Jewish-Muslim Text Study: “Women in Judaism and Islam”

By JCUA’s 2011-2012 Intern
From Action Reconciliation Service for Peace (Germany)

Our first Jewish-Muslim text study of 2012 was new and refreshing in a number of exciting ways.

First, it was the first text study facilitated by a female Muslim chaplain. Second, it was the first text study facilitated by two women – Tahera Ahmad from Northwestern University and Rabbi Andrea London from Beth Emet. And, third, for the very first, time the topic of the text study was gender-related and specifically on women: “Women in Judaism and Islam.”

Discussing the roles of women in Judaism and Islam

At JMCBI's January text study, participants discuss the roles of women in Judaism and Islam.

Over coffee at the Adriatic Café in trendy Andersonville, this group of 25 people – mostly women – settled in for an evening of discussion and learning.

Tahera Ahmad (the first Muslim chaplain at Northwestern) began the dialogue by recounting her personal story as a Muslim girl in high school. September 11th changed the way people interacted with her, she said. She struggled with people who were hostile to Muslims on the one hand and the expectations she faced from the Muslim community as a woman on the other.

Rabbi London (senior rabbi at Beth Emet The Free Synagogue in Evanston) shared that she all too often encountered the question: “Is your husband also a rabbi?” She wondered whether a male rabbi would be asked the same question about his wife.

Personal stories, powerful insight

These personal stories grabbed many participants in the mostly female audience in an emotionally powerful way, creating context for our discussion of the Quran and the Torah texts that had been distributed.

We saw that there are many women in the Quran who serve as role models – they were faithful, smart and sometimes gutsy. However, three “unfaithful” women are also mentioned.

We also learned that the Torah includes laws that protect women within their marriage, guidance towards respectful treatment of women, and various social security laws.

Breaking out into smaller groups we told of our various backgrounds and what had brought us here. These amazing, diverse stories had one thing in common: that we were eager to meet people of a different faith and from other communities, to overcome stereotypes and learn from and about another tradition.

Returning to the larger group, we had conversations about how women dress. Several people said they found modest, rather than revealing clothing, to be more liberating. One attendee said she supported the right of women to choose what they want to wear.

Many expressed their wish to continue the theme of this event further at a later time. We hope to have more sessions on Women in Judaism and Islam in the near future.

When the event concluded, many participants stayed for a while longer since there was more they wanted to ask or speak about. We left the restaurant into the cold and dark night. However, it was warming and illuminating to know that there were Muslims and Jews who want to get to know one another and to know that there were so many interested and interesting people.

This ongoing series of text studies is sponsored by the Jewish-Muslim Community Building Initiative, a JCUA program.

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