Josh Morof, Teen Founder of Face to Faith,
Writes a Winning Essay
The National council of Jewish Women, Greater Detroit Section has awarded the first place Youth award in their essay contest to Josh Morof, 18, of Bloomfield HIlls and a graduate of Andover High School. Josh is currently a freshman at the University of Michigan. Josh received $2,500 for his winning essay on Face to Faith. See Josh’s article below!!
Just one year ago, I could not honestly say that I had more than one or two non-Jewish friends. I did not even recognize the importance of diversity. However, when I was assigned to a table in ceramics class during junior year with one Christian, one Muslim and no other Jewish students, everything changed.
When we sculpted heads, Tahas taught us that Muslims are not allowed to draw or sculpt the human body. Nate taught us about Christianity through a poem he etched on the side of his project. I spent an entire class period teaching them about the Hebrew alphabet when I made a mezuzah. As I read the letters aloud, Tahas excitedly told me how similar they are to those of the Arabic alphabet and, for the first time, our similarities began to outweigh our differences.
As our friendships blossomed, I realized that my school and community were just as divided as my ceramics class had been. I had always known that the Christian students congregated by the benches in the school’s main hallway, the Muslims in the library and the Jews in front of the staircase, but it had never bothered me as it did now. I needed to step up and take action, because if I did not, who would and when? These questions inspired me to create Face to Faith, an interfaith program that brought together Jewish, Chrsitian and Muslim teens from all over Metro Detroit.
Religious leaders and teen representatives from each faith helped me to create Face to Faith. During our meetings, we discussed topics ranging from how to get teens to attend and how to ensure interaction, to how to show the similarities between the faiths.
Three months later, almost 100 Jewish, Muslim and Christian teens filled the Jewish Community Center. Everyone received a colored wristband, which matched the color of a table. Earlier in the year, when I had served on a different interfaith panel, the Jewish and Chaldean students automatically sat on different sides of the room; the wrist bands we passed out prevented that from happening.
We spoke for almost an hour – the religious leaders about their religions and the teens about our experiences; we then gave the participants an opportunity to discuss the importance of diversity and the struggles that come along with it.
Afterward, everyone went downstairs to the Teen Center. As I followed a few minutes later, I expected everyone to be playing foosball and air hockey, or to be watching a movie. Instead, they were talking. The barriers that had separated all of us, the same barriers that took an entire semester of ceramics class to break down, had crumbled in just hours.
As Face to Faith came to a close and everyone was sharing phone numbers, email addresses and Facebook information, all 100 participants made it clear that we needed more events in the future.
I had successfully taken my passion from ceramics class and turned it into this amazing organization that would bring together hundreds of teens again the following year for events at a local church, mosque, synagogue and school. More importantly, I had embarked on a journey that would impact my Jewish identity unlike any experience that I have ever had before. Through face to Faith, I have learned about other religions, made new Jewish and non-Jewish friends, and have become an overall better person.
Ironically, however, the greatest impact that Face to faith has had on me has been on my Jewish identity. I have learned about myself as a Jew and my role as a leader in the Jewish community. I have taken actions to educate Jewish and non-Jewish teens alike in this community, and I have worked throughout this year to break down the boundaries separating our teens in hopes of building community and inspiring other teens to find their identities.
WISDOM and the Bloomfield Township Library
Host an Evening about Faith-Based Bullying!
By Loubna Hatahet
Youth Panelists from Right to left:
Heba Al-saghir, Noah Arbit, Shounak Cha, and Alem Singh
Participants from Right to left: Judy Lipson, Noah Arbit, Alem Singh, Shounak Cha, Heba Al-Saghir, Amy Morgan, and Loubna AlKhayat.
Bullying takes many forms and types, and regardless of the form, it can cause serious problems or affect the well-being of the targeted kid. With that in mind, WISDOM organized an event that focused on faith-based bullying, that took place on September 13th. The goal of the event was to address the problem of faith-based bulling as it affects many youth of different faith traditions, and to raise awareness about how to deal with it, as well as how can we help in preventing it as a community and as parents.
The event was hosted and co-sponsored by the Bloomfield Township Public Library in their main conference room. With a workshop-like setting, about 75 attendees grouped around tables to facilitate group discussions and reflective interaction.
The program was divided into several sessions that lasted for two and a half hours, ranging from youth panel discussions, group reflections, scenario discussions, expert panel input, as well as practical tips from a practitioner in the field. Our moderator Amy Morgan opened the first session with a brief definition of bullying: “Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time. Bullying includes such actions as making threats, spreading rumors, physical or verbal attacks, or excluding someone from a group on purpose. In the case of faith based bullying, the behavior is motivated by an attack on a person’s faith identity or religious practices (stopbullying.gov).”
This set the stage for the youth panel session in which each youth shared her/his perspective on bullying as it related to their own faith – as a Hindu, a Jew, a Muslim, and a Sikh. The absence of a Christian youth representative did not mean that Christians do not face faith-based bullying, as Amy explained, however, the Christian youth who was invited felt that youth of minority faith traditions should be given the opportunity to voice their concerns.
The youth session was insightful, as they shared their perspective and their stories on faith based bullying, its causes, and the solutions to this issue.
Heba who represented the Muslim faith shared with the audience how youth are being affected within and outside the school environment. She described the effect of stereotypes on the Muslim kids, their confidence levels, and how bullying is impacting their involvement and their choices. Heba gave examples of Muslim girls who have lost their friends when choosing to wear the head cover, and having to change schools after seeing this reaction in one case. She also shared an incident of a kid being bullied when an association between Muslims and terrorism was made.
Listening to the Jewish representative Noah, raised awareness on the misinformation about Jewish traditions and history. He gave example of insensitive jokes about the holocaust that can really hurt, or the misconceptions of certain verses. Noah also commented on the diverse community that we live in which helped us to become more tolerant and understanding.
Shounak reflected on how the Hindus youth can sometimes be faced with issues related to faith based bullying because of misconceptions, and gave an example of a kid who attended a school in a different state who was told you will go to hell because you are praying to a clay pot. He also added that attempts to convert Hindus is just an example of bullying.
The Sikh representative Alem shared his experience with bullying by elaborating on the reactions associated with seeing the turban, and how these reactions can be damaging and even fatal in extreme cases.
When asked about the causes of bullying and how to best solve this problem, the youth representatives were in agreement that ignorance is a major cause and each added their own perspectives. Causes included the influence of the surrounding environment, lack of mutual respect and understanding, media influence, assumptions and overgeneralizations. Among the solutions that were shared by the students, education was the main focus. Providing more understanding, opening up and interacting with others and in a school setting, integrating world religions studies in the curriculum, would be advantageous. A last word of advice by the youth was to ensure that there must be an effort not to make any bad association with any religion or religious group.
Reflection time was given to the audience followed by discussion of scenarios that addressed bullying situations experienced by a Christian, a Muslim and a Baha’i. Panel experts were invited to the stage to share their expertise in addressing multiple issues related to bullying and discuss the scenarios in more depth. On the experts’ panel were an assistant principal in West Bloomfield schools Mr. Arthur Ebert, a prosecutor Mrs. Rana Hadied, a charter school administrator Mrs. Rana Khalaf, a retired principal Dr. Paul Lipson, and Sergeant William Plemons, and all provided insightful information. Some of the notes shared by the experts included the importance of having schools involved in anti-bullying efforts and programs, how standing up for ones rights and identities is critical, and how facing bullying as a group can be helpful. Legal issues related to bullying were discussed by the prosecutor. Finally a word of advice was to be proactive rather than reactive especially when dealing with bullying.
Our own experts, Judy Lipson wrapped up the session by providing valuable tips on effective ways to handle bullying, and got the audience engaged by practicing some of these tips.
The program has allowed for social time where people interacted with the panel speakers, organizers, and others from the audience, while enjoying food provided by La Marsa of Bloomfield Hills and Panera Bread. The youth panel session was filmed by the Bloomfield Township Cable and will be available for viewing within weeks.
The written feedback received from the audience was very positive, with several suggestions for more workshops related to the topic.
|WISDOM Participates in Community Service
with Zaman International
On Sunday October 14th WISDOM partnered with Zaman International in Dearborn to make our Metro Detroit community a better place to live. Zaman International is a non-profit organization started by Najah Bazzy, whose mission is dedicated to providing humanitarian services to individuals and families in need. They provide food, shelter, furniture and medications to marginalized single mothers with children, the ill, and senior populations. They provide literacy education, GED advancement and vocational assistance. Zaman also has a mobile food pantry, assists indigent families who cannot afford proper burial of their fetus, infant, or toddler, and reaches beyond borders to provide safe drinking water to the most devastated and impoverished global communities.
Zaman coordinators were Monica Boomer, Director of Community Engagement and Gail Zion, Adminstrator. Uzma Sharaf and Sheri Schiff, WISDOM Board members, helped to coordinate the event with Zaman.
After a delicious Middle Eastern lunch together, introductions, a short presentation on WISDOM’s mission and a short film about Zaman International, WISDOM and Zaman women set out wrapping gifts for needy families and taking coin donations and putting the coins in rolls in order to tally the total of each donation for tax purposes. Everyone had a chance to reach out and dialogue with someone new and feel good about spending time doing community service together, making our community a better place to live, and building respect and understanding. We at WISDOM look forward to future projects with Zaman International!
WISDOM and Zaman women rolling coins that were
donated to help needy families.
Gifts for the needy were wrapped
Zaman International and WISDOM women
worked together to build respect
and understanding and make our community
a better place to live!!
Face to Faith Holds an Event at the Muslim Unity Center
on Thursday, October 18, 2012
Face to Faith, the high school interfaith initiative, began its 2012 school year with an event at the Muslim Unity Center focusing on three faith traditions that celebrate pilgrimage holidays or missions. About 50 teens of the Jewish, Muslim, Christian, and Mormon faiths showed up at the Bloomfield Hills Muslim Unity Center to dialogue, get to know each other better, dine on excellent Middle Eastern Food, and attend three educational breakout sessions dealing with the theme of Pilgrimage.
Marc Silberstein, educator at the Frankel Jewish Academy in West Bloomfield, and Noah Arbit, one of our Face to Faith teens, ran a breakout session on the Jewish holidays during the month of Tishrei, with an emphasis on the holiday of Sukkot, which is one of three Jewish pilgimage holidays, and commemorates the 40 years of the Jews wandering in the desert after escaping from Egypt. The Bible ordains several observances for the festival. First is the command to dwell for seven days in outdoor huts. The second biblical ordinance relates to the “four species” or plants which are to be used as symbols of rejoicing before God for the harvest which has just been completed. These are the citrus fruit (etrog), the palm branch, boughs from the myrtle tree and willow branches.
Noah Arbit and Marc Silberstein explain
some of the Jewish holidays to Face to Faith teens!
Sean Modawell, one of the teens of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints, educated the Face to Faith teens about the two-year Mormon mission where the young Mormon dedicates his/her life to spreading and sharing the gospel. Sean described the process by which you apply for this commitment, and once you are accepted, you go to the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah for several months. At the Church’s Missionary Training Center (MTC) in Provo, Utah, young men and women as well as retired men and women from around the world come together to prepare to serve the Lord. The purpose of the MTC is to provide an atmosphere of peace, love, trust, confidence, and respect in which missionaries can prepare for missionary service. Missionaries dedicate 18 months to two years to missionary service. Approximately 52,000 members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are currently serving as full-time missionaries. They are called to serve in one of 334 missions in approximately 120 different countries around the world. Sean explained how many missionaries return from this experience feeling happy and successful!
Frederick Kiel and Sean Modawell discuss the Mormon mission
Rula Mohammad ran the third educational break out session on the Muslim Hajj. The Hajj is the Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia. It is one of the largest pilgrimages in the world, and is the fifth pillar of Islam, a religious duty that must be carried out at least once in their lifetime by every able-bodied Muslim who can afford to do so. The Hajj is a demonstration of the solidarity of the Muslim people, and their submission to God.Hajj is associated with the life of Islamic prophet Muhammad from the 7th century, but the ritual of pilgrimage to Mecca is considered by Muslims to stretch back thousands of years to the time of Abraham (Ibrahim). Pilgrims perform a series of rituals: each person walks counter-clockwise seven times around the Kaaba, the cube-shaped building which acts as the Muslim direction of prayer, runs back and forth between the hills of Al-Safa and Al-Marwah, drinks from the Zamzam Well, goes to the plains of Mount Arafat to stand in vigil, and throws stones in a ritual. The pilgrims then shave their heads, perform a ritual of animal sacrifice, and celebrate the three-day global festival of Eid al-Adha.
Serene Katranji-Zeni and Rula Mohammad
explain the Muslim Pilgrimage holiday of the Hajj
It was a great evening! We all learned a lot – adults and teens alike! We are looking forward to our next Face to Faith event at the Kirk in the Hills Presbyterian Church on Long Lake Road in Bloomfield Hills on December 13th, 2012 starting at 6:30 PM!! We hope to see you there!
Face to Faith Committee Member
Jewish Temple Leases Space
to a Church in Need.
Like Moses and the Jewish people wandering through the desert, Pastor Bruce Burwell and his flock at the Light of the World Christian Center had been leading a nomadic existence for almost 10 years, wandering from building to building to use space for Sunday worship. Then Burwell, 58, of Southfield, who founded the church in 2002, walked into Reform Temple Shir Shalom in West Bloomfield a year ago, and, as he describes it, “The Spirit of God came down on me and told me this was the place to stay; it was divine intervention.” He recalls, “Shir Shalom saved us. The church where we had been renting space was being sold, and we literally had no place to go that week. We started conducting services in Shir Shalom’s beautiful main sanctuary.”
What followed since then has been the epitome of interfaith relations, still rare in today’s society. It’s a feelgood story about how Jews and Christians get along and
work together. Burwell attributes it to the kindness of Rabbi Michael Moskowitz, executive director Andre Douville, and the congregation and staff of the temple. “They made it happen and we can’t thank them enough,” said Burwell.
“The whole arrangement is beautiful at every level,” Moskowitz enthused. “It’s
good to share facilities with other faiths; help the church in its time of need. The
church was out of options and we were glad to help.””We think back to when Shir Shalom got started and had to rent space before we built this facility,” added Douville. “Now we’re returning the favor by letting the church rent space from us. It’s like giving back to the religious community. “Pastor Burwell and his congregation have terrific energy and are very supportive of the Jewish community and Israel. And our board and congregation are, in turn, very supportive of them.”
Three people launched Light of the World Christian Center 10 years ago:
Burwell, his wife and daughter. A native of Pittsburgh, he had been a financial adviser before attending the Word of Faith ministry for two years to get ordained. His wife Dr. Monoseta Burwell, is a dentist in Southfield. “We saved all our money and bought the equipment needed to start a church – microphones, video equipment,
books and so forth,” said Burwell. “Then we started moving around as we gained members to worship together. We spent some years at the Michigan State Conference Center in Troy, followed by other places around the area. We talked to other synagogues and churches, and all of them were receptive. But
Shir Shalom is like a godsend.”
The predominately black church now has 280 membersand retains independent status, drawing from a variety of denominations. “And I’m proud to point out there are no teenage pregnancies in the families of congregants, and 100 percent of the children of members are attending college,” he said. There are two services each Sunday, at 8 a.m. and noon in the main sanctuary. “We had a problem at first because about 300 of our children attended Sunday school in that area, but they were all moved to the Corners building in West Bloomfield,” Burwell says. “Andre and the rabbi have been very accommodating,” he added. “And we’ve all become fast friends. The rabbi and I are like brothers; we spend a lot of time just talking,
and we each speak from each other’s pulpit. My family and I have attended Passover seders, High Holy Day services and the annual Walk for Israel. I even did a reading
at the seder.”
The next big step for the Light of the World Christian Center to is to construct its own building. “We’re going to begin a capital fundraising campaign,” says Burwell. “I’m going to sit down with Andre and find out how to do it. “I’m going to do my best to learn.”
Salim Halali, a one-man beacon of diversity
By David Crumm
The film Free Men’s fictional main character, at left, talks with the singer Salim Halali to warn him about a new Nazi crackdown. If you’ve never heard of Salim Halali, you’re certainly not alone! Try to find him on Wikipedia or in any standard Holocaust history book and you’ll come away scratching your head. I know, because I tried after watching this impressive drama-and was on the verge of concluding that Halali was some kind of fictional figure. Then, I found quite a number of French-language websites and magazines that have profiled the famous musician. After using Google-Translate on these compiled clippings and comparing the facts-this true story emerges:
In 1920, Salim Halali was born into a Jewish family, originally from Souk Ahras, Algeria. In the 1930s, he was working mainly in France as a successful Arabic-language flamenco singer in Parisian nightclubs. He also toured Europe and North Africa, until the German occupation. As a Jew, he was at risk in Nazi sweeps of Paris, but the rector of the Great Mosque of Paris, Si Kaddour Ben Ghabrit, decided to save his life. The rector managed the mosque, but he also was a musician and scholar and loved Halali’s genre of Arab-Andalusian music. Under the rector’s direction, Halali was given forged papers and protected through an elaborate charade that included the creation of a headstone etched with the name of his father that was placed in the Muslim cemetery in Paris.
After the war, Halali founded the Oriental Folies Ismailia, a club that was the toast of Paris in the late 1940s. Later, he moved to Morocco and opened a club in Casablanca that drew rich and famous guests in the 1950s. Halali toured the world performing his distinctive genre for his fans. He retired in the 1990s and died in 2005.
Both the Halali character in the movie and the rector of the mosque look remarkably like the original historical figures. Vintage photos on some French-language websites confirm the visual accuracy of both men. What’s more? As it turns out-you still can order a CD collection of Halali’s melodies via Amazon and, among the offerings, I recommend the collection called: Jewish-Arab Song Treasures.
First and foremost, the basic story about Halali, the rector of the Paris mosque and the elaborate deception is accurate. Beyond that, the film’s handsome young hero is a fictional composite of Muslims who must have interacted with Halali and the rector during the Nazi crackdowns in Paris. That’s how filmmaker Ismael Ferroukhi describes the creation of his fictional “main character” and it makes sense-this is a suspenseful drama and this young French “everyman” can connect the dots between historical events. In addition, the filmmakers say that they have historical documentation about two little Jewish girls who the Muslim characters also try to save. Overall? This movie is far closer to the accurate history than a lot of movies supposedly “based on a true story,” these days. This verdict matches the conclusions of a lengthy story analyzing the movie in the Jewish Daily Forward by Benjamin Ivry.
Toledo Community Supports
the Islamic Center Grieving from Arson
Yesterday well over 600 citizens of the Greater Toledo Area gathered in support of the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo which was damaged by arson a week previously. We gathered in a large tent, as the Islamic Center is still too damaged to be used. As the 500 chairs filled, members of the Islamic community were asked to sit on prayer rugs on the floor, so that guests could use the chairs. Even then, the perimeter of the tent was lined with standing attendees. It was a crowd of people of all faiths and great love.
On September 30, 2012, at just before 5:00 PM, a man sneaked inside the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo with a gas can and, what appeared in surveillance footage, to be a revolver. He wondered through the building and left after setting fire to the prayer room rug. Fortunately no one was there and no one was hurt. But the damage from smoke and water has affected every room of the iconic structure.
The alleged perpetrator, Randy Linn from Fort Wayne, Indiana, was apprehended fairly quickly. He reportedly was disturbed by the now notorious video which has been used to incite violence overseas. He wanted to send a message of fear.
I cannot say that there has not been some fear generated by this act, which has now been declared an act of terrorism and will be prosecuted under federal laws. There has certainly been much grief. But the community’s outpouring of love and support has sent a far stronger message.
Dr. Mahjabeen Islam, President of the Islamic Center, graciously moderated the numerous faith and civic leaders who spoke at the service. She related that she had not realized how much she loved the Center. Her grief is like losing family members when she was a child. Sheikh Ibrahim Djemaa and Sheikh Kamal Najib offered prayers. Nihad Awad of CAIR and Dr. Maseeh Rahman, President of United Muslim Association of Toledo, spoke.
Amanjeev Singh of our local Sikh community spoke of the terrorism against those who look different and expressed solidarity with his Muslim brothers and sisters.
Speaking for the MultiFaith Council of NW Ohio, I quoted Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that”. I said that we have developed such deep friendships across faith lines in Northwest Ohio, that it felt like someone attacked our family. I prayed that the love of the larger community would be a support to those grieving loss.
Rev. Ed Heilman declared that the community would help rebuild the mosque. He offered a contribution from his church and said, “You are not alone. We will rebuild together.” Rabbi Moshe Saks quoted from his Shabbat sermon that Jews are mandated by the Torah and Jewish Law to be hospitable to the stranger. He charged us all to to never let an incident of harming the ‘other’ go by without standing up for the victim. He said to go out and tell our neighbors and friends about the Prayer Service. He asked us to challenge them, nicely, about why they were not also there. Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur reminded us of the time right after 9/11 when someone shot into the mosque stained glass window. Hundreds of people of all faiths came out and surrounded the mosque in prayer. She said she sent the photo of that prayer circle to every representative saying that this is my District. She felt that photos of this gathering would also make a statement to the world.
Ajit Jaggi, Chairman of the Board of the Hindu Temple, spoke words of sympathy and peace. [Ajit was a tireless worker on several of our MultiFaith Habitat Builds.]
Angela Zimman, a Lutheran Pastor, offered her congregation’s love.
Ava Rotell Dustin, Assistant United States Attorney also spoke. Mahjabeen recognized and praised the fire department and all of the police and government agencies involved in the investigation. Judy Wilcox of Maumee United Methodist Church, presented herself ‘as not anyone important, just an ordinary person’. She said that her church had experienced a fire. She said that the disaster had galvanized her church, which had been dying, and now holds four services on Sunday. She offered a Prayer Quilt, pieced and knotted by loving hands of her church members. She seemed pretty extraordinary to me.
Jay Weik, priest of the Toledo Zen Temple, offered a breathing practice to illustrate that we are one. Dr. Larry Conway said his son who lives in Indiana called his father to say there are still ‘some nice people in Indiana’. He pledged $1000 to help repair the mosque. Imam Farooq AboElzahab of the Islamic Center closed with prayer.
Forgive me that this is a rather long post. But I think the increase in attacks against faith communities is a trend that needs countering. As Americans we need to realize that these attacks are against all of us. At stake is a freedom that is rare and precious, one that is the very foundation of what this country means. I am proud that we were able to gather in peace yesterday to support our brothers and sisters. I also know that as interfaith community builders, we still have much work to do. I hope that we all will have the courage and stamina to continue.
A Model of Inclusion for Muslim Women
By DIDI KIRSTEN TATLOW
From the NY Times
Could an old religious tradition from China help solve
one of the world’s most pressing problems –
violence committed in the name of Islam?
The irony of an officially atheist country possibly offering a way out of an international religious problem is intense. Yet that is what some Islamic scholars in China and elsewhere hope may happen as they point to a quietly liberal tradition among China’s 10 million Hui Muslims, where female imams and mosques for women are flourishing in a globally unique phenomenon.
Female imams and women’s mosques are important because their endurance in China offers a vision of an older form of Islam that has inclusiveness and tolerance, not marginalization and extremism, at its core, the scholars say. Exact numbers are not available, but Shui Jingjun, a leading scholar of women in Hui Islam (the Hui are scattered across China and are distinct from the Uighur Muslims of the far western region of Xinjiang) estimates there are hundreds of female imams leading mosques around the country, educating boys and girls, and organizing social services in their communities.
Female imams and women’s mosques are not “a new thing here. It’s just a cultural tradition that was never interfered with,” Ms. Shui, an author and researcher at the Henan Academy of Social Sciences in Zhengzhou, the capital of Henan Province, said in an interview. That is what makes it so important, said Khaled Abou El Fadl, a prominent Islamic legal scholar. “The Chinese tradition of women’s mosques is rooted in Islamic history. It is not novel, a corruption or innovation or some type of heretical practice,” Mr. Abou El Fadl, a professor of Islamic law at the University of California, Los Angeles, said in a recorded interview. China’s liberal Hui tradition therefore challenges the power of Wahhabism, a puritanical, patriarchal sect dominant in Saudi Arabia today that is behind much Islamic extremism, he said.
“The Chinese example preserves and reminds Muslims of an important jurisprudential and historical phenomenon that Wahhabism tried to wipe out,” he said. “Contemporary fundamentalist movements use the space provided by the mosque to affirm all types of patriarchy and male power over women,” he said. “When you have something like the Chinese example, which ultimately empowers women to work within their own space and lead prayer and manage that space on their own, it’s a significant form of women asserting themselves in the Islamic tradition, helping in constructing it and perpetuating it.”
“I always see Islam in places in China as reminding Muslims of their authentic tradition before it was impacted by petrol dollars and this very gruff and dry form of Bedouin Islam that came out of Saudi Arabia,” said Mr. Abou El Fadl. “So the point is there’s an old, historically rooted tradition, and the Chinese, if they tap into this tradition, they can effectively provide resistance or examples of resistance to puritanical Islam.”
Muslims arrived in China during the Tang dynasty, more than 1,000 years ago, and their numbers swelled during the Yuan dynasty in the 13th century. Mostly from Persia and Central Asia, though some were Arabs, they brought with them traditions that had always emphasized women’s education, said Ms. Shui. But women’s status really took off in the early Qing dynasty, more than 300 years ago, when the numbers of Hui declined as they were absorbed into the majority Han Chinese culture, she said. By then, she said, “most Muslims couldn’t read or speak Arabic. So they relied on women to spread the word, to educate. It wasn’t possible to rely just on the men. There weren’t enough of them.”
Far away, in the Arab world, Wahhabism began spreading.
“About 300 years ago, there were changes in Islamic education” in the Middle East, said Ms. Shui. “In other Islamic nations, what men said was decisive. But that wasn’t going to work here.” Over the past decade, Hui Muslim women’s role in offering both religious and secular education in their communities has grown, said Jackie Armijo, a professor at Qatar University. Young Hui women, seeing the need for education among their people, are choosing to travel far from home to teach, often in small villages, she said. While conducting doctoral research in China, “I was continually struck by these young women,” Ms. Armijo said. “They know instinctively, and they say it: ‘To teach a man is to teach one person. To teach a woman is to teach everyone,”‘ she said.
Slowly, awareness is spreading in China of how valuable this tradition might be.
During a recent meeting in Gansu Province of mostly female Muslim educators, researchers, writers and local Han Chinese officials – there were also some non-Chinese Muslims from Pakistan and Taiwan, according to online reports – “some people argued privately that China should ‘go out into the world’ with this good tradition,” spreading the word, said Ms. Shui, who was among the participants.
That, Ms. Armijo said, would resonate among women elsewhere in the Muslim world, who are increasingly gathering to study texts independently of men.
At the meeting, many people said they wanted the biennial event, happening for just the second time, to become a permanent research facility in Gansu. “We talked about turning it into an international meeting for all Muslim women,” said Ms. Shui. “Everyone was in favor of that.”
|Five Women Five Journeys: How Different Are We?
This unique WISDOM program features personal stories of women of different faith traditions – how their childhood impacted their beliefs today, what the challenges are for women in their faith tradition, what parts of their religion are misunderstood, how reaching out to someone from a different faith has enriched their lives.
To inquire about a Five Women Five Journeys Program for your organization, contact Paula Drewek at Drewekpau@aol.com .