Daughters of Abraham, established in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 2002, is a book club for Muslim, Jewish, and Christian women devoted to a reading and discussion of the literature and art related to these religious traditions. Their mission is to "overcome stereotypes and to foster mutual respect and understanding among Muslim, Jewish and Christian women." They hope their members are able to "learn about the commonalities and differences found in Islam, Judaism and Christianity" and to "develop an interfaith community of women who can speak intelligently about the Abrahamic faiths." (1) Their extensive and diverse book list, compiled from the suggestions of participants, challenges members to discover a richer awareness of their own faith and the religious traditions of their Abrahamic sisters. Resisting identification as a dialogue group responding from a specific academic or theological perspective, Daughters of Abraham seeks to "explore the meanings, shape, and practice of our own and one another's faith." (2) Edie Howe, founder of Daughters of Abraham, was inspired to create this book club after attending an interfaith service immediately following the events of September 11th at the First Church of Cambridge. "The service was powerful and people were crying; there were women in head scarves sitting next to me," Howe remembers. "I had this strong thought of how we were all the children of Abraham, and how unnecessary and tragic it was. I thought, 'What can I do about this?'" (3) Her response was to create an interfaith book club. Howe hoped to foster understanding and respect among these religions by emphasizing what the traditions share, rather than how they differ. She named the group Daughters of Abraham after the patriarch of the three traditions, understanding that "by naming ourselves Abraham's daughters, we are saying that there is more holding us together than separating us." (4) The original group of 18 women, meeting since 2002, rapidly grew in popularity and inspired five additional spin-off chapters throughout the greater Boston area. Currently, about 100 women, ages 18-72, are involved in Daughters of Abraham book clubs.
Organization and Spin-Off Groups
The Daughters of Abraham leadership board, a collection of representatives from each chapter, holds additional monthly meetings to respond to press inquiries, plan group functions, assist new spin-off groups, and address any organizational concerns. Though the book club chapters are completely autonomous, the leadership board promotes common principles of interfaith dialogue, a set of Daughters of Abraham ground rules, and a suggested book list for its members. Relying primarily on word-of-mouth advertising, they welcome the growing interest in their organization and hope to inspire new chapters in the Boston area and nationwide. The six current Daughters of Abraham chapters are each composed of about 20 members who are divided equally among the three religious traditions. This provides for an equitable representation of each faith and allows for more balanced discussions. Because of this, new members are occasionally not able to join their preferred chapter until a seat opens up. In the meantime, they are invited to join other local chapters instead. Each Daughters of Abraham chapter is entirely unique and unites women from extraordinarily diverse backgrounds and professions, including college students, religious clergy, mothers, and retirees.
An Example of a Spin-Off Chapter: Boston College
The Boston College Daughters of Abraham chapter was founded by Emily Neumeier, a Boston College student who read about the organization in a local newspaper and decided to start a chapter on her campus. When asked about the complex composition of her group, Neumeier explained, "Our group is not only challenging because we are trying to talk about different faith traditions, but the Boston College group was also the first group to deal with a real age divide, with students in their young twenties to faculty and staff ranging from thirties and beyond. The women find it challenging but also very rewarding to talk to women at different stages in their personal lives, and most importantly at different stages in their faith lives." (5) These challenges, however, inspire growth. Neumeier continues, "Interfaith dialogue has this unexpected effect of making one's own faith stronger, I believe because one is asked to share their faith tradition, one has the opportunity to learn new things about their faith, and to try to come to some deeper understanding of it." (6)
Daughters of Abraham is open to any practicing Muslim, Jewish, or Christian woman seeking to explore the Abrahamic faiths. The basic rules of the book club meetings are simple: all members agree to speak respectfully to one another; to not monopolize the conversation; to speak from personal experience, rather than making sweeping statements; and to ask questions of members of other faiths, rather than make assumptions about them. Their sense of community extends beyond the monthly meetings and several of the women have traveled together to visit holy sites in Spain and Jerusalem. A similar trip to Turkey is currently being planned for 2007. Members also regularly attend each other's religious services and celebrations throughout the year. Saadia Baloch, a long-time Daughters of Abraham participant and a member of the organization's leadership group, was invited by a rabbi in her chapter to participate in a Rosh Hashanah service. Speaking as a Muslim woman to a group of Jewish faithful, Baloch explained the centrality of the role of Abraham in both traditions. She believes that participating in Daughters of Abraham forces a certain degree of "soul-searching" and a reevaluation of religious beliefs. Her involvement with the group allows her to recognize the ways her faith intimately intersects and compliments Jewish and Christian traditions. "No one group is right," she concludes. "We're all coming from the same One, the same creator." (7)
1. Daughters of Abraham website. Online at www.daughtersofabraham.info. Accessed 14 March 2007.
3. Lampman, Jane. “Faithful Build Bridges with Books." The Christian Science Monitor. 30 November 2005. Online at http://www.csmonitor.com/2005/1130/p14s02-lire.html. Accessed 9 March 2007.
4. Daughters of Abraham website. Online at www.daughtersofabraham.info. Accessed 14 March 2007.
5. Neumeier, Emily. Founder of Boston College's Daughters of Abraham. Email correspondence. 10 March 2007.
7. Baloch, Saadia. Member of Daughters of Abraham. Phone Interview. 9 March 2007.