Bahai News -- Fairbanks Daily News-Miner - Women's panel talks faith Article Published: Sunday, September 21, 2003 - 3:13:05 AM AKST

Women's panel talks faith


Women of faith gathered Thursday evening to share their spiritual journeys and speak of their faith traditions.

Author Claire Rudolf Murphy moderated the program at St. Raphael's Catholic Church, and encouraged the interfaith panel of Christian, Muslim and Jewish women, and a woman of the Bahai faith, to continue to tell and embellish the stories of women in the holy writings of their religions.

"We have a voice that needs to heard as females," said Elaine Johnston, a Tanana Middle School teacher and Roman Catholic.

"It's very important to me to always be listening. When we stop listening, we lose track of who we are."

Murphy, with four other women, recently published a book on the same theme. The book, "Daughters of the Desert," contains 18 stories. She introduced some to an audience of 50 or more predominantly female attendees.

"We're here to celebrate these women and commonalities in our faith traditions," she said.

Throughout the evening, the contributions of women with names like Hagar, Mary, Tahiri, Sipporah, Khadija and Fatima were spoken about and explained.

"As you read the Torah ... rarely do you get stories of Jewish women," said Jennifer Eskridge, who went on to explain that Jewish women are usually depicted as strong, ornery, spunky and headstrong.

There was agreement among the speakers that women don't play a very obvious role in the Bible, except when men are doing something they shouldn't be doing, which brought a spate of laughter from the audience.

The Muslim women in the group described the important role Muhammad's first wife Khadija, a very successful businesswoman, played in Muhammad's life.

When Muhammad was first visited by the angel Gabriel, he was afraid and scared. Khadija didn't understand what was going on, so she took Muhammad to a Christian relative for an explanation. He was told he was a chosen by God as a prophet.

Muhammad's third wife, the intelligent Aisha, also played an important role in Islam, memorizing the Acts of Hadith (acts in daily life) after his death. Islamic scholars also came to her for advice and problem solving.

Like the three main monotheistic faiths which can trace common roots to the biblical figure of Abraham, Delena Norris-Tull, a Bahai, said that many people around the world misunderstand how closely related religions are to one another.

All religious representatives concurred on the importance of education.

"Our prophet believed in education," said Zakia Chowdhury, who was raised in Bangladesh. "In most (Islamic) countries, women and men both go to school."

Another voice chimed in, explaining that in some countries where girls are married young or not allowed to go to school it is because of the culture not the Islamic religion.

In the Bahai faith, Norris-Tull said education for both men and women is the key to bringing about world peace.

There is a strong tradition of universal education in the Jewish faith, said Eskridge.

As a teacher, Johnston said she works hard teaching her charges to be accepting and tolerant of each other.

Johnston also has strong feelings about the importance of public school education. "It brings people together.

"We live in a pluristic society and need to learn to get along."

Mary Beth Smetzer can be reached at or 459-7546.

©Copyright 2003, The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner (Alaska)

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