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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.
Honoring Our Jain Delegate from India at 1893 Parliament: Lawyer Virchand Raghavji Gandhi (1864-1901)
For many years, an indelible delegate to the Parliament has not been found within the 1893 Parliament’s archival history on this site. The Parliament is pleased to introduce the name Virchand Gandhi to the roster of dynamic Indian delegates celebrated during this important anniversary year.
For the 1893’s Parliament of World Religions, originally the most acclaimed Jain Priest, Muni Atmaramji, was invited to represent Jainism. His photo and details were printed in Rev. John. H. Barrows official book (Page 21& 56). When it became evident Rev. Muni Atmaramji could not attend, his disciple, Lawyer Virchand Raghavji Gandhi, was deputed to represent Jainism.
As a Jain delegate, Virchand Gandhi captivated the 1893’s Parliament of World Religions.
In Rev. J.H.Barrow’s book Virchand Gandhi’s following speeches are recorded:
- Welcome speech on Opening Day in afternoon session (September 11, 1893)
- Speech on the philosophy and ethics of the Jains
- A patriotic speech in reference to the allegations of the previous day against the morality of the Hindu religions (audience applauded on his every word
- A closing speech whereby Virchand Gandhi was greeted with much applause as he came forward to speak on last day.
Virchand Gandhi was one of the chief exporters of the Jain Religion from India and was the secretary of Jain Association of India. For East Indian Delegates, a dinner was arranged by Rev. J. Henry Barrows and William Pipe before the commencement of 1893’s Parliament which was attended by Virchand Gandhi and other Indian delegates.
Two more important movements were floated after 1893’s, Parliament of World Religions closed, and in both committees the name of Virchand Gandhi appeared as a committee member along with Dr. Paul Carus and other team mates.
Ancient faith was influenced by the natural world. Originating in ancient Europe as a Celtic Fire festival, the Pagan holiday of Samhain, marks the end of the harvest season, heralds the beginning of winter; the dark half of the year, and honors death. Samhain, (pronounced SAH-win, or SOW-in) is also the Gaelic name for the month of November, the literal translation being, ‘summer’s end’.
Being largely a pastoral people, the Celts observed the season of Samhain as the time when the earth was dying. The crops had already been harvested and stored; the fields lay barren, and now cattle and sheep had to be moved from remote areas to closer pastures and secured for the winter months. Those who kept livestock would assess the stored bounty of the two prior harvests; of field and orchard in order to determine how many animals could be adequately fed through the winter. Those not able to be cared for were butchered, and would help to feed the family during the dark days ahead. It is partially due to this that Samhain is sometimes referred to as the ‘blood harvest’
Cultures across the world embrace holidays with themes of death; Los Dias de los Muertos, of Mexico, the Buddhist festival of the dead in Japan, which is called Obon, or just Bon, the Hindu festival of Gaijatra, and the Christian celebration of All Souls are a few. Like them, Samhain’s celebrations also embrace a theme of death.
Unlike the vibrant and enthusiastic rites of spring, and summer, this is a time specifically carved out of the Wheel of the Year, to acknowledge death and loss, to experience grief, and for venerating the Ancestors, and honoring departed spirits. Many Pagans will dedicate a home altar to this, with photographs, food offerings and other tokens of remembrance.
For Pagans, death is not a thing to be feared but is part of the Wheel of Life. Death is the ultimate Rite of Passage, the final act that we complete as human beings. Old age is valued for its wisdom, and dying is accepted as natural; as a form of transformation. Death is the great equalizer that puts everything else into perspective.
The Celts believed that at the time of Samhain, more so than any other time of the year, the spirits of the dead were able to mingle with the living. The echoes of this ancient tradition can be seen in popular Halloween celebrations today. Contemporary Pagans still accept that as the life force of our hemisphere wanes, the veils between this world and the other worlds are at their thinnest and our memories, connections and abilities to communicate with our Beloved Dead are heightened. Death also symbolizes other endings, and Samhain is therefore not only a time for reflecting on mortality, but also on the passing of relationships, jobs, and other significant life transitions.
Samhain is generally celebrated by Pagans personally from sunset on October 31st, to sunset on November 1st, a date which is approximately halfway between the Autumn Equinox and the Winter Solstice. It is most often celebrated in community, as a festival or as a community event the closest weekend to that date. Many Pagans consider Samhain to be their New Year, as it used to mark the old Celtic New Year. It is perhaps the most important and significant of annual celebrations.
This year, the Earth Traditions Pagan community will gather to honor our Beloved Dead with a “Dumb Supper;” a meal served and consumed in total silence; each bite taken in the name of our loved ones. We will place an empty chair at the head of our tables, and bring offerings of food for those Ancestors who might wish to join us. We will sing and dance; call the litany of names of our deceased, and share our stories with one another drawing comfort from the telling.
We will draw strength and healing from our deeply held spiritual belief that life continues beyond death, that birth and death and re-birth all occur within the same threshold, that we as humans are not an anomaly residing outside of the Great Mystery rather we follow the natural cycles of life; the rising and setting of the sun, the phases of the moon, the turning of the seasons, and our very breath.
Good Samhain to you and yours. May the blood of your ancestors flow through your veins, like a river over the landscape of memory; may you hear your Beloved Dead as they whisper their wisdom in your ear and leave you with the gift of hope.
We will call their names at Samhain. What is remembered lives.
Angie Buchanan is a Pagan Minister with Earth Traditions, a Pagan church in the Northern suburbs of Chicago, and an emeritus of the Board of Trustees for the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions.
Via Tikkun Daily:
Religious accommodation in the workplace seems to be gaining strength in recent times. Last month, corporate America received a huge setback as retail giant Abercrombie and Fitch was found by a federal judge to have discriminated against a Muslim clerk who wore a hijab to work and was subsequently fired. While that story took the nation, especially American Muslim circles by storm, I refrained from writing about it for the simple reason that there didn’t seem much else to say. A court of law of the United States had already given a powerful message that American Muslims, with our infinite rituals and practices, were part of the fabric of American life and deserved equal treatment under the law. What more could anyone add? Yet here I am less than a month later, writing about this landmark case, not to state the obvious but because it seems that this case may have set some sort of precedent for religious accommodation.
First and foremost, the Abercrombie and Fitch lawsuit has set a precedent simply based on who filed it and why. As numerous reports explained earlier this month, it was filed by a Muslim woman who was fired for wearing her hijab to work because it went against the company’s “look policy”. For women of all faiths, colors, sizes and state of physical attractiveness, such a disregard for look policies in general is a huge step in a number of ways, which I won’t go into here. For Muslim women however, the case is a major achievement. While discrimination based on the hijab (or veil or niqab) is quite commonplace, it hasn’t been documented until recently. Studies in the United States now show that the hijab has a negative impact on all aspects of the hiring process (Not Welcome Here: Discrimination towards Women who Wear Muslim Headscarf, Human Relations, May 2013). Similar studies in the United Kingdom also show women facing difficulties finding and keeping jobs while wearing the hijab (Ethnic Minority Female Unemployment, All Party Parliamentary Group on Race and Community UK).
In the struggle for workplace-related religious freedom, Muslim women have, perhaps unwittingly, blazed a new trail. While on the one hand the hijab makes them a target for unfair practices, it also becomes a beacon for the legal system to rally under. For most judges and juries, the fact that a woman would be fired due to her dress is such an obviously unfair concept that it begs retribution. And although the Abercrombie and Fitch lawsuit is arguably the most popular, it certainly isn’t the only one Muslim women have fought in recent times. Disney for example has been on the receiving end of at least two similar cases, with judgment pending or settled. And for the few that we read about in the papers, there are probably hundreds that never get reported.
Therefore, more than the issue of being Muslim and female in America today, this case and many others like it highlight the challenges of being a religious minority in the American workplace. Although religious accommodation in the workplace is not a new concept (in fact it’s been around since the Civil Rights era), it puts the burden on the employee to report the incident, something he or she may not feel safe doing. The fact is that employers of all types have probably been stomping on the rights of their employees to practice religious beliefs since the first person ever hired, from African slaves being denied the freedom to practice their own religious traditions a few hundred years ago to fringe Christian groups today not receiving equal treatment for Sabbath and holidays.
This lawsuit and its subsequent judgment offers hope to all those who have ever faced ridicule, harassment and even discrimination by their employers and co-workers – a fact that became apparent to me in the month of September as I read about several similar cases being filed and/or settled. For instance, a few days ago a car-dealership in California settled a $158,000 lawsuit against a Nigerian Seventh-Day Adventist employee who was refused leave on Friday nights and Saturdays for observance of the Sabbath. Similarly this month the city of Birmingham, Alabama is paying $80,000 to a Messianic Jewish woman for scheduling her for work on the Jewish Sabbath. Also this month, the EEOC has also filed a lawsuit against the owner of a KFC restaurant who fired a Pentecostal woman for wearing pants instead of the uniform dress to work.
These people and others like them prove that its acceptable and often even rewarding to stand up to unfair practices at your workplace, that you don’t have to be Muslim to get the justice you deserve, and that the future looks bright for equality and fairness in employment. Muslim women may have set a precedent in visibility but they are certainly not the only ones to benefit from a better work environment and greater accountability by employers.
Saadia Faruqi is an interfaith activist, editor of Interfaith Houston and trainer of American Muslim issues. Follow her on Twitter @saadiafaruqi.
- Religious practices and rituals
- Religious centers, including festivals, center openings, and parades
- Participation of religious groups in American civic life
- Interfaith encounter or social action
- Women’s leadership and participation
- Emerging leadership within Muslim and Sikh communities
- Images of the Atheist/Humanist, Bahá’í, Confucian, Daoist, Native American, Shintō, Unitarian Universalist, and Zoroastrian communities in the USAOne grand-prize winner will be selected; the winning photographer will receive a $250 cash prize and an extended exposé in the spotlight on our homepage, pluralism.org.All winning photos may be featured in the online publication, On Common Ground: World Religions in America (pluralism.org/ocg), on the Pluralism Project website, or on the Pluralism Project Facebook Page and Twitter account. The photographer’s name will be cited.In order to participate, you must:
- be the photographer of the image
- grant the Pluralism Project rights to use the image on our website
- have the permission of those persons in the picture, if applicableEntries must be submitted via email to email@example.com by 5 PM on October 21, 2013. Photos should be sent as an attachment. Please put “contest” in the subject line.In the body of the email, please include:
- your name and title
- relationship to the Pluralism Project, if any
- addresses – mailing and email
- phone number
- a brief caption, including location of the image(s), when the image(s) was/were taken, and what is happening (2-3 sentences)
The Pluralism Project
2013 Photo Contest
2 Arrow Street, 4th Floor
Cambridge, MA 02138Information is also available at: http://pluralism.org/pages/contest
Defining sacred beliefs in language we can all understand is no easy feat, even for faith leaders. So imagine when a professional must be hired to design worship space. This someone guides the tenets of a spiritual tradition into a built space, designing structures that symbolize and embody the sacred. Somewhere embedded in the blueprint, architecture becomes a vehicle for interreligious understanding.
An exhibit of five architectural models of sacred spaces commissioned by Suzanne Morgan, architect and CPWR Senior Ambassador, opened the Institute for Human Science and Culture at the University of Akron Center of History and Psychology June 15. This was the premiere appearance of the exhibit outside of Chicago.
On its opening and closing day, Morgan presented a 30-minute PowerPoint and shared the story of how the events of 9/11 convinced her that interfaith understanding was desperately needed. By sharing what religious architecture taught her about other traditions, Morgan realized these models could contribute to healing.
These models showcase the exterior design, as well as the interior shape and liturgical arrangement of space. Architectural design can assist in describing the faith and practices of various religious beliefs. Of the five featured models, one is designed and built by a Chicagoan who originally built dollhouses for his children. Lending a captivating quality, his synagogue model features bright colors. This attracts younger children, and stimulates the imagination of adults, too.
“We can learn about other faiths in a neutral, universal, and beautiful way through architecture,” Morgan states. At the exhibit, learning from the architecture about a congregation’s values and beliefs is enhanced by interpretive texts framed and hung beside each model. When congregations intentionally build their structures illustrative of their faith and their religious practices, they are providing a tangible form of their beliefs.
“I initially introduced an idea for a Center for Religious Architecture in Chicago to the Parliament of World’s Religions,” Morgan recalls. “There, I was given the names of a dozen religious leaders in Chicago, names who opened doors to me for tours of their spaces.”
While working with congregations in the design of sacred spaces, Morgan discovered how useful it is for people to envision their designs in a 3-dimensional way.Morgan wanted to use architectural models of sacred spaces so that people would better understand the history and traditions.
Morgan states that this collection is only the beginning of a more comprehensive collection of architectural models, photos, and artifacts that represents a wide range of religious traditions. The current collection comprises two Roman Catholic churches, a Unitarian church, a synanogue, and a Protestant church.
“I would like to expand the collection by identifying- through people of faith- sacred spaces that they can sponsor and add to the collection,” Morgan says. As the collection expands, travels, and gains support, she dreams that it will become a museum with an interreligious center, where people can connect with one another through various events and celebrations and can explore new rituals and liturgies together.
By the Akron exhibit’s close, Morgan’s collection became front page news in a major Ohio newspaper. As female leadership is critical to conversations interweaving faith, art, and science, peaceseekers everywhere can be upifted that the exhibit further introduced the power of interfaith understanding to the mainstream of middle America.
Morgan extends an invitation to organizations affiliated with the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions, and can consult with interested venues on hosting an exhibit of sacred space models of up to three months. Please contact the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions for more information.
A Listening Session conducted by Parliament Ambassador Sanchay Jain in Jaipur, India brought together eleven members of the Hindu community at the Children’s Peace Palace, Anuvibha, Rajsamand. As many gathered were professional educators, the participants agreed that “humanity is the supreme religion to be taught to children,” rather than imparting one-sided stories of religiosity to children.
The Parliament encourages listening sessions around the world to give the Interfaith advocates across borders the chance to share important issues in their region within the interfaith or religious community context, and how it is desired that the Parliament can incorporate both their values and challenges into the planning of the next major Parliament.
Jain reports that important facts discussed within the group included challenges they face and challenges all face in global society today. The role of religion, spirituality and convictions were also addressed to overcome these challenges (caste system, tensions between Hindu and Muslim Indians, and extremism) as well as the role of the Parliament by improving the capacity to organize religious leaders around the world for a peaceful coexistence. As a result these listening sessions help the Parliament peer into the lens through which the smaller groups view Interfaith as a model to achieve peace, justice, and sustainability in our world.
Ambassadors like Sanchay Jain conducting listening sessions serve their community and the Parliament in vital areas. When attendees are mobilized to attend a Parliament, it is helpful to guarantee their voices have been considered and included in the planning process.
” When someone deeply listens to you, the room where you stay starts a new life and the place where you wrote your first poem begins to glow in your mind’s eye. ” – John Fox
The Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions mourns the recent passing of Father Jorge Manzano, a dear friend and one of the leading lights of the interreligious movement in México. Padre Manzano was a professor of philosophy at the University of Guadalajara for over 40 years, where he specialized in the works of Nietzsche, Kierkegaard and Hegel and drew nothing but the highest praises from his students and colleagues. During the 1960s, Padre Manzano spent several years in Denmark, working with political prisoners and immigrant communities in Copenhagen, and later on championed the causes of indigenous peoples in his native Mexico.
In 2007, Padre Manzano was one of the featured speakers at the World Interreligious Encounter in Monterrey, an event organized by the Parliament of the World’s Religions. Subsequently, he inspired the formation of Fundación Carpe Diem Interfé, which has become the leading interfaith organization in Guadalajara and has partnered with the Parliament on several occasions. In his message of condolence, Parliament Chair Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid recalled Padre Manzano as “a brilliant and gentle man, who did so much to plant the seeds of the interreligious movement in México.” May he rest in peace.
Celebrating the role of women in the 1893 Parliament, pioneers of the interfaith movement, is the passion of scholar Rev. Allison Stokes, Ph.D. Ambassador for the Parliament of World Religions and Founding Director of the Women’s Interfaith Institute of the Finger Lakes. An accomplished professor and historian, Dr. Stokes is pursuing publishing a book on the prominent women’s voices in the history of interfaith. Dr. Stokes will be speaking on this research at the Living Out The Vision program and dinner benefit of the 20th/120th anniversaries of the Parliament of the World’s Religions, November 16, in Chicago, IL. This article is an excerpt of this body of work and the second installation of the Parliament Anniversary Series.
Looking Back to 1848 and 1893: Feminist Pioneers in Inter-Religious Leadership, Scholarship and Service
When Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott created the Declaration of Sentiments, a document that 68 women and 32 men signed at the first women’s rights convention in 1848 in Seneca Falls, NY, they had specific things to say about “the usurpations on the part of man toward woman” when it came to the subject of religion.
Among their grievances: “He closes against her all the avenues to wealth and distinction, which he considers most honorable to himself. As a teacher of theology, medicine, or law, she is not known….”
Furthermore, “He allows her in Church, as well as State, but a subordinate position, claiming Apostolic authority for her exclusion from the ministry, and, with some exceptions, from any public participation in the affairs of the Church…”
And finally, “He has usurped the prerogative of Jehovah himself, claiming it as his right to assign for her a sphere of action, when that belongs to her conscience and her God.”[i]
Forty-five years later, at the time of the World’s Columbian Exposition (more commonly known as the Chicago World’s Fair), the situation was different. Progress had been made.
When the Rev. Anna Howard Shaw, MD, gave a sermon at the closing event of the World’s Congress of Representative Women held during the opening month of the fair in 1893, on the platform with her were 18 ordained clergywomen from 13 different Christian denominations. Shaw opened her message in a manner that was extraordinary. She began, as expected, with a text from the New Testament, but immediately followed it with readings from the religion of Zoroaster, Buddhism, the “Mohammedan scriptures,” and Confucius.[ii] Throughout her message Shaw demonstrated a global feminism and inclusive vision that viewed in retrospect was a preview to the first World’s Parliament of Religions that would be held at the fair four months later.
Although Elizabeth Cady Stanton did not attend the first world’s Parliament of Religions in September 1893, she wrote a paper for the occasion that was delivered by
Susan B. Anthony—“The Worship of God in Man.” This was just one of 19 speeches delivered by women in the massive building (with halls that seated 5,000 people) that is now the Art Institute of Chicago. Feminist scholars of religion owe a debt of gratitude to Professor Ursula King for her article, “Rediscovering Women’s Voices at the World’s Parliament of Religions.”[iii] Here Dr. King points out that ten percent of the addresses given at the Parliament were given by women. This proportion is stunning considering that at the time it was considered improper for women to speak in public, and many were ostracized for doing so. Feminist scholars also owe a debt of gratitude to the Rev. Dr. John Henry Barrows for publishing before year’s end in 1893 the papers of the World’s Parliament, and so preserving a record of women’s contributions.[iv] At the conclusion of the Parliament Barrows observed, “The Congress was a notable event… for woman, for then she secured the largest recognition of her intellectual rights ever granted.”[v] Unfortunately, not much at all has been made of this fact in histories of Women in Religion.Inspired and surprised by the achievements of our foremothers, I have been doing research on Women’s Voices at the 1893 World’s Parliament. In December 2009 I presented a PowerPoint lecture on the topic at the 5th Parliament of World’s Religions in Melbourne, Australia. People were amazed: “Why don’t we know about this?” Indeed.
Recovering the stories of women who were earliest pioneers in the interfaith movement is an ongoing project of mine. I look forward to sharing some of what I have learned in Chicago on November 16th at the anniversary celebration of the first Parliament 120 years ago and the second Parliament a century later—20 years ago.
[ii] Sewall, May Wright, ed. The World’s Congress of Representative Women. Chicago, IL: Rand McNally, 1894, pp. 857-858. See my article, “Global Feminism and Inclusion in Anna Howard Shaw’s 1893 Sermon,” in Postscripts, vol 5, no 2 (2009). http://www.equinoxpub.com/index.php/POST/article/view/10245
[iii]See A Museum of Faiths, Histories and Legacies of the 1893 World’s Parliament of Religions, Eric J. Ziolkowski, ed. Atlanta, Georgia: Scholars Press, 1993, pp. 325-343.
[iv] The World’s Parliament of Religions, Volumes I and II. Chicago: The Parliament Publishing Company, 1893.
[v] Barrows, vol. II, pp. 1569-1570.