Working Towards Inter-Religious Emancipation | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 27.12.2005
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Working Towards Inter-Religious Emancipation

In most religions, the interpretation of beliefs is left up to the men. But a group of women theologians from Germany and other European nations want to change this.


Mosque prayer rooms should be open to both sexes, women theologians say

The Inter-religious Conference of European Women Theologians, or IKETH, is a conglomeration of Muslim, Christian and Jewish women who want to take religious interpretation into their own hands.

Most religions leave theological analysis up to the men, with few exceptions such as women ministers in the Protestant church.

"Until now, dialogue among women in the church was kept at the level of exchanging recipes or pouring each other tea," said Rabeya Müller, IKETH's founding member. The German, who has converted to Islam, said women only discussed daily rituals.

"But we were rarely allowed to talk about the real fundamental theological topics, or there always had to be spiritual support from the men present," Müller said.

Not about excludi n g me n

She added that women are still being overlooked in their religious communities. In order to battle this discrimination, Müller has gotten together with some 60 women ministers, researchers and religious academics.

Symbolbild Religion Kirche und Moschee p178

Women want more say in all places of worship

The new organization by no means wanted to be an elite circle.

"It's not about excluding men or making them worse," Müller said. Rather, IKETH wanted to do justice to the Koran.

"When we say the Koran is a book, which treats both genders equally, that God is a being just to both genders, then we can't in practice treat one gender unfairly," she said.

Educatio n as a weapo n agai n st fu n dame n talist beliefs

But the analysis of the Koran is not IKETH's sole purpose. The holy writings of other world religions also contain many parts which could be interpreted to the detriment of women -- and are.

"Wherever we have to deal with hardliners, and they are present in all monotheistic religions, we want to oppose these fundamentalist flows with a progressive approach, a different theology," said Jewish theologian Rachel Herweg, one of the IKETH directors.

According to Herweg, what will count in this case is who has the better arguments and who can win more supporters.

"I am strongly betting on education and knowledge here," Herweg said.

Worship is n 't just a matter for me n

For Herweg, no religion is fundamentally misogynistic. But the fact that for centuries, theological ideas were laid out by men has played a role in the often discriminatory position of religious doctrines towards women.

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Only progressive Jewish communities allow women rabbis

Women have been largely excluded from the furthering of beliefs. A striking example for women's discrimination in religion is their exclusion from the priesthood, Herweg said.

"There is still the idea in the Jewish orthodox tradition that public worship is a matter for men," she said. Progressive and reformist-liberal Jewish communities do allow women rabbis. In Christianity, only Protestants allow women to be ordained.

In Islam, the Koran does not explicitly forbid women from leading worshippers. Yet many male religious leaders argue that a woman leading prayers is only possible for all-female communities.

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Many Muslim men would not accept to be led in prayer by a woman

Müller and her colleagues are resisting the religious legitimization of this unequal treatment of women. They are taking a new look at religious texts and interpreting them in a non-discriminatory manner towards women.

In the future, IKETH and its members want to make the results of their work public with publications and congresses. They hope to strengthen women of all religions in their self-confidence.

But the organization does not intend to portray their view as the only true interpretation, Müller said. Rather, they want to stress women's right to represent a different understanding of the holy writings.

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