Women’s interfaith network builds bridges amid Nigeria’s violence, Muslim and Christian mistrust

Peacebuilding1 cWhen Fatima Isiaka, a religious Muslim teacher, asked the cab driver to drop her off at St. Kizito Catholic Church in Abuja, the driver thought she was lost. “The cab man that took me to the church, a Muslim, was surprised to see me enter a church,” Isiaka recalled of the summer 2014 meeting. “He told me, ‘This is a church!’ I said, ‘Yes, I know.’ ”

Isiaka was part of innovative effort to bring Christian and Muslim women together in hopes of fostering religious tolerance and peaceful co-existence. The Women of Faith Peacebuilding Network was first started in 2011by Sr. Agatha Ogochukwu Chikelue, of the Daughters of Mary Mother of Mercy congregation, and local Muslim businesswoman Maryam Dada Ibrahim.

Isiaka, an observant Muslim who wears a grey jilbab, a long head covering and robe, the traditional dress of some Nigerian Muslim women, is a respected Muslim leader in Abuja. Today, she serves as deputy director in the network’s Abuja branch.

She looks back fondly on her time at the St. Kizito Catholic Church. “It was an amazing experience and I loved every bit of my stay there,” said Isiaka. “In fact, I found a place in the church where I performed ablution [ritual washing before Muslims prayer], to set up my mat and pray.”

Since the group started in 2011, the Women of Faith Peacebuilding Network’s activities have reached more than 10,000 Muslim and Christian women across the country through seminars, meditations, presentations by religious leaders, and dialogue.

The peacebuilding network also offers vocational training in catering, bead making, fashion design, and soap production to a smaller group of women who participate in the annual 21-day seminar. “The empowerment [training] serves as bait to lure more women to the network so that they’ll learn peaceful coexistence,” said Isiaka. The Swiss Embassy provided seed money to get the vocational training started in 2014. Cardinal John Onaiyekan’s Foundation For Peace (COFP), an organization working for peace in northern Nigeria, has sponsored the vocational training in subsequent years.

Sr. Agatha Chikelue started thinking about how to build bridges between Christians and Muslims in 2008, as northern Nigeria disintegrated into violence. Nigeria’s population is evenly divided with 48 percent Muslims and 49 percent Christians. Northern Nigeria is majority Muslim, while southern Nigeria is majority Christian. Ensuring equal Christian and Muslim political representation at local, state, and national levels is an especially sensitive subject.

FULL ARTICLE FROM GLOBAL SISTERS REPORT 

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RELIGION IS BLAMED FOR VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN. WE ARE CHRISTIAN AND MUSLIM LEADERS WHO FIGHT IT—TOGETHER

photo_84933_landscape_850x566Despite the #MeToo movement, sexual and gender-based violence is rising, under recognized and urgently in need of redress. It’s so prevalent, and surging so fast that we’re in danger of becoming inured to it, which is why November 25, International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, is worth observing.

Violence against women is everywhere. It’s a key factor prompting migration to the US from Latin America, including in the caravan. A new report found that violence against South African women doubled year after year, prompting a summit this month in Pretoria to grapple with the problem. The World Health Organization estimates that one in three women (35 percent) worldwide experience sexual violence.

In the U.S., it may be as high as nearly two in three women (63 percent, including 19 percent who are raped, and 44 percent who experience some other form of sexual violence). Violence against women in the U.S. is getting worse, fed by rising domestic violence rates (including murder of women by their partners) and growth in domestic terrorism targeting women, as in this month’s Tallahassee shooting—by no means an isolated incident.

On this issue, faith groups have much to answer for. The Catholic Church has been rocked by sexual abuse scandals it hasn’t adequately addressed. A recent Vatican synod proposed language affirming the Church’s commitment to combatting sexual violence, and even that was controversial. But the Church isn’t alone in this. Other denominations and religions haven’t always assured safety, equal access and status for women, either. Historically Christianity embraced patriarchy. Islam relies on a similar understanding of the status of men.

FULL ARTICLE FROM NEWSWEEK MAGAZINE

Muslim Women Win House Seats, Blazing a New Path

im-35355A Palestinian-American and a Somali ex-refugee become the first female Muslims in Congress

WASHINGTON—Two Muslim women from the Midwest were elected to the House of Representatives on Tuesday, making history as the first women of their faith to serve in Congress.

Rashida Tlaib, a Palestinian American, will represent Michigan, and Ilhan Omar, once a Somali refugee in Kenya, will represent Minnesota. Both received an overwhelming majority of the vote in their respective districts on Tuesday and join a surge of Democratic women coming to the new Congress.

President Trump has made inflammatory statements against Muslims and imposed a ban on travel from several predominantly Muslim countries that was upheld by the Supreme Court in June. The election of two Muslim women in safely Democratic districts illustrates the divide between progressive Democrats and Republicans who support the administration.

Democratic candidate Rashida Tlaib celebrating her victory with her mother in Detroit.
Democratic candidate Rashida Tlaib celebrating her victory with her mother in Detroit. PHOTO:REBECCA COOK/REUTERS

Ms. Tlaib, 42, and Ms. Omar, 37, align with the left wing of the Democratic party, embracing a goal of extending Medicare health coverage to all Americans and increasing the minimum wage to $15.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE WALL STREET JOURNAL 

Why Christians Need to Support Women’s Rights and Religious Freedom in the Muslim World

MUSLIM BRITAlthough women’s rights and religious freedom are not commonly associated with one another in the world of the 1.6 billion Muslims, there is a correlation that must be uncovered.

According to Women and Religious Freedom by Nazila Ghanea, inherent in religious freedom is the right to believe or not believe as one’s conscience leads, and live out one’s beliefs openly, peacefully, and without fear.

Freedom of religion or belief is an expansive right that includes the freedoms of thought, conscience, expression, association, and assembly. For the Muslim world, the Quran reads in Sura 2:256, “Let there be no compulsion in religion.”

Individuals must not be forced to follow a literal interpretation of religious teachings and traditions. Faith under force is invalid and ingenuine. Therefore, it is never in the public’s interest to force belief on individuals, regardless of gender, and restrict their right to question, explore and fulfill their purpose.

In fact, the research shows that women can contribute to greater peace and prosperity of a society when they are free to choose to exercise their own free will and belief (see here).

FULL ARTICLE FROM CHRISTIANITY TODAY 

Inside a Millennial Women’s Quran Study Group

women-across-america-road-trip-ashburn-virginia-halaqa-01A few minutes past 3 p.m., after Henna Qureshi and Adeela Khan take a moment to pray, they settle on a living room rug with two more friends to talk. It’s a drizzly July afternoon, and Qureshi, Khan and Freshta Mohammad have gathered in Nafisa Isa’s family home in Ashburn, Va., for their monthly halaqa, an Islamic study group. Isa tucks her feet beneath her knees as she spreads colored pens across the floor for all to share. The topic of the day is “Nice for What?” — title inspired by the Drake song — a theme that women of all backgrounds can relate to.

“As ambitious Muslim women, we have to hold ourselves to high standards of conduct in our lives — whether it’s in the workplace or in community settings — prioritizing being kind, helpful and compassionate above all else,” Isa begins, reading the prompt they’ve each pondered in preparation for this meeting. “How do we react when people aren’t kind to us? How do we assert ourselves and express our emotions in a way that doesn’t stifle us or contradict our values?”

The four women, along with a few other friends, been meeting regularly since 2016, when Isa decided to create a dedicated setting for her peers to discuss Islam and their experiences as Muslim American women. There are halaqa groups across the country, but theirs is uniquely Millennial, Isa says — while they study the Quran, they also draw upon pop culture for discussion topics and add activities like visiting museums and crafting to their agendas. “We have these conversations about faith, personal growth, philosophy, theology, all the stuff that you would expect,” Isa says. “But then we’ll also paint unicorns.”

FULL ARTICLE FROM TIME MAGAZINE

These Dolls Were Created To Inspire Young Muslim Girls To Dream Big

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Salam Sisters dolls, which have rearrangeable hijabs, are loosely inspired by real-life Muslim women.

A Dubai-based company has created a set of dolls that it hopes inspires young Muslim girls to take pride in their faith and become community leaders.

The five Salam Sisters dolls were designed by Zileej, a faith-based creative company, to help Muslim girls feel connected with their roots and comfortable in their identities. The very first shipments of the dolls were sent out to customers in mid-August, the company said.

 

“We want young girls who don’t often see their cultural identities and faith represented in a relatable way to know that they can be proud of their backgrounds,” said Ansarullah Ridwan Muhammad, co-founder of Zileej. “We want them to see that all of who they are is uniquely beautiful — even when it sounds like the world is telling them that they don’t have the perfect hair, or skin color, or size, or religion.”

 

From the left, the five Salam Sisters dolls are Layla, Karima, Yasmina, Nura and Maryam.

SALAM SISTERS / ZILEEJ
From the left, the five Salam Sisters dolls are Layla, Karima, Yasmina, Nura and Maryam.

 

The Salam Sisters represent various racial and ethnic backgrounds ― showcasing the incredible global diversity of the world’s roughly 1.8 billion Muslims.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE HUFFINGTON POST 

Founder of Muslim Girl magazine now writes fiction inspired by human rights, migration and identity

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The shelves lining Ausma Zehanat Khan’s study hold her biography in books.

There’s the leather-bound set of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle titles that her father, himself more inclined to poetry, gave her when she was a teenager. Harry Potter and Terry Brooks epics. Studies of the Quran and human rights reports. And copies of her own books: well-regarded mysteries featuring a Canadian detective who is Muslim and his hockey-playing woman partner, as well as the first part of a fantasy series steeped in Islamic culture.

Khan, the British-born child of Pakistani immigrants, was raised in Canada and is a newly minted US citizen. She explores themes of identity and exclusion, bringing imagination and perspective to the current — and sometimes contentious — global conversation about faith and diversity.

“There’s a thread of continuity in all the work that I’ve done, which is to claim a space for marginalized voices and allow them to speak for themselves,” Khan says.

That work began not as a writer, but as a legal scholar and lawyer. Khan, 49, published her first book just four years ago. Her impressive output since then, which includes a short story featuring her detectives and a nonfiction children’s book about Ramadan, might attest to pent-up creative energy she’s had since she was a teenager. Early on, she tried her hand at poetry and then a Terry Brooks-style fantasy, and in college, she published a few short stories.

Khan grew up hearing Urdu poets reciting at her home in salons hosted by her parents, who encouraged her writing as a hobby. But her homemaker mother and psychiatrist father wanted her to be a doctor. Immigrants of their generation were “very concerned with financial security,” Khan says, adding with fond amusement that she found that “a little bit ironic because they all come from a culture that venerates literature.”

FULL ARTICLE FROM PRI.ORG