Daughters of Abraham Part 1
What happens when a bunch of Jewish, Christian and Muslim women get together to talk about their respective faiths? A lot of laughing, crying and really good eating. The Daughters of Abraham are forging friendships that might surprise you.
What if we could figure out a way to come together over our similarities rather than be consumed by our differences?
We all handle life altering moments differently. After 9/11, Janice Harris Lord remembered what her son Steve had said after coming back from Desert Storm. “People who can pray together ought not to be killing one another.” With that thought as her guide she sought out a way to connect the women of the three Abrahamic faiths (Jewish, Christian and Muslim women) and from this The Daughters of Abraham was born.
Does Daughters of Abraham recognize the differences in the three faiths? Absolutely! However, the focus is placed on similarities with open hearts and minds. Janice and Dawn both go on to say their faith has been strengthened thanks to this group and that a questioned faith is a deeper faith.
A few of my favorite take aways:
– Getting to know people on an individual level promotes understanding and helps stamp out “othering”
- It’s okay to ask questions. Curiosity is a good thing and many people welcome it.
– Sisterhood can come in all shapes and sizes. It does not recognize boundaries of age or faith. These differences can even make the bond that much stronger and brighter.
Daughters of Abraham – website
Daughters of Abraham – How to start an interfaith group
Daughters of Abraham North Texas – Facebook
Daughters of Abraham DFW – Facebook
Intro: Welcome to “How She Got Here – Conversations with Everyday Extraordinary Women.” It is my belief that every woman has something inside her only she can do. The more we share the stories of other women, who have already discovered their thing, the more it inspires, encourages, and empowers other women to do the same.
Susan: Hey Pod Sisters, I am really excited to share this week’s episode with you. It will be a two part series discussing how Jewish, Christian and Muslim women come together to learn about each other’s faiths and break down barriers, creating the opportunity for open dialogue to better understand those that believe different than you, often even strengthening your own faith. This week, we will be speaking with founder of Daughters of Abraham, Janice Harris Ford, as well as Christian coordinator, Dawn Anderson. And then next week we’ll be chatting with Muslim daughter Angelina Tucker. Per the daughters of Abraham website, from the beginning the women in Daughters of Abraham were committed to a participatory democratic structure rather than forming a nonprofit organization, which entailed a vertical structure with officers. Responsibilities have been shared by each faith. The monthly gatherings rotate from Synagogue to Mosque to Church with the host faith, providing a discussion facilitator and light refreshments. While there has been an occasional presenter such as a Holocaust survivor giving a personal account of her experience, the format for meetings is open discussion of the topic. Topics have included beliefs, rituals, symbols, and traditions, such as those surrounding marriage, birth, and death. Specific faith related topics have even included prayer, forgiveness, salvation, and others. So without further ado, here is Janice and Dawn.
Well, Janice and Dawn, thank you so much for joining me today on the show. As I told the guests in the interview, you guys are part of the Daughters of Abraham. And that’s kind of what we’re going to be talking about today. Janice and Dawn, we just really want to talk about how Daughters of Abraham came to be, what the goals were, and all of that. So Janice, if you could start us off, tell us how Daughters of Abraham got started.
Janice: Sure. I need to preface that with a little bit of family history, just so you understand that as we come into this piece. Our family has always been very open in terms of just about everything. We have people of different faiths in our family, we have folks of different color who have been adopted into our family. We have family members from out of the country. So we are kind of a family that didn’t have to stop and work through prejudice as much. But a key piece in that was when our son went to Desert Storm, a graduate of Texas A&M, where he was a philosophy major, a good Christian theological boy wanting to learn more about philosophy, and he was also in the Marine Corps. So, you know, if you want something to make you crazy, put those two things together. And that’s where he was.
Dawn: Don’t forget the preacher’s kid.
Janice: Yes, yes. Having to…Well, choosing to be in the Marines and of course, then begin that as a commissioned officer after he graduated from A&M. So that’s when Desert Storm was going on. He was a group leader, responsible for a lot of men and therefore, responsible for killing a lot of people, most of whom were probably Muslim. And one day after his troops had killed a number of their troops, the Iraqi troop leader dropped his gun started walking towards Steve and said, “May I pray over my dead?” through an interpreter and so, through the interpreter Steve responded, “Yes” dropped his gun and said “May I join you?” So the two of them, walked over together. The Muslim person prayed, of course in Arabic. Steve did not understand one word of the language. But it so touched his heart that he said it was the most beautiful prayer he had ever heard. And he left that setting, committed to the belief that people who can pray together ought not to be killing one another. So he came back then and went to seminary and is now at the Catholic Church teaching in a school in Chicago. So that story had really touched all of us when he came home with a very good case of PTSD on his own, and shared that story. So back to your question; 9/11 happened. I was sitting home in the floor of the house that we lived in before this one, packing, watching the two towers go down. And commentators saying this will change world history and I was thinking, “Oh no, two planes crashing into a big building is not going to change world history. What are they talking about?” But of course it did. And so I just kept stewing about that. So this was in September of 2001— from then through Christmas, I just felt this strong, strong, strong spiritual urging to do something. But as I realized the problem was so huge. More and more did I feel the struggle of what can one little woman in Arlington, Texas do about this big old problem? So, over those months, it finally came to me to try to bring together in this community, women of the three faiths, the three Abrahamic faiths, Judaism, Christianity and Islam to form a friendship and dialogue group where we would simply speak heart to heart with great honesty with one another. That seemed simple enough. I already knew a few people in the Jewish faith and the Muslim faith that I thought I could go to so I did. I went to a Rabbi. I didn’t go to an Imam, I went to a psychiatrist that I know who is Muslim and who has also done a great deal of work with domestic violence. And I thought he would know some women who might be interested in this.
So, sure enough, we found women. I thought if we got six women from each of the three faiths, that would be a good discussion group, six of each. So that was the goal six women from each faith. So that’s what we did. I don’t know how much more detail you want about that right now.
Susan: That is an incredible story. Janice, I missed it when you came and spoke to our group about how this all came into being. I hadn’t actually heard it. And Dawn can tell, I had like…I was waterworks over here. I had tears in my eyes.
Dawn: And I’ve heard it many times and I still get goosebumps every time I hear the story about her son praying with the Muslim leader. That’s just the most beautiful story ever of interfaith spirituality, I think.
Janice: Well, I get goosebumps still every time I tell you. And that tells me more than anything that this whole endeavor has been spirit lead.
Dawn: Yes. And Janice, or how many of those women are still meeting together now? Because when I tell the story, I always say that most of you still meet together. Is that correct?
Janice: Yes, that’s true. Several of the more elderly women have died. Seems like more of the original Jewish women than any. But that leads me to another story. I may be going way off on tangent.
Susan: No, this is perfect.
Janice: Just stop me.
Susan: Not at all.
Janice: But after we had been formed probably three or four years and had become very close, one of the Jewish women had cancer and was dying. And she was home receiving hospice care. And she called me one day and said, “Janice, I’m here alone. I’m really scared. My husband had to go somewhere. Is there anybody in Daughters that could just come sit with me this afternoon?” And I said, “Yes, of course I can find somebody.” I couldn’t do it, but I promised her I would get someone right away. Well, the first person I thought of was a woman in our group who is a retired physician. I thought she would be perfect to be there. It did not dawn on me until after I had made the call to ask her if she could go that she was Muslim because we had become such close friends. I just didn’t think about it. And then it dawned on me, “Oh my goodness, I have just asked a Muslim woman to go help a Jewish woman die.” But I think the lovely part of that is that for those of us who have been together for the long haul, it has truly been transforming. And I can tell you that of those women that I have known so long, I would die for any one of them. You know, it takes a while to develop that kind of love for a person.
Dawn: Yes. And I think that’s the whole key, if I may interject, with our group is getting to know each other as individuals and really caring about each other. And we had a similar story not quite as powerful, but after some of those horrible things were happening in Garland with the people surrounding the Mosque and all that, we were having our meeting one night and one of our young Muslim women posted on our email group. She said, “I’m afraid to drive at night by myself with my hijab.” And she said, “Would anybody be willing to come pick me up?” And she told about what neighborhood she lived in. It just so happened two of our older Jewish ladies lived nearby, and they went and picked her up. And I thought there was a cool story, too.
Janice: Yes, that is another wonderful story.
Dawn: Yes. And it was old and young and two different faiths, and yet, all wanting to get together for a very important meeting about peace and loving each other. That’s what it’s all about.
Janice: Yes, it is.
Susan: I’ll just share a little bit while we’re at it. You know, I found this group two years ago, probably and I’ve been in and out. I’ve been trying to be active. My husband’s travel schedule is a little wonky, and then there’s childcare. But I have just really appreciated…My goal was to go out and meet women of other faiths as well. I wanted to have a better understanding of people in general, and I was seeking that out. And someone in our church told me about it and introduced me to Dawn at the time. And I just, you know, I grew up in a small town in South Carolina, and the only Jewish person I knew was my orthodontist and then I had a Jewish professor in college, and I never even really thought anything about it. Coming from the Christian faith I knew that, you know, the Jewish faith came first and Jesus was Jewish and yada, yada ,yada, and there was no issue there for me at all. No problem. I had never met a true Muslim like a practicing Muslim. I had met other people who were Muslim, but I had never met a true practicing Muslim in their faith. And I have learned so much about just how beautiful the faith is, and just how close to Christianity it really is and how we really did all come. It’s not a joke. We all really came from the same background and just getting to know people on an individual basis, like you said, and hearing their stories. You know, one of my greatest friends that I have from this group at this point is from Syria. And she hasn’t been here in the states that long and just—and I’m not going to tell her story for her because I hope she’ll come on the podcast and tell it herself.
Dawn: Are you talking about our Jewish Christian Muslim.
Dawn: That’s how she introduces herself, “I’m a Jewish Christian Muslim.”
Susan: Yeah, because she really understands like that Judaism came first, Christianity came second, and then the Islam came third. And it just is so interesting to me to have that true friendship and to share with other people. You just have to get to know each other on an individual basis, and you can’t believe all the other crazy stuff you hear people say.
Dawn: A lot of ignorance out there.
Susan: Yeah, absolutely.
Dawn: One of my greatest things I’ve learned I really didn’t have any Jewish or Muslim friends. So I’ve learned a lot about both faiths, but I thought I would be closer to the Jewish women, as far as you know, we share the same Old Testament, which of course, is their Hebrew Bible. But the thing that really amazed me was our Muslim sisters believe in all the miracles of Jesus, they love Jesus, they believe in the Second Coming. I mean, we share so much there. Now, granted, our details get very different but there’s so much shared. And that’s I think another big point of our group is we focus on what we share, not the differences. And as far as the differences go, when we hear the stories, I think they’re fascinating, but sometimes it’s like, “Wow, that’s just really interesting how they look at that. That’s their perspective. But here’s my perspective.” And it’s okay, we don’t have to be right or wrong. I feel like we all have a little piece of the truth maybe, and when we get to heaven, maybe the whole puzzle will be put together and there’ll be three colors on the puzzle that all go together. That’s kind of how I look at it.
Janice: I think about that a lot, too. I don’t know if you’ve read the Dalai Lama’s most recent book about compassion, that he goes even beyond these three Abrahamic faiths to others pointing out that every single major religion in the world has language very similar to the Golden Rule.
Janice: And the point is that if all the faiths could put a lot of emphasis on that, the differences are fine. You know, there are many ways to God, his perspective is really we all pretty much become what our parents were. That’s the truth of the matter.
Dawn: Or rebel against it completely and go the other direction.
Janice: That’s right, either follow or wildly rebel. But I think that it’s really powerful, that if we can come to love one another as ourselves, but even going beyond that to genuine compassion, which is more than ourselves, the reaching out beyond two way more than our love for ourselves. My goodness, the world would be totally changed.
Dawn: Yes. And you know, another thing I think that’s really made me aware of being a part of Daughters of Abraham is, you know how we talk about white privilege, I think there’s also something like Christian privilege. Where growing up in a dominant Christian society, we don’t realize sometimes, especially the ones that proselytize how much harm we’ve done. I remember after one of my first Daughters of Abraham meetings, walking out and there was a Jewish women and a Muslim lady talking, and they were both talking about how their children were being bullied in school by Christians, you know, by people saying, if you haven’t taken Jesus as your savior, you’re going to hell. And it was bullying. And you know, to me, the ugliest part of Christianity is when we try to force it on people and, you know, feel like we’re right and they’re wrong. And that never works. Jesus never did that.
Janice: Jesus certainly didn’t do that. That’s exactly what I was going to add, Dawn. I mean, he laid things out there and you take it, fine, or you don’t, fine. That’s just the way he walked every day. The only people he really got mad at were the people inside the faith who were cutting other people out.
Dawn: Right, the judgmental ones.
Dawn: And it’s such a big relief when you realize that as Christian, you do not have to judge people. You’re just called to love people. That’s it—right there.
Susan: And trust me, I did a whole episode on deconstruction about this. And I’ve gotten some feedback myself that has been, “I’m not so sure you’re a real Christian.” So Christians, even bully people who consider themselves to be Christians because we don’t believe things exactly how they believe them. So yeah, we all have….We could work on as a faith in general, I think. Tell me a little bit about how Daughters of Abraham, this specific group is still just in Texas. Is that correct? Or have we spread out outside the state at this point?
Dawn: That’s a good question.
Janice: Yes. It’s a very interesting question because we the answer is we don’t know.
Dawn: Yes, that’s what I was going to say.
Janice: We did not form a 501 C3 nonprofit profit deal with the IRS because that requires boards, which are very vertical. There are a lot of things about that that just don’t feel right. We feel very circular, very democratic, very equal as we meet together. So in that way, we don’t have real policies and guidelines that anybody has to follow. Our primary general rule is that we do not proselytize. So you can share whatever you want to share from your own personal faith perspective. But if it moves into trying to convince others that yours is the best, you know, that’s a no, no. And then the other one is that we steer clear of political discussion. But that is sometimes very, very difficult because right now, with so much painful stuff going on in the world, it’s very difficult to keep that totally removed. So I can’t say that we’re 100% successful at that but we also don’t pound each other about political parties either, which is just that the issues might come up sometimes.
Dawn: Right. And I was…
Dawn: All right, go ahead.
Janice: I’m sorry, Dawn. So we do know for sure that other groups have formed throughout the country, mainly from women who had been a part of this group and then move somewhere else and start a group there. We’ve even got people doing it down in Mexico. We had two nuns come up from Mexico to do some writing about us a year or so ago. And then they went back and started a group themselves. So we just don’t know.
Dawn: I was going to add that we tell people all the time, there’s a place on our website where people who want to start a group can go and read about how we did it so that they can follow the same pattern we did, which is basically just start off with a Christian, a Jewish and Muslim coordinator, who then work within each faith to recruit people and to get people to meetings, but we’ve never said, “Hey, if you do start one of those groups, let us know.” Maybe we should do that because we’ve had lots of inquiries, and we’ve sent them to our website. So it’s very possible there could be a lot of groups we don’t even know about.
Susan: And I’ll make sure to link all of this in the show notes on our website so anybody who’s listening who is interested in in doing that will be able to just click the button and head on over, for sure.
Janice: Yeah, it’s a simple little click on the website. It’s just a two-page document.
Susan: Great. I don’t know that I’ve ever actually seen the document so I will have check that out myself. Tell me…because I did not…Janice, I personally—and Dawn I’m not sure about you—I did not grow up in a family that was very open at all, actually. And so me doing this, I’ve been asked a lot of questions. And I’ve asked a lot of questions of myself, right, like, okay, what do you really believe? And does it really matter? And all those types of questions. So tell me, what has that…Dawn, maybe you can speak to this a little more. How was your background? Like, were you open to this and when other people hear that you’re involved in interfaith work, how do you explain that to people?
Dawn: That’s a good question because we go around and we talked to a lot of different groups. We’ll take a representative from each faith. We talk to a lot of Sunday school classes. It’s mostly been Christians that we’ve gone out and talk to in the Dallas group. But I we’re asked that a lot. And I was raised by a Methodist pastor, and I’m a Methodist pastor myself. So the Methodist Church is pretty open—I know Janice would say the same thing about Disciples of Christ—to interfaith dialogue. And so I was actually raised with a very open understanding, especially my dad was one of the first pastors in Kansas City to integrate his church, for instance. So we were raised to respect all people and so it was a pretty natural fit for me. People will ask me, “Now, doesn’t it water down your Christian faith when you go and you listen to these other people with these beliefs that are in…” You know, they’re in conflict sometimes and let’s just be honest about it. We do have things we disagree on. But my response is always “I think it deepens my faith because I think a questioned faith is the deepest faith.” If you never question your faith, and you just take everything that you’ve been told, and you read the Bible literally and you don’t ask questions so you don’t use your brain…God gave us the brain for a reason. I think I learned so much like for my Jewish sisters, I’ve learned so much about respecting our ancestors and traditions. And there’s so many wonderful things they do with grief, for instance. So Janice, I hope you’ll tell your story, if you’re up to it about what you’ve learned from the others about how it affected you and you’re going through the loss of Dick, and from the Muslim sisters. I’ve learned so much also about devotion, like they pray five times a day. So I’ll tell my Christian friends that are big into proselytizing, “Well, first thing if you’re going to proselytize a Muslim, you better be praying five times a day because they’re not going to want to be less spiritual.” So we learn a lot from each other. And I think my Jewish and Muslim friends, when we go out and talk, they say the same thing. They say they’re a better Muslim for having known Jewish and Christian people and vice versa. So that would be my answer to that.
Janice: If you want, I can share the story that Dawn mentioned a while ago. I don’t know how much time we have.
Dawn: Oh, but it’s so beautiful, Janice.
Janice: Okay, well here we go. One of the things that I learned is that we Christians are just about the only faith that embalm bodies and waxes them all up and paint some up and people go by and stare at them. We’ve been kind of weird to me anyway, but what we learned within the Jewish faith and the Muslim faith, bodies are treated with respect, which means that none of that stuff is done to them. Now, in Reform Judaism, it may very well be because Reform Jews really operate more modernly than conservative or Orthodox Jews. But for many Jews and literally all Muslims, the body is respected. It is washed by people in the faith after the death in clear water. It is wrapped in white muslin or cotton wrappings or in Judaism, it’s more like a pantsuit that that does not have buttons, but it’s tied on and the person is put in a casket. And in Judaism, they are buried with the casket, which is to be very plain, generally wooden. The notion of dust to dust, and it’s buried within 24 to 48 hours. In Islam, it’s the very same thing, except that Mosques have just one casket generally, and it’s used over and over again. So after the body is prepared, it’s placed in that casket until the prayer services is held for the body again, as soon as possible. It’s taken to the cemetery in that casket, and then it’s taken out and laid in the soil with the face looking toward Mecca. And then it’s covered in the dirt with out without a casket or a vault or anything. So there was something about that process that just felt so authentic to me. So my husband died just a little over a year ago, real strong, healthy guy who played golf every day, and he got bitten by a mosquito that was carrying West Nile virus and died a little more then a week later. So, the hospital was great. They let me lay in the bed with him most of that last two or three days and so forth. And when he died, I said to the nurse, “I want to be the one to wash him and do everything that needs to be done before he goes to the funeral home.” And she said, “Oh, okay.” And was really very, very lovely about allowing me to do that. And I will tell you, I believe that had more to do with my healing than most anything. I washed every single inch of his body, washed his hair. His beard had been growing while he was in the hospital, so he looked really gnarly, shaved him, got all those hairs off, clipped the little nose hairs. You know how they have little hairs hanging out of their ears noses so I got them and then I said, “I really think we should put some lotion on him before we wrap him up,” and she said, “Well, let me go see what I can find. I don’t know what we have right here.” So here she comes back with a bottle of Victoria Secret lotion that she got from somebody
Dawn: I think Dick was okay with that, knowing Dick.
Janice: I can just imagine a big old smile of his. If a body could have smiled, I’m sure he would have. I’m sure his spirit did. So anyway, we got him already and I kissed him goodbye. And it was not a hard thing to do. And I think it was not hard because I had had that wonderful opportunity of doing every single thing I could do for his body as long as I could do it and I would not have ever thought of that of that had it not been for learning it from our Jewish and Muslim sisters.
Dawn: It is so beautiful. Thank you.
Susan: That is beautiful story. Wow.
Janice: We did bury him in a casket.
Dawn: But the point was you got that beautiful ritual from our interfaith friends.
Janice: Yeah, never in a million years would I have thought about that otherwise?
Dawn: How intimate and loving.
Susan: That is a beautiful place to end, isn’t it? Janice, thank you so much for sharing with us today, and Dawn for being here. I just really appreciate it. This has meant so much to me. Wow, I didn’t know what to expect but I’m all over the place right now. And I tried to normally hold it together a little better during these episodes in these conversations. For those of us who are local to the DFW area, I will have everything listed on our website. And I would just encourage you to reach out and join one of these groups. It is meant so much to my life to get to know people from other backgrounds, and Janice and Dawn…Dawn is our representative in Dallas. I don’t know if I actually talked about that.
Dawn: I should say I’m the Christian coordinator. We also have a Jewish, and we have co-coordinators for the Muslim faith, which is kind of a cool idea. I’m thinking about trying to get a Christian co-coordinator also.
Susan: Yeah, that way you don’t have to do it all, right?
Dawn: That’s right. That’s kind of brilliant up them.
Susan: Oh, and one thing I didn’t mean to mention, I don’t think we talked about this. And maybe this is a good point, since we’re ending to kind of go over I’d love to share our guidelines, and then maybe we can end with our prayer.
Susan: And I was going to say one other thing…
Dawn: And also mentioned how many groups we have. It’s not just Dallas.
Susan: Yeah, absolutely.Go ahead, Dawn.
Dawn: And Janice, correct me if I’m wrong. I’m reading off for the flyer. We have a morning Arlington Fort Worth group, which I believe is your group, right, Janice?
Dawn: We have an evening Fort Worth group and evening Northeast Tarrant County group. Of course, our evening Dallas group. We have recently had a Denton group startup. So we’ll have that info on the website. And we also have Sons of Abraham. So don’t let us forget to mention that. There’s sons of Abraham both mid cities and Dallas, I believe, right, Janice?
Dawn: So that’s pretty darn cool.
Susan: Yeah, it really is. It’s nice to have the men join us although they aren’t really joining us.
Janice: I would like to add in that vein, a lot of people don’t realize that Allah is just the Arabic word for God.
Janice: Allah is not somebody different right. So Muslims use the word Allah, Jews use Adonai or other words we use God.
Susan: And Adonai is also in the Bible.
Dawn: The Christian Bible.
Susan: The Christian Bible. Yeah, that’s a good point. Very good point.
Dawn: And the Torah.
Janice: In most of our meeting, the Jewish and Muslim women just say God.
Dawn: Oh, do they? Okay.
Janice: At least in our group, they do. I mean, they don’t have an aversion to using the word God because it is all the same God; it’s just three different names.
Janice: Same God. So you usually hear some of all three.
Dawn: Well, I do agree it would be kind of cool if we said all three when we read it together.
All: Our God, the soul that you have implanted within us is pure. You created and formed it, breathed it into us and sustain it each and every day. So long as we have life, we will be grateful to you, Adonai, God, Allah. Our God and the God of our mother and father, creator of all life, sustainer of every human spirit, blessed are you, Adonai, God, Allah in whose hands are the souls of all life, and in the spirits of all flesh.
Outro: Thanks so much for joining me today. I know today’s conversation covered up a lot of hard topics, war, death, interfaith work. I would really love to hear your feedback or any questions you might have. I have really enjoyed being a part of Daughters of Abraham because it has given me the opportunity to get to know my sisters of different faiths on a whole new level. It has also given me the space to ask questions where I might often feel uncomfortable. So often when we can ask questions, we can dispel myths, rumors, and things we do not understand. My heart aches so often when I see people harmed because of their faith, the language they speak, or the color of their skin. It’s so oftentimes comes from a place of misguided information. Martin Luther King once said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness. Only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that.” So often, once you shine a light on things you do not understand. It isn’t so scary. Is it hard? Sure, but we can do hard things. As women, as leaders in our communities, as moms, we can share our knowledge with our friends, spouses, and children. It starts with each one of us to drive out hate. Truly loving our neighbor will do just that. I’ll see you soon.