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House of Lords: Syeda Fatima Interfaith Conference

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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(President of FAITH),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), Revd Rose Hudson-Wilkin (Chaplain to the Speaker of the House of Commons and Chaplain to Her Majesty the Queen), Bharti Tailor (president of the Hindu Forum of Europe), Santosh Dass MBE (former civil servant, the Vice Chair of the Anti Caste Discrimination Alliance (ACDA), the President of the Federation of the Ambedkarite and Buddhist Organisations UK), Mehri Niknam MBE (Executive Director, The Joseph Interfaith Foundation), Rev’d Canon Dr Shannon Ledbetter, Lynne Townley (barrister currently working for the Crown Prosecution Service), Shaykh Muhammad Amin (Scholar) 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.‎


Written by Myriam Francois

May 9, 2014 at 10:32

2 Responses

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  1. this is absolutely a excellent event. whether 5% Muslim used to worked like myriam francois cerrah. then i can see clearly in the world 70% people as Muslim, certainly. more on


    May 9, 2014 at 16:41

  2. […] myriamfrancoiscerrah (Blog) […]

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