Members of Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths gathered Sunday afternoon to urge fellow believers to reach across races, religions and lifestyles to develop an understanding of one another.
Called the Women In Faith Symposium, the event at Beth-El Congregation aimed to bring together diverse voices to engage in a constructive dialogue.
“Today, when people lie about each other’s faiths and are afraid of each other’s faiths, one of the most radical things we can do is gather in groups like this,” said Rebekah Miles, a professor of theology at Southern Methodist University. “We can learn about each other. That might be the only remedy to the fear.”
Christianity, Islam and Judaism are bound by a belief in hospitality, Miles said. Yet many, including herself, do not practice the idea as they should.
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“It’s a scary thing to do. … I think we are driven by a fear of the other,” she said. “We live in homogeneous communities with people like us.”
Opening oneself to others, Miles said, can be an “extraordinary, radical act of faith.”
Saliha Malik, president of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Women’s Association, told attendees the Quran dictates equal rights for men and women. The association is part of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, a sect of Islam.
“There is no denying that there are Muslim men who mistreat, oppress and abuse women,” Malik said. “But such mistreatments are a gross violation of Islamic teachings.”
In the United States, she said, a woman is sexually assaulted every 98 seconds.
“No reasonable person would blame Christianity for that,” she said.
Upon converting to Islam, Malik recalled an acquaintance who asked, “Why is an emancipated woman like you joining Islam?”
Malik replied, “I feel I have become emancipated through Islam. I was freed from society’s standards.”
Representing the Jewish faith, Cantor Sheri Allen said traditional Judaism deemed women separate but equal. Women’s duties were considered sacred, and they were encouraged to not pursue higher education for fear they would neglect duties as wives and mothers.
Today, acceptance for women clergy is growing in some traditional Jewish circles, she said, even as the Orthodox Union recently barred women from serving as clergy.
Allen grew up in a reform household but became interested in Orthodox Judaism when she lived in Los Angeles. She now leads the Congregation Beth Shalom in Arlington and serves on the Cantors Assembly Executive Council.
“When women are not being treated the way the Quran, Torah and Bible demands, then we just stand up for ourselves,” Allen said.
Arlington Mayor Jeff Williams, who attended the symposium, said kindness toward others is critical in his city and beyond. Arlington, he noted, is one of the most diverse cities in Texas.
“Kindness trumps condemnation,” he said. “Isn’t it fascinating when we take the time to learn from our neighbors the amazing friendships that can be gained?”