Women from different backgrounds shared their experiences of their roles within their respective religions at UR’s Interfaith Chapel last night. Sponsored by the Religious Roundtable, the Fourth Annual Celebration of Religious Diversity, entitled “An Exploration of Women’s Roles in Their Faith” explored the differences and similarities between these experiences.

“America had an abrupt introduction to fundamentalism and intolerance and hatred that exists in the world,” Take Five scholar and Interfaith Chapel intern Heather Hall said of Sept. 11.

After the attacks she said that she had not seen a women representing their religion in the media, which is reflects and reinforces of the fact that faces associated with different religions are almost always male. “The only solution I could think of is to let women speak on their own terms,” she said.

The event featured testimonials from 12 women who are UR students representing 12 different religions, all of whom are members of the religious roundtable, ranging from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints to Baha’i. The speakers addressed their own experiences as women in their religion and talked about overcoming commonly held misconceptions.

Freshman Zarina Ali, who represented Islam, spoke about the misperception that the Hijab, which she wears, is a form of oppression. She said that she finds it to be empowering. Many of the speakers, such as the representatives of American Baptist Protestant and Hinduism, also talked about historical restrictions and the struggle for progress.

Zia Nizin, a sophomore at Eastman School of Music and the only Baha’i attending the school, used the analogy of men and women as two different wings of a bird. In order for the bird to fly the wings must be equal, which does not mean however that they are exactly the same. Though there were differences, all the speakers echoed the sentiment that their religion provided a means for empowering women and supporting equality.

The differences which emerged were seen as beneficial towards attaining understanding among different groups. “Multicultural understanding is a really incredible thing when it happens,” said Hall. She also added that part of the purpose of the Religious Roundtable and Interfaith is learning how to have discussions about differences and the way they contribute to the community.

The speakers were followed by performances from both UR students and adult representatives. The performances included the playing of the Kirtan, a Sikh tradition, a reading from a traditional Pueblo American Indian book, a Catholic choir, Hindu Odissi classical dance, and the chanting of Baha’i scriptures.

Many people felt that the event was needed because of the general lack of understanding and tolerance among UR students. “I thought that it was really enlightening, especially hearing it from a women’s perspectives” said freshman Kevin Vandernaald. Megha Shah, a freshman who represented Hinduism at the event, said “People are so ignorant of what’s going on, there’s definitely a need for awareness.”

“There are a lot of misconceptions out there and people really don’t know,” said Liz Fowler, a sophomore who represented Paganism at the event. “There’s always progress to be made,” said junior Erika Mudrak, who represented American Baptist Protestantism, “It’s important to be clear and honest and learn from people who actually practice the religions.”

Muhlenburg can be reached at dmuhlenburg@campustimes.org.

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