Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category
By Kevin Childress
There simply was no diversity in the small southern town I grew up in. Virtually 100 percent of the population was white, middle-class Baptists. The most “exotic” people in town were a small number of Lutherans, including my close friend Laura and her family. Hearing how people talked about Lutherans, I wanted to defend them, and I started seeing myself as an outsider like them. From that time onward I have identified with outsiders.
As an adult, my life has taken me around the world (for example, I lived in Armenia for two years, working with the Peace Corps). I’ve been to Egypt, Turkey, Russia, India, and all over Eastern and Western Europe. And in all these places I have witnessed expressions of hatred and superiority that one group of people directs at another. No country is free of it. But in those same countries I witnessed extraordinary acts of kindness, sympathy and respect for outsiders.
When I finally got around to it in my 40s, I went back to school to formally study comparative religion (the comparison of doctrines and practices of the world’s faith traditions). It was something I had always wanted to learn more about, perhaps because of my commitment to respecting outsiders. I never wanted to solely study a particular religion, as it is the diversity in particular that most fascinates me, and what I wanted to center my work around.
Two years ago, I read a blog by Lisa Sharon Harper (a columnist with “Sojourners”) about her experiences as a non-Muslim fasting during Ramadan. The idea was appealing to me, as it clearly conveyed a message of respect for, and solidarity with, Muslims.
When I decided to fast last Ramadan, I posted something about it on my Facebook page. That was all I initially said about it to anyone. I prepared myself for fasting with what I thought was practical planning – figuring out schedules for when I would prepare and eat food. I am such an organized person (one of those people with a Master List of smaller “to do” lists), and I dove into it with enthusiasm. For a while it was pretty easy. And I learned a lot of tips. For one thing, it helps to have ready-to-eat food on hand. Late at night, I sometimes just didn’t have the energy to cook. And it’s important to be sure to eat when the time arrives – missing the mealtime window can make for a very uncomfortable day.
Some people say they gain spiritual insight during fasting. It might sound odd, but I have to say that during my fasting time, I found myself reading more poetry, and thinking about the world around me in poetic terms. I rarely ever write poetry, but during fasting I found myself writing haikus about the smell of summer rain, or the intricacies of a well-made shirt. I developed a kind of stillness in my mind that allowed me to “unpack” an idea, to hold it to the light and attempt to see it more clearly. Some people might joke I was simply experiencing protein deficiency or something, but I don’t think that was it. I think I was just a little closer to what I call the “eternal,” and what most people call God.
My post on Facebook attracted a bit of attention. Muslim friends sent me the obligatory “High Five” comments in the beginning, and checked in with me on occasion to see how I was faring. Muslims I hadn’t met before sent me friend requests, because they’d seen something about my fasting on their friends’ Facebook pages. As Ramadan went on, people started sharing with me how fasting was altering their views of the world and themselves, often (to my surprise and pleasure) using poetry as a means of communicating their feelings. One friend on Facebook quoted the Sufi poet Rumi, who compared the fasting person to a musical instrument ready to be played: “We are lutes, no more, no less.” I had often heard that fasting during Ramadan brought Muslims together, spiritually and emotionally (through their shared experience), and physically (in breaking the fast every evening). It was interesting to discover the same type of thing happening virtually.
My first invitation to attend an Iftar (the evening breaking of the fast) came from someone I had met on Facebook. At that Iftar, I met numerous people who in turn invited me to other Iftars. Thanks to these invitations, I could easily have gone to a different one every evening, and quite a few of them were interfaith iftars – some hosted by city politicians who weren’t even Muslim. And it was in the gathering together with people to break the fast that I knew I was engaging in something marvelous and important: around the table, as we met and got to know each other, we changed from strangers into neighbors.
As Ramadan continued, what started to be a problem for me were encounters with people who didn’t know I was fasting. I would show up at someone’s home and they would have this lovely lunch laid out. “I made lasagna because I know how much you love it,” a friend said. It reminded me of a time in Armenia when a poor village family had invited me over for a meal. In honor of my visit, they had killed their only goat, and fried its liver. They brought the dish to the table with such pride, and I remember feeling queasy just looking at it. But, in knowing what it cost them – and what it meant to them to serve me – I ate as much of it as I could. So when faced with the lasagna, I made a quick decision to eat it. Later I felt bad about breaking my fast, thinking I had failed. But then I realized I had sacrificed something that was important to me in order to offer my respect and regard for another person. Maybe I hadn’t failed after all.
For the rest of Ramadan, I fasted as much as I could, but I broke fast when situations like this arose. A Muslim would never make such concessions, of course – and they would rarely face such situations anyway, since most people know they are fasting. But for me, my fasting had been successful because it prompted me to be mindful of food, and to think about the function of food in society. The sharing of food can break the ice between strangers; it can be a gesture of hospitality, and an indication of trust and respect. And it certainly helps us to celebrate joyful moments in our lives, when people come together around a table to share a meal.
Beside fasting during Ramadan, there are countless ways a person can join in experiencing the faiths of other people. Guests are warmly welcomed at the Jewish Passover Seder, Christmas Mass, a Sikh Diwan, or the annual Hindu Diwali. But what I learned from my Ramadan experience is something that perhaps leaders and members of faith communities should keep in mind: for the people outside your doors who are interested in sharing your faith – they need to be invited. An implicit and generic “We are always open to visitors” isn’t really enough. Much better to issue an explicit and specific invitation, a “We invite you to join us next Tuesday” type of thing. Like a meal, the sharing of faiths requires a proper invitation.
About the author: Kevin Childress is the sole proprietor of SocialNet Works, LLC. While his academic background is in Comparative Religion, his professional background is in Business, with more than a decade of experience in Information Technology, Public/Media & Donor Relations, Executive Management and Finance. He has extensive knowledge of digital imaging, including video production and, of course, all avenues of social media. A 22-year resident of Manhattan, Kevin has worked with religious and civic leaders in every borough of New York City.
By Arun Gandhi
The Parliament of World Religions condemns all forms of violence any where in the world. While the world claims to be progressing toward civilization, the actions of brutal ethnic violence in Sri Lanka and Myanmar, as well as in other parts of the world, must be strongly condemned by all peace-loving people.
Growing intolerance, widening disparities, a life-style of exploitation, a burgeoning armament industry freely producing and selling weapons of mass destruction, are all the kinds of fuel that ignite people’s imagination for violence. Sri Lanka and Myanmar are the latest flash-points on the world map where ethnic violence has taken many innocent lives. But the world as a whole lives on the edge of the precipice of conflagration fueled by ethnic, economic, political, religious, national, gender and many other issues that become more contentious by the day.
It is important for all of us to understand that the path of hate and destruction destroys the very things we seek to preserve. Religious beliefs, economic progress, security and sanctity of life can only be enjoyed and preserved for future generations by respect, understanding, harmony and compassion.
The world community cannot ignore the strife in parts of the world because it does not affect us immediately. What happens in one place today will happen all over tomorrow. We are all sitting on a tinder box of intolerance that only needs a spark to ignite.
There are two main reasons for this state of affairs in the world. As Mohandas K. Gandhi said many decades ago: the more materialistic we aspire to be the less moral we become. This is reflected in the seven social sins that Gandhi said leads to violence in humanity. The world is guilty of indulging in politics without principles, in commerce without morality, in science without humanity, in religion without respect.
Massacres of people in the name of God and religion have become the norm with events like those in Sri Lanka, Myanmar, and many other parts of the world. These events are not aberrations, they are a reflection of the unmitigated religious bigotry exacerbated by political chicanery.
It is this kind of religion-political exploitation and abuse that the Parliament of World Religions seeks to change. Religions is not how many times we pray, but how sincere and truthful we are in practicing our beliefs in real life and relationships.
Arun Manalil Gandhi, Born 1934 in Durban South Africa, Arun was sent by his parents to India when he was 12 years old so that he could live with and learn from his grandfather, Mohandas Gandhi. It was then that young Gandhi learned the principles of non-violence that he continues to espouse until today. Dr. Gandhi spent much of his adult life in India working as a journalist and promoting social and economic changes for the poor and the oppressed classes. Along with his wife Sunanda he rescued about 128 orphaned and abandoned children from the streets and placed them in loving homes around the world. They also began a Center for Social Change which transformed the lives of millions in villages in the western state of Maharashtra. In 1987 Arun came to the United States and in 1991 he started the M. K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence at the Christian Brothers University in Memphis, Tennessee. In 2007, the Institute was moved to the University of Rochester, New York. In 2008 Arun resigned from the Institute to begin the Gandhi Worldwide Education Institute, with its mission to build basic education schools for the very poor children of the world. The first school will open shortly in a depressed village in western India (www.gandhiforchildren.org). Arun Gandhi has taken the message of nonviolence and peace-making to hundreds of thousands of high school and university youth around the United States and much of the Western world. His publications include The Legacy of Love; The Forgotten Woman: The Life of Kastur, wife of Gandhi, and several others.
The Parliament of the World’s Religions tells a 121-year story of extraordinary, inspired people from around the world- belonging to literally hundreds of faith traditions- coming together with global leaders to create a better planet. Where common bonds and prayers transcend spiritual paths and national origin, these luminaries and lay leaders collaborate to empower the worldwide interfaith movement. This collective of interfaith activists work through a shared love of humanity to create a more peaceful, just, and sustainable world.
Take a glimpse inside the vaults of Parliament history to see that another world is possible, and what those who have experienced the life-changing encounter have to say about the Parliament of the World’s Religions. .
“A Parliament, in essence, is a big conversation.”
-Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid, Chair of the Board of Trustees, Parliament of the World’s Religions
The Birth of a Movement
“What we need is such a reinforcement of the gentle power of religion that all souls of whatever colour shall be included within the blessed circle of influence.”
– Fannie Barrier Williams, the only official African-American presenter at the 1893 Parliament
Towards a Global Ethic
“The Parliament’s keynote address spelled out clearly the destruction that humans have wrought upon the planet, and this theme was echoed throughout the week. What better time for Earth-centered spiritual paths to enter the conversation.”
– Sarah Stockwell
A New Day Dawning
Cape Town, South Africa
“In the year 1999, you gathered in our own continent, Africa, in the city of Cape Town. You inspired us. In 2002, IFAPA (Interfaith Action for Peace in Africa) was founded. It embodies the spirit of the Parliament.”
New Pathways to Peace
“The most important lesson I learned in my role as Parliament Chair was that interfaith dialogue and engagement empowers us to understand that our differences present us with an opportunity to go deeper. Beneath our differences we share a common humanity. It is this vision of our deep unity amidst our diversity that gives me hope and keeps me doing the work I continue to do.”
-Rev. Bob Thompson, Chair Emeritus of the Parliament of the World’s Religions
Hearing Each Other, Healing the Earth
“Only the Parliament, the largest interfaith gathering on earth, has the potential to serve as a platform to mobilize interfaith social justice movements on a global scale.”
A Legacy for the Future
“The Parliament was an opportunity for people with different ideas getting together, discussing issues for better understanding. Religions plays such a big role in so many people’s lives, that if we can manage to get people to be tolerant towards each other where religion is concerned, other problem areas should be a lot easier to sort out.”
– Ms. Hettie Gats, Cape Town, South Africa
I watched a Muslim youth and a Jewish youth join hands on the stage of Good Hope Center. Each sang a prayer, one in Arabic and the other in Hebrew, and I wept at the profundity of their simple gesture.”
– Rev. Pete Woods
“With open hearts and minds, the Parliament’s participants will be returning back to their neighborhoods in our shared global village enriched with new experiences, friendships and new success stories after a joyful six-day long intensive listening and learning experience. Many of them will be making their personal commitments in writing on how they plan to change the world”
-Abdul Malik Mujahid
Prestigious Catholic Theology Award Presented to Parliament Trustee John Pawlikowski, OM for Lifetime Pluralism Scholarship
The Parliament extends deepest joy in congratulating Parliament Board Trustee John Pawlikowski, OM, on his receipt of the Murray award given by the Catholic Theological Society.
The Servite Provincial Office Order of Friar Servants of Mary in Chicago says in a release,
Our Servite brother, John, joined a list of “Who’s Who” among theologians, when he received this most prestigious award, given annually by the Catholic Theological Society of America, for lifetime contributions to study and research in theology. Joe Cheah, also a member of CTSA, and Mike Pontarelli (representing the Provincial Council and Province) were present at the award banquet held in San Diego this past Saturday, June 7, 2014.
JP, who has written about John Courtney Murray, now joins such previous recipients of the award named for Murray, including: Bernard Lonergan, Charles Curran, Richard McBrien, David Tracy, Monika Hellwig, Margaret Farley, Ladislaus Orsy, Kenan Osborne, Elizabeth Johnson, Sandra Schneiders, Virgilio Elizondo, and his colleagues (former and present) Zachary Hayes and Robert Schreiter.
Murray, a Jesuit, was known for his efforts to reconcile Catholicism and religious pluralism, focusing on the relationship between religious freedom and the institutions of a democratically structured modern state. He played a key role, during Vatican II, in persuading the assembly of the Catholic bishops to adopt the Council’s ground-breaking Declaration on Religious Liberty, Dignitatis Humanae.
We are proud of our brother who has been given this tremendous honor, and congratulate him for having been recognized by his scholar colleagues for his body of signficant theological contributions over many years.
And he’s not done yet!! CONGRATULATIONS!!
Women & Girls Victimized, Killed in the Name of Honor – Rampant Impunity
By Syeda Hameed
Lahore (Women’s Feature Service) – On May 28, 2014, Farzana Parveen was stoned to death outside the Lahore High Court in Pakistan. She had come to the court early in the morning to give testimony in favour of her husband, Mohammad Iqbal, who she had married against the wishes of her family. Farzana was 25 years old and three months pregnant. The incident occurred bang next to the High Court and within two kilometres of the District Court, Aiwan-e-Adl (Hall of Justice), where family disputes are settled. The driver, Rashid, who took me back and forth on that particular stretch the next day informed me that this place is a ‘women’s adalat’.
I had reached Lahore a day after the gruesome killing, crossing on foot from Wagah. On the Delhi-Amritsar flight I had read the chilling story filed from Lucknow about two teenaged dalit girls from Badaun district of Uttar Pradesh, who had been gang raped by five men and found hanging from a tree, which was described by the police as ‘probable suicide after the brutal attack’. Violence against women is the one persistent, omnipresent, blatant reality in every country of South Asia. Despite all that has been said at various political forums, it occurs throughout the region every single day and becomes a little more heinous each time.
It was 17 years ago that as Member of the National Commission of Women I was witness to my first case of honour killing. It had occurred in a village, Sudaka, in the Taodo block of district Mewat, Haryana, a mere 40 minutes drive from Delhi. The name of the two victims, Maimun and Idris, will forever be branded on my heart. The couple had eloped and married. The girl’s cousin had her gang raped, her body slashed and then left for dead. After she was rescued she escaped to Delhi and came within our protection. We took up her case with the Supreme Court, which gave its verdict in favour of the young couple. The two were forced to live incognito in the Capital where he worked as a mechanic and she gave birth to two children. Six years later they were tracked down by her family and it was in her own room that she was ‘honour’ killed by her younger brother.
In Lahore, Farzana Parveen was accosted at 7:45 am by a hostile group of 20 family members, including her father Mohammad Azeem, her brothers Zahid and Ghulam Ali, her cousins Mazhar and Mohammad Iqbal. She had come with her husband to contest an abduction case her family had filed against him. They fired shots in the air and tried to snatch her away but when she resisted they began pelting her with bricks from a nearby construction site. There was a crowd of onlookers who watched the stoning. Her husband told the BBC that the police was ‘watching silently’ while his wife was beaten to death despite desperate attempts to get them to act. Then he made the most bizarre statement; ‘One of my relatives took off his clothes to catch their attention. A naked man was crying for help before the court but nobody intervened’. Farzana’s father showed no remorse when he surrendered to the police and called the cold blooded murder: ‘my honour redeemed’.
When I went to the scene of crime it was bustling with life. I looked up at the beautiful domes of the Lahore High Court building and then down at the pavement where she must have been killed a mere two days ago. What bricks did they use; were they construction leftovers? Did they bring rods which they used to smash her skull? The media reported ‘batons and bricks’. Did her brain spill onto the pavement that was burning with May heat? I looked around but there was no evidence, not a shred. There was only the incontrovertible scene of crime screaming its story for anyone who cared to listen.
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), a relentless crusader, once again spoke about the failure of the State to protect its citizen’s lives. In 2013 alone the HRCP had recorded killing of nearly 900 women in honour crimes. It stated: ‘These women were killed because the State did not confront this feudal practice supported by religiosity and bigotry’.
The stories are the same across this region. A swathe of blood of innocent girls, some of them children, courses through all seven countries though we hear of more cases from Pakistan, Afghanistan and India. Back in 1997 when I filed my report in the honour killing case there was a storm in the country. After the Supreme Court had intervened, I felt a heady sense of victory. What I and even the Supreme Court had not foreseen was that ‘honour’ would find a way to redeem itself even after the passage of several years.
Following the Lahore incident, the media has gone wild in reporting stories about this killing. One account that has emerged is by Farzana’s sister Khalida who has said that she was killed by Iqbal (her husband) and his accomplices who shifted the responsibility to her father and brothers. One can discount the tales and stick to the very first report that appeared hours after the kill, but the rot underlying this practice is incontrovertible. And that pertains to the practice of ‘diyat’ or blood money that allows the victim’s family to forgive the murder in compliance with blood money laws, which simply means compromise and payment, sometimes even offering a girl in marriage. In this one family, for example, three women have been murdered.
It is reported that Iqbal had killed his first wife ‘because I fell in love’. His son, who had reported the murder of his mother, forgave his father under the blood money laws. Farzana’s family had killed one of her sisters but had escaped punishment because her son had given forgiveness. Quite likely that the same formula will work once again, allowing free passage to Farzana’s killers as well. The third woman killed in one family.
Impunity flourishes under the fig leaf of religious sanction, while society looks on. Columnist Nazish Brohi’s comment on the incident, ‘intolerance and violence are the only factors to have had a trickledown effect’ applies equally to the Indian context where we too wear dark lenses of cynical acceptance.
And the black humour in the comment of a family witness to the Farzana Parveen bludgeoning that ‘a naked man was crying for help but no one listened’ is matched in the report of the dalit girls’ hanging in UP on the last page of ‘Dawn’. It reports on Congress Vice President’s visit to the village, Katra Shahadat Ganj: ‘Mr Gandhi also saw the tree where the girls were found’.
Women’s Task Force Urges Attention to Woman Lawyer and Rights Under Threat for Pursuing Honor Killings of Two in Pakistan
Via Asian Human Rights Commission
9 June 2014 – The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has received information that the life of a lady lawyer and human rights defender is under threat for pursuing the murder case of two women who were killed in the name of honour. The murderers quickly tried to bury the bodies claiming that they both committed suicide after the exposure of their illicit relations. The local politicians from the ruling party used high police officials to stop the court order of the exhumation of the bodies. The lawyer was threatened to keep away from the case.
The killers have made several attacks on the lawyer’s chambers and threatened that if she pursues the case she and her children will not be spared. The killers told her that killing one more woman would not increase the sentence for killing two already. The police and courts have ignored the threats to the lawyer.
Ms. Munaza Bukhari, advocate and prominent human rights defender of Pakpattan, Punjab province, is under threat of death by the alleged killers of the two women who were killed on the pretext of honour on the accusation of having illicit relationships out of wedlock. The government, courts and police have been informed, but it looks as if the authorities are biding their time and waiting for the attempt to kill her. This is similar to the case of Mr. Rashid Rehman, a human rights defender fighting the case of a professor who was accused of Blasphemy. He was shot dead in his chambers. Mr. Rehman had received threats to his life in a court room before the judge. The judge and the authorities ignored the threats.
Whenever there has hearing of the case in different courts, Ms. Bukhari was threatened in the court premises themselves, that she would be killed in the same manner as the two women. On more than three occasions the alleged killers attacked her chambers and boasted that they were not afraid as the sentence for three women would be the same as that for killing two.
The details of the case which resulted in the threats to her life are as follows:
On 24 February, two young women Ms. Parveen Bibi, 26, and Ms. Shakeela, 17, resident of Chak No. 77/D, Malka Hans, district Pakpattan, Punjab were allegedly poisoned to death on the pretext of hounor killing. They were suspected of having illicit relations out of their marriage.
Ms. Parveen Bibi, the mother of three children, was married to Mansab Ali six years ago while the other woman Ms. Shakeela was the sister of Mansab Ali and married to her cousin just eight months earlier. The husband of Bibi and the closed relatives of the deceased women claim that both the women were having illicit relations with two men, causing shame for the family honour, and at the disclosure of their illicit relations and accusation; they confessed and then committed suicide because of the shame.
However the neighbors and the local community of the same village believe that Mansab Ali, in connivance with other family elders killed his wife and sister by administering them poisonous pills as they doubted their honour. They also informed the police about the death of two women in mysterious circumstances.
The family members of the deceased women were in a rush to bury them in the village graveyard silently but the news of alleged murder spread out. The Deputy Superintendent of Police, Muhammad Akram rushed to the village along with the Station House Officer (SHO) of Malka Hans and started inquiring about the incident. During the initial inquiry and investigation of the police the accused husband, Mansab Ali, and other family members were unable to provide satisfactory reason and cause of death. On the suspicious grounds, the police stopped the burial without postmortem.
When the accused and his family felt that the police were not satisfied with the answers provided they panicked. The husband, along with other family members, approached the local politicians from the ruling party, the Pakistan Muslim League (N) and some landlords of the area to seek help against the police interference into the matter. The local politicians used their influence and stopped police to further investigate. Later, the police let the family to bury both women without a postmortem.
Meanwhile, after the burial, on the basis of having strong reason of suspicious death of the women, Ms. Munaza Bokhari, the lawyer, intervened and demanded the exhumation of bodies. On the fear of being exposed, the Malka Hans police reported the matter in their daily register on 27th Feb, three days after the murder.
On March 2, Ms. Munaza Bokhari, herself became the complainant and filed a writ petition before the court of local Magistrate Mazhar Fareed for exhuming the bodies and registration of an FIR against the alleged killers. The complainant pleaded to the Magistrate and sought permission for the exhumation of the bodies as she believed that the Deputy Superintendant of Police, Muhammad Ikram and former Station House Officer of the Malka Hans police station, Ashfaq Husain were concealing facts by converting the double murder into suicide. Interestingly, later the the police, just to save itself, also filed a writ petition at the local court for a post-mortem of the bodies.
On 8 March, the court of Magistrate accepted the plea and gave the orders for opening up of the graves on13 April. In the meantime, the police and legal heirs of the two deceased women forced the court that in Islam exhumation of the graves of women is prohibited therefore stopped the exhumation. The lawyer, Ms. Bukhari, after observing the pressure from the politician of the ruling party and the police tilt towards the perpetrators, also filed a petition before the Session Court of Additional Judge Mr. Bashir Choudry, for the exhumation of the bodies to get the cause of the death. The Additional Sessions Court also ordered for exhumation of the graves and fixed the date on April 22 for excavation of the graves. On the date of exhumation all arrangements were made and the magistrate and other court staff and technicians from the government were present at the graves. However, just before the exhumation, the main accused person, Mansab Ali and 19 others filed a petition before the bench of Justice Syed Iftikhar Hussain Shah of the Lahore High Court to grant a stay order against the exhumation of the graves. The court without hearing the point of view of other party immediately granted the stay order and the exhumation was stopped until the vacation of the stay order. The High Court single Bench fixed the date of next hearing on April 28, but on the date judge postponed the next hearing for left over, which means when there would be time available from the court’s ’cause list’ the case would be heard.
The lawyer, Ms. Munaza Bukhari, is being followed and whenever she comes in contact with killers they threaten her that if she comes to the next hearing she would be killed.
The alleged killers have no fear of the law and they know how to manipulate with courts and police. They have not only used the police but also obtained help from the High Court as it is commonly known that judges are biased against women in general. Therefore it is an easy matter to get relief from the courts by taking the shelter behind Islam.
The case of Ms. Munaza Bukhari, advocate, is no different from the case of Mr. Rashid Rehman, the lawyer and prominent human rights defender, who was gunned down by unknown persons at his chambers at 8.45 p.m. He had been receiving death threats from the Muslim fundamentalists since February. In the month of April he was threatened in court during the proceedings before the judge by a lawyer, Zulfiqar Sindhu and two other complainants and was warned that from the next hearing he should not defend a Muslim lecturer of Bahawalpur University in a case of Blasphemy. Sindhu actually stated before the judge that Mr. Rehman would be eliminated. The presiding judge remained silent and took no notice of the threats by the bigots who were forcing the judge to sentence the lecturer to death.
The judge of the anti terrorist court totally ignored the threats given from the lawyer before him, the same attitude was shown by the local authorities and police that allowed the killers the freedom to kill in the name of Islam.
In the case of Rashid Rehman the killers knew how to get impunity from courts, police and authorities and they were successful. Until now no one has been arrested and even the Multan district bar association has not taken any action against the lawyer who threatened to kill Rehman before the judge.
via Aamir Hussain’s Huffington Post Blog featuring collaborator Murali Bajali
The United States is truly exceptional in the fact that it “peacefully combines a high degree of religious devotion with tremendous religious diversity” (Putnam and Campbell, American Grace). Interfaith understanding is a central part of our nation’s history, from George Washington’s letter to the Newport, Rhode Island synagogue to the first Parliament of the World’s Religions in Chicago in 1893, to the 1960s Civil Rights Movement led by diverse faith leaders.
The challenge for our millennial generation is to continue translating America’s religious diversity into social action. The vast majority of interfaith efforts in the United States currently focus on the Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. While such efforts are important, it is also necessary to engage with the growing numbers of Americans who identify with a diversity of other faith and spiritual traditions. In particular, we see great potential for interfaith initiatives between Hindus and Muslims, two groups that share similar experiences in the United States.
For starters, Hindus and Muslims share similar demographics. Each comprise roughly one to two percent of the American population, with large proportions of both communities coming from first or second-generation immigrant families with South Asian heritage. As a result, xenophobia is often a major issue for both communities, with both group facing allegations that they are “not American enough.” At the heart of the interfaith engagement between Hindus and Muslims should be a fundamental acknowledgment that both groups are small minorities in the United States, and that a coalition of voices is the best way to achieve pluralistic outcomes. Such an approach doesn’t mean that we have to gloss over our philosophical differences (or agree on various social, theological, or ethical issues), but instead maximizes our embrace of religious and cultural diversity.
Continue reading on The Huffington Post
Aamir Hussein is a Muslim Interfaith Activist/Ambassador of the Parliament of the World’s Religions and Murali Balaji is Director of Education and Curriculum Reform, Hindu American Foundation.
Religion is often accused of causing much of the polarization in the world. Those who perpetrate violence through words and actions often point to religion as justification. However, the Parliament supports the notion that religion is a powerful force for good, bringing out the best in both individuals and communities.
Adam Taylor of the World Bank and Cheryl Tupper of Arthur Vining Davis Foundation joined the Parliament leadership on a panel presented at the Council of Foundations 2014 Philanthropy Exchange Conference on Monday, June 9. The breakthrough session called “The Role of Religion in an Increasingly Polarized Society,” attracted more than 40 engaged representatives of grantmaking organizations.
Panelists exploring this theme agreed that both the commonalities and distinctions between faiths can powerfully address deep moral and ethical issues of scarcity of resources, equality gap and justice, and the environment. Cheryl Tupper, speaking from a philanthropic perspective, said foundations are not only an important audience for these messages, but can also play an important role in addressing these issues.
Describing religious and spiritual communities as a force for good makes sense in financial terms, too. Participants live tweeting the panel highlighted Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid’s comments on reports projecting that $2.6 trillion U.S. dollars in charitable relief and social support come from faith communities in service annually.
“Interfaith brings out the best in faith,” said Imam Mujahid, who chairs the Board of the Parliament. Marketing the dollar signs behind religious good is a critical step forward for the interfaith movement itself. By quantifying the social good it becomes harder for guiding institutions to deny or ignore the massive potential of faith-based collaborations.
Adam Taylor elaborated the point in catchy terms. At his turn, Taylor spelled out the World Bank’s Faith Based Initiatives’ “4 B’s of Religion,” championing religion as a “bridge, balm, beacon of hope and a boost for social movements.”
Throughout the discussion the panelists sought to highlight practical ways faith communities are working to ameliorate the polarization between individuals religions, communities and our guiding institutions; in addition to how philanthropy can be a strong catalyst to support creative outcomes.
Moderator and Parliament Executive Director Dr. Mary Nelson explained reasons why some foundations have been skittish about engaging with faith-based initiatives, acknowledging that concerns arise when sectarian violence is committed ‘in the name of religion,’ but that the extremist fringes do not follow religious teachings. In reality, the majority of people of faith come together through common values of compassion for the other, or the Golden Rule.
Nelson further affirmed that “religion offers an ongoing source of renewal empowering us to face the issues of the world,” and that one of the opportunities foundations can be powerful colleagues in fostering a more peaceful, just, and sustainable world is in supporting ways of engaging younger people who are increasingly identifying as ‘spiritual but not religious.’
Remarking on the need to move beyond simple platitudes, Rabbi Michael Balinsky emphasized the need to build real relationships like those he seeks out not only in his work as Vice-Chair of the Parliament, but also in the Chicago neighborhoods of faith where he serves dual executive roles on the Council of Religious Leaders of Metropolitan Chicago and the Chicago Board of Rabbis.
Janaan Hashim, another Parliament Trustee, underlined the importance of dialogue. Sharing her experience teaching seminary students, Hashim reflected on how interfaith engagement is a way to learn productive and respectful communication when difficult issues emerge.
By the session closing, engaging questions from attendees pushed the 75 minute gathering overtime an additional five minutes. It was heartening for those working within and supportive to the interfaith movement to discover foundations so interested in understanding new pathways to collaborate with interfaith initiatives.
Over 300 persons died in Cook County in the past year and were buried by the Medical Examiner’s office because no friends or family were available to receive their bodies. Their names were read in solemn dignity at a memorial service held in their honor at the Chicago Temple, on Wednesday, May 21, 2014. The following post is based on the sermon preached by Dr. Shanta Premawardhana, president of SCUPE preached at that service.
Dr. Vincent Harding died this week. This hero of the civil rights movement was a friend of SCUPE. This professor of theology, a Mennonite, from the peace church tradition is credited with influencing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to speak out against the Vietnam war and with writing the sermon he preached exactly one year before his death at Riverside Church in New York entitled “Beyond Vietnam.”
I met Vincent Harding about two months ago in at the Soka Gakkai Buddhist Temple at 14th and Wabash. He had written a book “America will Be…” That phrase comes from Langston Hughes poem “Let America be America Again.” Here are a few lines from the latter part of the poem:
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath-
America will be!
Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain-
All, all the stretch of these great green states-
And make America again!
The poem is worthy of deep reflection. I hope you will read it again and again. Speaking to that packed hall Dr. Harding affirmed that he stood with Langston Hughes in the affirmation America will be. But “How is it possible that he make that audacious claim?” he asked. After all, he had just said several times over in that poem that “America that was never America to me.” How could he possibly swear an oath that “America will be?”
I felt very skeptical. We are going the wrong way, I thought to myself. People in our city are struggling to make ends meet. We used to think that it is right that we as citizens pool our resources not just out of our generosity, but because justice demands it, for the sake of the common good or what we used to call our common-wealth. This is why we elect City, County and State governments, to manage our public money, or our common-wealth.
But our public discourse has decidedly turned against the common-wealth to support individual wealth. As a result wealth disparities are significantly increasing. Today, the wealthiest 1% owns 40% of the nation’s wealth; the bottom 80% own 7%. SCUPE’sCongress on Urban Ministry will address this very important question when we gather June 23-26 at DePaul University.
This narrative of personal responsibility, of pulling yourself up from your boot-straps has become a religion these days. Yes, personal responsibility is important, but that narrative does not take into account, the structural disparities that put large numbers of people in our city, particularly those in racial minorities, at a clear disadvantage. How can personal responsibility work if there is no level playing field? So, unlike Langston Hughes and Vincent Harding, I wondered, “Will America ever be…”
My organization, SCUPE, trains pastors and church leaders to understand the dynamics of the city. We put our students directly into the streets and communities, and ask them to listen to the stories of people’s struggles, their pain and indeed also their laughter. That’s where theology begins for us, with stories of struggle. We know the stories of single mothers who struggle to feed their children, families who live in food deserts, people struggling with two or three minimum wage jobs, families whose children are incarcerated and children left alone because their parents have been deported. We know people in our neighborhoods who live in constant anxiety, in midst of very real gun violence. And we know the struggles of those who try very, very hard to get out of that situation and we know how discouraging that struggle is. Our students have listened to many persons like the ones whose lives we commemorate today.
Sisters and brothers, the values that we hold, the stories that we tell, the policies that we embrace, the leaders that we elect are based on what we believe, or our theology. If we believe in the Ayn Rand theories of hyper-individualism then we will act in one way. If we believe that we are our brothers’ and sisters’ keeper, or that we should love our neighbor as ourselves, we will act another way. If we believe that God comes to us in the guise of another, we will act in even different ways.
The Indian tradition is very clear. When we fold our palms in a gesture of greeting and say Namaste, what that in fact means is that the God that is in me, greets the God that is in you. If we were to put this in language that is common to both Jewish and Christian traditions, I recognize that you are created in the God’s image, and you are a child of God.
On this matter, the Christian story is also very clear. God comes to us as a helpless infant, desperately poor and outcast. God is not incarnate in a kingly palace as the wise men thought, but in a smelly, crowded, stable with live animals, lying in a manger upon the hay that animals eat. Can you just imagine that! Almighty God is incarnated as a homeless baby, and is then run out of town as a refugee. As an adult, Jesus comes to town from a small village called Nazareth, an out of the way place where no good was supposed to come from, and gets crucified by the imperial Roman government outside the city and hangs there in utter powerlessness. If you went out looking for God, you wouldn’t recognize God, because God comes to us in disguise.
There are lots of stories in scripture that tells us how God comes to us as a stranger. Jesus himself tells a story about the last judgment in Matthew 25:31ff. When the Son of Man comes as King, he will separate people of all the nations gathered before him as a shepherd separates sheep from goats. To those on the left side he would say “Away from me you that are under God’s curse! Away to the eternal fire which has been prepared for the Devil and his angels, These people are flabbergasted. Why, some of them may have been devout Christians. “I was hungry, you would not feed me. I was thirsty, you would not give me to drink. I was a stranger but you would not welcome me in your homes. I was naked and you would not clothe me. I was sick and in prison and you would not take care of me.” And they answer, “When Lord, did we ever see you hungry, or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and we would not minister to you.” You see, they were expecting Jesus to fit into their image, their theology and their religious structure. Now, here’s the kicker: Whenever you did not do it to one of the least of these my sisters or brothers, you did not do it to me.”
Here’s one final story to bring it home.
There once was a little boy who decided he wanted to find God. He knew it would probably be a long trip, so he decided to pack a lunch — four packs of Twinkies and two cans of root beer. He set out on his journey and went a few blocks until he came to a park. On one of the park benches sat an old woman looking at the pigeons. The little boy sat down beside her and watched the pigeons too. When he grew hungry, he pulled out some Twinkies. As he ate, he noticed the woman watching him, so he offered her one. She accepted it gratefully and smiled at him. He thought she had the most beautiful smile in the world. Wanting to see it again, he opened a can of root beer and offered her the other. Once again she smiled that beautiful smile. For a long time the two sat on that park bench eating Twinkies, drinking root beer, smiling at each other, and watching the pigeons. Neither said a word. Finally the little boy realized that it was getting late and he needed to go home. He started to leave, took a few steps, turned back and gave the woman a big hug. Her smile was brighter than ever before.
When he arrived home, his mother noticed that he was happy, but strangely quiet. “What did you do today?” she asked. “Oh, I had lunch in the park with God,” he said. Before his mother could reply he added, “You know, she has the most beautiful smile in the world.” Meanwhile, the woman left the park and returned home. Her son noticed something different about her. “What did you do today, Mom?” he asked. “Oh, I ate Twinkies and drank root beer in the park with God.” And before her son could say anything at all, she added, “You know, God’s a lot younger than I had imagined.”
Sisters and brothers, we honor these women, men and children who died in our city not because we want to salve our conscience that we have done something. No. We do this because our destiny is wrapped up in their destiny, our salvation in theirs. When we want to see the face of God, we need to look in their face. When we need to hear God’s story, we need to hear their story. If we are to stand with Langston Hughes and Vincent Harding and have their defiant faith that America will be America again, that requires us to see in all our sisters and brothers, God incarnate among us. Nothing less will do.
The Rev. Dr. Shanta D. Premawardhana is President of the Seminary Consortium for Urban Pastoral Education in Chicago. Originally from Sri Lanka, he was most recently the director for the Program Interreligious Dialogue and Cooperation at the World Council of Churches (WCC), a worldwide fellowship of 349 Protestant and Orthodox churches based in Geneva, Switzerland. Prior to moving to Geneva, Premawardhana served as the Associate General Secretary for Interfaith Relations at the National Council of Churches of Christ, based in New York.
At a time when inviting advisers to serve students of minority faiths at many U.S universities is still making headlines, the University of Chicago has just appointed its third successive Religious Advisor to Pagan students.
Of her new appointment, Rev. Angie Buchanan, who is a Trustee Emeritus of the Parliament, says in a statement to popular Pagan platform WildHunt,
Having a Pagan advisor on staff at a prestigious university such as the University of Chicago supports the mainstream recognition that opens up opportunities and freedoms already available to the practitioners of other religious traditions. It also helps secure the establishment of Paganism as a world religion.
Assistant Dean of Chicago’s Rockefeller Chapel Jigna Shah says paying effort to supporting spiritual diversity is a long-established value of the University she herself experienced personally. In being named the first non-Christian to a deanship role at the Chapel three years ago, Shah reflects, “I am honored and humbled. I take my appointment very seriously and with great responsibility in continuing efforts to diversify and reflect the rich spiritual landscape of our campus.”
Context can be complex in these matters, and an absence of non-Abrahamic faiths in the chaplaincy does not always reflect of a university’s attention to spiritual life and student affairs. Still, in 2011, there were only 30 Muslim Chaplains serving in U.S. universities according to various media, and other prestigious universities were still inviting Hindu advisers to serve students for the first time.
By November 2013, Brandeis University brought in its first non-Abrahamic adviser to the campus chaplaincy after student appeal and expanding celebrations of Diwali and Holi in the appointment of their first Hindu advisor.
Rallying for the Muslim Students Association at Pennsylvania-based Swarthmore University, Hillel’s Jewish students and campus Christian groups are currently imploring administration to recognize a permanent staff position to advise Muslim students, citing their own benefits from their respective spiritual advisers, also crediting the presence of a temporary Muslim adviser a prevailing reason interfaith activity on campus flourished this year.
Buchanan couldn’t say it better. “With the growing ease of international travel and the advent of the internet and social media, the world is getting smaller. In the United States, we have populations within populations; there are hospitals, prisons, schools and universities, and even social, political, business and special interest groups.
“I believe that as a culture we are recognizing the need for a diverse set of spiritual advisors in multiple environments, and we are beginning to embrace a positive attitude regarding the diversity of religious traditions co-existing in society.”
With an expanded presence of interfaith organizing on college campuses, fostering increased collaborations among staff and students will strengthen actions and overall impact of the movement.
Religious communities and student groups at University of Chicago continue to nominate new advisers for recognition by the University’s Office of Spiritual Life. This year, the office also welcomes Charles Nolley as the first advisor to serve Baha’i students.
The Parliament stands in deep respect to Nolley, who holds the achievement of helping bring the 1993 Parliament to fruition as an early Board Chair, and who undoubtedly lit a fire for interfaith now so imperative to the national higher education system.