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Women of Faith Dinner & Awards 2006

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Women of Faith Dinner & Awards 2006

The Women of Faith Dinner, hosted by Affinity Intercultural Foundation showcased the good work in Muslim, Jewish, and Christian communities. The dinner, held at the Boshporous Lounge on Sunday, 12 March, was a refreshing reminder of the efforts and initiatives of women in various roles promoting interfaith dialogue, providing leadership and fostering general goodwill.

This successful event demonstrated the capabilities, strengths, and importance of female leadership in the community. The evening included presentations by representatives of each faith, performances, and award presentations to honour and encourage progress in this area.

Master of Ceremonies Omnia Elmecery welcomed 250 guests followed by readings from the Quran, Torah and the Bible.

Kirrily McDermott, the first speaker for the evening, presented a thought provoking account of leadership. Kirrily stated that “to be a leader you don’t necessarily need credentials, but you do need concern. Don’t ever think you can’t make a difference to the world”.

She added that we need constant reminders that “just because we may not have an important role in public life, or carry a professional title which gives us formal recognition of a leadership role does not mean that we cannot consider ourselves as leaders. Our stories may not be remembered in history books, but if we live honestly and authentically, our lives will be remembered by individuals around us”.

Kirrily also touched on the importance of seeking God and honestly searching for truth. “As Women of faith we cannot fail to influence the people with whom we come into contact. By consciously living for God, obedient to the voice of our conscience, we become people who are open to God’s will in our life, and we can become witnesses to goodness, integrity, and authenticity in our world.

She also reflected on the life of Mary as an example of leadership and faith. “The Bible doesn’t tell us much about the early life of Mary. She did not have degrees or rabbinical diplomas, and was probably your average woman 2000 years ago. However, against all human expectation God chooses Mary, considered by all human standards to be powerless and weak and Mary became the instrument for humanity’s salvation”.

Kirrily used the words of Mother Theresa to emphasise that “we can not do great things, only small things with great love”.

Orna Lansky presented an interesting view of the changing roles of women in the Jewish faith. Orna explained that women are able to become Rabbi’s and is currently completing her studies in the area.

She emphasised the benefits of women in leadership and the positive impact that women can have in the community. She shared her own experiences and challenges and expressed the importance of providing women with the opportunities to get involved in various areas to make a difference.

Zuleyha Keskin presented an overview from an Islamic perspective and explained that there is a great need for women in leadership today. Zuleyha professed her faith in Islam to encourage women in leadership roles. “When we study the history of the Muslim world and take a look at the teachings of Islam, we certainly see an encouragement of Muslim female leadership”.

She recognised the need for leadership in all areas of life; personal, organisational or community leadership and the importance of time management, effective communication, commitment, perseverance, and dedication in the making of a good leader.

Leadership, Zuleyha explained, “is not a role that can be confined to half the world’s population. With the change in global environment, women play a key role in holding family and community together. This is another reason why women require leadership skills and empowerment by the community”.
“In addition, the contemporary material world is experiencing a lack of spirituality, with spiritual deserts evident in all parts of the world. We need women of faith to help fill the current spiritual void that the world is experiencing”.

Zuleyha also spoke on the common misconceptions that religion deters female leadership roles. “Since Islam and Muslim’s are under the spotlight so much and since there are so many misconceptions about Islam, the Muslim community has a huge task in clarifying these misconceptions”.

“The maximum utility of the empowerment provided by Islam is seldom seen in the contemporary world. Today, for a Muslim woman there are many barriers which prevent her from taking on leadership roles. Firstly there is an overall challenge worldwide to have women in leading roles or for women to be acknowledged for their contribution to society whether the community is a secular one or a religious one. Muslim women also need to deal with additional challenges such as the geo-political condition of many Muslim nation states, including war and underdevelopment.

“As a Muslim, the first place for me to find out the Islamic-point-of-view on a matter begins with a study of relevant verses from the Quran. For Muslims, the Quran the unaltered word of God as revealed to Prophet Mohammed in the seventh century”.

Zuleyha ended her presentation by highlighting the need to encourage and support women in leadership to create balance by following the examples of great historical women.

The Award receivers of the evening Elizabeth Ban, Silma Ihram and Doctor Giovanni Farquer were honored for their contributions and efforts in the community.

Dr Giovanni Farquer expressed her gratitude and said that “the dinner was so professionally organized, every aspect of the program sensitively and tastefully presented. It was no wonder that throughout the evening the whole group seemed actively involved in proceedings. I believe that the women of faith dinner are a symbol of the influence that women exert on one another and a powerful sign of the growing significance of their impact on the broader society. I encourage younger women to come, see, and experience for themselves the richness of interfaith encounter”.

Silma Ihram said she was “appreciative of the efforts taken to recognise women who are trying to make a difference in our society. While recognition is not required to continue our work, it helps others to see what you are doing and also to encourage them to also work to make a difference. It gives the opportunity for women to come together on a common platform when they would not normally interact”.

Elizabeth Ban was surprised but pleased to receive her award. “This was my first such event and I was truly impressed by the quality of the presentations and the positive energy generated in the group. Women are the teachers and the bearers of tradition in every community”.

This unique event achieved many things. It collected women of many faiths to celebrate the work in various communities. It encouraged women of all ages to exercise their intellect and initiatives to get involved for a better, bigger cause. It highlighted the respect, tolerance, and understanding of different faiths and most importantly it was a reminder of our individual and collective responsibilities to express good will through the teachings of our faith by using our physical, practical, and spiritual tools to create harmony with the help of God.

The Need for Leadership by Women of Faith Today

[The article below is the address written and delivered by Mrs Zuleyha Keskin at Affinity Intercultural Foundation’s 4th Annual Women of Faith Dinner. This dinner was held in 12th of March and included giving of awards to respective Muslim, Christian and Jewish ladies who have made significant contributions to harmony in our society.]

The need for leadership by women of faith today is greater than ever. This need is felt just as much within the Muslim world as other worlds of faith. The lack of Muslim female leaders is not due to Islamic teachings, since Islam actually empowers women to become leaders. Whether this empowerment is utilised is another issue in itself. Some of the factors which cause the under utilisation of this empowerment will be discussed. When we study the history of the Muslim world and take a look at the teachings of Islam, we certainly see an encouragement of Muslim female leadership.

In the current times in which we live, leadership is extremely important, whether it is personal, organisational or community leadership. With globalisation and the advancement in technology, there is greater need to manage our time wisely, have effective communication skills, and develop qualities such as commitment, perseverance and dedication. This description is that of a good leader.

Leadership is not a role that can be confined to half the world’s population. The gender polarisation with regards to leadership needs to be balanced. Since women make up more than half the population, it is only natural that they take up leadership roles as well.

With the change in global environment, women play a key role in holding family and community together. This is another reason why women require leadership skills and empowerment by the community.

In addition, the contemporary material world is experiencing a lack of spirituality, with spiritual deserts evident in all parts of the world. We need women of faith to help fill the current spiritual void that the world is experiencing.

Unfortunately, there is a misconception that religion in general deters female leadership. Thus, this is an issue that women of all faiths need to address. Since Islam and Muslims are under the spotlight so much and since there are so much misunderstanding about Islam, the Muslim community has a huge task in clarifying these misconceptions.

The maximum utility of the empowerment provided by Islam is seldom seen in the contemporary world. Today, for a Muslim woman there are many barriers which prevent her from taking on leadership roles. Firstly there is an overall challenge worldwide to have women in leading roles or for women to be acknowledged for their contribution to society whether the community is a secular one or a religious one. Muslim women also need to deal with additional challenges such as the geo-political condition of many Muslim nation states, including war and underdevelopment.

It should also be noted that pre-Islamic traditions in some societies and regions have been preserved, and Islam should not be held responsible for any faults inherent in them. For example, certain cultural habits and practices say that a woman ought to be modest, stay home and not venture into the public arena or they would be seen as immodest. This cultural attitude prevents many women to be active within their community or to play a significant role within society.

The first place for a Muslim to find out the Islamic-point-of-view on a matter begins with a study of relevant verses from the Quran. For Muslims, the Quran is the unaltered word of God as revealed to Prophet Mohammed in the seventh century.

The only Quranic reference to female leadership (as in head of state) involves Bilqis, the Queen of Sheba. The Quranic story of Bilqis celebrates both her political and religious practices as she is held in high esteem. In the context of the Quran’s repetitive emphasis on the superiority of those who recognise the truth of God, at the expense of their prior beliefs and attachments, Bilqis proves herself capable of looking beyond material wealth and glory to find greater reward in submission to God. She stands out in the Quran as one of those whom the material world failed to blind from recognising the oneness of God and submitting to Him.

What we see during the Prophet Muhammad’s (pbuh) time, reinforces the verses of the Quran. For instance, women were allowed to participate in battles; their education was not only desired, but also actively sought and encouraged. Women such as Aisha, Hafsa and Umm Salama were among the jurists and mujtahid s (the highest rank of scholarship and learning) of the Companions. Moreover, the women who were among the household of the Prophet were a source of information not only for other women but also for men for learning religion. Many people from the next generation after the Companions consulted the Prophet’s wives.

This situation was not only restricted to the Prophet’s wives. In the periods that followed, qualified women were teachers to many people. In Islam there is no such thing as limiting the life of women or narrowing their fields of activity. The most important thing for a Muslim is his or her relationship with God which is then reflected in his or her actions and deeds. As Prophet Muhammad has said, ‘the most superior of you are the righteous ones’. Thus a Muslim male or female strives to be righteous and plans his or her life accordingly. Personal leadership at the bare minimum is needed to achieve this goal.

Many people have role models that they look up to and so do I. One of my role models would have to be Aisha, who was the wife of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). Aisha was one of the greatest scholars of her time. When Prophet Muhammad died, after 23 years of Prophethood, all of Arabia had become Muslim. After that, there were number of men and women who had been instrumental in the further spread of Islam. Aisha was one of those. She narrated 2,210 of Prophet Muhammad’s (pbuh) statements. She also had a key input in terms of giving religious verdicts, explaining the meaning of verses in the Quran and the meaning of the words of the Prophet.

Abu Musa Al-Ash’ari, himself a famous jurist and learned scholar, says ‘whenever we, companions of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), encountered any difficulty in the matter of any sayings of the Prophet, we referred it to Aisha and found that she had definite knowledge about it’.

Eighty-eight great scholars learnt from her and there were a large number of others. In short, she was the scholar of scholars.

However, her knowledge and expertise was not confined to religious teachings only. She had profound knowledge of medicine. Whenever foreign delegations came to the Prophet (pbuh) and discussed various remedies for illnesses, she used to remember them. She was also so well versed in mathematics that companions of the Prophet used to consult her on the problems concerning inheritance and the calculation of shares.

One of her students, Urwah ibn az-Zubayr, who let me add was a male, said of her,
“I did not see a greater scholar than Aisha in the learning of Quran, obligatory duties, lawful and unlawful manners, poetry, literature, Arab history and geneology.”
Look at any other civilisation in the history of humanity; it would be very hard to identify a woman playing such a key role in its establishment.

Aisha is not the only Muslim woman in history to shine like a star and enlighten those during her time and many centuries after. There are many others who have played a key role within their society, nation or faith community. Governor Cara Zon of Carcasson in Spain, the spiritual leader Rabiah Al-Adawiyah and Raja Ratu Biru of Patani in Thailand are some other examples of the many that exist.

I often think that having numerous Aisha’s in today’s society would most definitely have a significant impact on humankind. Just as Aisha’s contribution has been critical, many women of today not only have the opportunity but it is imperative that they make a critical contribution to their society. It is comforting to talk about Aisha as a role model but we need contemporary Aisha’s in today’s time as well.

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