The image of Pakistan in the West is dominated by negative news: extremism, terrorism, corruption, poor governance and the breakdown of law and order. This pervasive image also threatens the attitude of Pakistanis towards themselves in their own home country. Women and minorities suffer the most since the dominant narrative provides little impetus or motivation to change for better.
In this atmosphere, a first-ever event of its kind on interfaith by women for women arranged by Dr Marilyn Wyatt, wife of the American ambassador. Her team was a breath of fresh air, giving a platform for an array of women to express their unity as Pakistani women from many faiths.
Wyatt hosted the event in Pakistan on May 24, at the 150 year old Eidghah shrine in Pindi. Among the participants was a Baha’i, a young Hindu, a Christian professor and dean of Peshawar University, the Naqshband Sufi pir’s wife, the head of the Dawa Center for Women and the orthodox Muslim scholars dressed from head to toe in a black niqab. In the audience were more than 40 women leaders and heads of organizations and colleges as well as students and women representing these diverse communities. Our topic was the role of faith in womens’ everyday lives and how we can play a greater role in interfaith dialogue by putting faith into action. My role as moderator was to ensure that everyone had a chance to interact properly within the time frame and to remain focused.
I am Pakistani by birth, brought up in a convent and later educated at the University of Cambridge, UK. In studying Islam and interfaith harmony, I have been fortunate to work with wonderful people of many belief systems in setting up two education interfaith centers in Cambridge. After 9/11, there have been many notable interfaith initiatives around the world, but in Pakistan there have been very few such moves and even fewer such initiatives led by women with a focus on women, even though there are many good NGOs led by women. Interfaith dialogue among women is crucial for the healing of a country like Pakistan.
In an atmosphere where political relations between the US and Pakistan are tense and there are daily reports of Pakistani-U.S. breakdown, this woman-led initiative which was truly building bridges. Dr. Wyatt talked about America’s truest values– justice, compassion and equality- she promoted and embodied these qualities. Here was an example of women healing what seemed fractured. What many scholars have speculated seemed to come true before my eyes: the world would be more peaceful world if it were run by women.
In my introduction I reminded the audience that the divine name, Rehman, is derived from Rahma which is a word for the woman’s womb – a place that symbolizes tender love and the deepest of self-sacrificing compassion - and the love God has for us, humanity, is 99 times more than our own mothers’ love – a measure of love unimaginable by the human mind. It is this compassion towards “the other” that we must learn to embody in our daily lives and to teach our future generations to make our shared world a more peaceful and better place to live in.
Amineh Ahmed Hoti is Executive Director, Society for Dialogue and Action, Fellow Commoner, Lucy Cavendish College, Cambridge University and author of “Sorrow and Joy Among Muslim Women”, Cambridge University Press, 2006. Dr. Hoti is currently setting up Educational and Citizenship Programs in Pakistan.