Quaker Universalist Conversations

A Quaker presence at the ICUJP/LA Times Book Festival event

This Saturday ICUJP will be sponsoring a peace and justice book fair called “Cost of War, Culture of Peace” at the LA Times Festival of Books at the University of Southern California. I will be part of an afternoon panel with my dear Sufi Friend John Ishvardas Abdallah (author of One World Under God), Phil Goldberg (author of American Veda) and Sarrah Shahawy, an amazing young woman who is president of the USC interfaith council and grand-daughter of Hassan Hatthout, one of the great Muslim spiritual leaders of our time (see http://hassanhathout.com/index.html).

 To find out more about this event, see http://www.icujp.org/

For those of you who can’t make it to this event, I am sharing a draft of what I intend to say in the five minutes I have been allotted.

I became involved with the interfaith movement after 9/11 when I decided to reach out to the Muslim community. I did so because I am a Quaker and have been doing peace and reconciliation work for over 25 years, beginning with Soviet-American reconciliation during the time of Ronald Reagan. Quakers have a peace testimony that goes back to the founding of Quakerism in the 17th century. This was a time of intense and bloody religious war among Christians. Quakers were convinced that war was contrary to the spirit and teachings of Jesus. Quakers have been pacifists for 350 years. During WW I Quakers founded the American Friends Service Committee for conscientious objectors. In 1948 Quakers were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. The AFSC has become a multicultural and multi-faith organization. I used to work for the AFSC as a youth service project coordinator.To combat the intense fear that arose after 9/11, I fasted during Ramadan and went to local mosques. I was so warmly received by Muslims that I began taking a serious interest in Islam. I wrote a pamphlet called “Islam from a Quaker Perspective,” which tries to explain Islam to Quakers, and Quakerism to Muslims.

I also joined interfaith organizations, like the South Coast Interfaith Council and Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace.

As a result, my spiritual horizons broadened and I got to know some truly amazing people of different faiths. Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Sikhs and others who are passionate about peace and who are trying to make this a better world. These are people who don’t get a lot of media attention. But they are nonetheless wonderful, inspiring people, like the panelist here at this table….

I have been so inspired by the interfaith movement that I now spend my whole life doing interfaith work for various organizations, locally, nationally and internationally.

One of the keys to interfaith work is compassionate listening. This is a technique that was developed by a Quaker named Gene Hoffman. Gene was trained as a pastoral counselor and applied these techniques to trauma healing in conflict situations. She helped start the Compassionate Listening project with Leah Green, a Jewish American peace activist. I went on a Compassionate Listening Project to Israel/Palestine and was deeply impressed with how Compassionate Listening can help people to listen to each other and to gain trust at a deep level. Such heart-based listening is essential for peace-making.

There are many other positive aspects of interfaith work that I could talk about if I had more time. For example, the interfaith environmental movement has brought together people of different faith traditions to tackle the problems of global warming. All religions agree that life and the earth are precious. In 2007, I edited a Quaker-inspired book called EarthLight: Spiritual Wisdom for an Ecological Age. This anthology has articles on spirituality and the environment by authors from numerous faith traditions: Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, etc. Clearly saving the planet for future generations is something that all people of faith, and also people who do not profess any faith, have in common.

But my time has run out, so all I can say is what all authors say under such circumstances, if you want to find out more, read my books!

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