Interserve worker Cathy explains why the voices of women are incredibly important in understanding Islam today – and introduces a brand new forum for discussion.
When Women Speak… is a new network formed to encourage exploration of the place of women’s voices where Christians and Muslims meet. It exists because we believe it is time we heard the voices of Muslim women more clearly.
The network was launched last year with a colloquium in Melbourne, bringing together 28 women scholar practitioners from 16 nations, including first and second generation followers of Jesus from a Muslim background. Our vision is that women who follow Islam are not veiled from the good news of Jesus Messiah, and that the message is communicated effectively to them.
This network is important because in Muslim culture women have a significant role in preserving and passing on faith to the next generation, yet approaches to mission are often gender-blind. Christian women scholars and practitioners have a unique ability to speak into the gap but they are surprisingly underrepresented in the development of mission strategies and missiologies, in publishing and teaching.
Space for learning
That’s why When Women Speak… network’s activities will include networking, academic and ministry research, publishing, mentoring, training and resource development.
One of these, the ‘Women’s I-view’ course, is presently bringing women practitioners together from Australia and Indonesia, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan, Muscat, Egypt and Tunisia. The women, from Interserve and CMS Australia, are exploring topics through readings, conversations with Muslim friends, and shared learning in a virtual classroom. One of the comments has been, ‘Now I have something to talk to my friends about apart from babies, clothes and cooking!’
The When Women Speak… blog is a fortnightly posting that explores a woman’s experience of Islam and the implications for the gospel. It provides a space for women to share their learning, and so help shape the way we engage with our Muslim neighbours.
And the Vivienne Stacey Scholarship was launched as part of the network. Following Vivienne’s vision, the scholarship is committed to providing resources and mentoring for women from countries where Islam is the major religion so that they can be equipped for ministry among their own people.
Collaboration at the heart
It’s all about collaboration. Collaborative research will explore how women who follow Jesus from Islam form community and are included in the family. Collaborative resource development is bringing together a group of women from Muslim backgrounds to explore discipleship needs and develop those resources. Collaborative training will bring women from different backgrounds together to share learning and make that learning available to the next generation. Mentoring is about investing in women so that women who live under Islam receive the message in ways that communicate the reality of God and his goodness.
When Women Speak… is the generating centre for practical acts of loving our Muslim friends. It will enable us to explore innovation in ministry to women living under Islam. There is vision for a conference that brings together Christian and Muslim women scholars to address issues of violence and women. Another part of the vision is for a major research project that brings Christian and Muslim women together to explore important social values that are shaping their lives.
Creating positive change
Muslim women are calling for change, and they are rewriting the discourse of Islam. Women of the mosque and piety movements within Islam want to live a life of faith, and gather to explore what faith looks like in their everyday lives. At the other end, radical women are calling for a fresh interpretation of the Qur’an that is shaped by the realities of our world. Women activists are pressing for change to address social issues that control and harm women’s lives, and Muslim women academics are addressing areas of challenge in faith, society and politics. Each of these is an opportunity for the gospel to engage with these changing discourses.
When Women Speak… is an innovative response to the opportunities in ministry with Muslim women today. Recognising that God is at work drawing women to himself, it challenges the contextual stereotyping of Muslim communities that says if we reach the men, we will reach the community. It says women are the keepers of tradition and among the greatest innovators in Islam today. It enables women who are passionate with love for their Muslim neighbour to explore ministry in a collaborative network.
Find out more, read the blog and discover resources at whenwomenspeak.net