Archive for the ‘jewish’ tag
Parliament of Religions Calls Faith Communities to Actively Oppose War, Blockade of Gaza, Anti-Semitism & Islamophobia to Protect Israeli and Palestinian Lives
The Parliament of the World’s Religions grieves whenever violence and conflict flares, as is now occurring in Palestine and Israel. Grief, however, must not paralyze faith communities and the interfaith movement into silence and inaction. Instead, we are called to serve as moderating agents in the cause of sustainable justice, unconditional compassion, and enduring peace by raising our voices against those who seek the annihilation of their enemies.
The Parliament, therefore, asks religious and spiritual communities across the globe, and the interfaith movement specifically, to be vocal and active in:
- calling both sides to end the war in an ethical manner, including the ending of the seven-year blockade of Gaza, with borders monitored by the United Nations to ensure safety for Israelis as well as Palestinians
- asking world leaders to take concrete steps, with urgency, to ensure the freedom, self-determination, security, and equal rights for Palestinians and Israelis
- calling the United Nations to ensure that both sides abide by international laws and human right accords in safeguarding civilians, with special attention given to children
- requesting both sides to recognize the humanity of the other and to honor their sacred spaces
The Parliament of the World’s Religions encourages all faith communities and especially the interfaith movement to actively expose and challenge anti-Semitism and Islamophobia in their neighborhoods, cities, and in the public discourse. Let us be moderating voices and agents that will revitalize the dialogue and cooperation between Jews, Christians, and Muslims. This mission should be a part of our sermons, prayers, and civic action.
This statement was adopted by the Board of Trustees of the Parliament by a majority vote.
Spanning four full pages in one of Israel’s leading newspapers, over 430 Rabbis and influential Jewish leaders have signed an open letter of welcome to Pope Francis on his trip to Israel. The welcome message will be published Sunday, May 25 in Ha’aretz and presented to the Pope in Israel.
The project is conceived by Angelica Berrie, Chairperson of the Center for Interreligious Understanding (CIU) in association with Rabbi Jack Bemporad, Executive Director of CIU in the U.S. and director of the John Paul II Center for Interreligious Dialogue, housed at the Angelicum Pontifical University in Rome, where the rabbi is also a professor.
Pope Francis’ visit to Israel shows his concern for peace. The message of welcome, signed by rabbis and leaders of all Jewish denominations, underscores interreligious dialogue not merely as an ideal, but as an effective path to understanding.
“There is recognition among Jewish leaders that dialogue is essential to bring about genuine understanding and mutual appreciation. Pope Francis has been clear that he wants to build bridges between all religions to bring about peace in the world,” said Rabbi Bemporad. “The on-going and vibrant commitment to open dialogue continues to not only strengthen the relationship between Catholics and Jews, but my hope is that it can be a model for all interreligious work.”
Having fled Mussolini’s Italy as a small child, Rabbi Bemporad has dedicated his life to interreligious work among Jews, Catholics, Muslims and Christians worldwide. This welcome ad is made possible by the generous support of the New Jersey-based Russell Berrie Foundation and its President, Angelica Berrie. The Russell Berrie Foundation is the primary supporter of the John Paul II Center for Interreligious Dialogue at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome, a leading program of interreligious dialogue and learning.
For more information, contact: Susan Barnett
Text of the letter to Pope Francis:
With you we are here to build bridges so that we can traverse these bridges of faith together in a journey of hope for justice, equality and peace, and to continually recognize and strengthen the important relationship between Catholics and Jews worldwide.
And where better to reaffirm that relationship, than in the Holy Land of Israel, a place both religions treasure as part of a shared heritage.
Peace be with you,
by Imam Abdullah T. Antepli
I’m one of only 11 full-time Muslim chaplains on a U.S. university campus, serving at Duke University. It’s the only place I know where it’s kosher and halal to pray for “the Devils.” If one looks for an overarching identity where political, sectarian and religious differences disappear, look toward college basketball. Israeli-Palestinian conflicts are a piece of cake. But the Duke-UNC rivalry, there is no hope.
Unfortunately, the future of Judaism and Islam on American college campuses is not a sports rivalry where it’s trophies that are at stake. I see urgency around Jewish-Muslim relations in general, and in particular on college campuses in the United States.
I have great admiration for leaders like Pope John Paul II and John XXIII – these men moved mountains in repairing Christian-Jewish relations. Christian anti-Semitism took its theological strength from core teachings of Christianity. Unlike Christian anti-Semitism, anti-Semitism in the Muslim world isn’t rooted in Islamic theology and was never fed through core Islamic teachings.
But as anti-Semitism grows in the Muslim world, fueled by political problems in the Middle East, Muslim anti-Semitism is taking root as people turn to Muslim theology to try to find scripture and history that provides religious legitimacy for despicable hate messages.
I know, because I am one of the victims of that anti-Semitism. I’m often asked, “Why are you so obsessed with Jews? Why are you so tirelessly trying to improve Jewish-Muslim relations?” Growing up in Turkey, the first book that I read about Jews and Judaism was at the age of 12 or 13 — a children’s version of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. It was very sophisticated propaganda that put modern pictures of Israeli-Palestinian conflict and atrocities atop verses from the Torah and other Jewish teachings, in an attempt to prove the inherent evil of Judaism.. Not every single Muslim is born and raised as an anti-Semite. But it’s not uncommon.
I spent a number of years believing that something is innately, irredeemably wrong about Jews and Judaism. But believing in a God of love and God of mercy and compassion, I was able to go through a life journey that removed that poison from my system. I still consider myself a recovering anti-Semite because old habits die hard and modern challenges keep scratching the old wounds.
Rising bigotry is not unique nor is it one-way. Islamaphobia among the Jewish community is increasing, too, poisoning many Jewish hearts and minds and taking deep root here in the U.S. as well as other parts of the world.
As Muslims and Jews, we have every reason to be worried about the future of our religions. Vis-à-vis Jewish-Muslim relations, we have every reason to do all that we can to build bridges between our communities. As Jews and Muslims it is in our self-interest.
I see the 20th century as the time when world Jewry came to terms and reconciled with Christianity. I see the 21st century as the time Jews and Judaism can come to terms and reconcile with the global Muslim community.
That brings a moral imperative to America’s shores. Yes, anti-Semitism may be poisoning Muslims around the world and it’s changing us for the worse. But it is American Muslims and American Jews who must model what the 21st century will look like. We live in a country with influence and civil liberties; on college campuses in particular, Jews and Muslims have the room to exemplify a fruitful Jewish-Muslim engagement for the rest of the U.S., world Jewry, and the Ummah, the Muslim world.
An important place to start is to diversify our sources of information about each other. I invite you to consider, when does Islam as a religion and Muslims as people come to your attention? Or when do Jews, Judaism and Israel come to Muslim attention?
When it comes to information on college campuses, we have to stop inviting fringe speakers who only serve to firm up extremist images of the other. There also needs to be bilateral Jewish-Muslim conversation. Interreligious sharing is wonderful, but Jews and Muslims share similarities, a common history, as well as similar theological and judicial foundations. Bi-lateral discussions, especially on U.S. college campuses, are a must if we are to be an urgently needed light for the world.
A Voice from Sinai is calling on American Jews and American Muslims, “If there’s going to be any reconciliation, any coming to terms, it will be you. You will exemplify this to the rest of the world.”
Imam Abdullah T. Antepli is this year’s Pope John Paul II Center for Interreligious Dialogue honorary lecturer; this commentary is distilled from that lecture. The JP II Center is located at The Angelicum Pontifical University in Rome and the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City hosted this year’s lecture. Educated in his native Turkey, Imam Antepli is an international leader in Muslim-Jewish dialogue.
Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid Re-Elected as Parliament Board Chair; Rabbi Michael Balinsky and Lewis Cardinal Elected Vice-Chairs
With a new year comes a new Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees at the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions. 2014 will be guided by Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid who has been re-elected to serve as Chair, and will work alongside Vice-Chair Rabbi Michael Balinsky of Chicago, and the first Vice-Chair from Indigenous Communities, Lewis Cardinal of Canada.
Re-elected Board Chair, Abdul Malik Mujahid, a leading imam in Chicago’s Muslim community, begins the year feeling honored by the Parliament, which he says is “moving from strength to strength.”
With goals to continue building the organization, Imam Mujahid also reflects, “as the interfaith movement has doubled in the last ten years, it is time that the interfaith organizations build their capacity to serve the interfaith movement better for a greater world of peaceful coexistence with all the God’s creation. ”
With Rabbi Michael Balinsky and communications executive Lewis Cardinal of Canada serving as Vice-Chairs, the Parliament board will be nourished by a talented interfaith collaboration (see their profiles below). Imam Mujahid is pleased to be working closely with leaders in the Jewish and Indigenous communities, saying:
As a head rabbi in Chicago, Michael brings with him a whole lot of wisdom, along with his connections with the Jewish Federation and passion for serving young people. We are fortunate to have him as our vice-chair of the board. He will also lead our development standing committee. Lewis Cardinal uses few words to speak louder for indigenous communities. Interfaith needs to learn to communicate better… and he is the man, as president of the largest communication network in Canada for the voiceless indigenous people. He will also be leading the Parliament’s Task Force on indigenous people. “
The Executive Committee elected for 2014 is comprised of Parliament trustees from a wide range of professions and faith traditions, from Sikhism to Jainism, Baptist Christianity and Wicca, to Judaism and Islam.
Kuldeep Singh began a second trustee term this year and joins the Executive Committee as the Secretary of the Board, as well as by chairing the Human Resources committee of the board. Kirit Daftary was elected Treasurer of the Board and will Chair the Finance Committee. Those also elected committee chairs are Phyllis Curott for Governance, Rabbi Michael Balinsky for Development, Dr. Mohammad Siddiqi for Communications, and Dr. Rob Sellers for Nominating.
For more information on the plans of the Parliament board, please see Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid Chairs’ Report for year-end 2013 here.
Rabbi Michael Balinsky, Vice-Chair is the Executive Vice-President of the Chicago Board of Rabbis, an organization representing two hundred rabbis of all denominations. He is a member of the Jewish-Catholic Scholars Dialogue in Chicago, and serves on the executive committee of the Council of Religious Leaders of Metropolitan Chicago. Rabbi Balinsky was a Hillel director for twenty-two years, over nineteen of those as the director of the Louis and Saerree Fiedler Hillel Center at Northwestern University, after two and a half years as the Associate Director of Hillel at the University of Michigan.
Lewis Cardinal, Vice-Chair is the first vice-chair of the Parliament of the World’s Religions from the indigenous communities. He is Founder and Co-Chair of the Indigenous Peoples’ Art and Culture Coalition, Board member of Little Warriors, former Chair of Edmonton Aboriginal Urban Affairs Committee, Bissell Centre Board of Governors, Chair and Founder of Global Indigenous Dialogue, Executive Vice-President of the Aboriginal Voices Radio Network, and recently appointed to the Board of Directors for the Alberta Council of Women’s Shelters. Lewis is the owner of Cardinal Strategic Communications, specializing in education, governance, and communications.
This synopsis of the Evangelii Gaudium of Pope Francis was composed by Trustee of the Parliament of the World’s Religions, Dr. Leo D. Lefebure. Part 1 emphasizes the mission of the Catholic Church in the world, and Lefebure explores Pope Francis’ stance on Interreligious Relations in part 2.
This week, Time Magazine announced its selection of Pope Francis as the Man of the Year for 2013, commenting: “Rarely has a new player on the world stage captured so much attention so quickly—young and old, faithful and cynical—as has Pope Francis.
In his nine months in office, he has placed himself at the very center of the central conversations of our time: about wealth and poverty, fairness and justice, transparency, modernity, globalization, the role of women, the nature of marriage, the temptations of power.” (Read more: The Choice: Nancy Gibbs on Why Pope Francis Is TIME’s Person of the Year 2013 | TIME.com)
Earlier, on Nov. 24, 2013, Pope Francis issued an Apostolic Exhortation, the first of his Pontificate, and the first major statement of his program. The great theme of Pope Francis is expressed in the title: Evangelii Gaudium, The Joy of the Gospel. For Francis, this is the central Christian response to God’s coming into our lives. In the Catholic tradition, popes regularly promulgate an Apostolic Exhortation in the wake of a particular Synod of Bishops; but rarely if ever has an Apostolic Exhortation aroused the type of interest, both positive and negative, that The Joy of the Gospel has evoked.
I. The Mission of the Church in the World
Despite the overarching tone of joy, Pope Francis has grave concerns about the world today. At the beginning of the Apostolic Exhortation, he sets forth a stark warning:
The great danger in today’s world, pervaded as it is by consumerism, is the desolation and anguish born of a complacent yet covetous heart, the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures, and a blunted conscience. Whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns, there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor. God’s voice is no longer heard, the quiet joy of his love is no longer felt, and the desire to do good fades (#2).
Francis laments that too often Christians do not witness to the joy and beauty of the Gospel. He calls for Christians to witness to the Gospel not by proselytization but rather by attraction through living lives of joy and beauty (#15). He endorses the “way of beauty” (#167). Francis warns: “There are Christians whose lives seem like Lent without Easter” (#6). While he is aware of the difficult times in all lives, he trusts: “Joy adapts and changes, but it always endures, even as a flicker of light born of our personal certainty that, when everything is said and done, we are infinitely loved” (#6). The ancient prophet Zephanaiah promised that God will rejoice over us as at a festival, and so Pope Francis tells us evangelizers should not look like they are coming from a funeral!
The basis of the mission is the love of God that comes to Christians a sheer gift and offers us friendship with God, who brings us beyond ourselves, frees us from our narrowness and self-absorption. Francis invokes the ancient principle: “Goodness tends to spread” (9). He quotes from the document issued by the Fifth General Conference of the Latin American and Caribbean Bishops in Aparecida, Brazil, in 2007, which he had a major role in drafting: “Life grows by being given away, and it weakens in isolation and comfort. Those who enjoy life most are those who leave security on the shore and become excited by the mission of communicating life to others” (#10).
Francis calls Christians to reach out to everyone without exclusion, stressing what is beautiful, grand, appealing, and most necessary (#35). He recalls that Thomas Aquinas taught that mercy is the greatest of all virtues and should be at the center of the presentation of the Gospel (#37). Francis calls Christians to be like the Prodigal Father in the parable (#46). He tells us that “the Church is not a tollhouse; it is the house of the Father, where there is room for everyone, with all their problems” (#47).
Francis affirms that the Church has a mission to all, especially to the poor. Francis repeats to all of us what he used to tell the priests and people of Buenos Aires: “I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security” (#49). He notes that the call of Jesus echoes through the centuries to us:
“Give them something to eat” (Mk 6:37; #49).
Francis also reflects on the economic structures that perpetuate poverty. He questions why we worry more about the stock market going down by a few points than about the poor who die on the streets. He recalls the commandment not to kill as a call to safeguard the value of all human life. Francis applies this commandment against an economy of exclusion and inequality, stating: “Such an economy kills” (#53). He questions: “Can we continue to stand by when food is thrown out while people are starving?” (#53) He warns against the globalization of indifference and the idolatry of money as a new golden calf (##54, 55). Francis sets forth the basic principle: “Money must serve, not rule!” (#58)
Despite the stern warnings against these and other dangers, Francis rejects pessimism, recalling the words of Pope John XXIII in opening the Second Vatican Council in October 1962, looking beyond the predictions of gloom to the hope: “In our times, divine Providence is leading us to a new order of human relations” (#84). It is this hopeful note of confidence in God’s grace that shapes Francis’s message.
Francis reflects on the implications of the Incarnation: “The Son of God, by becoming flesh, summoned us to the revolution of tenderness” (#88). Francis stresses the dignity of baptism as the foundation of Christian identity and the mission of lay people in transforming the world (##102-104). He calls on all Christians to “listen to young people and the elderly. Both represent a source of hope for every people. The elderly bring with them memory and the wisdom of experience, which warns us not to foolishly repeat our past mistakes. Young people call us to renewed and expansive hope, for they represent new direction for humanity and open us up to the future, lest we cling to a nostalgia for structures and customs which are no longer life-giving in today’s world” (#108).
II. Interreligious Relations
Pope Francis situates the mission of the Church in the context of fostering respectful and friendly relations with other religious traditions. He affirms the special bond between Christians and the Jewish people because of our common heritage: “We hold the Jewish people in special regard because their covenant has never been revoked, for ‘the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable’” (Rom. 11:29; #247). He deplores the past hostility in this relationship: “The friendship which has grown between us makes us bitterly and sincerely regret the terrible persecutions which they have endured, and continue to endure, especially those that have involved Christians” (#248).
Pope Francis strongly supports interreligious initiatives in the context of seeking peace and the flourishing of life for all: “An attitude of openness in truth and in love must characterize the dialogue with the followers of non-Christian religions. . . . Interreligious dialogue is a necessary condition for peace in the world, and so it is a duty for Christians as well as other religious communities” (250). Francis endorses the interreligious attitude commended by the Catholic bishops of India of “being open to them, sharing their joys and sorrows” (#250). Francis explains the hoped-for result of such an attitude of openness: “In this way we learn to accept others and their different ways of living, thinking and speaking. We can then join one another in taking up the duty of serving justice and peace, which should become a basic principle of all our exchanges. A dialogue which seeks social peace and justice is in itself, beyond all merely practical considerations, an ethical commitment which brings about a new social situation” (#250).
Francis stresses the importance and the transformative power of listening: “Efforts made in dealing with a specific theme can become a process in which, by mutual listening, both parts can be purified and enriched. These efforts, therefore, can also express love for truth” (#250). Francis is aware of the important differences among various religious traditions and does not wish to ignore or minimize them: “A facile syncretism would ultimately be a totalitarian gesture on the part of those who would ignore greater values of which they are not the masters. True openness involves remaining steadfast in one’s deepest convictions, clear and joyful in one’s own identity, while at the same time being ‘open to understanding those of the other party’ and ‘knowing that dialogue can enrich each side’” (#250; quoting Pope John Paul II). Regarding how to handle the disagreements among different religious traditions, Francis stresses honesty, mutual respect, and trust.
Pope Francis emphasizes the importance of good relationships between Christians and Muslims: “We Christians should embrace with affection and respect Muslim immigrants to our countries in the same way that we hope and ask to be received and respected in countries of Islamic tradition” (#253). Francis acknowledges the difficulties in relations in many settings and advises: “Faced with disconcerting episodes of violent fundamentalism, our respect for true followers of Islam should lead us to avoid hateful generalizations, for authentic Islam and the proper reading of the Koran are opposed to every form of violence” (#253).
According to Pope Francis, the grace of God that Christians experience in Jesus Christ can nurture and shape the lives of followers of other religious paths as well. Christians do not have a monopoly on grace and can learn from other traditions: “The same Spirit everywhere brings forth various forms of practical wisdom which help people to bear suffering and to live in greater peace and harmony. As Christians, we can also benefit from these treasures built up over many centuries, which can help us better to live our own beliefs” (#254).
Francis also reaches out to those who do not belong to any particular religious tradition: “As believers, we also feel close to those who do not consider themselves part of any religious tradition, yet sincerely seek the truth, goodness and beauty which we “believe have their highest expression and source in God. We consider them as precious allies in the commitment to defending human dignity, in building peaceful coexistence between peoples and in protecting creation” (#257). Francis trusts that reflection on ethics, art, and science and about the human search for transcendence can serve as “a path to peace in our troubled world” (257).
Despite all the difficulties facing the global community, Francis encourages us:
“Challenges exist to be overcome! Let us be realists, but without losing our joy, our boldness and our hope-filled commitment” (#109).
He closes the Apostolic Exhortation with a prayer to Mary:
“Give us a holy courage to seek new paths,
That the gift of unfading beauty
May reach every man and woman” (#288).
About Author Dr. Leo D. Lefebure:
Leo D. Lefebure is the Matteo Ricci, S.J., Professor of Theology at Georgetown University and a priest of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago. He is the author of four books, including Revelation, the Religions, and Violence and The Buddha and the Christ. His next book will be Following the Path of Wisdom: a Christian Commentary on the Dhammapada, which is co-authored with Peter Feldmeier. He is an honorary research fellow of the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
Christian-, Muslim-, and Jewish-Americans ages 18 through 35 are encouraged to apply to the Ecumenical Institute at the Chateau de Bossey of the World Council of Churches for the “Building an Interfaith Community” seminar course running August 12 – 30 this summer in Switzerland. May 1 is the deadline, and financial assistance is available.
“What can we, as people of faith, do to respond and to overcome the pressing challenges of our time, such as violence and conflict, and build together mutually accountable societies based on respect and cooperation?” This is the question up to 30 young Christians, Muslims and Jews from around the world are to explore during a summer seminar at the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Institute in Bossey.
Aug 30, 2013 06:00 PM
Participants should be between 18-35 years of age, well grounded in their own faiths and be positioned to influence the thinking of members of their wider faith communities after completion of the summer course
by Deena Prichep
from National Public Radio
Challah is a rich, eggy bread baked every week for the Jewish sabbath, or shabbat. But for Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year that starts at sundown, it gets a few tweaks. There’s a little extra honey or sugar, for a sweet new year. And instead of the usual long braid, it’s round.
Mimi Wilhelm, who bakes challah for her family every week, teaches a challah-making class through Chabad Oregon. “The reason that we do the round challah, versus the braids, for Rosh Hashana, is because the year is round, it represents that idea. This looks like a crown, for crowning God as king on Rosh Hashana.”
But crowns and braids aren’t the only shapes around. Charles Levy grew up in Morocco and is now the president of Congregation Ahavath Achim, Portland’s Sephardic temple, which is largely made up of Jews of non-Eastern European descent. Growing up, he saw Rosh Hashana challahs in all sorts of forms. “Some of the people in Morocco will emulate animals, like a swan, or often you’ll have a head-like lion, lion of David. Or gdi, which is like a gazelle, a very fine and good-looking animal,” he says.
by Christopher Gordon, M.D. and Ben Herzig
from The Huffington Post
National surveys have consistently found that the vast majority of Americans identify as religious and/or spiritual in one way or another. But is there any room for spirituality or religious practice in psychiatric treatment? Is there a place at all for faith in an era that so privileges the brain over the mind and posits neurochemical explanations — and pharmaceutical treatments — for most ailments?
Nowadays, slick television commercials and glossy magazine ads market antidepressants directly to sufferers and their treatment providers, promising extraordinary relief and happiness. In the real world, life is not so simple. It is actually a rare case when a person’s problems are satisfactorily resolved by a prescription alone. Much more commonly, anxiety or depression or other symptoms are part of a larger picture, requiring a more complex solution. So how do we figure out what is the matter, and what might be helpful, beyond a symptom-targeted medication?
It is useful to think about human problems from four perspectives, and then to bring these perspectives together to get a sense of the whole person. The first useful perspective is a social one, which looks at what is going on in someone’s life, particularly their important relationships, to assess whether something important is occurring there. Examples might include domestic violence, or, less drastically, marital unhappiness, or being bullied in school, or some other important life circumstance. Clearly, we don’t want to offer medication when the problem requires addressing some real problem in living — for which counseling can be very helpful. The second perspective, however, is a biological one. In fact, many times depression and other mood disorders and anxiety disorders do reflect “chemical imbalances,” which have a biological component and are amenable to medical treatment if that is what the person prefers.
Those who seek to cause religious conflict are small in number but highly motivated, organized and funded. While there are billions of people who are engaged in their own faith tradition, many have not yet learned how to live or work together well with those of different traditions.
The Tony Blair Faith Foundation decided to tackle this challenge through organising a year-long Fellowship that brought together young people of different faiths to work toward better interfaith action. The Foundation selected 33 outstanding future leaders, who between July 2011 and June 2012, worked in interfaith pairs around the world. They built understanding between different religious communities by mobilising them around the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), in particular around malaria prevention.
The Fellows represented a diverse cross section of the faith traditions: 11 were Christian, 10 Muslim, 5 Jewish, 3 Hindu, 2 Buddhist, 1 Baha’i, 1 Sikh and 1 Quaker. Thirty of the Fellows were placed in multi-faith pairs in Canada, India, the United Kingdom and the USA.
by Julia Meltzer and Laura Nix, Filmmakers, “The Light in Her Eyes”
In a courtyard off a busy street in Damascus, Syria, boisterous girls run and play before class starts in the women’s side of Al-Zahra mosque. Inside the mosque, preacher Houda al-Habash teaches the Qur’an, educating women and girls about their religion, and their rights, within their faith. Julia Meltzer lived in Damascus in 2005, and from the moment she first entered Al-Zahra mosque, she recognized what a unique place it was. Houda’s school was well-organized and energized—filled with women and girls supporting each other in their studies.
Most people don’t associate Islam with women’s rights, and that’s exactly what we found interesting about the Al-Zahra Mosque Qur’an School. Inside this community, we uncovered a lively debate about women’s roles as mothers, teachers, wives, workers, sisters and daughters. Houda insists that secular education is an integral part of worship, because it gives her students the tools to make decisions about their futures. However, the school also emphasizes the importance of modesty and piety. These women and girls are following “the straight path” of Islam, because they want to live according to its structure, rules and ethics.
Houda’s version of women’s rights doesn’t look like ours. We were raised in the West by feminist mothers, grew up attending marches for reproductive freedom and identify as third-wave feminists. But the deeper we dove into Houda’s community, the more we realized how much our guidelines for judging women’s liberation and autonomy were informed by the parameters of our culture and experiences. As filmmakers, we believe it’s our job to understand our subjects, and to tell truthful stories about their worlds.