International Syeda Fatima(SA) interfaith conference: Reportage

Esther Das

The 8th Annual Syeda Fatima(SA) Interfaith Conference was a message of perpetuated hope and perseverance in making the women the channel of the most desired peace sought by the contemporary world.
The Lord Nazir Ahmed hosted the conference in his House of Lords Chamber today (20th of June 2018) and it was attended by academics, community workers, activists, clergy, faith leaders, parliamentarians and other dignitaries.
This year the theme of the conference was woven around the question ‘Can women inspire social and political reforms?’ The list of speakers included faith leaders from Jews, Christian and Muslim faith leaders including youth and community leaders. Lord Nazir Ahmed opened the conference by welcoming everyone followed by the rationale of the conference shared by Rubab Mehdi Rizvi, chair of International Imam Hussain Council. She particularly cited the role models such as Mother Mary and Bibi Fatima to be remembered for inspiration in order to forge political and social change around us.L
Lord Qurban was the guest of honour who emphasised the need of such efforts for interfaith harmony and peace building. Laura Mark the Chair of Nisa-Naseem ( an organisation promoting harmony among the women from the Jewish and Muslim World View) opened the conference and spoke about a modern Jewish Role Model , Marie Kanda, an educationist and intellectual who worked towards engaging Jewish women for bringing positive social change. Rev. Rose, the chaplain of the House of Parliament shed light upon the shared values of modestly, family values and even of preparing food apart from similar matriarchy and patriarchy. Citing from Deuteronomy (Bible) she presented the divine commandment of caring for the widowed, the fatherless and strangers ‘remember too, that YOU were once strangers. (Deuteronomy 10:12-13)
Imam Asim expressed his pleasure that contrary to the norms, this conference was named after a Muslim woman rather than a man. He also added that the UK is a beautiful mosaic of diverse colours, cultures and communities where each stich is equally important to build solidarity, mutual beauty and comfort.
Zain Haider Awan,innovative manager at Penny Appeal, shared five traits from Bibi Fatima’s life to be perused concluding his thoughts in these words:‘ Many times we reduce the character of Lady Fatima to that of a role model for females only. However, her legacy can be power house of transformative change which can drastically impact the lives of men and women alike, and subsequently, the societies and the world at large. Lady Fatima teaches us beyond anything to stand resilient in the face of struggle, to be socially engaged whilst being spiritually conscious – and most importantly incubating the next generation of change-makers to continue the journey. She teaches us spirituality can not be void of activism, altruism cannot be done without foresight and legacies can not be built without small acts of change. ’.
Building off the peace-making work of Kant, Grotius, Smith and Elworthy, Sheikh Jaffer Ladak’s talk posed the question: how does Islam build peace? Whilst the Quran said, “Allah calls you toward the State of Peace”, Lady Fatima (a) said, “God has made calling toward good and forbidding evil as a means for harmonisation of the hearts” and “God has made justice as a means of amendment and correction of society.” Moreover, sharing the ideology of Ta’leef he said: ‘Islam also designates Ta’leef, the spending of money on those who are in conflict as a means of peace-building, and the talk asks how this Quranic injunction may practically reduce conflict.’
These first set of words are often seen as softer, even weaker and therefore less important than the second set. History and society have dictated that the carers and nurturers are the weaker sex. However, it is precisely this instinct that make women natural peacemakers and bridge builders.’ She also emphasised that ‘Comfort and nurture are not women’s only virtues. Leadership and strength are also inherent characteristics’, by quoting the examples of Mary Magdalene and Joan of Arc, the 15th century Roman Catholic saint.
Rev. Bonnie Evans Hills is an author, priest and a champion of peace n interfaith activism and women’s rights. An extract from her article ‘Choices’ summarises her thoughts thus: Shame is the ‘sin’, if you can call it that, of being afraid to allow ourselves to be seen – by others, and by God. Forgiveness removes that sin of shame and allows the soul to walk free in the world, to not only be seen – but feel the freedom to see others, to Love.
When religious leaders are sought out, to participate in the world, is this what we are being invited to do? To see? To allow ourselves to be seen?’
John Lubbock of Wikimedia shared the stats that only 17% of Wikepedia biographies are of women that raises concerns about plethora of women achievers missing and inaccessible though internet. He encouraged women to reveal their achievements or those of friends using this powerful tool and offered free training for all those who are interested to do so.
The conference was concluded by acknowledging individuals for their inter-faith and peace building endeavours on behalf of the International Imam Hussain Council. Certificates of Acknowledgement were presented to : Mr Aamir Haroon of Global Pakistani Christian Association, Ms Shabana Khan of Dil Kay Hath, Zahid Ali Akbar of Imam Hussain Council, John Lubbock of Wikimedia, Syed Qamar Reza of WCOP, Shazia Shah, Jamil Shah, Ruth Xram, Hamda Shareef , Fareeha Begum and Esther Das of Social Integration and Empowerment Commission (SIEC) .

—(Writer’s views)

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