The Parliament Blog

Standing in Solidarity to Stop Hate in Wake of Killings at Kansas Jewish Sites

The Parliament of the World’s Religions shares the feelings of sadness and horror expressed universally in response to Sunday’s tragic attack at Jewish community sites in Overland Park, Kansas which killed three persons.

The Parliament of World’s Religions stands in solidarity with the Jewish community and the relatives of the victims.

In a letter to the convener of the Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council, Sheila Sonnenschein, Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid expressed hope that “as hate, anger, and fear is rising in our nation, the people of faith will rise with our loving relationship to translate negative energy into positive force for common good.” Imam Mujahid is the Board Chair of the Parliament of World’s Religions.

The attacker is allegedly a renowned former leader of the KKK hate movement with a history of anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and hate towards immigrants.

In the wake of the Nevada stand off in which more than 2,000 armed militiamen gathered to fight the Federal authorities and the attack on the Jewish centers, it is important for law enforcement to take appropriate action against the white racist movements.

Morehouse Inducts Parliament Board into MLK Jr. Chapel Hall of Fame (PHOTOS)

The Board of Trustees of the Parliament are building new plans after meeting in the historic library of Morehouse College’s Martin Luther King Jr. International Chapel during the soul-stirring 29th Annual Martin Luther King Jr. College of Ministers and Laity over April 2 and 3.

Surprise visitor Dr. Karen Armstrong stepped into the meeting and encouraged the Board to embrace an “uncomfortable” sense of Compassion – helping to frame the real, urgent, and measurable priorities at hand. Exciting happenings continued as Morehouse inducted the Board to the College’s Board of Preachers, Sponsors, and Colloquium of Scholars in a formal ceremony.

Dr. Karen Armstrong was keynote speaker and honoree of the prestigious Gandhi, King, Ikeda Community Builders Award, at the evening Interfaith “Celebration of Compassion” featuring presenters Chapel Dean Lawrence Carter (Parliament Trustee Emeritus), Martin Luther King III, a representative of the Gandhi family, and the special representative of Dr. Ikeda.

Celebrating the “glocal” Compassion movement turns the spotlight toward Chair Emeritus of the Parliament, Rev. Bob Thompson, who spearheaded the Faith Alliance of Metro Atlanta to recruit the Atlanta City Council to adopt a Compassionate City resolution. Thompson’s working approach to organizing grew out of the simple sentiment, “If you want to change a community, you have to change the conversation.”

The Parliament will build upon Atlanta’s achievements (thanks to Rev. Thompson) thrusting the Faiths Against Hate campaign into a new realm of possibility as the Parliament sustains its partnership with Compassionate Atlanta and the wider movement.

Seizing the moment, Parliament Chair Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid co-conspiring with Charter for Compassion’s Executive Director Andrew Himes penned a joint agreement to strategically partner. The joint statement pledges to support action advancing the compassionate cities movement and was ceremoniously signed by Dr. Armstrong and Imam Mujahid in a conference reception.

The uncomfortable (and imperative) programming to be planned will keep the Board busy until its next retreat, but revitalized in its commitment to keep the Golden Rule central to the mission of the Parliament’s: a just, peaceful, and sustainable world.

Deepest appreciation to the Morehouse Martin Luther King Jr. Community and the Parliament’s partners in compassionate action worldwide is shared with all.

See all the photos of the Parliament Board in Atlanta. 

The Future of Jewish-Muslim Relations on College Campuses: Hope or Hopeless?

Imam Abdullah T. Antepli, one of only 11 full time Muslim chaplains at a U.S. University.

by Imam Abdullah T. Antepli

I’m one of only 11 full-time Muslim chaplains on a U.S. university campus, serving at Duke University. It’s the only place I know where it’s kosher and halal to pray for “the Devils.” If one looks for an overarching identity where political, sectarian and religious differences disappear, look toward college basketball. Israeli-Palestinian conflicts are a piece of cake. But the Duke-UNC rivalry, there is no hope.

Unfortunately, the future of Judaism and Islam on American college campuses is not a sports rivalry where it’s trophies that are at stake. I see urgency around Jewish-Muslim relations in general, and in particular on college campuses in the United States.

I have great admiration for leaders like Pope John Paul II and John XXIII – these men moved mountains in repairing Christian-Jewish relations. Christian anti-Semitism took its theological strength from core teachings of Christianity. Unlike Christian anti-Semitism, anti-Semitism in the Muslim world isn’t rooted in Islamic theology and was never fed through core Islamic teachings.

But as anti-Semitism grows in the Muslim world, fueled by political problems in the Middle East, Muslim anti-Semitism is taking root as people turn to Muslim theology to try to find scripture and history that provides religious legitimacy for despicable hate messages.

I know, because I am one of the victims of that anti-Semitism. I’m often asked, “Why are you so obsessed with Jews? Why are you so tirelessly trying to improve Jewish-Muslim relations?” Growing up in Turkey, the first book that I read about Jews and Judaism was at the age of 12 or 13 — a children’s version of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. It was very sophisticated propaganda that put modern pictures of Israeli-Palestinian conflict and atrocities atop verses from the Torah and other Jewish teachings, in an attempt to prove the inherent evil of Judaism.. Not every single Muslim is born and raised as an anti-Semite. But it’s not uncommon.

I spent a number of years believing that something is innately, irredeemably wrong about Jews and Judaism. But believing in a God of love and God of mercy and compassion, I was able to go through a life journey that removed that poison from my system. I still consider myself a recovering anti-Semite because old habits die hard and modern challenges keep scratching the old wounds.

Rising bigotry is not unique nor is it one-way. Islamaphobia among the Jewish community is increasing, too, poisoning many Jewish hearts and minds and taking deep root here in the U.S. as well as other parts of the world.

As Muslims and Jews, we have every reason to be worried about the future of our religions. Vis-à-vis Jewish-Muslim relations, we have every reason to do all that we can to build bridges between our communities. As Jews and Muslims it is in our self-interest.

I see the 20th century as the time when world Jewry came to terms and reconciled with Christianity. I see the 21st century as the time Jews and Judaism can come to terms and reconcile with the global Muslim community.

That brings a moral imperative to America’s shores. Yes, anti-Semitism may be poisoning Muslims around the world and it’s changing us for the worse.  But it is American Muslims and American Jews who must model what the 21st century will look like. We live in a country with influence and civil liberties; on college campuses in particular, Jews and Muslims have the room to exemplify a fruitful Jewish-Muslim engagement for the rest of the U.S., world Jewry, and the Ummah, the Muslim world.

An important place to start is to diversify our sources of information about each other. I invite you to consider, when does Islam as a religion and Muslims as people come to your attention? Or when do Jews, Judaism and Israel come to Muslim attention?

When it comes to information on college campuses, we have to stop inviting fringe speakers who only serve to firm up extremist images of the other. There also needs to be bilateral Jewish-Muslim conversation. Interreligious sharing is wonderful, but Jews and Muslims share similarities, a common history, as well as similar theological and judicial foundations. Bi-lateral discussions, especially on U.S. college campuses, are a must if we are to be an urgently needed light for the world.

A Voice from Sinai is calling on American Jews and American Muslims, “If there’s going to be any reconciliation, any coming to terms, it will be you. You will exemplify this to the rest of the world.”

Imam Abdullah T. Antepli is this year’s Pope John Paul II Center for Interreligious Dialogue honorary lecturer; this commentary is distilled from that lecture. The JP II Center is located at The Angelicum Pontifical University in Rome and the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City hosted this year’s lecture. Educated in his native Turkey, Imam Antepli is an international leader in Muslim-Jewish dialogue.

The Charter for Compassion and Parliament Sign Strategic Partnership (VIDEO)

The Parliament of the World’s Religions and the Charter for Compassion announce their strategic partnering for collaboratively supporting the Compassionate Cities movement around the world. Charter founder Dr. Karen Armstrong Parliament Chair Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid signed the strategic partnership announcement April 3 in Atlanta, affirming:

Dr. Karen Armstrong, Author and Founder of the Charter for Compassion shakes hands with Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid to affirm a strategic partnership aiming to mutually support the Compassionate Cities movement worldwide.
Photo by Morehouse College, April 3, 2014, Atlanta, GA, USA

The Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions and Charter for Compassion International today announce our strategic partnership aimed at supporting the emergence of the Compassionate Cities movement worldwide.

This Compassionate Cities movement is deeply aligned with the principles of the Parliament. The International Campaign for Compassionate Cities aims to affirm the principle of compassion in the behavior of hundreds of millions of people in thousands of communities around the globe. We believe compassion is a practical, measurable standard we can apply to specific outcomes, including the alleviation of poverty, hunger, and disease, the protection of human rights, the extension of democracy, the creation of a peaceful world, and dealing with the challenges of global climate change.

The Parliament of the World’s Religions is the mother of the global interfaith movement. Its mission is to achieve a peaceful, just and sustainable world, and at the heart of that mission is the convening of the world’s largest interfaith gathering, each time in a different host city.

The first Parliament was held in 1893 in Chicago and brought Hinduism, Buddhism, the Jains, Sikhs, and other Eastern faiths to the United States.

Council of the Parliament will encourage Ambassadors of the Parliament as well as its members and affiliates around the world to join the Compassionate Cities Initiative and to engage their local communities with the movement. The Charter for Compassion will highlight the Parliament’s efforts to bring the principles of the Charter to life in projects and programs in every community.

Signed April 3, 2014 by Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid , Chair of the Board of Trustees for the Parliament, and  Dr. Karen Armstrong, Founder, Charter for Compassion International and the author of the Charter for Compassion.

 

Parliament Statement Reaffirms Nonviolence on Behalf of Dr. Arun Gandhi in Wake of Fort Hood Shooting

“The sad shooting incident in Fort Hood, Texas, is yet another example of how the culture of violence is destroying our humanity,” the Parliament of Religions said in a statement on behalf of Board Trustee Dr. Arun Manilal Gandhi.

Mahatma Gandhi warned the nations of the world to find civilized ways of resolving disputes or face extinction.

“Sending young women and men into combat to kill and destroy men, women and children and then expect soldiers to assimilate peacefully in their own societies is to say the least insensitive,” according to the statement.

The Parliament of Religions, an international interfaith organization based in Chicago, works to bring peace, understanding and respect among the peoples of the world.

The first Parliament was held in Chicago in 1893. In modern times Parliaments were held in Chicago, Cape Town, Barcelona, and Melbourne.

The Parliament is wedded to the philosophy of nonviolence in thought, word, and deed.

The Parliament extends its sympathy to the bereaved families and hopes that the United States, the only super power, will eventually lead the world in civilized moral behavior.

Parliament United Nations Task Force Forms to Enhance Relations, MDGs

Flags flying high at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City.
Credit: UN Photo/Joao Araujo Pinto

The Parliament of the World’s Religions is dedicating a new task force to move forward since becoming a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) associated to the United Nations Department of Public Information (UN-DPI) in late 2013.

The newly-formed The United Nations Task Force of the Parliament is now meeting to explore ways that the Parliament can collaborate with other NGOs to carry forward its mission, and to more fully integrate the Millennium Development Goals into its work overall.

Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid, Chair of the Board of Trustees, is encouraged by the potential of this new Parliament initiative stating,

 

The Parliament has high expectation in developing a deeper relationship with the United Nations since it is one of the important guiding institutions for humanity. The Parliament’s UN Task Force is just a first step in the right direction. We are also looking forward to working with other interfaith organizations at the UN to enhance our desire to have better Intra-Interfaith cooperation.

 

Excited for the work ahead, the Parliament announces those comprising the United Nations Task Force of the Parliament of the World’s Religions are:

Dr. Kusumita Pedersen: Co-Chair of the Parliament UN Task Force, Board Trustee
Rev. Dr. Anne Benvenuti: Co-Chair of the Parliament UN Task Force, Parliament Representative to the United Nations, Board Trustee
Rev. Dr. John Pawlikowski: Parliament Representative to the United Nations, Board Trustee
Rev. Phyllis Curott: Parliament Representative to the United Nations, Board Trustee
Ms. Sara Rahim: Parliament Youth Representative to the United Nations, St. Louis University Student
Mr. Tahil Sharma: Parliament Youth Representative to the United Nations, University of LaVerne Student
Dr. Aisha al-Adawiya: Founder and Chair of Women in Islam
Mr. Naresh Jain, Parliament Trustee Emeritus, Founding Member of Educare
Ms. Kay Lindahl, Parliament Ambassador Advisory Council Member
Dr. Mary Nelson (Ex-Officio), Parliament Executive Director
Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid (Ex-Officio), Chair of the Board of Trustees, Parliament of the World’s Religions

Dr. Kusumita Pedersen reflects that “between all its members, this task force has many years of varied experience of work in the NGO world connected to the UN.”

The Parliament supports the DPI in its aim of widening public knowledge of the UN, so watch this space for items about the UN and its multi-faceted work, and look forward to getting to know each of the Parliament Task Force members in the months ahead through profiles in our newsletter, features on Facebook, and activity reports.

Most recently, the Parliament Women’s Task Force was co-host of a parallel event to the 58th Session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women which was held March 3 – 15. On March 11,the gathering in New York City joined spirits world-wide for Remembering the Sacred Heart of Your Activism: An Evening of Prayer, Reflection and Inspiration convened by organizers Women of Spirit and Faith, Gather the Women Global Matrix, Millionth Circle, We Are Enough and United Religions Initiative, and more.

The Parliament as always shares a deep commitment to cooperation and commitment toward a just, peaceful, and sustainable world, and is gearing to offer many more opportunities to enhance work on these critical goals as 2014 continues.

The Divine Feminine Emerging, Embodied, and Emboldened

By Kathe Schaaf and Kay Lindahl for The Interfaith Observer

Finally…

Circle of Wise Women Candlelamp – Photo: goddessgift.net

We can’t help but notice that the world seems to have suddenly ‘discovered’ the value of women. After thousands of years living in the shadow of the masculine, after being pushed into the margins of power and leadership, after being silenced in every cultural institution – including most of the major world religions – the media today is full of messages that it is time to listen to women’s wisdom.

Women’s leadership styles are being acknowledged widely in diverse segments of the global media:

  • Research articles from the field of neuroscience suggest that women’s brains do indeed work differently than men’s, giving us more capacity for the kind of functions required to address the complex issues facing our planet: multi-tasking, integration, cooperation, and contextual thinking.
  • A headline during the recent budget impasse in the U.S. Congress declared “Women Lead While Men Bicker.”
  • Micro-lending programs in Africa and Asia frequently identify women as key to their success; not only are women more marginalized in poor countries but they are also more likely to make decisions that will benefit both family and community.
  • Even the world of religion has begun to acknowledge the importance of women’s voices and leadership. Pope Francis recently called for a “more incisive female presence” and a broader application of “feminine genius” in the life of the Church.
  • Sojourners recently launched a Campaign for Women and Girls that supports the equality of women in ways that are both practical and theological. The cover of their January 2014 Sojourners magazine boldly states, “Twisted Theology: Churches that still treat women as inferior are distorting the image of God.”

The Divine Feminine Rising

While all of this sudden attention on women, leadership, and feminine spirituality is exciting, it is important to pause a moment and listen deeply for the heartbeat of the Divine Feminine guiding, informing, and inspiring this complex global movement. The Divine Feminine is indeed rising, despite all the jagged history which repressed Her and despite the reality that women have been offered little legitimate space in which to practice feminine ways of being and doing. She rises in individual women and in the thousands of organizations they have created around the world. She rises as women struggle to bring a different style of leadership – and a new matrix of assumptions and values – to the institutions, initiatives, and corporations which shape our culture. And many believe She rises now on behalf of this troubled planet.

Continue Reading…

Kathe Schaaf is a Trustee Emeritus of the Parliament of the World’s Religions and Co-Founder of Women of Spirit and Faith. Kay Lindahl is on the Ambassador Advisory Committee of the Parliament of the World’s Religions and Co-Founder of Women and Spirit and Faith

Heshima Kenya Showcasing Somalian Women Humanitarians at Chicago Premiere Screening (Parliament Sponsored Event)

The Parliament of the World’s Religions is pleased to support the Chicago premiere of Through the Fire hosted by Heshima Kenya and the Dr. Hawa Abdi Foundation.

Via Heshima Kenya:

The acclaimed documentary, Through the Fire, will premiere at the Lake Street Screening Room in Chicago on Monday April 7th. Hosted by the Dr. Hawa Abdi Foundation and Heshima Kenya, the screening will be followed by a Q&A session with Dr. Deqo Mohamed, CEO of the Dr. Hawa Abdi Foundation and daughter of Dr. Hawa Abdi.

After over two decades of war, Somalia has been portrayed internationally as a lawless state marred by piracy, conflict, and famine. However, Through the Fire presents a different side of Somalia, telling the stories of three courageous Somali women who never gave up on their country. The three women, Dr. Hawa Abdi, Dr. Edna Adan, and Ilwad Elman, are icons of strength and resiliency.

  • Monday, April 7, 2014
  • 7 :00 p.m.- 9:00 p.m. 
  • 70 E. Lake Street Suite 1604

General admission is $20.00 and $15.00 for students. Tickets will be sold at $25.00 at the door. Only 40 tickets are available for this exclusive screening, so buy now as they are anticipated to sell out quickly.

Funds raised from the screening will go directly towards supporting Dr. Hawa Abdi Foundation’s work in Somalia. Additional donations are welcomed at the event. 

RSVP on Facebook here upon ticket purchase. 

About the Speaker


Dr. Deqo Aden Mohamed is the daughter of Dr. Hawa Abdi. She was born in Mogadishu, grew up feeding the refugees her mother was harboring, and earned an MD in Moscow in 2000. She was an OB-GYN resident in Russia up to 2003. She continued to go back to the internally displaced camp, which hosted up to more than 90,000 people at one point, to work during her holidays. She came to America as a refugee in 2003 and gained extensive experience working in healthcare. She became a naturalized American in 2008.

Today, she works full time on the ground in Somalia. She leads all operations in the Hawa Abdi Village in Lower Shabelle, while ensuring the safety of the 300 families who have found permanent shelter in the community. She leads the 400-bed Dr. Hawa Abdi General Hospital, the Waqaf-Diblawe Primary School, a women’s education centre, and a smart farming agriculture project. She simultaneously manages the administrative aspects of DHAF as CEO of the organization in the United States.

Besides her work, Dr. Mohamed regularly attends conferences and speaks on behalf of DHAF, her mother’s lifework, and on Somalia. Recently, she was invited as a guest speaker at the World Forum on Human Rights in Brasilia, Brazil, and participated in a ceremony on kidney diseases in Chennai, India. Dr. Mohamed has been featured on media outlets such as TED, the Leonard Lopate Show, and the Daily Beast.

For Seminarians, Nobel Forum Lecture from Dalai Lama Plants Important Questions

The Dalai Lama takes questions from moderator Cathy Wurzer Saturday, March 8 at the Minneapolis Convention Center.

A few days ago I joined with about 30 other students and staff members from Luther Seminary, and carpooled over to the Minneapolis Convention Center where we had the great joy and privilege of hearing His Holiness the Dalai Lama speak live at the Nobel Peace Prize Forum.

The event was well worth the effort- and the long security lines provided the time for a lengthy conversation with a Chinese colleague and her teenage son. We sat together throughout the event- and it was fascinating to see my friend’s own joyful and passionate spirit connect with the joy that seems to emanate from His Holiness. Having come from a culture in which he is portrayed as a criminal, I can only imagine what was going on inside of my friend during those two hours.

Interestingly, the beautiful ceremonial Tibetan dancing and singing which opened the program provided a point of connection for her. Though the art and culture of the Tibetan people has been much suppressed, yet she was able to recognize – through the music and dance – a culture that was connected to her.

In preparation for the Dalai Lama’s visit, a number of us seminarians read his book Toward a True Kinship of Faiths: How the World’s Religions Can Come Together (Harmony, 2010). The discussion groups around this book study produced fruitful ground for conversations. In one discussion I was at a table with two Ethiopian students and a student from Liberia. We pondered the Dalai Lama’s own testimony of how, through his forced exile, he was placed in a religiously pluralistic culture (India) and thus was forced to confront his own assumptions regarding the superiority of his Buddhist faith. Through meeting spiritual people of many faiths he reached a place in which he is firmly convinced that respect for all religions can be found in a shared commitment to compassion.

For him this position is not in conflict with a profoundly deep commitment to his own faith. In fact it is only through his own deep experience with the divine that he is able to relate to another’s experience of the divine. Thus he states that the “naïveté [of his youth] could be sustained only so long as I remained isolated from any real contact with the world’s other religions.”

The Dalai Lama’s insights into interfaith dialogue rooted in and flowing from relationship spoke powerfully to me and my African colleagues. Together we explored questions of how our religious convictions often become linked to assumptions of accepted conflict and presumed enmity.

How can religions possibly work together in contexts in which the only picture we have of the other is one of extreme violence? Some of the Christians around the table had witnessed churches burnt at the hands of Muslim extremists. How, we asked, could dialogue and peaceful coexistence ever happen in the aftermath of violence?

Could the Dalai Lama be right when he suggests that we human beings are fundamentally “wired to love?” Could he be right in his insistence that “compassion— the natural capacity of the human heart to feel concern for and connection with another being—constitutes a basic aspect of our nature shared by all human beings … [and that] in this respect, there is not an iota of difference between a believer and a nonbeliever, nor between people of one race or another[?]”

Arthur Murray is a Master of Divinity Student at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota.

It was wonderful to spend time with His Holiness, to witness how he embodies and emanates compassion and peace in his words and through his being. But perhaps, for me, the even greater value of his visit was that he spurred a new conversation in our seminary community, and opened up new possibilities for relationship in real and tangible ways in our context.

Inspired By Our Foremothers in Seneca Falls, Women’s Interfaith Institute Breaks New Ground

In Seneca Falls, a “mecca for women’s rights advocates,” the Women’s Interfaith Institute is breaking new ground.

By Allison Stokes
Ambassador, Parliament of the World’s Religions

Elizabeth Cady Stanton (Dr. Melinda Grube) and Attorney Nadia Shahram meet in Seneca Falls to talk on International Women’s Day 2014 —across religious traditions, countries of origin, and centuries! Photo by Dave Duprey

It seemed like a good idea at the time. The church in Seneca Falls had a For Sale sign in front with a “Price Reduced” banner across it. The structure, built in 1871, stood next door to the Women’s Rights National Historical Park, which was established to commemorate the first women’s rights convention in 1848 and to preserve the Wesleyan Chapel where the gathering was held.

This church would be an ideal location for calling public attention to the pioneering leadership of women in the Interfaith Movement. So it was that leaders of the Women’s Interfaith Institute incorporated as a non-profit, educational organization in New York State in 2002 in order to raise funds for a deposit to purchase the late 19th Century Wesleyan Church.

An appeal letter went out to potential donors, and their response was heartening. Many agreed that the site would be perfect for an organization whose mission is “Women supporting women of diverse faiths in generating spiritual leadership, scholarship and service.”

Contributions large and small came in, and in 2003 we purchased the church. As far as we are aware, the Women’s Interfaith Institute’s home in Seneca Falls is the only structure in the U.S. dedicated to promoting women’s interfaith (or multi-faith) efforts.

Seneca Falls draws visitors from all over the country and the world; because it is a destination for persons passionate about women’s rights and human rights, it provides an ideal context for the Institute’s work of bridging boundaries– whether religious, racial, ethnic, cultural– that have traditionally divided people. We seek a more inclusive human identity.

The Women’s Interfaith Institute in Seneca Falls, New York was a dream conjured by Parliament Ambassador Allison Stokes and made come true by a town famous for women’s movement. Today it is the hub of programs trailblazing model relations across diverse religious women groups in the U.S., specifically building upon significant history of female leadership within the Interfaith movement chronicled by the Institute.
Photo: Madeline Hansen

During our ten plus years of programming, we have offered a variety of lectures, seminars, films, workshops, retreats, and celebrations as we endeavor to “bring peace to life.” Most recently we have been focused on learning about Islam and bringing Muslims and persons from other religious traditions together.

Programs breaking ground then and now

A grant from the New York Council for the Humanities made it possible for the Institute to break ground last spring (2013) in offering a “Muslim Journeys” reading and discussion group. We chose five books with stories about and by young Muslims: How Does It Feel to Be a Problem? (Moustafa Bayoumi), Acts of Faith (Eboo Patel), Persepolis (Marjane Satrapi), Minaret (Leila Aboulela), and Broken Verses (Kamila Shamsie).

Ten women gathered in six monthly sessions to share comments, questions, insights, reflections, personal stories, and (at the close of every meeting) refreshments. Because we came from different faith traditions, including Quaker, Baha’i, Muslim, Jewish, Protestant, and Roman Catholic, our sharing was rich, and our learning from one another profound. We especially valued the perspectives of Busaina and Musawar, a Muslim mother and daughter in our group, who are from Pakistan.

This year in March, Women’s History month, the Institute joined with another non-profit in Seneca Falls,  the Women’s Institute for Leadership and Learningto offer a unique dialogue. The event, featured Buffalo attorney Nadia Shahram, an author, activist, and Muslim women’s rights advocate, in dialogue with Elizabeth Cady Stanton, a convenor of the first women’s rights movement. Stanton was portrayed by Dr. Melinda Grube, an historian and adjunct professor who has studied Stanton’s works and life extensively, and uses her knowledge to bring Stanton seemingly to life. This remarkable discussion, entitled “Declaring Equality: Renewing a Legacy,” crossed religious traditions (Muslim and Christian), cultures (Iranian and American), and even centuries (19th – 21st).

Institute board member and former mayor of Seneca Falls, Diana Smith, observed that the remarkable conversation was between two legal minds though generations apart. Diana noted,

Both shared surprisingly similar stories of childhood experiences which served as inspiration to effect change, including the motivation to learn the law. Stanton was especially angered by the unjust treatment of women who came to her father for legal counsel, only to find that the law provided little protection or regard for women.

While Shahram’s legal expertise helps women improve their lives through the judicial process, Stanton suggested that in the mid-nineteenth century, that would not be possible. She said her father likely pushed her to learn the law not to practice it, but rather to help her identify how to change it.

The Institute’s upcoming program, to be held during Seneca Falls Convention Days on July 18th and 19th celebrates the first 1848 convention. Highlighting Muslim women’s experiences, the Saturday events have been conceived and planned by attorney Shahram and some her law students in Buffalo. The focus will be unveiling of “A Declaration of Equalities for Muslim Women” written on the model of the Stanton’s original “Declaration of Sentiments.” Nadia writes,

This document is a list of demands and sentiments that aspire to identify and amend laws which are discriminatory, oppressive, and prejudicial towards women in many Islamic countries. We are insisting on reformed legislation that is consistent with equitable human rights for women. Through these actions, we hope to contribute to the efforts of numerous individuals and organizations dedicated to the ongoing battle for progress and fair treatment of women throughout the world.

A detailed listing of the many and varied Convention Days 2014 events is in development – watch for a complete schedule soon to be posted on the official Convention Days website.

From the Ashes of a Fire, Interfaith Family in Seneca Hills Stands Tall

A number of the Institute’s programs are being held at the National Park next door, whose hospitality we gratefully appreciate. This is because five years ago, in March 2009, there was a fire above the ceiling in our Great Hall (former church sanctuary), immediately after renovations were completed. Caused by old, live, electrical wiring, the damage to the roof and building wasn’t so much fire damage, as water damage, necessarily caused by the fire fighters.

The challenge of recovering from this devastating event has sometimes been overwhelming. The donations of volunteer help, especially from Hobart and William Smith Colleges students, and of contributions to replace a roof that was only 5 years old, have been heartening. We are particularly grateful for a generous donation from the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of the United States. With this we were able to complete the roof repair in August, just as President Obama stopped by to visit the National Park. (Secret Service agents ordered roofers OFF the roof during the duration of the President’s visit!)

When the challenges we face seem particularly tough, we recall Elizabeth Cady Stanton, her sister suffragists, and the obstacles they faced. Few lived to see the passage of the 19th Amendment, giving women the vote. As Stanton wrote, they were “sowing winter wheat,” not necessarily expecting to see the fruits of their labors.

Allison Stokes

We in the Women’s Interfaith Institute are inspired and encouraged by these pioneering foremothers, even as we feel that in similar, though different ways, we are breaking new ground ourselves.

Allison Stokes is Founding Director of the Women’s Interfaith Institute. The organization was incorporated in the Berkshire Hills of Western Massachusetts in 1993, and continues there. This article profiles the programs and founding ten years later of an affiliate, Women’s Interfaith Institute, a sister group in the Finger Lakes Region of Upstate New York.