We all knew of Nelson Mandela’s state and his age. Yet, his death is still a tremendous loss to all of us who learned to struggle against all odds from the man who put his trust in the humanity of his oppressors, the leaders of South Africa’s apartheid system. He wrote a new chapter on the power of dialogue which he, a helpless prisoner, initiated with his powerful captors. And he did all of this without losing his dignity, without compromising his principles, and without being intimidated by the power of the apartheid regime.
It was because of the power of his non-violent struggle, as well as his compassion toward those who took almost all of his youth from him, that I went to South Africa, despite all odds, to attend the Parliament of the World’s Religions in 1999. It was my way of celebrating the power of peaceful struggle. Mandela may not be big on religion, but he sure was high on the ideals of humanity. That is where I made my personal commitment to the interfaith movement, which believes in and promotes the power of dialogue and human relationships.
I had the honor of meeting one of Nelson Mandela’s “comrades”, Ahmed Mohamed Kathrada, at the Radio Islam studio in Chicago. He was among those imprisoned at Robben Island along with Mandela. It was after talking with him that I learned how Mandela transformed the life of this young rebel into positive energy for change.
In today’s world, where hate is rising, the people of love and humanity, those of faith and the “nones”, need to rise as a force for positive human relationships. In a world where one-third of humanity is obese while another third sleeps hungry, let’s share more and consume less.
Let us remember together as we mourn together, that “None of you has faith until you love for your neighbor what you love for yourself.” Long Live Madiba!
Imam Dr. Abdul Malik Mujahid
Chair of the Board of Trustees
Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions
A few years ago I was standing in Nelson Mandela Square in the center of a large shopping mall in Sandton, South Africa admiring the famous 20 ft. statue of Mandela.
As I stood there, one after another Afrikaner families walked up to the statue and took photographs of their blond haired blue-eyed children. One could not help but think that the parents of these children were not raised to admire Mandela, but to fear him and what they had been taught he stood for.
Nevertheless, on this warm evening, they patiently coaxed their children to stand straight and tall at the feet of the great man.
What powers of spirit and vision could bring such transformation? Perhaps it was the unimpeachable integrity of moral stamina undiminished by 27 years of imprisonment.
Or the indomitable will inspired by the vision of social justice that he bent to the task of exorcising the spirit of apartheid—employing the tools Truth and Reconciliation instead of bloodshed to shepherd a nation, conceived in social injustice, to a united future.
Nelson Mandela birthed a new South Africa and in so doing revitalized the spirits of moral excellence and social justice among people in every land. Like South Africa, we all have much yet to do in the quest for truth, reconciliation, and unity. But thanks to Mandela, we have a model to follow. A model of true faith steeped in patience, an unbending vision of social justice without shortcuts or compromise.
Mandela was committed to religion as a powerful agent of change. “Without the religious institutions, he explained at the Parliament of the Worlds Religions in Cape Town, “I would not be here today.”
“You have to have been in a South African jail under apartheid where you could see the cruelty of human beings to each other in its naked form. “…Religious institutions and their leaders gave us hope that one day we could return.”
He explained that Christian, Muslim, Hindu and Jewish religious groups were instrumental in providing him and other young blacks with an education – and later in giving comfort to political prisoners and their families.
As grateful recipients of Mandela’s precious gifts to humankind, perhaps each one of us might arise and struggle to return the favor in the name of our many faiths. We must work together to carry on the mission that Nelson Mandela gave his life to: to build a world inspired by love and guided by the principle of true justice, that we are all one family—bound together by bonds and ties that are stronger than blood. Nelson Mandela his gone from us now, but his spirit must live on in our hearts and guide our service to God, to our nations, and to one another.
Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, ‘Madiba,’ has now passed into the Light. He was here now he is everywhere. He reminded us that although we have the machinery of war, it is only by our nonviolent choices that we can create the machinery of peace. With tireless passion, immense heart, an extraordinary mind and unfathomable self-sacrifice, he forgot himself into immortality and showed us how to establish the beloved ultimate economic world community.
Lawrence Edward Carter Sr., Ph.D., D.D., D.H., D.R.S., D.H.C.
Dean, Martin Luther King International Chapel
Professor of Religion, College Archivist and Curator
Founder, Gandhi, King, Ikeda Institute for Global Ethics and Reconciliation
Trustee, Council for A Parliament of the World’s Religions
On the day the Nelson Mandela has died, the Parliament of the World’s Religions remembers a speech that shook the souls of Interfaith fourteen years ago to the day. Speaking on the evening of Sunday, December 5, 1999, the former and first black president of South Africa told the thousands gathered about how interfaith cooperation was the only peaceful means to end Apartheid.
Master of ceremonies, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.
Unfortunately, I must tell a story, which in gatherings of this nature I have told more than a hundred times. Because that story puts in context some of the remarks that have been made here about one individual. This is when I spent a holiday in the Bahamas in 1993. I met some tourists — a man and a wife — as I was taking a walk and the man stopped and said, “Mr. Mandela.”
I said, “Many people mistake me for that chap.” And he said, “Would I be entitled to take you for that chap?” I said, “You’d be doing what many people are doing.” He then turned to his beloved wife and said, “Darling, Mr. Mandela.”
She was totally unimpressed.
She said, “What is he famous for?” And the husband in his embarrassment dropped his voice and said, “Mr. Mandela, Mr. Mandela.” And the woman insisted “I asked what is he famous for?” And before the husband answered she turned to me and said, “What are you famous for?”
I couldn’t answer the question.
But there is another incident near, at home, when a five-year-old lady — I was told by security that she was at the gate. And I said, “Let her come in.” And then said, “She is very cheeky” I said, “Precisely for that reason let her come in.” And indeed she was quite a lady because she just stormed into my lounge without knocking, did not greet me and the first remark was, “How old are you?” I said, “Well, I can’t remember, but I was born long, long ago.” She said, “Two years ago?” I said, “No, much longer than that.”
She suddenly changed the topic and said, “why did you go to jail?” I said, “Well, I didn’t go to jail before because I liked. Some people sent me there.”
I said, “Some people did not like me.” And she said, “How long did you remain there?” I said, “Now I can’t remember.”
I said, “No, more than that.” Then she says, “You are a stupid old man, aren’t you?” And having made that devastating attack, she sat down with me and joked with me as if she had paid me a compliment.
Well, ladies and gentlemen, I hope at the end of my speech if you feel that I have not risen to expectations, I hope you will be more diplomatic than that young lady.
The truth of the old African proverb that we are people through other people is tonight very evocatively being demonstrated by this gathering of so many people from all parts of the world. This coming together here in this southernmost city on the African continent of representatives from such a wide range of the faiths of the world simbolizes the acknowledgement of our mutual interdependence and common humanity. It is to me a humbling experience to be part of this moving expression and reaffirmation of the nobility of the human spirit. This century has seen enough of destruction, injustice, strife and division, suffering and pain and of our capacity to be massively inhuman the one to the other. There is sufficient cause for being cynical about human life and about humanity. This gathering at the close of our century serves to counter despair and cynicism and calls us to a recognition and reaffirmation of that which is great and generous and caring in the human spirit. We are being reminded in the words of the psalm that we were indeed created a little lower than the angels and crowned with glory and honor.
I accept with humility and great appreciation the honors that you have sought fit to bestow on an old man in the years of his retirement. If nothing else, it demonstrates that old age still intimidates people into paying respect and homage.
I accept these awards not merely on my behalf. I do so in recognition of the three persons after whom the awards are named and in celebration of what they stood for. I wish through the receipt of these awards to identify with those values which they represented so powerfully in their respective lives and works a commitment to peace, nonviolence and dialogue.
I also dedicate these awards to those millions and millions of ordinary unsung men and women all over the world who throughout this century courageously refused to bow to the baser instincts of our nature and to live their lives in pursuit of peace, tolerance, and respect for differences.
Even in the closing decade of the century, we have witnessed how internecine strife degenerated into genocide with former neighbors participating in the slaughter of each other. This century, unfortunately, had too many leaders attempting to exploit communal differences for their own political ends. In most instances, it was the resolve and the determination of ordinary citizens to resist this course to destructive sectarianism that saved our world from even more instances of genocide and violent conflict. It is them the decent, general citizenry who we salute at the close of the century that has its share of war and strife. We have had men who were so arrogant that they wanted to conquer the world and turn human beings into their slaves. But the people always put an end to such men and women. Alexander the Great thought he could conquer the world. Cesar also had the same ambitions. Napoleon almost succeeded in laying the whole of Europe at his feet. And during our time, there emerged Hitler who did exactly the same thing. But it was the ordinary people, not kings and generals, it was the ordinary people, some of whom were not known in their own villages who put an end to those tyrants — to those dictators. And it is for that reason that the real leaders of the world are those who for 24 hours a day think in terms of the poorest of the poor. It is those men and women who know that poverty is the single most dangerous threat to society in the world today.
In our country, my generation is the product of religious education. We grew up at a time when the government of this country owed its duty only to whites: a minority of less than 15 percent. They took no interest whatsoever in our education. It was religious institutions whether Christian, Moslem, Hindu or Jewish in the context of our country, they are the people who bought land, who built schools, who equipped them, who employed teachers, and paid them. Without the church, without religious institutions, I would never have been here today. It was for that reason, that when I was ready to go to the United States on the first of this month, an engagement which had been arranged for quite some time, when my comrade Ibrahim told me about this occasion I said I would change my whole itinerary so I would have the opportunity to appear here.
But I must also add that I do appreciate the importance of religion. Apart from the background that I’ve given you, you’d have to have been in a South African jail under apartheid where you can see the cruelty of human beings to others in their naked form. But it was again religious institutions, Hindus, Moslems, leaders of the Jewish faith, Christians, it was them who gave us the hope that one day we would come out. We would return. And in prisons, the religious institutions raised funds for our children who were arrested in thousands and thrown into jail.
And many when they left prison had a high level of education because of the support we got from religious institutions. And that is why we so respect religious institutions and we try as much as we can to read the literature which outlines the fundamental principals of human behavior like the Bhagavad Gita, Koran, the Bible and other important religious documents. And I say this so that you should understand that the propaganda that has been made, for example about the liberation movement in this country, it is completely untrue. Because religion was one of the motivating factors in everything that we did.
In some respects, the turn of the century is an arbitrary happening in the cycle of human life where there is always change from one day to the other. In other respects, it provides us with the symbolic opportunity to take stock of the substance of our lives and of what lies ahead.
As we approach the 21st century, we cannot but be starkly aware that we stand at a crossroads in our history. That the general citizenry to which we referred — those women, men and children who merely desire and have inalienable right to lead a decent life — continue to suffer deprivation and poverty. The world is still marked by massive inequality. In too many parts of the world warfare and violent conflict still reign. The powerful dominate at the expense of the poor and the vulnerable. The symbolic turn of the century calls us to a commitment to make the coming century one in which these and other issues of human development are fundamentally addressed. We shall have to reach deep into the wells of our human faith as we approach the new century. No less than in any other period of history, religion will have a crucial role to play in guiding and inspiring humanity to meet the enormous challenges that we face. In our South African society, we have identified as a crucial need for our efforts at material and social development and new construction to be matched and accompanied by what is called an RDP of the soul — a moral reconstruction and development program. That is no less true of our entire world.
The world is undergoing a profound redefinition of values and modes of perception. The globalization of the world economy and the outstanding advances of communications technology have drawn all of us together into a smaller world. Those technical advances might, however, also have contributed to a growing confusion of values as people seek to find their localized places in that globalized world. The escalation of poverty in a world that is at the same time marked by such opulence and excessive wealth, the suffering and marginalization of vulnerable groups at a time when the concepts of democracy and equality are supposed to have become universal, the growing degradation of the environment often caused by the greed of industrial development. These are but some of the contradictions that at heart are moral and ethical questions. And on the level of personal life as the world supposedly becomes smaller, the loneliness of individual human beings across the globe increases.
Religion, like all other aspects of human lives, of course faces its own challenges. We have seen how religion at times provided the basis and even gave legitimization to violent expressions of intolerance and conflict. Tragically, religion sometimes seemed to have lost its ability to hold people to good values and to inspire in them those articles and approaches that transcend the narrow and immediate considerations. Religious leaders, institutions and adherents now once more need to draw upon those critical resources that have made it such a central part of human life throughout the ages. Few other dimensions of human life reach such a massive following as the religious. Its roots are in every nook and cranny of society where political leaders and the economically powerful have no sway. The religions and faiths of our world have pondered over and listened. Hence the importance to once again draw on those forces of spirituality and innate goodness.
No government or social agency can on its own meet the enormous challenges of development of our age. Partnerships are required across the broad range of society. In drawing upon its spiritual and communal resources, religion can be a powerful partner in such causes as meeting the challenges of poverty, alienation, the abuse of women and children, and the destructive disregard for our natural environment.
We read into your honoring our country with your presence an acknowledgement of the achievement of the nation and we trust in a small way that our struggle might have contributed to other people in the world.
We commend the Parliament of the World’s Religions for its immense role in making different communities see that the common ground is greater and more enduring than the differences that divide. It is in that spirit that we can approach the dawn of the new century with some hope that it will be indeed a better one for all of the people of the world.
I thank you.
Full text of speech by Nelson Mandela at the Parliament of the World’s Religions, Cape Town, South Africa, December 1999. Transcribed by Gillian Hagerty, “The Word Foundation.”
It is a warm reunion with Kusumita P. Pederson of New York who has now returned to the Parliament Board of Trustees following re-election after the mandatory time-off period required after a previous completed terms has completed.
Reaction from the Parliament Board Chair is bright. Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid describes, “she is a walking interfaith dictionary of America. I have never found Kusumita refusing anything which strengthens interfaith. I am pleased to welcome her back to the board. As the co-chair of the Interfaith Center of New York, she brings strength to our board, as well as much needed connectivity between the local realities and the global scene.”
IFNCY has been gracious to the Parliament as a co-host of the Long Island Faith Against Hate Day of Learning and Relationship held this past June, and through co-sponsoring and cross-promoting an upcoming webinar.
With Pederson returned to the Board, this solidifies a blossoming practice of global-local organizational partnerships which are helping strengthen the interfaith movement.
Dr. Kusumita P. Pedersen was Professor of Religious Studies at St. Francis College in New York. She received her Ph.D. in Buddhist Studies from Columbia University. She was previously Executive Director of the Project on Religion and Human Rights; Joint Secretary for Religious Affairs of the Global Forum of Spiritual and Parliamentary Leaders on Human Survival; and Executive Director of the Temple of Understanding. She is currently Co-Chair of the Interfaith Center of New York.
A Preface by Imam Dr. Abdul Malik Mujahid, Chair of the Board of Trustees
Human interconnectedness has been transformed dramatically by technology. However, our hearts and our minds are yet to be aligned with the God-given ideals of sharing more and consuming less to achieve better results for the humanity.
In a world where more than a billion people live under two dollars a day; where 45 million people are fleeing conflict and persecution; where fear, hate, and anger are rising, we have a responsibility to be good neighbors, to be compassionate, and to live by the Golden Rule.
The Parliament of the World’s Religions has been ahead of its time in envisioning a better future. Almost a century before the word “global village” was introduced in 1962, the Parliament literally invented the gift of interfaith for our world.
It was also well ahead of its time when the Declaration Toward a Global Ethic was issued at the 1993 Parliament. For the first time in history, representatives of all of the world’s religions agreed on the shared ethics that are grounded in their own religions and traditions:
• The principle of shared humanity
• The Golden Rule of reciprocity
• A commitment to peace and justice
In the last 20 years since the signing of this declaration, people have collected more than 700,000 pieces of content on this topic. There are organizations that have been established based on its theme. Some of these include the Global Ethic Foundation, the Institute for Global Ethics, and the Global Ethics Network. We have also seen the development of campaigns based on topics we advanced, such as the Charter of Compassion, a Charter of Forgiveness, A Common Word Between Us and You, and campaigns to promote the Golden Rule.
So at this juncture, on the 20th anniversary of the 1993 Parliament, we at the Parliament reaffirm our commitment to interfaith harmony by reissuing the Global Ethics and by reasserting our mission: to cultivate harmony among the world’s religious and spiritual communities, and to foster their engagement with the world and its guiding institutions in order to achieve a just, peaceful and sustainable world.
We must learn the forgotten lesson that “None of you has faith until you love for your neighbor what you love for yourself.”
Let us, then, friends, share more and consume less!
Let us work hand in hand to change ourselves while saving the only planet we have.
May God open our hearts toward our neighbors. May our Creator open the hearts of our neighbors toward us. Amen.
This preface leads the 2013 reaffirmation of the vision of the Global Ethic penned by Parliament Chair, Imam Dr. Abdul Malik Mujahid on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the document. Join Imam Mujahid, the Parliament, and this generation’s voices for peace by signing the 2013 Call to Live Out the Vision Toward a Global Ethic!
Sharing Sacred Spaces via Hyde Park – Kenwood Interfaith Council
We are excited to announce three new dates for the winter and spring in the Sharing Sacred Spaces program, which offers an opportunity to visit diverse spaces used for different kinds of spiritual practice and to forge friendships and common understanding among different communities.
Friday, February 7 at 6 pm – Taizé Hyde Park
Hosted by Calvert House, 5735 S. University Ave.
Sunday, March 9 at 3 pm – Congregation Rodfei Zedek
5200 S. Hyde Park Blvd.
Sunday, May 18 at 3 pm – Shambhala Meditation Center
37 N. Carpenter St. (in the West Loop)
The Sharing Sacred Spaces approach to encouraging interfaith dialogue was inspired by architect Suzanne Morgan who is the “Sacred Spaces Ambassador” for the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions. Morgan says, “Spaces become sacred through the meaning they have for their constituents. Sharing that meaning can build bridges of trust and reduce social tension and cultural misunderstanding. Sacred spaces are healing places. They help all of us to become whole by connecting us to the divine.”
Thinking on the future of interfaith, the Parliament of the World’s Religions invited several interns to share on the topic of the next generation of the movement and living out the vision of those pioneers celebrated this important anniversary year. On November 16, 2013, four young adults spoke their hearts and minds to a welcoming crowd of 180 Parliament supporters.
The following interview reflects the vision of Parliament intern in communications and outreach, Maryem Abdullah, a student in the Honors College at University of Illinois-Chicago (UIC) and premier student leader of the UIC Model United Nations.
What do you consider to be your identity as an young adult joining the Interfaith movement?
Personally, I identify as a Muslim-American. I was born and raised in Chicago, and so the United States is all I know, and which is why I identify as such. I do hold my Arab heritage close and it will always be a part of me. While I love the fact that I am Arab, I have a hard time [personally] identifying as such because of where I grew up and what surrounded me as a child and young adult. Above all that, however, Islam is near and dear to my heart. No matter where I am, how long I’ve lived there, and with whom I surround myself, I will always have my Muslim identity.
What are some common misconceptions of young Muslim and Arab women you encounter- having grown up in the United States?
Something I face often is the misconception that all Arabs are Muslims and all Muslims are Arab. However, they are not the same or, in my opinion, even similar. Being Arab or from the Middle East is a culture and Islam is a religion. While the two can coincide, they do not have much of a relation to one another.
What is the role of religion in your life?
Having a sense of religion helps me with difficulties I face on a day-to-day basis, and I am thankful to my parents who raised me in a household that incorporated religion in most aspects of my life. While I will be the first to admit that I am no model Muslim, my relationship with the God I believe in is the most important thing to me. I don’t think that the black and white version of a faith is what defines a person—their spirituality and connection with their God is what matters. It is a shame that these misconceptions and prejudices leads people to commit hateful crimes against those who look, speak, or dress a certain way. While it saddens me to see such hate in the world, it lifts my spirits to know that the interfaith movement is widespread and that there is hope to end hate and intolerance.
How does being both Muslim and American inform your perspective of the Interfaith movement?
I think the combination of being American and Muslim has helped me become more optimistic about the interfaith movement. I think the interfaith movement will have more of an impact because this generation is more inclusive. Generations only become more tolerant, so it fosters a positive place for the coming together of various faiths, religions, and cultures. In my opinion, we are less clingy to traditional views, and more open to new people, traditions, and ideas. I believe the younger generation sees the world through a different lens than those who raised us. Our previous generation paved the pathway for change, and with the current generation’s open-mindedness, I think greatness can happen.
What evidence of change and greatness do you see happening?
I have my mother to largely thank for my understanding of how much a group of people can impact a community. She was one of the five founding partners of an all female Muslim law firm. At the time I was in 9th grade and I couldn’t care less about anyone’s accomplishments but mine, but now that I’m older and my professional dreams have evolved from an actress to a lawyer, I have come to realize and appreciate all that she has done to further the tolerance of the Muslim community, and for women around the world.
What is your hope for the future of the interfaith movement?
As a member of a generation that is incredibly open and honest, I am happy to see a strong stance against hate and intolerance.
Who embodies the hope of a stronger interfaith movement to you?
I think Malala Yousafzai, a 15-year-old who stood up for the educational rights of women and was consequently shot by the Taliban, is an amazing example of sticking up for what you believe in, despite the hurdles that may come your way. Malala, along with countless other young women working towards common goals, teaches us what we’re up against- and how strong we can be if we come together for a common cause. We have a long way to go with countless bumps ahead of us, but I’m confident that the interfaith movement will lead to a hate-free and more tolerant world.
As the United States grows in Interfaith activism, the government is beginning to support areas whereby international relations can be improved through immersion and study. One such opportunity pairs interested leaders of academic backgrounds with studies which will directly enhance interfaith understanding.
United States Department of State embassies operating in countries around the world offer six-week academic programming to scholars wishing to pursue short-term U.S. Studies within the American collegiate setting. The Study of the U.S. Institute for Scholars accepts applications in five research areas including Journalism and Media, U.S. Foreign Policy, U.S. Political Thought, Contemporary American Literature, and Religious Pluralism. While deadlines occur on different schedules throughout the year, Jamaican and Malaysian scholars are among the invited foreign-national groups at this time.
Student Leaders are also invited to a similarly structured program for six-week academic stays with the possibility to join the Fulbright program in a wider variety of disciplines such as:
- Civic Engagement
- Comparative Public Policy
- Global Environmental Issues
- New Media in Journalism
- Public Policy and Government Leadership
- Religious Pluralism in the United States
- Social Entrepreneurship
- U.S. History
- Government Women’s Leadership
Interested parties are encouraged to navigate through their individual country’s United States Embassy Office for exact deadlines. At soonest, online applications are due December 31, 2013.
On behalf of the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions and its Board of Trustees, Board Chair Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid extends greetings to Religions For Peace, which is presently holding its ninth world assembly.
Approximately 900 are gathered for the assembly this week in Vienna, Austria, where religious communities are discussing ways to “welcome the other.”
“The world needs more interfaith activism for harmony among religions to achieve world peace and sustainable development,” says Imam Mujahid. The Parliament Chair added that Religions For Peace is doing good work for humanity.
Imam Mujahid concludes, “the Parliament believes that not only the communities of faith need to work with each other, but that all interfaith organizations need to work with each other as well.”
For more information Religions For Peace International on the web is reached at www.rfp.org.