Religion’s contribution to women’s rights
By Maria Iqbal
In a blossoming pocket of the Greater Toronto Area, women of diverse faiths came together to discuss an apparently irreconcilable duo: faith and women’s rights.
On Sunday, March 1, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Women’s Association of Brampton organized an interfaith discussion themed, “My Faith as a Liberator of Women” at Masjid Mubarak in Brampton, Canada.
It was one of several International Women’s Day events organized by the community in regions across the country. The event brought together women representing Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and Sikhism to discuss how faith, which has generally been considered an obstacle to women’s empowerment, is in fact its champion.
“It’s so close to home for all of us,” said Muslim speaker Salma Farooqi. The public school teacher said a lot of misconceptions about religion and women’s rights come from a lack of knowledge.
“If people don’t take the time to delve into their faith, they don’t feel it supports women’s rights,” said Farooqi, adding that it’s important to dive deeper.
While faith is not generally seen as a “liberator” of women, Jewish speaker Arliene Botnick said religion is not the problem.
“There is a mentality of power that in general is something that many men have,” said Botnick, who is a director of education at Solel Congregation in Mississauga. “It has nothing to do with religion. I think religion is often the force that fights against it.”
Many of the speakers shared how their respective faiths gave women rights long before Western societies did. They said that religion not only barred practices such as female infanticide and burning widows alive on a funeral pyre, but gave women the right to divorce, attain education, and own property, among other rights.
“It’s easy for us to assume that our faith provides liberation… but we don’t assume that everybody else’s does,” said Reverend Jean Leckie from Heart Lake United Church, who spoke about Christianity.
“It was wonderful to hear from all those different faith perspectives that those teachings of all those faiths have within them space for women to be fully human beings,” she said.
Urz Heer from the Brampton mayor’s office presented a certificate of recognition to the Ahmadiyya Muslim Women’s Association which was received by Samina Bushra, president of the association in Brampton West region. Representatives from the local police, fire department, and school board also attended.
There were also informational booths representing the different faiths, the founder of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama’at, the non-profit organization Humanity First, a book stall, and Je Suis Hijabi and Pathway to Peace campaigns by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama’at. Participants were also invited to tour the recently built mosque.
“What was truly impressive to me and very touching is the fact that in spite of our different beliefs, we can still come together to serve each other, to understand each other, to be respectful of each other, and to learn from each other,” said Officer Michelle John of Brampton Fire & Emergency Services.
Lead organizer of the event, Naheed Khokhar, who is In-charge Social Media for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Women’s Association of Canada, said the purpose of the event was to have a forum for respectful discussion.
She said the founder of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama’at, Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (peace be upon him) established these events to create “an open dialogue”.
“Everyone has a reason for their beliefs, or their faith and we have to support them, encourage them, and respect them,” she said.
Fariha Waqar, regional president for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Women’s Association of Brampton East, echoed the sentiment, saying the event helped bring faiths to the same table. “We all came to a forum where we can hear and listen to each other,” she said.
“This was a first for our region,” added Bushra, the Brampton West association president. She noted that last year the same event was held at a national level. She was pleased with the turnout. “Everybody I spoke to was happy.”
The total event attendance was 373, of which 131 were guests from outside the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama’at.
The Ahmadiyya Muslim Women’s Association is an auxiliary organization of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama’at, a Muslim sect centered on the belief that the second coming of the Messiah was fulfilled in the person of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (peace be upon him) of Qadian, India. The Jama’at is known internationally for its humanitarian efforts and the motto, “Love for all, hatred for none.”