described by those ‎around her as the ‎‎“personification of high virtues” who cared fastidiously for the poor and the ‎hungry and offered a ‎model of balance and humility, a woman who managed her spiritual life ‎through regular ‎attendance at the mosque, worldly commitments in the form of care for the ‎injured on the ‎battlefield and family responsibilities where her devotion to those around her was ‎widely ‎commented on. To many Muslims, male or female, she is an important reminder of ‎the ‎responsibilities we owe to those around us, both in terms of our family and wider society.‎

My own work within my community is about reminding ourselves of our heritage, of the ‎powerful ‎female women in our history and our present, and highlighting our collective debt to ‎them. In ‎doing so, I hope the next generation of Muslim women will feel they have figures of faith ‎to aspire ‎to, that they will look at the sacred sphere as one in which women are not only welcome, ‎but an ‎essential asset to. Thanks for your time.‎


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