Book Review: Breaking Through the Stained Glass Ceiling
By C Naseer Ahmad

 

The violent flames of September 11, 2001 not only incinerated everything in their path but also threatened the fabric of the society. Timely wise words of President George W. Bush at the Islamic Center in Washington – after respectfully taking off his shoes - stemmed further damage caused by this man-made calamity. Unfortunate events through the years have shown the need for a sustained effort to promote harmony among the people of different faiths that makes ours a wonderful world.

Out of the ashes of the tragedies of 9/11 arose the “Interfaith Voices” – a thoughtful and sincere radio program on National Public Radio (NPR) that provides a methodical channeling of our energies to listen, to learn and to heal. For ten years now, on Sunday afternoons when the rings of fire on the sun recede some distance away from our hemisphere on planet earth, the soothing voice of Rev Maureen Fiedler brings to us people whose faiths we as listeners might have been otherwise unfamiliar with. Through a calm dialogue one is better able to comprehend and separate misconceptions from the real beliefs of other people.

On a peaceful autumn Sunday afternoon not long ago, the voice of reason coming from the vocal chords of Rev Fiedler brought Muslims like this writer, Christians, Jews and perhaps people of no faith to the Sikh Temple the starting point for the Unity Walk . We came neither to malign nor to maim. Quite opposite, we broke bread together on the floor as Sikhs joyously served generous portions in our plates.

In a manner consistent with the “Interfaith Voices” and the “9/11 Unity Walk”, Rev Fiedler’s book “Breaking Through the Stained Glass Ceiling” – published by Seabury Books New York - brings the voices – in ink – of women religious leaders in their own words. “Why should we care?” is a good question asked in this 211 page book is answered with – “human equality is a question of justice”. Through the eight chapters the book handles the views and questions pretty evenly. The readers may not agree with all the views of those interviewed for the book but might find many things they did not know before.

In her Foreword, former Maryland Lt Governor Kathleen Kennedy Townsend commented that leaders – men and women- “embrace a ‘Big God’, an inclusive God, a God who cares – not just about a personal spiritual life, but about the way we treat each other in community, acting as neighbors, with justice, in a global society”.

In a time when the debate seems to be too focused on whether the institution of the State can tell a person what to wear or not to wear, the real problems sometimes get less attention. This is where the interview on the “Mourchidates of Morocco” becomes relevant. On Page 29, for example, a Mourchidate - women spiritual leader - named Fatima Zahra Salhi is quoted: “we find ourselves in the middle of solving problems that deal with sexually transmitted diseases and intimate relationships between men and women, and girls and boys”. Ilham Chafik said: “I am able to reach the sick in the hospital, the imprisoned, the psychologically disturbed, the children with special needs.” And, Nezha Nassi said: “Sometimes, I do counseling for prisoners after they come out of prison, to try to integrate them into society, to get them jobs, education, whatever they need.”

It has been said that the future belongs to the youth so the readers will find the “Teen Interfaith Dialogue” interesting. The interview with Kathy Giese, Olivia Berardi and Nafees Ahmed – all high school juniors at Walt Whitman at the time of the interview - provides an interesting view of what is on their minds. Kathy Giese is quoted as “Olivia and Nafees and I were all taking in Nafees’ kitchen .. about our own religion and how we felt about other religions and misconceptions of them..” Nafees like her famous father Dr. Akbar Ahmed is active in Interfaith Dialogue. She said: “the Interfaith Club” – she was part of at Walt Whitman High School – is essential not only in the United States but also something that should spread through the Muslim world. Based on an email from Dr. Akbar Ahmed, Nafees continues to work on Interfaith issues in Islamabad, Pakistan.

“There is a fire starting in my heart, reaching a fever pitch” sings Adele whose hit songs spread like a wild fire. It appears that if Adele read the interview in this book she too would be singing with an amazing grace rolling in the deep love for humanity within us all.

 

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