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Asking the Clergy: A faithful response to the status of women in the world

From left, Sanaa Nadim of the Islamic Society

From left, Sanaa Nadim of the Islamic Society Interfaith Center at Stony Brook University, the Rev. Wendy C. Modeste of United Methodist Church of Bay Shore, and Cantor Irene Failenbogen of The New Synagogue of Long Island, Brookville. Credit: Newsday / John H.Cornell Jr.; Lasting Impressions Photography / Jennifer Mercurio; The New Synagogue of Long Island

As this year’s celebration of Women’s History Month concludes, the United Nations reports that while women compose 70% of health care workers globally, they are also "systematically excluded" from decision-making processes aimed at ending the pandemic, according to news.un.org. This week’s clergy discuss their faiths’ responses to women’s continuing struggles to attain equal rights in the United States and internationally.

Cantor Irene Failenbogen

The New Synagogue of Long Island, Brookville

I feel that Judaism's response to the status of women in the world is clear — women and men are equal in the eyes of God.

The challenge for today is how to shape that equality so all may benefit from its wisdom. The words of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the late associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, hint at an effective response. In an oft-quoted 2012 TV interview, she said, "I am a strong believer in listening and learning from others." To me, that is the most sensitive and empathetic way to respond in faith. At the center of our prayer is The Shema (a Hebrew word meaning "listen"), which is found in the Torah. This religious practice reminds us that when we listen, we learn how to be united with all humanity and God.

Now the challenge is to keep listening to the right voices in a very divided and conflicted world. Judaism stands for emet b'tzedek (truth and justice). As we celebrate Passover, which begins on March 27, let’s not forget that freedom is about listening to the truest and most just voices of humanity, male and female, which liberates each person into becoming one's best and most fulfilled self.

The Rev. Wendy C. Modeste

Pastor, United Methodist Church of Bay Shore

In Galatians 3:28, the apostle Paul writes that "there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." Yet, women are treated as lesser human beings in many countries. Even in the United States, many women in the workplace must fight to earn respect and equal treatment from their male colleagues.

This is not God's ideal for women, who are still sometimes viewed as sexual objects. Women have so much to contribute to society — in the home, at work, at school and everywhere in between. Only when men and women are viewed on equal footing can humankind progress and prosper.

When I received God's call to be a minister, I found my place in the United Methodist Church. Other denominations continue to forbid women in the pulpit, even though God created both men and women in his image and likeness (Genesis 1:27). Equality is fundamental to our faith. Jesus' sacrificial death on the cross, resurrection from the grave and ascension to heaven occurred for all people, both male and female. We are one in Christ Jesus.

Sanaa Nadim

Chaplain, Islamic Society Interfaith Center, Stony Brook University

Two maxims in Islam cultivate a vision of gender equality: one inheres a woman’s right to own property and to divorce; another focuses on the determination by Prophet Muhammad that women, too, should seek knowledge and debate ideas.

With Kamala Harris’ election as the United States' first South Asian American vice president, and the reelection of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina of Bangladesh, Muslim countries are increasingly debating access for women to positions of political and economic influence. Afghanistan, Algeria, Egypt, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are among the Muslim countries that provide paid maternity leave by law, providing women greater flexibility to maintain their careers and become mothers. These shifts have been largely attributed to the belief that Islam requires political and legal actors to take seriously the equality of women when making their rules and determinations.

Women worldwide uniquely endure suffering from genital mutilation, sexual abuse, gender-based violence and harassment, all of which contribute to their social, economic and political subjugation. (CMI, the Norwegian research institute, has debunked theories that Islam permits female genital mutilation and has even underscored how this procedure has no Islamic justification.)

Islam facilitates the social mobility of women, protects their economic interests and promotes their increasing social ascendance.

DO YOU HAVE QUESTIONS you’d like Newsday to ask the clergy? Email them to LILife@newsday.com.

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