The 2021 Abraham Conference

2021 Abraham Conference

The Columban Centre for Christian-Muslim Relations is co-host to the annual Abraham Conference in Sydney. The event brings together Jewish, Christian and Muslim believers to discuss contemporary areas of concern. In 2021, the theme was women leaders in the Abrahamic Traditions. Following is an article that reported on the Conference, published in the Australasian Muslim Times (AMUST) late last year. 


On 10 October, the Abraham Conference 2021, ‘Women Leaders in the Abrahamic Traditions: Role Models for Our Time’, highlighted the contribution and difference women leaders in the Abrahamic traditions made in their time to inspire our time.

The conference, live-streamed on Zoom for the second year in a row due to recurring COVID-19 restrictions, featured a speaker from each of the Abrahamic faiths – Jacquie Seemann Charak, co-founder and committee member of Or Chadash, a Modern Orthodox Synagogue, and the Sydney’s Women’s Tefila Group; Associate Professor Michele Connolly RSJ, lecturer in Biblical Studies at the Catholic Institute of Sydney; and Yamamah Agha, general manager of the Humanitarian Settlement Program at Settlement Services International.    

Gunditjmara woman Aunty Shirley Gilbert opened the conference with an Acknowledgement to Country. She shared her appreciation for the Aboriginal women who made their Aboriginal communities strong through their generosity and spiritual wisdom.

The MC, Jane Jeffes, producer and director of a range of documentaries, former executive producer of The Religion and Ethics Report on ABC Radio, and a mother of two daughters, opened the discussion with comments on the Me Too and Black Lives Matter movements, and the revelations of abuse in federal parliament that year.

“[These movements] bring into question patriarchal attitudes. They demand a new 21st century respect for women and have shone a light on the objectification and the abuse of women, whether that’s sexual abuse and domestic abuse or simply the denial of their full participation in society at whatever level,” Ms Jeffes said.

“This is about women’s agency and what that can do for all society. This theme is particularly relevant now, where we have watched what has been happening in Afghanistan and the impact that will have on Afghan women and girls.”

Jacquie Seemann Charak shared the millennia-old stories of two women from Jewish texts, Deborah and Beruriah. Deborah was a prophetess and a judge of Israel, “a woman of valour, diligent in her ways and as quick as a fire torch”. Deborah’s leadership resulted in a sustained period of stability for the Jewish people. The second is Tamuldic sage Beruiah, who lived in Israel during the second century of the Christian era. She is one of the few women whose authority in law and ethics and spiritual leadership feature in the Tamuld on par with the male scholars. 

Associate Professor Michele Connolly RSJ spoke of two laywomen and one group of women from the 21st century, who inspire her as they live their Catholic faith. For Sr Connolly, these women are inventing new ways to keep alive their spirituality and lead women in their faith, without a lot of support of the official structures of the Church. The women are Andrea Dean, Christina Gomez and the Wagga-based women’s group Spirit Weavers.

Yamamah Agha spoke of the wife of Prophet Muhammed, Khadija, “the first woman of Islam”. A successful businesswoman, Khadija wielded great economic and political power and influence. Impressed by Prophet Muhammed’s character when he worked for her business, Khadija proposed to him. During their marriage, when the Prophet told Khadija about his divine revelations, she encouraged him to leave the business and preach fulltime.

Almost every year, since 2002, The Abraham Conference brings together Jews, Christians and Muslims by celebrating the common bonds of ancestry and faith that unite them in their various approaches to Abraham, Sarah and Hagar - foundational figures for each Abrahamic religion. 

The Conference seeks to overcome ignorance and prejudice and promotes better mutual understanding and cooperation among them in pursuit of the common good. 

The 2021 Abraham Conference was again organised and hosted by the Coordinating Committee of representatives from Affinity Intercultural Foundation; the Columban Centre for Christian-Muslim Relations; the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies; the Uniting Church in Australia, Synod of NSW & ACT; AMUST; the Diocese of Parramatta; the NSW Ecumenical Council; the Australian Egyptian Forum Council; and the Indian Crescent Society of Australia. 

The 2021 Abraham Conference is available to view on YouTube.

For information on the 2022 Abraham Conference be sure to follow its Facebook page:

Kim Chong, Media & Community Liaison, Columban Centre for Christian-Muslim Relations

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