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Panel shares view on role of women in major religions

Zuleyha Colak, Sister Vicki Toale and Rabbi Sheila

Zuleyha Colak, Sister Vicki Toale and Rabbi Sheila Goloboy participate in an interfaith program entitled "Founding Mothers, Women in the Early Years of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam" at the Turkish Cultural Center in Ronkonkoma on Sunday, April 30, 2017. Photo Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

Women representing different religions came together Sunday to explore the important roles their gender played in the founding and development of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

The panel discussion at the Turkish Cultural Center of Long Island in Ronkonkoma was part of “Abraham’s Table,” an interfaith series designed to share traditions and perspectives.

Rabbi Sheila Goloboy, Sister Vicki Toale and Middle Eastern studies lecturer Zuleyha Colak highlighted the women who, religious texts say, interacted directly with God or angels and guided the early leaders of the three major monotheistic religions.

Goloboy said the matriarchs of Judaism — including Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, Leah, Hagar and Keturah — had “large roles” and “strong voices.”

“They’re socially subordinate to their husbands but not inferior,” said Goloboy, who is a social worker at Heart and Soul Community Counseling Center in West Babylon. “These were powerful women.”

Sister Vicki Toale, who teaches theology and religious studies at Molloy College in Rockville Centre, said Jesus’ mother, Mary, taught him important lessons and Mary Magdalene served as a disciple equal to Peter. Yet the “incredibly important part” they played in Jesus’ life was largely left out of religious texts by about 85 A.D., she said.

“The foundation of the Christian religion starts to marginalize the experience of women” with Jesus, who “saw women as equals,” said Toale, a member of the Sisters of St. Dominic in Amityville and a pastoral associate at Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal in Wyandanch.

Colak, who teaches at Columbia University, said women — including the Prophet Muhammad’s wives Khadijah and Aisha and daughter Fatima — challenged the way women were typically oppressed during “the Age of Ignorance.” Khadijah was a wealthy merchant who supported Muhammad and Aisha was a scholar and army leader.

“There’s so much to learn from the example of Khadijah. It challenges us in terms of society’s understanding and assumed roles for women and . . . [she] becomes a role model for us,” Colak said.

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