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Religious Leaders Urge Strong U.S. Leadership for Israeli-Palestinian Peace Before It’s Too Late

    In a letter to President Obama the day after his speech affirming peace is possible and declaring U.S. support for a two-state solution based on 1967 borders with mutually agreed land swaps, leaders of more than twenty-five Jewish, Christian and Muslim national religious organizations urged strong U.S. leadership for Israeli-Palestinian peace before it is too late.  The religious leaders also plan to place an advertisement with Politico, a Washington, D.C. based media outlet.

      The leaders urged the President “to visit Jerusalem and the region soon to meet with Israeli and Palestinian leaders to restart negotiations focused on the principles and ideas in the recent Israeli Peace Initiative, the earlier Arab Peace Initiative and the Geneva Accord.”

They stated “the United States, in coordination with the Quartet, should continue to respond carefully to the new Palestinian unity agreement and not act precipitously to cut off aid to the Palestinians,” but said the Palestinian “unity government must commit itself to rejecting violence and negotiating a peace agreement with Israel.”

The leaders pledged their “prayers and public support for active, fair and firm U.S. leadership for peace” and they urged “Congress to support this effort.”

Click here to view Letter to President Obama

Moving from “No one did anything” to Active Neighboring

“No one did anything,” Sonny Singh told us.  When a group of youths tore off his turban in New York City several years ago, none of the many people who saw it happen did anything.   Sonny –  Sikh musician, activist, writer and educator – told us this story during a brown bag lunch “coffee hour” conversation held at the Interchurch Center of New York on Wednesday, May 18.   It was an important story for those of us present – all non-Sikhs – to hear.  During the conversation we also heard from Crystal Quallo, one of the original interviewers (of Muslims and non-Muslims), creators and performers of “Under the Veil” – a TE’A Project production that focuses on issues of being Muslim and non Muslim in New York, post 9/11.  Crystal told us that after helping to create, and then perform in this piece, she listens to people more.  She is more interested in what people have to share about themselves.   It is important, this hearing each other’s stories.  Listening to one another’s stories across lines of faith and culture deepens our relationships as neighbors.  But what is the next step?  This is the question that seemed to hover in the room as we listened to Sonny describe the frequent harassment he experiences, and how alert he feels he must always be — the diversity of New York City, and even the presence of many Sikhs — offering no protection against the many who feel free to act out their fear, suspicion, misinformation and animosity.  All of us participating in the conversation began to think about what it would mean to be “active neighbors.”  Children in school receive anti-bullying training – what about adults?.  Perhaps the charge upon us in our anxious age is not just the security-minded “if you see something, say something,” but also the community-minded “if you see something, do something.”  Maybe adults need training in how to respond to bullying: across divides of faith, and beyond.  While it is no doubt true that intervening in some instances might escalate a dangerous situation, it should always be true that people who are victimized should not experience abandonment by their neighbors.   Those of us who have seen any of the programming honoring the 50th anniversary of the civil rights Freedom Riders have been reminded about the power, and provocation, that lies in inter-community solidarity.   Sonny told us how big a difference it would have made if someone had done something.  A place to start is hearing these stories from those in our city who are experiencing active intolerance because of their religions.  A place to start is learning about each other.  This listening and learning can happen through Prepare NY’s “coffee hour” conversations (see www.prepareny.com).  And  once we have heard the stories, once we have come to deeper understanding through teaching and hearing, our connections must be given expression: we must move towards active neighboring…towards the friendship of solidarity.

– Annie Rawlings, M.Div.  Prepare NY Education Director, The Interfaith Center of NY

To host a coffee hour conversation, contact Annie:  annie@interfaithcenter.org, 212-870-3518; or visit the Prepare NY web site: http://www.prepareny.com

Learn more about Sonny Singh at www.sonnysingh.com    Learn more about the TE’A Project at www.teaproject.com .

Swedish Students Visit Manhattan Mosque

The 7th to the 11th of April, 2011 a group of 7 students from the University of Uppsala, Sweden visited New York. Several of the participants were clergy within Church of Sweden and the trip was part of a course in Urban Theology. The group was lead by Rev. Dr. Jonas Ideström and during the time on Manhattan we visited several congregations, met with their representatives and participated in worship. The course has focused on the concrete, social and material expressions of faith in an Urban setting and the theoretical reflections has been guided by questions concerning the interaction between religious social bodies and the wider urban context. The course mainly concerns expressions of churches and Christian faith.

Using a combination of ecclesiological theory and social theory on the City the observations have been analyzed and discussed. What kind identity space is created in relation to the life of the congregations and how does it relate to different aspects of urban space as identity space? As part of the study trip the group participated in the Friday prayer at the Mosque of Islamic Brotherhood, 130 W. 113th Street in Harlem. The visit gave important insight into interreligious dimensions of the faith on Manhattan.

After lunch in Harlem we found our way to the mosque where we were met by great hospitality. The women in the group joined women at the mosque and stayed at the ground floor. The two men of the group were lead upstairs. It was very clear that we were expected and that they were used to visitors. In the sanctuary a few chairs were reserved in the back where we were seated. The room on second floor where the men were gathered was gradually filled by people greeting one another and praying.

After a sung prayer the Imam, Al-Hajj Talib Abdur- Rashid, started talking. He preached with authority. From an interreligious perspective his sermon was of great interest. His main point was that God has a plot that is embodied and spelled out by his prophets. From the earliest prophets up until our time those who have made the will of God clear have often been confronted, even killed. That is a pattern we can see. People who walk the path of God are often seen as a threat by those who are in power. He read from the Gospel of Mark to make his point clear. He also gave examples from sermons by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to show that Dr. King’s message is rooted in the life and message of the prophets. The message to the congregation was clear: stay on the path of the prophets. Be firm and loyal to Allah and the path that he has shown through the prophets. It’s a path of peace and respect. God is one but he has several prophets. After a prayer, that followed the sermon, the group met with the Imam. He told us about his way into to the Islamic tradition and about the work of the mosque. He also gave us a view of a post September 11 Manhattan. According to him September 11 has lead to an increase in interreligious activity in New York. Many religious social bodies have refused to let an act of terror define their relationship to one another. After the conversation with the Imam we talked to some people outside the mosque and they were convinced that the faith and life of the mosque had contributed to the positive development of the neighborhood. In the group discussions following the visit it was clear that the participants had been greatly inspired by the prayer and the conversation with the Imam.

A few Sundays after the visit I gave a sermon in a parish in northern Stockholm. In the sermon I told the congregation about my experience at the mosque and how that can be seen as a concrete sign of hope and peace in violent world. Thanks to the hospitality of the mosque and the interreligious work on Manhattan a conversation between a Muslim context in Harlem and a Christian context in Stockholm, Sweden, was possible to conduct. The importance of such work cannot be overestimated.


Rev. Dr. Jonas Ideström, University of Uppsala, Sweden

Trinity School Students Live and Learn Interfaith Dialogue

Trinity School, one of the city’s oldest continuously running K-12 institutions, is dedicated to promoting interfaith dialogue among its students. Chaplain Timothy Morehouse is in charge of all chapel programs for the Trinity School on the upper west side, where students meet weekly to learn and discuss religion, faith, spirituality and ethics. Chaplain Morehouse recently coordinated with the staff of the Interfaith Center of New York to organize an interfaith program around the theme of bravery.

At the start of the school year, Trinity’s middle school students chose bravery as a unifying theme for their chapel programs. Throughout the year they have heard from various sources on the topic; New Yorkers, their teachers, as well as their peers. Chaplain Morehouse worked with our staff to put together an interfaith panel comprised of faith leaders associated with ICNY. Representatives from Judaism, Sikhism, Christianity, and Islam spoke to the topic of bravery and explained how it related to their faith contexts. Chaplain Morehouse commented that “ ICNY finding speakers is just fantastic, and so helpful. It’s worth its weight in gold.”

Trinity School has been and will continue to be an institution that promotes interfaith action in myriad ways. As Chaplain Morehouse explains of chapels with interfaith content, services must “have a structural and thematic coherence” in order to “present a thoughtful approach to living human life in the city and the world.”

Relief Work and Faith

Please find below a link to an article about faith-based relief efforts in the wake of the recent tornadoes in the South, and other natural disasters.  The article shows the power of religious faith in motivating people to help their neighbors, fellow citizens, and fellow human beings.  And it also shows some of the dangers of this faith-based motivation – as when relief efforts are used as opportunities for evangelism.  It is very relevant to the Interfaith Center’s work, as these are some of the issues we explore every year in our “Social Work and Religious Diversity” course.

Link:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/09/us/09baptist.html?exprod=myyahoo

ICNY Muslim-Catholic Sisters Fellowship Group

For a little over a year, the Interfaith Center has been working on a project of Catholic-Muslim partnerships in the social services. While engaged in outreach for the project, intern Malika Pulatova realized that she was meeting many male religious leaders and very few female religious leaders. Imam  Talib of the Mosque of Islamic Brotherhood introduced Malika to Sr. Sanaa, a leader at MIB. Sr. Sanaa had heard about a Muslim-Catholic women’s project in Chicago, and so the idea was born.

January 16, a group of about twenty Muslim sisters and Catholic sisters met at the Mosque of Islamic Brotherhood in Harlem. The Catholic sisters were members of various orders, including: Sisters of Charity, Franciscan Handmaids of Mary, Congregation of Notre Dame, Little Sisters of the Assumption, and the Carmelites. Most of the Muslim sisters were members of the MIB.

For Catholics, a “sister” is a vowed member of a religious order. They are commonly called “nuns.” For Muslims, “sister” is a term used for all women, reflecting the idea of the global Muslim community, connected like family members through shared beliefs.

During the introductions, each woman discussed her faith and her work. There was a great array of ways the women worked for social justice and helped their communities. Their work included: religious education, women’s education, singing to the ill, ecology, a women’s spiritual center, social work, nursing, psychology, and the military. Each woman expressed that her faith—whether it was Christianity or Islam—impelled her to love and to serve other people.

Sister Carol DeAngelo, a Sister of Charity, said about the project, “We have a responsibility to our younger generation and those to come to create a future that is life-giving.  Interfaith and intercultural conversations like these are ways to bring about a future where respect and reverence for each person and all of life is practiced; where diversity of cultures and faiths are valued and honored; and, where tolerance, nonviolence and interdependence are experienced.  We need more conversations like the ones we have in our women’s group.”

Since January, there have been two more meetings, and the Interfaith Center hopes to include Jewish women at the next one.

The purpose of the project is for women leaders from the different faith traditions to meet each other, learn about each other’s work, discuss their respective faith traditions, and at a minimum, build a network of contacts.  The women leaders may also brainstorm and strategize to work together on specific projects or engage each other’s expertise to address problems within their communities.



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