For a little over a year, the Interfaith Center has been working on a project of Catholic-Muslim partnerships in the social services. While engaged in outreach for the project, intern Malika Pulatova realized that she was meeting many male religious leaders and very few female religious leaders. Imam Talib of the Mosque of Islamic Brotherhood introduced Malika to Sr. Sanaa, a leader at MIB. Sr. Sanaa had heard about a Muslim-Catholic women’s project in Chicago, and so the idea was born.
January 16, a group of about twenty Muslim sisters and Catholic sisters met at the Mosque of Islamic Brotherhood in Harlem. The Catholic sisters were members of various orders, including: Sisters of Charity, Franciscan Handmaids of Mary, Congregation of Notre Dame, Little Sisters of the Assumption, and the Carmelites. Most of the Muslim sisters were members of the MIB.
For Catholics, a “sister” is a vowed member of a religious order. They are commonly called “nuns.” For Muslims, “sister” is a term used for all women, reflecting the idea of the global Muslim community, connected like family members through shared beliefs.
During the introductions, each woman discussed her faith and her work. There was a great array of ways the women worked for social justice and helped their communities. Their work included: religious education, women’s education, singing to the ill, ecology, a women’s spiritual center, social work, nursing, psychology, and the military. Each woman expressed that her faith—whether it was Christianity or Islam—impelled her to love and to serve other people.
Sister Carol DeAngelo, a Sister of Charity, said about the project, “We have a responsibility to our younger generation and those to come to create a future that is life-giving. Interfaith and intercultural conversations like these are ways to bring about a future where respect and reverence for each person and all of life is practiced; where diversity of cultures and faiths are valued and honored; and, where tolerance, nonviolence and interdependence are experienced. We need more conversations like the ones we have in our women’s group.”
Since January, there have been two more meetings, and the Interfaith Center hopes to include Jewish women at the next one.
The purpose of the project is for women leaders from the different faith traditions to meet each other, learn about each other’s work, discuss their respective faith traditions, and at a minimum, build a network of contacts. The women leaders may also brainstorm and strategize to work together on specific projects or engage each other’s expertise to address problems within their communities.