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The Religious Consultation on Population, Reproductive Health & Ethics

Religious Consultation Report

       Volume 4, No. 1       May 2000                                                                         

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A Review of What We Have Accomplished — All in Six Years!

The Consultation is six years old, just a toddler in NGO terms, but what a precocious toddler it has been! At its birth, the challenge was to recruit an international collegium of first-rate scholars, all of whom were at the progressive feminist front line of major indigenous religious traditions. We saw ourselves from the start as a necessary counterforce to the religious right that so often seizes center stage in many religions. Witness the Vatican and the conservative Muslims in the United Nations. They give the popular impression that all religions are stubbornly conservative and unhelpful on issues like reproductive health, ethics, and the empowerment of women.

Our strategy has been to bring together 10-12 of our scholars for two four-day sessions, first to plan the particular project and then engage a university press to publish our findings. The scholarly volume is followed by a popularly written volume and outreach to the press, to policymakers, and to other NGOs in the field.    

How have we done? Well enough for The Ford Foundation to give us another three years of general support and for The David and Lucile Packard Foundation to fund our latest project. Twice we have won support from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. We have also gotten support from the General Service Foundation and the United Nations Fund for Population Activities. Our projects have been —

Population, Consumption, and Ecology

What Men Owe to Women

Muslim Women’s Empowerment

Women’s Religious Wisdom on Sexuality

The Right to Family Planning, Contraception, and

Abortion in Ten World Religions

Along with minor publications, we have two books published and three more in press. (See Book Reviews and Books in Press in this issue.)

Other projects are already in the planning stage

Negative effects of heterosexism. We are now seeking funding for a project to explore how heterosexism assaults the civil rights of gay, lesbian, and bisexual persons, scape-goated as they are by fundamentalist and right-wing religious leaders. Beyond this, we want to stress that heterosexism also poisons the attitudes of heterosexual persons toward sexuality and mutuality in relationships, and thus it is an issue of reproductive health. The sexual and reproductive ethics of gay and lesbian people has been too little addressed by progressive religious ethicists. 

    The use/misuse of religion as justification for the oppression of women. A group of progressive religious scholars writing and speaking out on this misuse of religion could provide an important counterweight to the negative, fundamentalist elements who dominate the media and claim that their interpretations of scripture are the one-and-only truth.

The impact of the global market on reproductive health: assessment and strategies. This project would show how market capitalism functions as a quasi-religion: assigning moral values/ priorities that affect attitudes toward sexuality and reproductive health policy.During these busy six years, we have also gotten official consultative status at the UN, addressed the General Assembly, attended UN conferences in Cairo, Copenhagen, Istanbul, Beijing, The Hague, and New York, and we have interacted with international NGOs around the world.All this we have done with a part-time president and one staff person — and with the extraordinary and generous participation of our international collegium of close to 100 scholars.


The Religious Consultation on Population, Reproductive Health, and Ethics is an international network of progressive feminist religious scholars and leaders who seek out the positive, renewable moral energies of their faith traditions to direct them to the interrelated issues of population, reproductive health, consumption/ecology, and the empowerment of women. It accomplishes this by participating in international and governmental forums, by convening small symposia of theologians and religious ethicists, and by publishing both scholarly and popular materials.



Radhika Balakrishnan, Marymount Manhattan College
Riffat Hassan, University of Louisville
Benjamin Hubbard, University of California - Fullerton
Paul F. Knitter, Xavier University
Daniel C. Maguire, Marquette University
Elmira Nazombe, Center for Women’s Global Leadership
Chun-fang Yu, Rutgers University
Assistant to the President: Mary Ewens
Newsletter Editor: Judith Neuman

 ©2000 Religious Consultation on Population, Reproductive Health and Ethics
2823 North Summit, Milwaukee, WI 53211
Phone: 414/962-3166   Fax: 414/962-9248  

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Brutal Attack on Asghar Ali Engineer, A Scholar of the Consultation

Participating scholar, Asghar Ali Engineer, was attacked last Februay, reportedly by orthodox members of the Bohra priesthood. The violence against Asghar Ali, a Bohra reformist, was prompted by views he expressed at a recent meeting in Bhopal. 

On the afternoon of February 13, Asghar Ali Engineer, the internationally renowned Islamic scholar, human rights activist, ardent champion of inter-faith dialogue and understanding, and Bohra reformist, was physically assaulted at the Mumbai (Bombay) airport by the followers of Syedna, the chief of the Bohra priesthood. Badly bruised and bleeding, Asghar Ali was admitted to a nearby hospital for treatment and observation. Three suspects have been detained by police.

Asghar Ali has dedicated his life to liberating his community, the Bohras — a small Islamic sect, whose members are generally engaged in trade and business and mostly found in Gujarat and Maharashtra. Consequently, he has been socially ostracized and blackmailed by members of the reigning priesthood. He has also been physically assaulted both in India and abroad.

This time, he was on his way back from Bhopal. His plane was scheduled to stop over at Indore. There, the aircraft was detained for more than an hour to enable Syedna and a dozen or so followers to board the plane. Annoyed, the stranded passengers protested. Asghar joined in. Syedna and his followers singled out Asghar Ali, brutally attacking him at the departure lounge of the airport.

The vindictiveness of the act is clear. Later that day, his office and residence were ransacked by a gang owing allegiance to Syedna. The destruction was not the result of any momentary pique, but of long-standing animosity and insecurity. The priesthood and their cronies fear losing their control over the community and its wealth.

The members of the EKTA (Committee for Communal Amity), Mumbai, strongly condemned the attack and called upon the Maharashtra government to promptly bring the culprits and their instigators to justice — and to provide Asghar Ali with proper security. In addition, the group took the opportunity to draw attention to the need to trim the irrational powers of the Bohra priesthood and its near-total control over the lives of the community members. The attack against Asghar Ali only underscored the urgency of this matter. 

Because Asghar Ali’s office and equipment have been destroyed, donations to this gentle reformer and advocate for women’s rights would be most helpful. Please send your contributions to —

Asghar Ali Engineer
Institute for Islamic Studies
9/B  1st Floor, Himalaya Apts.
6th Road,  Santacruz (East),
Bombay  400 055.
Email: csss@bom2.vsnl.net.in

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Egypt’s Women Win Right To Divorce

As the February 29 issue of The New York Times reported, “…change is about to shake Egypt’s crowded and melancholy courtrooms. …. Egypt will put in place one of the Muslim world’s most far-reaching reforms of family law.” The article referred to granting women equal rights to divorce.

On March 1, 2000, Egypt joined Tunisia in making divorce an equal opportunity option: an escape route for women trapped by the many problems brought on by an unhappy marriage. The new law enables women to divorce their husbands — with or without their husband’s agreement. Furthermore, women can now turn to the Egyptian government to garnish their husband’s wages if the husband fails to pay a court-ordered allowance. If the husband cannot meet his financial obligation, or if he disappears, ex-wives will be able to draw from a special state bank to support their families.

When Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak proposed the new law late last year, conservative lawmakers fiercely disputed the changes, characterizing women as too impulsive and light-minded to be trusted with no-fault divorce.

Moderate Muslim clerics, women’s advocates, civil court judges, and divorce lawyers allied themselves to endorse the reforms. They launched a public relations campaign that positioned the new law as a modern interpretation of the equal rights accorded to women by Islam. The strategy worked.

Egypt’s new law comes with a price. To garner the support of leading Muslim authorities, the reformers had to adopt a condition that grows out of Islamic religious history. The Prophet Muhammad once allowed a woman to leave her husband, with the stipulation that she return the garden the husband had given her when they married. According to the new law, today’s wife who files for divorce over the objections of her husband must return any money or property that her husband gave her at the time of their marriage. Yet by grounding the reforms within a religious context, the pro-divorce rights advocates put the reform in a more advantageous light, gaining the support of the Muslim authorities. 

In the past, a Muslim man could effortlessly get a divorce. A woman, however, had to prove to a court that her husband fit into a category deemed to be acceptable grounds for divorce: wife-beater, drug addict, sterile, or non-supporting spouse. Yet although these criteria were often established in court, many judges still discounted the complaints. Even if a judge granted the woman a divorce, the case could continue indefinitely: husbands could repeatedly appeal the judge’s decision. One judge said that he saw many cases linger in his court for 12-15 years without resolution. Egypt’s women filed 1.2 million divorce cases a year, yet only about 71,000 divorces were granted.

One assistant justice minister who crafted the new family law called it a “necessary and overdue shock” that will ripple through Egyptian society.

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Tracking the Activities of Our Participating Scholars

Alwi Shihab has been appointed Foreign Minister of Indonesia under the new government led by Muslim cleric, Gus Dur. (See Two of our Scholars in Jakarta)

Julia Ching is spending the spring term at the National University of Singapore as a Distinguished Visitor. When she leaves the National University, she will attend a conference on Global Ethics in Hainan Island, then go on to spend time at the Chinese University of Hong Kong as an external examiner. Julia has been writing a bilingual column on world politics and other human rights-related issues for Canada’s Chinese language paper, Ming Pao.

David Loy spent a week last November at the University of Alberta in Edmonton giving 11 lectures and talks. In January, he and Harold Coward and Coward Brunk presented a panel discussion on Ethics and Genetic Engineering: The Technological Imperative and the Idea of Moral Limits at the 8th East-West Philosophers’ Conference at the University of Hawaii-Honolulu’s East-West Center. David has also won the Streng Book Award for his volume, Lack and Transcendence: The Problem of Death and Life in Psychotherapy, Existentialism, and Buddhism. As David says, “The work talks about how a modern interpretation of Buddhism can be developed quite easily in a Christian direction: the emptying and transformation that we all need to experience if we are to overcome our greed, ill-will, and delusion – and realize that not I, but Christ, liveth in me.” Congratulations, David.

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A Sane Position on Abortion ....        

Taken from Abortion in Good Faith, A Reformed Approach to Reproductive Options by Gloria H. Albrecht, Ph.D., Associate Professor and Chair of Religious Studies, University of Detroit Mercy. Gloria was ordained in 1983 in the Presbytery of Baltimore.  

most abortions, globally, are caused by conditions of social and economic distress. It is symptomatic of our residual devaluing of women’s lives and work that such abortions not narrowly required by immediate health reasons are often called “elective.” In the U.S., the highest abortion rates are among young women (18-19 years old) and among poor women. In the U.S. and globally, nonuse of birth control methods is related to youth, poverty, lack of education, and lack of access to health care providers.

In other words, we are being challenged to see not only the suffering of women who are overtly and physically violated by some men, but to see the suffering of women and their children who are systematically violated by economic and social injustices in which we may be complicit. Denying these women access to the full range of reproductive options serves only to exacerbate the injustices they suffer. To eliminate women’s need for safe and legal abortions will require, as the Expacio de Mujeres Cristianas pointed out, the total transformation of our societies and institutions. It requires the elimination of poverty, of sex-segregated work, of sex-based wage disparities, of the exploitation of women’s domestic and productive labor…. It requires a commitment to women’s social and material well-being.

About 40 million people die every year from hunger and related diseases — equivalent to 300 Jumbo jet crashes every day — with half of the passengers being children.

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A Brief, Liberal, Catholic Defense of Abortion, by Daniel A. Dombrowski and Robert Deltete, University of Illinois Press.

The title of this book tells it all. First of all, it is brief (129 pages plus notes) and this is a come-on, but it builds a tightly-knit argument for a thoroughly pro-choice and thoroughly Roman Catholic view on abortion. The book supports the majority of Catholics who hold that abortion can be morally justified. The authors, professors at Seattle University, a Jesuit institution, even argue that the pro-choice Catholic view on abortion — which co-exists alongside a no-choice view — is actually more compatible with Catholic moral traditions.

The authors argue that the no-choice view is justified neither by modern embryology nor by ancient church teachings. They combine up-to-date information on fetal development with a competent grasp of the works of the church’s early teachings. They show that abortion was originally condemned by the church on the grounds of perversity, since it nullified the only permissible reason for sexual relations: procreation. This neurotic view of sexuality [denies that any] circumstance ever justifies abortion. In view of [this weaker argument], modern no-choicers abandoned it, shifting to the “ontological argument” that human personhood begins at the moment of conception. This, however, is another wobbly plank on which to stand a sweeping and absolute no-choice position.

The authors show that this idea of person-at-conception (“immediate hominization”) stems from two seventeenth-century scientific misconceptions — preformationism and the homunculus. Both have since been thoroughly discredited. Rosemary Radford Ruether says that, in her view, this book “definitely shows that the current teaching of the Roman Catholic Church — that all abortion is murder from the first moment of conception — is not in accord with Catholic tradition over more than eighteen centuries. In fact, a careful study of the Catholic tradition of such major theologians as Thomas Aquinas, in the context of modern embryology, supports the pro-choice position in the first two trimesters.” Continued on next page

Ethics for a Small Planet, New Horizons on Population, Consumption, and Ecology by Daniel C. Maguire and Larry L. Rasmussen. Introduction by Rosemary Radford Ruether.

This book offers an original assessment of the crisis caused by the combined impact of overpopulation, overconsumption, and economic and political injustice. It summons religious scholarship into urgent dialogue with the other disciplines and with the world’s policymakers. The authors seek a new understanding of religion and its power since, for good or for ill, the world’s religions will be players in the crises relating to population and the threat of eco-cide. Two-thirds of the world’s people affiliate with these religions, and the other third cannot escape the influence of these symbol-filled cultural powerhouses.

Visions of a New Earth, Religious Perspectives on Population, Consumption, and Ecology, Harold Coward and Daniel C. Maguire, editors. 

One of the most significant topics of our time is the current eco-crisis of overpopulation, overconsumption (often called “affluenza”), and environmental degradation. In Visions of a New Earth, eight world religion scholars and two creative international economists address these linked problems by bringing religious perspective into conversation with economics. They conclude that religion and other cultural forces must be mobilized to force humankind toward an epochal birthing of bio-reverence. Traditions discussed include Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, [as well as] Chinese, Native American, and African religions. 

§         “Each scholar addresses the issues directly and in a penetrating way. Thus, although they represent a wide range of backgrounds, there is a unity of approach. The quality of reflection and writing are notable; there are good insights in virtually every chapter, more than enough to stimulate fresh thinking. This book successfully makes the point that the voice of religion must be heard in these crucial discussions that will determine our planet’s future.” — Roland E. Miller, Luther Seminary

§         “This is a very important book that should be required reading for anyone involved in studying the global economy, comparative perspectives in government policies, and any course dealing with the relationship between economy, ecology, and ethics. The informed general public would also find it useful.” — Robert M Garvin, University at Albany, State University of New York.

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Books at Press

Aside from the books already published, The Consultation is pregnant with much more. As the research phase of our first several projects move toward completion, more books are on the way. Fortress Press has agreed to put out the popular volume that follows the university press scholarly version of each project. Project One produced the Visions of a New Earth from SUNY Press. The popular volume in press at Fortress is entitled, Sacred Energies: When the Religions of the World Address the Problems of the Planet. Dan Maguire authored this volume. It is expected in the Fall of 2000. The Good Sex project which — will keep the same name in book form — is currently at Rutgers University Press. The book brings women's religious wisdom to the subject of sexuality. The popular volume is under contract with Fortress. Mary Hunt and Patti Jung are the authors. What Men Owe to Women is due out at the end of the year from SUNY Press, and John Raines is under contract with Fortress for the popular volume.Several university presses have expressed interest in our project, The Right to Family Planning, Contraception and Abortion in Ten World Religions. The project will go to press at the end of this summer.

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By Daniel C. Maguire

The question seems silly. What sex is would seem one of the most obvious things in the world.

And it is true that everyone who has passed through puberty has a pretty good idea of what sex is. Ask a hippy sort of person what sex is and you’ll get something like this: Sex is one of the ‘cool’ things you can do...like you can take a walk, have a beer, play a little cribbage, have a little sex. So that is, indeed, one version of what sex is. This answer from our hippy witness gave more than one version of what sex is; it also gave a complete sexual ethic. In this ethic, sex is fun, and if the other person is willing, hey, where’s the problem? So in this view, only rape or harassment would be wrong. Otherwise, go for it.  That certainly has the merit of simplicity. But sex, special and mysterious delight that it is, is not that simple. Very little in life is that simple.

For our next witness, we could call in a prominent theologian. (I have one in mind.) He also knows what sex is. His answer: Sex is language. Now that is more promising — and subtler. But what, according to this witness, is sexual language saying? His answer: When persons have sex together, they are saying that they are permanently and exclusively bonded, i.e. married — and that they are heterosexual. In this ethic, the sex act is marital, and if you are not married, it is wrong. The only sex that is moral is that of heterosexually married persons. Like the answer of our hippy witness, that also has the merit of simplicity. But, again, sex is not that simple.

At this point, my readers might say: Okay, smart man, tell us what it is. I’ll try.

Sex for humans, like everything for humans, is more than it appears to be. Sex, I submit, is a natural liturgy. So what in the world is a natural liturgy? We should know because we are naturally liturgical animals. A liturgy consists of symbols, and we use symbols all the time. From hand shakes to bows and waves, to nose-rubbing, kisses, and hugs, we speak not just in words, but also in symbols. Symbols say more than words can. When a bunch of symbols are combined into a kind of unity, they make up a liturgy. Some liturgies are contrived, made up, and they vary from place to place. Irish weddings and Nigerian weddings are both liturgies, as are inaugurations of presidents and popes, but they are made up, and hence, they vary from place to place.

Natural liturgies don’t vary. They are inborn. Some of the externals will vary, but in substance, they are intrinsic to our humanity. Before showing how sex is a natural liturgy, I’ll illustrate the point by describing another liturgy. For humans, a meal is a natural liturgy. I’m not talking about someone grabbing a bite on the run. Think instead of a meal where you are having guests over, where you are going to take the time to have a real meal.

There are two aspects to this event: one is physical (there better be food there) and the other one is symbolic. And guess what. The symbolic part of this natural liturgy is more important than the food. Food is not the main show. You don’t invite people because they are low on proteins and carbohydrates. You invite them to show love. And you leap right into symbols. Crystal, silverware, precious china, candles, music, changed lighting. You would almost think you were setting up an altar. (It’s not surprising that many religions use meals as central liturgies. The meal is already a liturgy; they simply add religious tones to it.) Even the food is not served in a vat or given intravenously. It has to be garnished in lovely symbols and elegantly presented. The meal liturgy symbolizes love and respect. (The proof of that is evident: if you had to dine that way with someone you despised, your digestion would rebel, and you’d be belching all night. Love and joy are necessary, even for digestion.)

Back to the natural liturgy called sex. Like a meal, sex involves both physical realities and powerful symbolism. Though one or another encounter may not show it, sex is powerful. It really does “make love” and you do get “involved.” In fact, the physical facts of sex symbolize what sex tends to do psychologically. There is not just physical nakedness; there is emotional nakedness. We trust our partner with full exposure of our passions and needs. We shed our emotional clothes and cosmetics and present ourselves as we are. Sex is a huge act of trust. 

Physically, sex involves in various ways penetration, envelopment, and openness; this symbolizes the emotional interweaving that occurs in sexually charged friendship. The lover may remain only an experience, but s/he tends to become a way of life. Sex bonds, and bonds powerfully. The immature may not be able to cope with its power. The power of sex shows in the intimacy-hopes it spawns. When these tender hopes are frustrated or betrayed, we understand why romance produces the blues — songs and poems of broken hearts, and literary tragedies. Moonlight and roses often end in tears.

On top of that, sex is biologically intimate. Heterosexual sex in the fertile young wants to make babies so much that contraceptive technology is hard-pressed to stop it. In all sex, we share intimate fluids. In having sex with one person, we are sharing some of the biology of those with whom s/he has had sex. We may have just joined a network. Sexually transmitted disease (STD’s) is a large category in medicine.

So sex is not like sharing a beer, taking a walk, or playing cribbage together. Emotionally and physically, it is much more serious. It is fun, but it is serious fun. When all is right, there may be no greater delight on earth. And all is right when there is honesty, maturity, appropriate protection, respect for everything that is important to your partner, and when no injustice is done to your partner or anyone else. Here’s a case where good morals and great fun can perfectly coincide!

Daniel C. Maguire is President of The Religious Consultation on Population, Reproductive Health, and Ethics, as well as Professor of Ethics, Marquette University. His latest book: Ethics for A Small Planet, (SUNY Press).

Sex is a natural liturgy ...

instrinsic to humanity....

[it] involves both physical realities

and powerful symbolism.

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Consultation Office News

Jamakaya to pursue career as writing/research consultant

Jamakaya, our able administrator for three years, left the Consultation at the end of 1999. An award-winning writer and historian here in Milwaukee, she is devoting her energies to establishing her own consulting business, Clarity Writing & Research. Jamakaya is now in the process of building a list of clients and would be most happy to serve you from her home office in Milwaukee. While with us, she launched and edited this newsletter, helped with writing grants, researched grant opportunities,

Jamakaya’s background in women’s issues and progressive politics coupled with her master’s degree in history made her a good match for the Consultation. As she says: “While working here, I especially enjoyed meeting the men and women of different cultures and religions who so devotedly pursue solutions to serious issues. I want you all to know how much I have appreciated the friends and conversations we have had over the years.” You can contact Jamakaya at (414) 276-6935 or jamakaya@aol.com.

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Activities of Participating Scholars

Tavivat Puntarigviv has been re-elected Chair of the Comparative Religion graduate program at Mahidol University, a term that extends from January 2000 to January 2002. Tavi also held this position from 1995-1997. He sees many possibilities for cooperation among colleagues and institutions. Currently, he is trying to establish an academic link between the programs at Mahidol and the Religion Department at Temple University.

Parichart Suwanbubbha attended an international seminar sponsored by the Asia-Pacific Division of the International Centre for Dialogue Among Civilisations. The seminar, Religion and Social Change: Challenges and Prospects for Peace was held at the Institute for Political and International Studies in Tehran, The Islamic Republic of Iran. Parichart presented a paper entitled, Buddhist Perspectives on Peace in Thai Society: A Case Study of the God’s Army Terrorist Seizure of Ratchaburi Hospital, etc.

From August 5-12, Parichart is presenting a paper at the 6th International Conference of the Association for Buddhist-Christian Studies in Tacoma, Washington. Also in August, she will give a lecture on Thai Buddhist-Christian Understanding at various Christian churches, Buddhist temples, and Jewish synagogues in the greater Seattle area. The lecture series has been organized by the Interfaith Committee of the Council of Churches. October 28-31, She will deliver a paper at the meeting on Christian and Buddhist Resources for Promoting Peace and Wholeness in Human Communities, a conference organized by the LWF Study Group Christian-Buddhist Dialogue at Katmandu, Nepal.

Consultation Staff, Dan Maguire and Mary Ewens, are attending an executive seminar sponsored by the David and Lucile Packard Foundation. Dan and Mary will be trained to use the foundation’s new procedures for evaluating funded projects.

Dan Maguire, Consultation President, and Jose Barzelatto of the Consultation's Advisory Board have been named consultants to the United Nations Fund for Population Activities. The project: researching the role of religion and ethics in population and reproductive health policies.

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Making News: An Open Letter to General Musharraf from Dr. Riffat Hassan
Editor’s Note:Dr. Riffat Hassan, chair of the Consultation’s Board of Directors, recently wrote an open letter to General Musharraf, Chief Executive of Pakistan, concerning the abuse of women through so-called “honor killings” among other ways. The letter was published on the front page of Pakistan Today, Friday, March 17, 2000. The Los Angeles-based newspaper is the largest newspaper serving the Pakistani-American community in the US. The letter may be seen in its entirety at WWW/PAKTODAY.COM (See FIRST PAGE). Riffat’s letter has gotten wide international attention. We include a very brief edited excerpt here.

“Since Pakistan is overwhelmingly a Muslim country and — in fact — is the only country in the world which was created in the name of Islam, it is important to place women-related issues in Pakistan in the larger context of Muslim history and culture. A brief review of the latter brings to light many areas in which — Qur’anic teaching notwithstanding — women continued to be subjected to diverse forms of oppression and injustice, often in the name of Islam, and, what is far worse, in the name of a just, merciful and compassionate God. While the Qur’an, because of its protective attitude toward all downtrodden and oppressed classes of people, appears to be weighted in many ways in favor of women, many of its women-related teachings have been used in male-dominated Muslim societies against, rather than for, women. Muslim societies, in general, appear to be far more concerned with trying to control women’s bodies and sexuality than with their human rights. Many Muslims when they speak of human rights either do not speak of women’s rights at all, or are mainly concerned with how a woman’s chastity may be protected. (They are apparently not very worried about protecting men’s chastity.)"

 * * * * *

In an apparent reaction to Riffat’s letter, the government of Pakistan decided in principal to treat honor killing as a crime and bring an end to this gruesome tradition. Observers point out that Riffat’s letter has prompted other changes as well. Included in the new package on human rights, the administration has —

§         Created an amendment to the Ehtesab Act, adding a separate chapter dealing with complaints of maladministration and problems relating to women. A separate office of Mohtasib will also be created for women.

§   Agreed to set up Burn Units at district level. Existing facilities in major hospitals will also be expanded. [In point of fact, Riffat has been trying to raise funds for just such facilities. Although she had sought funds from APPNA (Association of Pakistani Physicians of North America), she was refused.]

§   Promised to establish a commission on human rights. Findings of the inquiry commission on women would be implemented.

§   Agreed to confirm and, if needed, amend the law concerning children of mixed heritage. Children born to women holding Pakistani passports but married to foreign citizens can also be entitled to Pakistani citizenship — in the same manner as children born to Pakistani men married to foreign women.

As a result of Riffat’s letter, the offices of Pakistan Today were inundated with comments and questions. Supporting the contents of the letter, Amnesty International has asked for permission to include some portions of the letter in their publications

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Introducing Four New Participating Scholars

We are pleased to announce that four new scholars have joined our ranks. Their backgrounds are as diverse as they are impressive. Each brings a distinct experience to the Consultation, enriching the many perspectives we enjoy.

Ananda W. P. Guruge. Dean of Academic Affairs and Director of the International Academy of Buddhism, Hsi Lai University, Los Angeles, California. Born in Galle, Sri Lanka, Ananda possesses impressive credentials in government, academics, and national and international civil service. He has been a high-ranking diplomat with a distinguished career in Sri Lankan government and UNESCO.

§         A senior officer of the prestigious Ceylon Civil Service for 15 years, Ananda also played a lead role in establishing the country’s second university, where he held the Chair of Sanskrit and Linguistics, in addition to being the Administrative Assistant to the Vice-Chancellor.

§         Member of UNESCO from 1968 with postings in Paris, New Delhi, and Bangkok; Ananda also directed UNESCO”s Inter-Agency Cooperative Programs with UNICEF and the World Food Programme. In 1985, the government of Sri Lanka appointed Ananda Ambassador, the Permanent Delegate of Sri Lanka to UNESCO.

§         From July 1989, he also acted as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary in France with non-resident accreditation to Spain and Algeria. During this time, he chaired many impressive committees, such as the Asia-Pacific Group of Permanent Delegations.

§         From 1992-94, he was the Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Sri Lanka in the US with non-resident accreditation to Mexico. He also acted as a visiting professor in the Department of Religion at Northwestern University during 1994-95.

§         Since 1996, as the Senior Special Adviser to the Director General of UNESCO in the Culture of Peace Programme, Ananda has resumed an active academic career. He has served as a visiting professor of Buddhism and Hinduism at California State University at Fullerton’s Buddhist Studies in Los Angeles. He has worked at Hsi Lai University as Director of Religious Studies —where he is now Dean of Academic Affairs and the Director of the International Academy of Buddhism. He also regularly speaks in the US and abroad on Buddhism, Asian History, and Culture of Peace.

§         A renowned leader in the international Buddhist movement, Ananda has been the Patron of the European Buddhist Union and Vice President of the World Fellowship of Buddhists since 1988.

§         For his national and international services, he has been awarded several Sri Lankan national honors in addition to UNESCO’s Silver Medal and Human Rights Medal — as well as the U Thant Peace Award.

§         Ananda has authored 40 books and 125 articles on Oriental literature, history and culture, Buddhism, Sri Lankan, and Indian history. 

Debra W. Haffner, President/Executive Director, Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States. Debra has a long history of working in the area of adolescence and sexuality: abstinence, AIDS, childbearing, education, family planning, health, pregnancy, and reproductive issues. She earned her master’s degree in Public Health from Yale University School of Medicine. She also attended Yale’s Divinity School.

Debra was the Director of Information and Education at the Center for Population Options from 1985-1988. The previous four years, she worked as Director of Community Services and Public Relations for Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington.

She has authored three books, one entitled, From Diapers to Dating: A Parent’s Guide to Raising Sexually Healthy Children. She has also written fifteen monographs, and more than sixty articles and numerous public education materials for parents, adolescents, and young adults. Her writings focus on sexuality education. A sampling of titles of her shorter works includes A Time to Speak: Faith Communities and Sexuality Education ! But Does it Work? Improving Evaluations of Sexuality Education Programs ! AIDS and Adolescents: The Time for Prevention Is Now ! Teaching our Teachers to Teach, Gender Stereotypes in Sexuality Education ! Toward a New Paradigm on Adolescent Sexual Health.

Debra has won many awards for her work. Here are highlights from the last decade: The Family Planning Association of Maine’s Margaret Vaughn Award, 2000 ! Dr. Richard J. Cross Award, Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, 1999 ! Gallagher Lecturer, Society of Adolescent Medicine, 1997 ! Who’s Who in the World, 1994, 1995 ! Who’s Who in American Women, 1993-1995 ! Who’s Who in Education, 1993-1996 ! Who’s Who in the East, 1992 ! Distinguished Service Award, NFPHRA, 1990.

M ichelene E. Pesantubbee, Assistant Professor, Department of Religious Studies, University of Colorado.  A scholar in the study of Native Americans, Michelene received her doctorate from the University of California, Santa Barbara. (Dissertation: The Role of Choctaw Churches in the Revitalization of Choctaw Culture and Identity. Master’s thesis: When the Earth Shakes: the Cherokee Prophecies of 1811-1812.)

Michelene has taught courses in Native American Religious Traditions, Contemporary American Indian Issues, and Cultural Foundations of Education. She has presented papers on topics such as Re-Imagining Choctaw Women: Protestant or Choctaw ! Redrawing the Boundaries: Tradition and Change Among Native Christians ! Transforming the Choctaw Christian Experience: Appropriation or Indigenization. She has recently completed “From Vision to Violence: The Wounded Knee Massacre,” a chapter in Millennialism, Persecution, and Violence, by Syracuse University Press. She expects to complete her book, Ohoy Osh Chisba: The She is an active member in professional organizations, such as Society of the Study of Native American Religious Traditions and American Academy of Religion. She has served as a panelist and spoken at both societies’ annual meetings and conferences as well the University of Georgia’s Department of Religion and the Humanities Center’s Colloquium.

Lloyd H. Steffen, University Chaplain and Professor, Religion Studies, Lehigh University. An ordained minister of the United Church of Christ, Lloyd has studied at Andover Newton Theological School where he earned a master’s degree in Systematic Theology ! at The Divinity School at Yale University where he earned a master’s degree in Divinity ! at Brown University where he received his doctorate in Religious Studies.

§         In 1999, Lloyd was invited to be the US Observer and to participate in the European University Chaplain’s Conference in Rome.

§         He has been recognized for his dedicated leadership and commitment to Women’s Reproductive Freedom and Health by the President’s Office of the United Church of Christ.

§         An NEH participant in the University of Hawaii’s East-West Center (Japanese Culture and Civilization,) he worked on the project, Japanese Social Ethics, with a focus on the topics of abortion and the death penalty.

§         He also participated in the NEH Summer Institute at Harvard University, where he taught a comparative course: Exploring Thematic Approaches in the Study of Religion.

            Lloyd has published an important volume, Abortion: A Reader. In it, he brings together the responsible views from all sides of this critical debate.

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Two of our Scholars in Jakarta

Alwi Shihab has recently been appointed Foreign Minister in the new Indonesian government under new President Abdurrahman Wahid, known as Gus Dur.

At this same time, John Raines has been appointed a Fulbright Senior Scholar based in Jakarta, for the spring semester, 2000. His tasks are twofold:

1)    To work with local scholars of religion to establish a master’s degree program in Comparative Religious Thought, located at the University of Indonesia.

2)    To teach a graduate seminar at Jakarta’s Institute of Islamic Studies. This four-year college and graduate program (that confers doctorates) is training the next generation of Islamic religious teachers.

Master’s Degree in Comparative Religious Thought

Some background. This will be the first such program in Indonesia, a country that requires the study of religion of all students from the elementary school through the university. Each year, millions of students study religion, and hundreds of thousands of teachers teach religion. However, in the past, students studied only their own religion — largely to find out why their religion is “right” — and by implication — why other religions are, if not “wrong,” at least “less right.” Until now, teachers of religion have studied only their own religion.

            Indonesia is the world largest Islamic nation — 90% of the population is Muslim. And with a total of some 210 million people, Indonesia accounts for more Muslims than the entire Middle East.             The country has a new government, headed by a Muslim cleric, Gus Dur (Abdurrahman Wahid), who has deeply democratic instincts. He is actively pursuing inter-religious tolerance and dialogue, and he is in favor of progressive policies both on the political and economic fronts. In short, John says, “We now have in Jakarta a Muslim government leader who can present to the world — especially to North America — a whole new face: an image of richness, tolerance, and passion for social justice embedded in Islamic culture. His influence within the larger Islamic nations is very important as well.”

Graduate Seminar at Institute of Islamic Studies

The seminar is called Religion and the Social Sciences: Domination, Resistance, and Reconciliation. John will be modeling the way to study religion on a descriptive rather than a dogmatic basis — a concept that lies at the heart of the master’s program he is working to establish.

            Alwi Shihab, the newly appointed Foreign Minister, friend and former student of John’s at Temple Univeristy, has told John that establishing the new program in Comparative Religions is now an official policy of the government. John feels privileged to be in the country at such an exciting time.

According to John, Indonesia is a country remaking itself after 45 years of autocratic rule. He is sending us long emails describing what he calls the endgame of an intricate chess match between the military and the cronies of former President Soeharto on one side and the newly elected government (with a woman vice president), the IMF, and the UN on the other. It is a story of international intrigue with moves and countermoves — both religious and economic.

“We haven’t seen anything this significant in the US since 1776,” writes John. If you’re interested in reading John’s letters, contact the Consultation, and we will forward John’s email to you.

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What Cairo was really about

The ICPD Programme of Action justifies its focus on women by stating quite unequivocally that “[advancing gender equality and equity and the empowerment of women, and the elimination of all kinds of violence again women, and ensuring women’s ability to control their own fertility, are cornerstones of population and development-related programmes.”(UN, 1995a:12)

It also declares that “[t]he empowerment and autonomy of women and the improvement of their political, social, economic, and health status is a highly important end in itself”

(UN, 1995a: Para.4.1)

The Three Words of Iroquois Condolence

by Christopher Jocks

At last November’s meetings of the American Academy of Religion, the group studying What Men Owe Women, held a session to present some of our findings. Dan Maguire has asked me to summarize a part of my presentation. As I looked out at the audience, I couldn't help thinking about the long history of violence, pain, and separation that constitutes gender relations in most of the world. I saw each man and woman in that room as co-inheritors of that awful history. 

I study the Longhouse tradition of the Iroquois people, indigenous to northeastern North America. This tradition has a formal way of bringing – or beginning to bring – healing to this kind of individual and collective pain. It begins with a story. A man is terribly afflicted: one by one, each of his seven beloved daughters meets an untimely death. Consumed with grief, he can no longer tolerate human company, and so he wanders alone in the forest.  

One day, not knowing quite why he is doing it, he gathers and strings together three hollow twigs. He says, "If I met anyone as burdened with grief as I am, with these I would bring the person healing. With this one, I would clear the obstruction from their eyes, wiping their tears with the softest deerskin, so that once again they could see life thriving and continuing around them. With this next one, I would clear the obstruction from their ears, the buzzing of their own distraction, so that they could once again hear the voices — of laughter as well as of sorrow — of those who yet live around them. With this last one, as if with pure spring water, I would clear the obstruction from their throat, the constriction of pain, so that they could clearly speak and express their love once again."

These "three words," in the Iroquois idiom, came to form the core of a ceremony known in English as Condolence, a regular part of Iroquois spiritual and political life for as long as anyone can remember. It seemed fitting that day last November to recite a version of these words. In this tradition, acknowledging grief, harm, disturbed relations, as well as the ceremonial healing and restoration of those relations must always come first — before we join our minds to solve our difficulties.

The story reminds us that political, social, and historical processes reach fruition in individual human experiences that must be acknowledged. For this reason, I especially appreciate that each member of our group was allowed — in fact, was mandated — to bring his/her personal experience of suffering, loss, or alienation, to our deliberations on What Men Owe Women.

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