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‘Women and Faith’ event celebrates diversity

There has been a lot of controversy in the media about Harmony Day – and the need to address racial discrimination. In view of this, University of Technology Sydney (UTS) Multi-Faith chaplaincy and several Activate religious clubs on campus decided to collaborate to put on an event “Women and Faith” for Harmony Day, on March 21, celebrating cultural and religious diversity, and harmonious dialogue.

No one is under the illusion that we live in a harmonious society – there are always differences and clashes of opinion – but the aim of this event was to highlight dialogue between different faiths and also within different traditions – a subject that is not really dealt with by most media.

The women of different faiths discussed their role models and the challenges and opportunities they sometimes face in what are often religions with patriarchal histories and structures. They also spoke about what it means to be a woman of faith in today’s pluralistic, secular world.

UTS Multi-Faith Chaplaincy focusses on pastorally supporting students from all cultures, faiths, and people of no faith, to create meaningful discussion and collaboration. In particular it helps to foster belonging and personal development, while encouraging students to become fuller human beings. Free agency in terms of beliefs and personal life choices is highly emphasised. A similar, collaborative, multi-faith event took place in August 2022 with the topic “War and Peace”.

The “Women and Faith” event speakers were: a Hindu nun, Pravrajika Gayatriprana, from the Women’s Interfaith Network and also President of NSW and SA Vedanta societies; Rabbi Jacki Ninio from Emanuel Synagogue; Shaykhah Umm Jamaal ud-Din – an Islamic scholar, a “revert” to Islam, and one of the first three qualified women to become an official member of the Australian National Imams Council; and Patricia Thomas – a pastoral theologian and Managing Consultant of Grief Care at Catholic Cemeteries.

The women spoke about their role models – for example Rabbi Jacki mentioned the prophetess Miriam from the Old Testament, and Shaykhah Umm Jamaal mentioned Aisha – the third wife of Prophet Muhammad, PBUH. Rabbi Jacki had also just had a meeting with Catholic bishops that week for an ecumenical committee, and Patricia engages widely with the community due to her work in bereavement.

During the Q&A that followed, students of various faiths asked questions and a good discussion ensued around topics ranging from unconditional and universal love, the importance of community, the challenges of being in faith environments that are often heralded by men, “the Mother aspect of God”, Old Testament female prophets and leaders, and the importance of acquiring knowledge, “building yourself well”, relationships, and establishing boundaries with others. The stress on God as a God of relationship was made, and how contemplation and transformation help us in our humanity and also help us to deal with suffering.

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Joanna Thyer (Joanna.thyer@uts.edu.au) is UTS Multi-Faith Chaplaincy Coordinator.

 

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