To celebrate International Women’s Day last month Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery held a very special event focusing on women and their faith practice. The event was created by working in partnership with two other organisations, the CoED Foundation and Near Neighbours , both of whom work to bring people together through compassion and understanding. Billed as ‘An evening of conversation, food and friendship-building for Women of Faith in Birmingham’, the event aimed to raise awareness of the importance of women, and the contribution women have made to religions throughout history and Birmingham today.
We began with food, drinks and informal tours of the new Faith in Birmingham gallery accompanied by lovely music from musician Susie Minnear. The main event of the evening then featured short talks by six women from a variety of faith backgrounds on the topic, ‘Women that have inspired/shaped my faith journey’.
Rehanah Sadiq, Muslim Chaplain at the University of Birmingham, opened the talks by listing inspirational women from her life’s journey as ‘mothers, teachers, leaders and pioneers’.
The topic provoked a broad range of responses, although almost all speakers referenced their mother, or another female family member, as being a key figure of inspiration. Several speakers discussed key historical or devotional female figures from their faith practice. It was fascinating to hear both shared and very different experiences from each of the speakers all with heart-warming messages of strength.
We were honoured to finish the talks with Bishop Anne Hollinghurst, the Bishop of Aston and the first female Bishop in the city. Having only moved to Birmingham a few months ago, it was wonderful to hear Bishop Anne’s story and the diverse range of women that have influenced her.
The evening concluded with a final highlight by poet Aliyah from duo A-Squared. Aliyah spent the evening creating a poem based on the talks and discussion that took place, which she then read to the room. To create something so poignant in only a few hours was an incredible achievement and a fitting end to the evening.
Poem by Aliyah Hasinah Holder:
We tread parallel lines to God
Rarely meeting, rarely mindful
we walk the same curbs, all faithful, all celebratory
one track minded,
We meet, sowing seeds of peace between holy scripture and selfish lines
We erect the villages our swollen stomachs weaved into belief
We've been living in these images
practising psalms, hadeeths, passages & philosophy - served with warm bread.
we still get things wrong
crocheting them into sanctimonious cloth,
and diary of enlightenment stuffed under marital beds.
We've served sermons at family meals
in bedtime stories and sung specific hymns in the darkest of centuries
We've uttered Aretha's R.E.S.P.E.C.T whilst dancing manically in temples, mosques and synagogues
our clerical collars,
and third eye's, knock patiently through hollow halls
we wait all woman, all food, all fluid and stamp-like speech
Our voices like full sized markers of honour.
We honour the syllables sewn into ceremonial dishes by Aunty Muriel
Honour the unnamed mothers and working class daughters to refuges skin
Honour Anne Frank, Lakshmi and Khadijah
Honour Malala, Gotami & Mother Theresa
We honour and destabilize patriarchy from our cottages in Harborne
steady mannered woman,
we dig up earth with painted nails soiled in expectation.
capture her whisper,
her hardship and sophistication.
We level and undo our time
to shatter glass houses only to clean up after ourselves.
But today we study each other
calling at our echoes
vibrating sound as if our own reflections are answering our
own questions of faith
We sit in independence, from BC to the 1930's
Third waves found foundations on our blind faith
we mask hushed tones, arresting our own development
hold back we were told not to speak about it. Everyday taboo.
Hide sordid details. We stand at halted alters
and march till black and blue
We are Christian, Muslim, Hindu
Buddhist, Sikh & Jew.
We are all forms of formation
Who've found god in all of you.