6th Annual Fatima al Zehra Interfaith Conference: Women, Faith and Leadership

The 6th Annual Fatima al Zehra interfaith conference reflected true colours of diversity displayed in a unified string of humanity. We had colours: a red turban, a navy skirt and a floral Hijab. We had more colours: A muslim. A Jew. A Chirstian. A Sikh. A Hindu. All unified with a string of faith. Their own faith! The respect for others and their respective faiths! A lovely tapestry of core human and British Values! The young and those seasoned with time, the males and those who gave birth to them…all were brought together by a fervent heart and dedicated mind who carries a respected name and charismatic personality: Rubab Mehdi Rizvi

Conference - London 1

I was awe struck by the positive vibes that one could sense being exchanged, mingled and overlapped through words, looks, applaud, smiles, and clicks! The speakers were thoughtfully culled to share the heart of three major faith groups: Abrahamic Faiths.

Most of them delineated the role of Faith Women as decision makers and change weavers. The common examples quoted were of Fatima Zehra, Mary the Mother of Jesus, The Queen of Sheba , Mary Magdalene, a disciple of Jesus, Khadija (the first wife of prophet Mohammad) and Mother Tresa! Most of the speakers agreed that the dynamic role of women has been muffled under the layers of cultural norms and political correctness rather than restricted by the religion. Some inspiring thoughts shared at the conference are:

Katherine Muller quoted early church leaders: ‘If you are what you should be , you will set the world ablaze!’
‘Many people are inspired by their faith, but only few become an inspiration to for their faith.’(Zoe Bello)

Youth Pattern of Imam Hussain Council, Emma-Jane Hampshire-Gill, Quoted Proverbs 1:20: ‘Wisdom shouts in the streets. She cries out in the public squares!’
‘It is not immodest to talk about what you do rather, it is our duty. One must not be told by someone else how to live one’s faith. Take responsibility and educate yourself. Use that to enhance other people’s lives around U. Fun human experience must carry on so that positive energy goes out.’( Aina Khan)

Julie form Nisa-Naseem: ‘We are half the population and we gave birth to the other half. Forget about valentine day proposals, she ( Khajida) proposed him (Muhammad the prophet of Islam).’

Laura Marks (Jewish Communities) said she started questioning role of women in Jewish community in 2011 and came up with three elements suppressing it: Patriarchal community, organisations’ lack of interest to include women and resistance towards women being taken in the leadership roles. So, rather than waiting for others, women initiated bridging the gaps between Muslim and Jewish communities through women.

“Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.”Mother Teresa was quoted by a young lady Firdowsa Ahmed concluding:  ‘Not gender but faith in God brings change!’

Fatima (the daughter of Prophet Mouhammed) was compared to Virgin Mary by a Reverend who shared three aspects about her life :1- Fatima suffering, her revolutionary approach and her spirituality. He concluded with the quote:’You must view life from the point of your eternity.’

Sayed Youif shared very balanced views about women empowerment emphasising that they must be supported to make autonomous decision about the spectrum of their involvement in the competitive world out of the sanctuary of their homes… and wherever possible, men need to stand up for them.

Zain Haider Awan shared a perspective of a youth leader: ‘History is told from the lenses of a man that is why it is called his-story not her-story.’ He made a point about Fatima Zehra that followed by a rhetoric question: ‘She was educated, inspirational; and very young. Faith leaders! where are young people among your delegations and assemblies?’

Lord Ahmed concluded by rating such conferences aptly positioned events as the world peace is being trampled by ISIS. He emphasised that Muslims must not find it enough to just rule the ISIS as not being Muslims. They must go a step farther and come together to build bridges among faith communities.

Conference London 2

As an observer, I was delighted that out of three Abrahmic Faiths, Christians were cited as quite liberal and inclusive in their patriarchal structure to recognise and support women. It is because of this that no one felt the need to address Christian organisations or churches to redefine their boundaries in order to make room for women. They’ve already come a long way in accordance with this demand that was made on those leading Muslim or Jewish worship places or religious organisations.

At the end of the conference, 9 people were encouraged through the Fatima al Zehra Awards as a recognition of their efforts in community bridging and Human Rights activism, namely:  Aina Khan-women leader, change maker, Ahmad Nawaz-award of bravery.(APS survivor. Campaigning for education), Lucy Bonfield (inter-faith campaigner) Mr. Amanullah Khan Kakar,  youth and social activist, Engr. Qaiser Nawab, a youth activist and social worker, Siddika Gulamhusein ,interfaith worker promoting peace and social cohesion, Esther Das, activist for the Human Rights and inter-faith dialogue, Sahira Khan-political activist, Rabiner Sohil, Sikh rights activist.

The conference oozed with positivity, inclusiveness, and harmony among people and displayed religious, academic, and cultural diversity. The chair of Imam Hussain Council, Rubab Mehdi well deserves this credit for translating her bold and beautiful vision into reality almost single-handed yet persistently for the last 6 years.

Esther Das is a Chair of Social Integration and Empowerment Commission and Academic Coordinator of South London Learning Centre, London, UK.  

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