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The Women’s Interfaith Group in Oklahoma widens identities

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Dr. Nyla Ali Khan.
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EDMOND, Okla. -- A couple of months ago, I was invited to the Women’s Interfaith Meeting, which was held at the welcoming, cozy, and tastefully decorated house of Rabia Akkus. The minute I walked in, I was greeted by the aroma of delicious cuisine wafting all over the house. I was drawn to the joyful giggling of women and young girls, all of were elegantly dressed and represented the diversity that we would like to celebrate in the globalized world.

For me, the Women’s Interfaith Meeting played a significant role in raising consciousness and in foregrounding the richness of sociocultural practices that we have grown up nurturing. The voices of these enlightened and eloquent women created perceptible cracks in the edifice of iconicized womanhood and the figure of the “traditional Jewish,” “traditional Christian,” and “traditional Muslim woman,” which was similar to that of the Victorian woman as the upholder of the culture of silence.

In their attempts to delve into various themes and topics of import, particularly in the current political climate, those at the Women’s Interfaith Meeting, which I attended, intelligently voiced the agonizing plight of the marginalized that lacerated the heart and seared the mind, brought about by inequities and ignorance. In their interactions with one another, these women extricated themselves from the midst of monstrous structures and the agony that they caused in order to achieve the ideal of self-realization, which did not require self mortification but the proverbial endurance of Sufi saints and prophets whose stories of forbearance, wisdom, courage in adversity, and inclusiveness have strengthened my faith. Even to aspire to self-actualization is a radical notion, particularly for a woman, in an age of stifling stereotypes, sociocultural mores, and political inequality.

I was curious about the significance of the Women’s Interfaith Group for those who participated in the monthly meetings as well as the impact of the conversations on their consciousness, reality, and truth. And, as usual, I didn’t hesitate to ask. Here is how some of them responded to my queries:

The Women’s Interfaith Group is a specially curated group of women who meet once a month throughout the year. Our purpose is to grow in understanding and friendship by sharing our individual faith perspectives in a gracious, open manner. The mission of this group is not to convert, but to promote inclusiveness and peace. We have many faith perspectives represented, including those rooted in the Abrahamic traditions as well as Buddhists, atheists and others.  It’s been a rewarding learning process.”

-          Shannon Warren

"This interfaith group means a lot to me because it's always inclusive and the women are so warm and welcoming. We discuss several subjects, and though we come from different faith backgrounds, we are almost always able to find common ground on any given matter. It's beautiful to be able to discover the similarities we share. "

-          Malaka Elyazgi

I love coming to the monthly Women's Interfaith Group, where we learn about diverse religions and cultures, share food and ideas and learn how much we are really alike. The warmth and hospitality at these meetings promotes friendship and understanding. If only this spirit could spread across the whole world!

-          Anita Barlow

Through dialogue and the sharing of cuisine, we’ve learned a great deal about each other’s religions and cultures. These gatherings are an enjoyable reminder that we are all more alike than different.”

-          Joan Korenblit

While those at the Women’s Interfaith Meeting were talking about faith, patience, compassion, and equality, I thought of my scholarly work on the portrayal of women in nationalist literatures---the portrayal of Pioneer women in American nationalist literature as well as the portrayal of Kashmiri women in Kashmiri nationalist literature. Most nationalist movements and literatures of independence have portrayed women as icons of cultural preservation. In the nationalist and postcolonial phase of nations, gender divisions have been reinforced by the hallowed figure of the “woman.” The complexity in the varying positions of women has been ignored to preserve nationalist portraits of the “woman,” which do not concede to the female subject the right to voice her thought, desires, ambitions, and political ideology.

This stereotypical portrayal of the “woman” in nationalist literatures limits her sphere of influence within folklore and social as well as political practices, particularly in the Bible Belt.

Through convivial dialogue, forging friendships, and listening to one another without the veil of pre-conceived notions, the multicultural, multinational, and multireligious group of women I had the privilege of meeting with de-emphasized the roles imposed by nationality and ethnicity in order to widen their identities without totally dismissing their cultural definitions. The members of this group have located the ability to make free choices and to act independently in possibilities created in the variability of spaces in which identity is formed.

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About the Author

Nyla Ali Khan

Nyla Ali Khan is the author of Islam, Women, and Violence in Kashmir: Between India and...

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Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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