Friday, June 09, 2006

One of the things I love about Company of Women is I get the opportunity to meet and hear some incredible women.

Take the Power Within for Women. I received a complimentary ticket to attend this event, and so heard words of wisdom from women like Irshad Manji and Gloria Estefan, who were for me, the highlight of the day. Both showed amazing courage but in different circumstances.

Irshad Manji is the best-selling author of The Trouble with Islam Today: A Muslim’s Call for Reform in her Faith. Given the arrests made this last weekend, her talk seemed even more timely. She is certainly someone who has become acclimatized to living in danger, with bullet-proof glass in the windows of her house, her car checked before she leaves and she even had a bodyguard at one stage when the death threats were at a peak.

As a young Muslim, she explained how she’d come to write her book which challenges the way the Muslim faith is used in some countries to mistreat women, such as the honour killings in Pakistan, or the stoning of lesbians in Algeria or the way women are treated as property being handed down from husband to brother in Saudi Arabia.

Today her book has been published internationally. There are some countries where it is banned, but following a suggestion from some youth, it has been translated and can be downloaded in pdf format from her website.

She urged the audience to have the courage of your confusion, to ask questions because only then will you find the courage of conviction. And she was a glowing example of how through courage and conviction, change can happen.

Change for Gloria Estefan was not something she sought, yet it seemed to follow her from an early age. Born in Cuba, she spent her early years in Havana but was uprooted and escaped to Miami when Castro came into power. Her father spent several years in a prison in Cuba and her mother did the best she could to raise her two daughters on her own until he was reunited with his family.

Gloria Estefan is an international superstar and in 1989 was at the peak in her career, when a tractor trailer crashed into her tour bus, critically injuring her and breaking her back. Through faith, the love of her family and grit determination, she endured almost a year of grueling physical therapy to make an astonishing full recovery from injuries that should have left her paralyzed. She has since returned to the top of the charts, completed a nine country world tour and given birth to the daughter, they said she never could have.

As I listened to her telling her story, I could not help but think that she was a beautiful person, both physically and spiritually. She was very low key, yet you knew she had achieved much in her life – and not just the successful career – but her ability to fight back and reclaim her life, her long marriage to the same person and her two children. Unlike many celebrities, she seemed grounded and comfortable with who she was and where she was going. Like others who have flirted with death, she knew what was important in her life and worked to those priorities. A lesson we all could learn.

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