Concern for those in the Gaza conflict

SiVIC, ING, and the Parliament of the World’s Religions – three organizations that I respect and work with – have issued statements of concern about the current situation in Gaza. In times of profound conflict, the relationships that have been built over time open up possible lines of communication, and call all of us to act with respect and concern for all. Here are parts of the three statements, with links to the full text:

Silicon Valley Interreligious CouncilSiVIC (Silicon Valley Interreligious Council)

As events continue to unfold in Israel and Gaza, we in the Silicon Valley Interreligious Council (SiVIC) are grieved by the human cost and suffering occasioned by the current conflict. While members of our community may lean more toward support for Israel or for Gaza, together we know how important it is for us to maintain connections and dialogue with one another, especially when some would polarize the debate and end discussion.

Regardless of our individual stances, we share a recognition of our common humanity and a conviction that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must cease, that there is no violent solution to that conflict, that all human life is valued, and that all parties must cooperate to achieve a just and lasting peace on behalf of God’s children who reside in the land that many of us call holy.

Read full text.

logo.ingING (Islamic Networks Group)

ING, in line with the principles of justice advocated by all our religious traditions, rejects notions of collective guilt and collective punishment. In situations of violence, whether in Gaza, in Paris, in Brooklyn, or elsewhere, it is all too easy to blame whole peoples and whole communities for the actions of a few. We call in particular on all those critical of Israeli actions to refrain from blaming those actions on the Jewish people as a whole, just as we call on those critical of organizations such as Hamas and those who join us in condemning the attacks in Sarcelles to refrain from blaming Muslims or Arabs as a whole. Every incident of violence should make us turn with greater determination to making peace in our hearts and in our actions with the diversity of peoples, cultures, and faiths in our world.

Read full statement.

Council for a parliament of the World's ReligionsParliament of the World’s Religions

The Parliament of the World’s Religions encourages all faith communities and especially the interfaith movement to actively expose and challenge anti-Semitism and Islamophobia in their neighborhoods, cities, and in the public discourse. Let us be moderating voices and agents that will revitalize the dialogue and cooperation between Jews, Christians, and Muslims. This mission should be a part of our sermons, prayers, and civic action.

Read full statement.

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Fasting for Peace- Muslims and Jews

Circle of handsNews of the escalating violence in Israel/Palestine over the past several weeks has troubled people around the world. Concern for the people of that area who suffer on both sides of the conflict has led Jews and Muslims to pledge to join in a “Hunger Strike Against Violence” on Tuesday, July 15.

That day falls at the midpoint of the Muslim month of Ramadan, and in the Jewish calendar is the 17th day of Tammuz. Ramadan is the month during which Muslims fast from sunup to sundown, refraining from eating or drinking as a spiritual discipline. For Jews, 17 Tammuz is a fast day recalling the day in 63 C.E. when the Romans broke through the walls of Jerusalem and subsequently destroyed the city and the Temple. It commemorates the suffering of people caught in war.

Proposed by a group of Israelis and Palestinians in response to the cycle of escalating violence that includes the murders of teenagers on both sides and military action in Gaza and adjoining areas, the “Hunger Strike Against Violence” seeks to bring together Jews, Muslims and others to join in the daylong fast on Tuesday and, if possible, to join together in sharing iftar (breaking the fast) in the evening.

The call has been shared in this country by Sheila Musaji, the editor of The American Muslim, and Rabbi Arthur Waskow, director of The Shalom Center. You can read more about the effort and allied activities here.

Locally, Samina Sundas of American Muslim Voice is sponsoring an iftar at her home in Palo Alto on Tuesday, July 15. The gathering will begin at 6:30 pm, include dinner, and end with a candlelight vigil. The location is 120 Park Avenue, Palo Alto. PLEASE RSVP to

Find more details on Facebook:

#FastForPeace has created a website with information about gatherings around the world; they also have a Facebook page.

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Ramadan 2014 (1435)

Ramadan_moon-Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting and prayer, began this year on June 28. During the month, Muslims will fast from food and water from sunup to sundown, a special challenge during these long summer days. It is traditional to break the fast each evening with a meal known as an iftar, and these meals provide an opportunity for inviting family, friends, and neighbors to join in. For many years, the mosques and Muslim associations in the Bay Area have invited the wider community to interfaith iftars, to meet their Muslim neighbors and to learn more about the observance and its meaning.

Last night, I had the pleasure of joining with more than 200 Muslims and people of other faiths at the Muslim Community Center in Pleasanton for an iftar sponsored by ING, the national group based in San Jose that provides education about Islam and about interreligious understanding and cooperation by training and supplying speakers and panels for schools, governmental organizations, hospitals, congregations, and more.

Throughout the rest of the month there are several Ramadan opportunities in the Bay Area. They are listed below; contact the organizers for additional information.

  • Tuesday, July 15, 6:30pm, American Muslim Voice
    Samina Sundas’ home, 120 Park Ave., Palo Alto
    RSVP This iftar is part of joint Muslim/Jewish fast day (Ramadan and 17 Tammuz) for peace.
  • Tuesday, July 15, 2014, 7:00 – 9:00 pm, Ramadan Open House
    Islamic Center of Mill Valley, 62 Shell Road, Mill Valley
    The Islamic Center of Mill Valley cordially invites you to learn about the holy month of Ramadan from the knowledgeable leader and speaker, Mufti Abdullah Nana, followed by youth sharing their experience of fasting. Indian delicacies and light refreshments will be served after sunset. To RSVP, please email
  • Tuesday, July 15, 7:30pm, Pacifica Institute (Turkish Gulen movement)
    1257 Tasman Dr. Unit A&B, Sunnyvale
    Speaker will be Mustafa Akyol, columnist and author of “Islam Without Extremes”.  RSVP
  • Thursday, July 17, 2014, 7:30 pm, The Ramadan Experience
    Zaytuna College 2515 Hillegass Ave, Berkeley
    An Inspiring Interfaith Program and Iftar Feast. Sponsored by Pacifica Institute.
    RSVP to
  • Sunday, July 20, South Bay Islamic Center dinner
    2345 Harris Way, San Jose
  • Saturday, July 26, 7:00pm, Ahmadiyyah Muslim Community
    926 Evans Road, Milpitas
    RSVP to by July 20
  • Saturday, July 26, 2014, 7:00 pm, The Ramadan Experience
    Peninsula Temple Beth El, 1700 Alameda De Las Pulgas, San Mateo
    You are cordially invited to our Interfaith Iftar (Fast Breaking) Dinner. Join us in the Holy Month of Ramadan for an Inspiring Interfaith Program. There will be Speakers, Havdalah Ceremony, Iftar Feast, and More. Seats are Limited so Kindly RSVP at by July 17.
    Organized By: Pacifica Institute and Peninsula Temple Beth El
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Hindu Leader Rajan Zed at the House of Representatives

rajan_zed_HofRRajan Zed, the Hindu leader who was the first to offer Hindu prayers at the opening of a session of the United States Senate in 2007, did so again for the House of Representatives on Thursday, June 19.

Although Zed was the first Hindu to pray officially at the Senate, he was not the first in the House. The first Hindu leader invited to give the invocation was Venkatachalapathi Samuldrala of the Shiva Hindu Temple in Parma, Ohio. That was in 2000, and since then several others have been asked to lead.

Before praying, Zed sprinkled some drops of water from the sacred Ganges river around the podium, and then read from the Rig Veda, the Upanishads, and the Bhagavad-Gita, all ancient Hindu texts. He prayed, “Lead us from the unreal to the Real; from darkness to light; from death to immortality,” and then urged the Congress to “strive constantly to serve the welfare of the world.”

Although for the most part members of Congress and the nation as a whole have welcomed the Hindu leaders as examples of the diversity of religious expression in this country and the free exercise of faith, some have objected. Some were concerned about the issue of civil religion and whether prayers should play any part in governmental contexts, but for the most part, the opposition came from conservative Christian groups like the American Family Association and the Family Research Council. In fact, when Zed appeared before the Senate, three protesters from Operation Save America attempted a “counter-prayer” from the visitors’ gallery, asking God’s forgiveness for the Senate’s allowing this “prayer of the wicked.” They were removed from the Senate chambers.

In reply the efforts of religious conservatives to argue that the United States is a Christian country, and the guarantees of freedom of religion are restricted to Christians alone, it is appropriate to note Thomas Jefferson’s comment regarding the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom:

“Where the preamble declares, that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed, by inserting the word “Jesus Christ,” so that it should read, “a departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion;” the insertion was rejected by a great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan, the Hindoo, and Infidel of every denomination.”

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Religious census shows changing face of America

Bay Area CountiesAlthough the United States is still predominantly populated by Christians, significant changes are taking place in the number of followers of other religious traditions. According to a report from the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies, which does a census of religious groups every ten years, Buddhists represent the second largest religious group generally in the Western States. Judaism is second largest in the Northeast, while Islam holds that position in the Deep South and much of the Midwest. Hindus take second place in Arizona and Delaware, while Bahai’s are second in South Carolina.

On the county level, the diversity is much greater. In the Bay Area, Buddhists are the second largest group in San Francisco, San Mateo, and Santa Cruz counties. Judaism is second in Marin County, Islam in Alameda and Contra Costa counties, and Hinduism in Santa Clara county.

Christians make up the majority in all but one county in the country, but it is perhaps misleading to lump all Chrisian groups as one. The largest single Christian group is the Roman Catholic Church, which is the largest group in over 1,200 counties nation-wide. In California as a whole and the Bay Area specifically, Catholic Christians are the most numerous. The second largest group, dominant in nearly as many counties, is the Southern Baptist Convention.

The full report is available at the ASARB website, as well as a number of maps depicting the makeup of the American religious population.

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Funding interfaith projects is a difficult challenge

pennies“Relishing fundraising may be the rarest character trait of all among faith-based and interfaith leadership groups.” So writes the Rev. Paul Chaffee in his editorial introduction to the most recent issue of “The Interfaith Observer (TIO) ” that is devoted to the challenges of finding funding for interreligious efforts at education, advocacy and service.

The issue is not unique to interfaith work. A vintage cartoon that I kept under the blotter on my desk for many years showed Moses standing in the desert, holding the two tablets of the Ten Commandments. He is looking to the sky and asking, “But what about funding?” The resources for supporting community efforts is often hard to come by.

Articles in the journal include an introduction to the work of Lynne Twist, author of the 2003 book, The Soul of Money: Reclaiming the Wealth of Our Inner Resources. Twist’s book invites the reader to reflect on their attitudes toward money, and how to move from a feeling of scarcity to a sense of abundance. Lynne Twist was interviewed by Rev. Charles Gibbs of the United Religions Initiative in 2011, and the video can be found here.

Bud Heckman, advisor to Religions for Peace USA, weighs in with some of the challenges facing interfaith efforts, while J. Andreas Hipple brings his perspective as a Senior Advisor to the GHR Foundation to explain what foundations are looking for in fundable programs and projects.

A “Lean Startup” approach that requires less funding overall? Funding interfaith work on a global scale? Offering books or even “Golden Rule” license plates? Finding donors that include individuals, congregations, denominations, foundations, and faith-based service organizations? These are just some of the experiences and challenges described in the issue. Anyone working in multi-faith contexts who has wondered about how to find financial support will benefit from this month’s issue.

TIO is an independent monthly online journal devoted to investigating the interfaith movement worldwide and lifting up stories of action, collaboration, and relationship-building. Contributors to TIO include over 200 local activists, thinkers, and organizers committed to interfaith cooperation. (Full disclosure: I am a contributor to TIO).

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Eboo Patel speaks on creating pluralism out of diversity

Eboo PatelEboo Patel made some powerful observations about the hard work of learning how to get along with people who are different from you. The founder and director of the Interfaith Youth Core, based in Chicago, was at Santa Clara University as part of the President’s Speaker Series. Throughout his presentation, he highlighted the strengths that traditions like the Jesuit Christian tradition and Muslim traditions serve to inspire and undergird efforts to build bridges between people of differing traditions and backgrounds.

The United States, he reminded the audience, was the first experiment in democracy that encompassed a diverse population. “Diversity is stunningly challenging,” Patel declared, suggesting that often we take it too much for granted. Religious diversity in particular has the potential to spark conflict, as it implies deep differences around fundamental values. Any day in the world news, one can hear about religious conflicts that have exploded into violence, but seldom does that happen here.

Diversity is a fact of modern life, Patel affirmed, and quoted the sociologist Peter Berger to say that “modernity pluralizes.” This means that one’s culture becomes a choice, rather than a fate, and the number of options available to the individual are increasing in number. In this pluralistic context, however, social cohesion and “social capital,” the “glue” that holds a society together, are weakened. One possibility is that people in their diverse clusters will become increasingly hostile to others, leading to what has been widely described as a “clash of civilizations,” a phrase that was popularized by the book of the same name by Samuel Huntington in 1996.

“I don’t like that idea,” said Patel, “but that doesn’t mean it’s not true.” In classes, he will have his students read the introduction to Huntington’s book and then write a paper about the reasons why they don’t like the theory and about where they see evidence in the world around them that Huntington is correct.

Diversity has the potential to bring about such conflict, but Patel argues that it’s not inevitable. Diversity in itself is simply a given; it is only when diversity can be moved toward pluralism that we begin to achieve the true vision of democracy. Pluralism is an achievement, and requires conscious effort to built mutual respect, positive relationships among differing people, and a commitment to the common good.

Patel called for young leaders trained in interfaith leadership. Just as past generations have seen emerging civil rights workers or environmentalists responding to the need for deeper understanding of the challenges society faces and an ongoing engagement with each other and the community at large, there is now a need for people trained, skilled, and committed to developing pluralism.

“Always look for the resonances,” Patel challenged the audience. The greatest challenge is to identify that person or group with which you most profoundly disagree, and then look for something you can admire about them. There is no other world than a diverse world and it is amazing what we can do together.

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