Celebrating Women of Faith

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Rumena Choudhury and Sumaiya Mulla of the STR!VE Project

Celebrating women of faith is what we have been doing in the Christian Muslim Forum for the last year. Our women’s initiative commenced alongside our mixed leaders’ programme when we began to deliver the Church of England’s Near Neighbours programme. It grew from a minor part of our work to a major project, shaped by the energy and enthusiasm of Christian and Muslim women. 

The celebration began when, just over a year ago, we held our first national Christian-Muslim women’s leadership event – ‘Come to the Edge’ – after the famous poem by Christopher Logue. The event was oversubscribed and included a new inter faith theatre performance by a women’s theatre company. Our short film captures the liveliness of the two day event and its impact on the women who attended. The report of the event and the videos can be seen here.

We were committed to not losing any of this enthusiasm and immediately began working on follow up activities to support local women in meeting together and staying in touch with the national network of women. Leicester was a focus for us as although the women’s group there were unable to attend the conference some of our colleagues were based there.

On 24 June 2013 we had the joy of launching the Muslim-Christian Women’s Network for Leicester at the Central Mosque and a local women's inter faith directory. Our opening speaker at the launch, Revd Bonnie Evans-Hills (the Bishop of Leicester’s Acting Inter Faith Advisor) described what made it possible:

‘Through much of the mapping Raheema Caratella [our project worker] has carried out, we have discovered so many women in this city of Leicester, women of deeply held faith and courage, who work so hard – women who have suffered domestic violence, or forced marriage, or rape; women who have been denied an education, who are not allowed to make friends or socialise outside of their homes, women who have no voice, no space in their place of worship.

These women come from every culture, from every background, from every faith … Their work goes largely unnoticed. Even when we were wanting to give out the publicity for today, we were told to mention something about Woolwich or the EDL or BNP because why would anyone want to take notice of a bunch of women getting together?’

Read the whole of Bonnie's speech in her blog, see the video of the day here

On the day we also had inspiring speeches from:

  • Shaykh Ibrahim Mogra - Co-Chair, Christian Muslim Forum
  • Liz Carnelley – Programme Director, Near Neighbours
  • Batool al-Toma – New Muslims Project
  • Revd Sonya Brown – Curate, St Philip’s Church, Leicester
  • Rabiha Hannan and Seema Ahmad – local inter faith activists
  • Sumaiya Mulla and Rumena Choudhury – STR!VE women’s project workers

Many of the speakers pointed out the challenges that they had faced as women but also the huge impact of the work that they had carried out outside the usual structures. This was particularly true for Sumaiya and Rumena who shared how they began their work, organising their first event, while studying at Regent’s College, a debate on 9/11. Apart from these two young women, no one was sure that it was a good idea and they didn’t know themselves if anyone would attend. They were encouraged by the tremendous turnout and that was all they needed to continue their work, engaging with difficult issues facing women and approaching them from a female perspective. We were also encouraged to have strong support from our Co-Chair, Shaykh Ibrahim Mogra, who made clear how important women’s contribution is in a balanced and just society and how this is rooted in Islam.

In producing the directory and putting women’s groups in touch with each other across the city, and nearby places in Leicestershire, we have been able to use a small amount of resource to achieve a big impact. As my colleague Raheema, who organised the launch, said, ‘The launch of the women's directory went exceptionally well with over 80 participants (female and male) from all faith traditions. It was a really inspiring event with women discussing a range of difficult issues from domestic violence to women having senior leader roles within places of worship. Everyone left feeling really positive that we have connected a network of women who can empower themselves and others as change makers in our society.’ One strong message from the day from one of the speakers Rabiha Hannan, one of our award-winning inter faith women earlier in the year, was that ‘a woman cannot hide behind a man’.

My colleague Bonnie left us with these words, ‘Today, we celebrate the launch of a directory, one that will probably never be complete and to which we intend to continue to add to online. It is a small contribution, but one we hope will be the beginning of a movement which acknowledges and celebrates the faith, the courage, the hope and the Love women of faith hold for their communities, for one another, for the men in their lives and for God - together.’ 

Julian Bond
Director, Christian Muslim Forum
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