A diverse group of over 500 women came together last night to join the important discussion about the role of women in society. All major faiths and those of no faith were represented at the largest mosque in the UK, Baitul Futuh in south London, for the annual Peace Symposium hosted by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Women’s Association in the UK. The event brought together women from the worlds of faith, politics and civic society to promote a deeper understanding of Islam and other faiths. Its aim has been to inspire a concerted effort towards lasting societal peace and in this, its 10th year the focus of discussion was the role of women as nation builders.
Katie Harrison, Director of ComRes Faith Research Centre and Dr Nazila Ghanea, Associate Professor in International Human Rights Law at the University of Oxford, human rights consultant and co-author of award-winning book, Freedom of Religion or Beliefs presented their respective analyses of the topic. Dr Fariha Khan, President of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Women’s Association UK then presented the Islamic viewpoint on women’s role as nation builders.
Attendees posed their questions to members of a panel who addressed a variety of questions such as the nature of Muslim women’s portrayal in the media, what Muslim women can to do counter the misconceived notions about them, the ideal response to unjust treatment, domestic violence and how the Khalifa (Caliph) is elected.
A charity cheque presentation of £17,800 raised by members of Lajna UK was made to Leukaemia Care UK. Lively discussions continued over dinner and into the late evening. Attendees had the opportunity to view exhibitions, participate in the Al-Qalam project in which a single verse of the Holy Quran is hand written by each participant towards completing its entire text and were given tours of the Baitul Futuh mosque.
Katie Harrison demonstrated that it is women who hold the key to future prosperity through the example of women in a rural village in Ethiopia who have been able to send their children to university for postgraduate degrees because they knew what kind of future they wanted for their children and do everything they possibly can to make it happen. She reminded women that they have the power and opportunities in their daily lives to bring peace to troubled people and reconciliation in their personal spheres. She finished with a call to action, ‘Do you know what kind of future you want? Let’s agree together today to make it happen.’
Dr Nazila Ghanea shared her thoughts on peace, how women of faith might contribute. She said, ‘the means of achieving justice should not be unjust in themselves’ She pointed out that women seem to have a higher calling to peace, for sacrifice and for establishing peace between members of our family, between ourselves and our neighbours, and within the community. But that we cannot have any peace if we do not have a voice and if more women enter public life we have a greater chance of achieving peace.
Dr Fariha Khan explained the Islamic perspective of the topic of discussion, whilst addressing some of the unique rights that Muslim women were afforded 1400 years ago. Dr Khan addressed the topic of female literacy and maternal health, widely accepted to be determinants of economic development, from an Islamic perspective. Islam places great importance on the care of mothers as, ‘paradise lies under the feet of your mothers’ and she narrated a saying of the Holy Prophet of Islam (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) which promises paradise to the one who educates his daughter; this, at a time when women were treated as possessions and female infanticide was practiced. She explained that in Islam men and women are spiritual equals and are rewarded for good deeds equally. Woman was not created from a body part of a man; man and woman were created from single soul. She concluded with a quote from His Holiness Khalifatul Masih V (may Allah be his Helper) the current head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, ‘Any man who thinks that women should not take an active part in religious affairs… is guilty of extreme ignorance. Similarly if any woman thinks that due to her domestic responsibility she does not need to partake in religious matters or make sacrifices for her faith and nation, she too is mistaken… ‘
Notes for Editors
The Ahmadiyya Muslim Women’s Association UK is a national Muslim Women’s group established
in 1922 with more than 10,000 members across Britain. It is an auxiliary organisation of the
Ahmadiyya Muslim Community UK which was established in Britain in 1913. The Community has approximately 33,000 members across more than 100 chapters. The Community built the Fazl Mosque in Southfields London in 1924 which was the first Mosque in London and also the Baitul Futuh Mosque in South London, the largest Mosque in Western Europe.
It was founded in 1889 by Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (peace be upon him) who claimed to be the Promised Messiah and Mahdi awaited by all major religions, including the Jews, Christians and Muslims. The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community is now established in 209 countries with tens of millions of members worldwide. Its motto is “Love for All, Hatred for None”.
The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community is the largest organised Muslim Community in the world and is led by a system of spiritual successorship known as Khilafat. Its current Khalifa is the fifth successor to the Promised Messiah (peace be upon him); his name is His Holiness, Mirza Masroor Ahmad. His title is Hadhrat Khalifatul Masih V.