Slave holders and abolitionists both turned to the Bible to justify their cause. So do opponents and advocates of granting women equality in Jewish religious life. But slavery was wrong, and over the last few generations broad segments of the Jewish community have concluded that it is wrong to bar women from the religious roles and responsibilities traditionally reserved for men. Orthodox groups widely oppose this, but even here, change is afoot. In 2006, during Passover, Haviva Ner-David became the first woman to receive Orthodox ordination: “I felt so intensely what it must have felt like to leave Egypt,” she said, “and enter the desert: full of excitement and hope, and at the same time wary of the unknown.”*
Speaking as a Catholic woman, I believe it is a matter of justice that the church live by its own words from the Second Vatican Council that “every type of discrimination, whether societal or cultural, whether based on sex, race, color, social condition, language, or religion, is to be overcome.”* While I lament the way in which my church so often squanders the gifts of its women, my hope is that the Spirit of God will continue to breathe new life into the dry bones of patriarchy.
The Qur’an recognizes a woman’s right to life, property and freedom. Marriage became a civil contract and the Qur’an laid down a procedure for divorce. To assure a woman’s independence, the Qur’an made attempts to secure monetary protection for her.* Beyond this, supporters and opponents of equal rights for women differ in their interpretation of the Qur’anic verses relating to women. Fundamental questions like the following remain in dispute. Have Muslim women been granted all the rights that the Qur’an bestowed upon them? Does the Qur’an give women equal rights? Education plays a key role in preserving rights and human development. What shall Muslim women do to achieve equal rights in all walks of life? I suggest beginning with a massive education program to raise the rate of literacy in Muslim countries, especially among women.* Why? Because education is light in the darkness and helps one distinguish between right and wrong. Education is power and leads to awareness in knowing one’s obligations and rights.