Sixth Parliament of the World’s Religions
Part Two of Five
The theme of the Sixth Parliament of the World’s Religions was Reclaiming the Heart of Our Humanity: Working Together for a World of Compassion, Peace, Justice, and Sustainability. Plenary speakers and workshop leaders clearly exhibited “faith in action.” They were not simply “talking heads” full of theory, but practical and experienced activists “on the ground,” offering concrete strategies for Turning Hate Speech into an Opportunity for Bridge Building, Ending State-Sponsored Torture, Preventing Genocide and Atrocity Crimes, and Raising a Prejudice-Free Child.
Models for Peacemaking
One workshop used the experience of St. Francis meeting the Sultan of Egypt as A Model for Peacemaking. Another used lessons from the U.S. Civil Rights Movement as a way of Combatting Islamophobia, Anti-Semitism, and Racial Violence. Dr. Shaik Mohammed Ubaid’s session shared Lessons from the Intra-Faith Fight against Violent Extremism. “Every major religion is struggling to contain and defeat violent extremism within,” he noted. “The violent extremists share commonalities such as ultra-nationalism and distortion of their religious teachings.
A Saturday workshop offered Smart Strategies to Diffuse Terrorism, another addressed Freedom of Speech and Respect for the Other: Looking for Balance, yet another the generational effects of war in Trauma, Death and Dignity: How Faith is a Source of Strength. I especially appreciated the sessions that dealt with specific areas of the world I know only through the media, such as Dream or Reality: Twenty Years of the Peace Building Process in Bosnia and Herzegovina, The Future of Syria and the Region, Grassroots Women Working across Faith Lines in Conflict Zones (Uganda, Israel, Pakistan, and the Philippines).
Hope in the Holy Land
The Parliament gave considerable attention to grassroots work across faith lines in the Holy Land. Building Sustainable Peace in the Holy Land opened with a description of the principles and practices of the Interfaith Encounter Association, whose efforts build bridges between neighboring communities: 65 to date across the Holy Land. Peace-building women from this troubled region offered Faith-Based Techniques and Tools for Trust-Building and had participants prepare action plans to take home.
Hope for Jerusalem outlined a vision for a Center of HOPE, a House of Prayer and Education, a “shared home” in the Holy City where people from all faith traditions can learn from one another and pray side-by-side. NewGround, a Muslim-Jewish Partnership for Change, promoted Relationship Building as an Antidote to Hate. “The media is full of examples of conflict and tension between religious and cultural communities, especially Muslims and Jews,” the group points out. “Our world needs more examples of Muslim-Jewish cooperation.”
An example of such cooperation is the Healing Quilt hung in the Exhibit Hall at the Parliament. It was created in Jerusalem by 72 Palestinian and Israeli women: Jews, Christians, and Muslims. Each piece is in the shape of a hand, a typical Middle Eastern symbol. The 72 embroidered, painted, and decorated hands on the quilt are just the beginning, each one representing the voice of one woman envisioning a better and peaceful future for her children.
The Abrahamic Reunion
I was particularly moved by twelve members of The Abrahamic Reunion, the largest interfaith peace organization in the Holy Land, bringing together hundreds of people of different faiths, both men and women, Jews, Muslims, Christians, and Druze, to pray, walk, eat, and study their different scriptures together. The group was founded in 2004 and includes Hadassah Froman and Haji Ibrahim Abu El Hawa (pictured with me here), who runs a “peace house” on the Mount of Olives as a gateway of hospitality.
Froman calls the Abrahamic Reunion her family and brings Israeli settlers and Palestinians together in dialogue. “I live in the eye of the storm,” she told us. “This is frightening, but the best place to be. Pain comes up, and we deal with it.” Her question to her non-Jewish neighbors is, “How can I join you on the path you are taking?”
The Reunion believes the Israeli army should keep peace for both Jewish and Palestinian communities and longs to include soldiers in their work because “the army operates on fear and separation.” Hadassah and other Jews help Palestinians get through the bureaucracy of the checkpoints set up by the Israeli Government at the monstrous wall which virtually imprisons the Palestinian people. She told a touching story of making a simple phone call and getting a pregnant Palestinian woman through a checkpoint quickly in the middle of the night; otherwise she would have died in childbirth.
The Bedouin Voice
One of the most powerful voices in the group belonged to Sanaa Albaz, a Bedouin woman from the desert who spoke passionately (and yes, loudly) in Arabic. Frustrated because the secular peace process has not resolved the conflict in her homeland, she found the Abrahamic Reunion and believes the solution will come from religion “for one deep simple reason: we are all created by one God.”
I got all choked up when she proclaimed, “When I opened the Qur’an, the Torah, and the New Testament, I found one word: peace.” Looking out at the large group crowded into the room (Parliament officials tried to remove those sitting on the floor, but they wouldn’t budge), she almost shouted, “I see very sweet faces here. Look at me and listen to me!”
The use of the word “Reunion” is telling. Members of the group see greater common ground in their religious identities than they do in their ethnic or national identities. So they make interfaith peace journeys together, “walking arm in arm and hand in hand, providing an example of love on a small scale.” (Doesn’t all great change begin in small ways?) The Reunion is convinced that “the political peace process in the Holy Land meets only impasse, whereas [their] faith-based approach builds a lasting foundation for peace” because it opens hearts and creates friendships, trust, and understanding.