Inter-faith week discusses women’s status in Islam

By Mike Dalglish

INTER-FAITH: Communities came together at Cheadle Muslim Association to learn more about Islam

CHEADLE Muslim Association opened its doors to all communities on Tuesday 17 November 2009 to discuss the role of women in Islam.

Zeina Debs gave the talk, entitled ‘The Status of women in Islam’, to around 50 people of different faiths and backgrounds to try and tackle misconceptions Muslims.

Her speech, which was organized as part of Inter-faith week, addressed controversial issues such as polygamy, forced marriage and the covering of the female body and gave the audience an insight into Islam from a woman’s perspective.

Mrs Debs explained that Islam’s notion of equality differs from its western counterpart because it believes men and women are built to fulfil different roles in society, saying: “Islam accepts men and women are different and should complement each other instead of competing against each other.”

She said that Islamic dress code is based on modesty with both men and women expected to cover their bodies and added that “women feel liberated from the pressures of having to look beautiful all the time”.

According to Mrs Debs seven of every 10 new converts to Islam are women, including many disaffected western women who desire to escape the stress of balancing a career with raising a family.

After the talk the audience had 15 minutes to ask questions.

One attendee asked if forced marriages were common in Islam. Mrs Debs denied they were, insisting that before any marriage takes place the Imam takes the bride to one side and asks her if she is willing to marry the groom.

Those attending were then invited to watch the evening prayers, the final of the five prayers Muslims are expected to complete every day.

Rania Forbes, who came to Britain from Syria 17 years ago and attends the association’s mosque with her teenage son, said: “We pray five times a day to remind us that god I watching us and to stay on the right path.”

Inter-faith Week is a national event which began this year and aims to encourage different religious communities to learn about each others’ faiths.

Usman Choudry, 31, event organiser and member of the Islamic Society of Britain, said: “There is a lot of common ground between the Christian and Muslim faiths such as being good to your neighbour and being charitable.”

United Reformed Church minister Bob Day, who also attended the event, said: “I think it’s important to learn about each other’s religions.”

Mr Choudry, who hopes opening the mosque to the community will help cultivate a better understanding of Islam and encourage people to engage with one another, said: “People walk past and they think: ‘What do they actually do in a mosque?’ Well come in and find out!”

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