March is women’s history month and usually that means a celebration of women from a national or cultural perspective. In the United States that implies celebrating American women of independence, courage and fortitude, whether they are white, black or Latina. More importantly, however, I believe that we must also celebrate women from an interfaith perspective, because the female gender has so much to offer in that field.
It is a well-known fact that women are very much involved in interfaith dialogue and relationships. From participating in group discussions and book clubs, to working with others on social service projects, women are often in the forefront of this activism. Wherever I go, I see women front and center when an interfaith discussion is being held. Maybe it’s because of our unique characteristics of empathy, or our listening skills, but I am always delighted to find a host of girls, adult women and senior ladies at any interfaith gathering. Invariably, they want to listen, they want to learn, they want to share.
When I envision women’s contributions in terms of interfaith work, I think of women from all walks of life and all time periods. I consider women of different faiths who are connected through their belief systems and their love of God, through their values and even their dress. I look at the Virgin Mary with her head covered in white, and she seems cut from the same cloth as Sikh and Muslim women with their headscarves. I look at Sarah from the Old Testament and I see the same fierce love for family that I witness in Hagar. I see all manners of worship and service to honor the Almighty. I witness the love and devotion, not only in their own faiths but also the devotion they bring to interfaith dialogue, as a commitment to peace and tolerance. They are wives, mothers, daughters, even grandmothers and great grandmothers, who wish to live in a better world.
Research any religion and you will find women of strength and leadership. Islam has the wives of the Prophet Muhammad who were businesswomen, teachers, even commanders of armies. Christianity has fearless women who devoted themselves to their faith and supported its growth. Hinduism has its female deities invoking love, power and spiritual nourishment. Judaism has its countless female role models who stood equally tall with the greatest Biblical prophets. Even pagan religions have no scarcity of feminine contributors if we look closely. These women have so much in common, and we should be proud to showcase them, not just in March, but all year round.
So what does celebrating women from an interfaith perspective look like? Perhaps it implies giving them credit for their contributions. Perhaps it means encouraging more women to participate in interfaith work. Perhaps it even asks for a greater struggle than ever before – more women doing more work in more cities across the country and across the world. Because like it or not, we women are uniquely suited to interfaith dialogue. We can listen to others without judging, we can share our stories without drowning out other voices, and we can feel deep emotions.
And let’s face it, our future generations need that more than ever.
Image courtesy of Women of Reform Judaism.