WISDOM Newsletter – April 2016

Written by WISDOM on . Posted in Newsletters

Calendar for WISDOM and Other Interfaith Events  
 
Saturday, April 16th 10:00 AM – noon Women’s Brunch
Five Women Five Journeys
Christ church Detroit
960 E. Jefferson Ave.
Detroit, 48207
contact Maryan Schilie, maryann_schlie@hotmail.com 
 
Tuesday, April 19th 7:00 PM  at the Birmingham Community House
380 S. Bates Street, Birmingham, MI
Showing of the Film “A Third Way.”
See Flyer Below for more details
Wednesday, May 25th 7:00 PM – 9:00 PM
Five Women Five Journeys
Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital
6777 W. Maple Road, West Bloomfield 48322
contact Maryann Schlie at maryann_schlie@hotmail.com
March through June – Exploring Religious Landscapes – Explore sacred prayers, texts, traditions, ceremonies, rites and rituals across faith traditions.  See the InterFaith Leadership Council Flyer below.

 

“DROP IN & LEARN ON DVD:
JESUS AND HIS JEWISH INFLUENCES”

Congregation Beth Ahm
5075 West Maple Road, West Bloomfield

Wednesdays at 1 pm starting April 6

Free and open to the community, no reservations required.

Join us for this 24-part lecture series on DVD from The Great Courses ® featuring Prof. Jodi Magness of The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. We will screen two 30-minute lectures each week, followed by brief informal discussion.
For anyone interested in understanding the profound effect Jesus had on the world, it’s important to realize that his actions and teachings didn’t emerge from a vacuum. Rather, they were the product of a fascinating dialogue with-and reaction to-the traditions, cultures, and historical developments of ancient Jewish beliefs. In fact, early Judaism and Jesus are two subjects so inextricably linked that one cannot arrive at a true understanding of Jesus without understanding the time in which he lived and taught.
This course explores fundamental questions such as:
  • How was early Judaism markedly different from the Rabbinic Judaism practiced today?
  • What kind of world did early Jewish sects envision, and how does Jesus’s world view relate to theirs?
  • How did events like the Babylonian exile and the reign of Herod the Great affect the development of Judaism up to Jesus’s time?
  • What did it really mean to be a Jew in ancient Israel-and what did it mean for Jesus?
Crafted by acclaimed archaeologist and biblical scholar Jodi Magness of The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, this fascinating course approaches the subject of Jesus from a historical, rather than scriptural, perspective; one rooted in the study of ancient texts and archaeological discoveries. You’ll embark upon an in-depth investigation of the ancient world that Jesus was born into, and you’ll revisit the tumultuous events of early Jewish history with the specific purpose of gleaning hidden insights into how they shaped an individual-and a movement-whose legacy endures to this very day.
Donations are welcome to help underwrite this free weekly learning opportunity, now in its 8th year at Beth Ahm. For more info contact Nancy Kaplan by phone (248) 737-1931, text (248) 390-4294 or e-mail nancyellen879@att.net

 

Jewish Community Center of Metropolitan Detroit
The 18th Annual Lenore Marwil Jewish FilmFestival
  May 12, 2016
8:00 PM
At the Berman Center
For the Performing Arts
6600 W. Maple Road
West Bloomfield, MI 48322
Presents
A Borrowed Identity
Eyad, a Palestinian Israeli boy, is given the chance to go to a prestigious Jewish boarding school in Jerusalem.  As he desperately tries to fit in with his schoolmates and within Israeli society, Eyad develops a friendship with another outsider, Jonathan, a boy suffering from muscular dystrophy, and gradually becomes part of the home Jonathan shares with his mother. After falling in love he discovers that he will have to sacrifice his identity to be accepted.
104 minutes, Hebrew with English subtitles
Sponsored by WISDOM and
 the InterFaith Leadership Council of Metropolitan Detroit
 

Birmingham students learn
about religions through program
A member of the Sri Venkateswara Temple draws henna art as part of the Religious Diversity Journeys lesson in Hinduism.
A student drapes herself in traditional Indian garb during the Religious Diversity Journeys trip to the Sri Venkateswara Temple.
BIRMINGHAM – At a time when there has been much debate and conversation about religious sensitivity and discrimination, Birmingham School District students are participating in a program where they learn about different religions. The program, Religious Diversity Journeys, is presented by the InterFaith Leadership Council of Metropolitan Detroit and allows seventh-grade students from various school districts to learn and experience religions they might not be too familiar with by visiting the places of worship. Fourteen districts – including schools from Birmingham, Walled Lake, Troy, Farmington, West Bloomfield and Berkley – chose 25 students each to visit the homes of religions, such as a Hindu temple, a Jewish synagogue, an Islamic mosque, a Sikh gurdwara and a Christian church. One such student was 13-year-old Ania Uzieblo, who first heard about the program during a presentation at her school, Birmingham Covington.
“I immediately wanted to do it,” she said. “I enjoy learning about other cultures, and some religions I didn’t know that much about, like Sikhs and Muslims. So I wanted to learn more about it, so then I’d be able to understand them in the future. “I know lots of people misunderstand other religions, and I didn’t want to be like those people. So I figured that if I knew and understood the religion and the purpose of it, then I’d be able to explain to others that they’re not bad people.”
Uzieblo was able to experience different parts of each religion and culture, from sampling the cuisine to hearing how religions use music in their worship and holidays. One thing Uzieblo has learned so far is that Hindus don’t believe in many different gods but one in many forms. She said being able to visit places of worship helps give her a better understanding and makes it easier to learn about each religion. Next, Uzieblo will be visiting the Holocaust Memorial Center as part of the program, and the students will make a video about what they’ve learned so far. More than 450 students are participating in this year’s program, said Religious Diversity Journeys Program Director Meredith Skowronski. Students are given assigned seats so they can expand their horizons and interact with students from other districts. Skowronski said that even though everyone might have different beliefs or look different on the outside, many religions share similar common values reached through different rituals, practices and beliefs.
“We kind of went with the major religions prevalent in our area,” Skowronski said about how they select the religions. “Honestly, we would love to bring in the Buddhists, but we don’t have time. There’s only so many days we can take the kids out of the school. We go with the most prevalent and hope it’s enough.” It takes an army of people at each house of worship to put the program together. While Skowronski travels to each location prior to the trips to discuss what needs to be taught and presented, each place provides volunteers to not only discuss the religion, but to make lunch and introduce things like cultural dancing or sari wrapping, or even to demonstrate how they pray. Because the program must maintain the separation of church and state, Skowronski stresses to each house of worship that the trips are completely educational and not a conversion program. “A student isn’t going to walk into a Hindu temple and say, ‘Hey, what’s going on?’ … To have a place open their doors to us and go as a group and have a comfortable, safe environment, I don’t think there’s a better way to break down stereotypes than to be immersed in a culture,” Skowronski said.
For more information about the Religious Diversity Journeys program, visit www.detroitinterfaithcouncil.com 

WASHINGTON – The U.S. bishops’ Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs announced Feb. 8 that it is launching a new National Catholic-Muslim Dialogue, and Chicago Archbishop Blase J. Cupich has been named its first Catholic co-chairman.
“As the national conversation around Islam grows increasingly fraught, coarse and driven by fear and often willful misinformation, the Catholic Church must help to model real dialogue and goodwill,” said Bishop Mitchell T. Rozanski of Springfield, Massachusetts, who is chairman of the committee.
For over two decades, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ ecumenical and interreligious committee has co-sponsored three regional Catholic-Muslim dialogues, and Rozanski said the time is right to begin a national dialogue.
“Our current dialogues have advanced the goals of greater understanding, mutual esteem and collaboration between Muslims and Catholics, and the members have established lasting ties of friendship and a deep sense of trust,” he said in a statement.
He also thanked Cupich for agreeing to represent the USCCB “in this crucial conversation.” The Chicago prelate’s tenure as dialogue co-chair will begin Jan. 1, 2017
The current regional Catholic-Muslim dialogues are:
  • The mid-Atlantic dialogue, which partners with the Islamic Circle of North America.
  • The Midwest, which partners with the Islamic Society of North America.
  • The West Coast, which partners with the Islamic Shura Council of Southern California and the Islamic Educational Center of Orange County, Calif.
Each is co-chaired by a bishop and a Muslim leader from the corresponding regional organization. According to a USCCB news release, the three dialogues will continue to meet and “will work collaboratively with the members of the new national dialogue.”
The release noted that establishment of a new Catholic-Muslim dialogue follows a 2014 statement from the ecumenical and interreligious committee stating that the Catholic Church remained committed to dialogue with leaders of other religions and Muslims in particular.
It said the church’s mandate to engage in dialogue with Muslims comes from “Nostra Aetate,” the Second Vatican Council’s Declaration on the Relationship of the Church to Non-Christian Religions.
The document “states unequivocally that the church urges its members to ‘enter with prudence and charity into discussion and collaboration with members of other religions.'”
Regarding Islam, the council document said “the church has also a high regard for the Muslims” and that despite centuries of conflict urged “that a sincere effort be made to achieve mutual understanding.”
The bishops’ committee statement said that “Nostra Aetate” “has been consistently upheld by recent popes.”
“Sadly, in recent years, there has been a deliberate rejection of this call to engage in dialogue with our Muslim brothers and sisters by some in the Catholic Church and in other ecclesial families,” the 2014 statement said. “We understand the confusion and deep emotions stirred by real and apparent acts of aggression and discrimination by certain Muslims against non-Muslims, often against Christians abroad.
“We, and increasingly our Muslim partners in dialogue, are concerned about these very real phenomena,” it continued. “Along with many of our fellow Catholics and the many Muslims who themselves are targeted by radicals, we wish to voice our sadness, indeed our outrage, over the random and sometimes systematic acts of violence and harassment — acts that for both Christians and Muslims threaten and disrupt the harmony that binds us together in mutual support, recognition, and friendship.”
At the same time, the statement said, “it is our belief that the most efficient way to work toward ending or at least curtailing such violence and prejudice is through building networks of dialogue that can overcome ignorance, extremism, and discrimination and so lead to friendship and trust with Muslims.”

Three congregations come together
at Tri-Faith Campus in Omaha
It started with a conversation about parking lots. Rabbi Aryeh Azriel, a senior rabbi at Temple Israel, a Reform Jewish congregation, was speaking to Bob Freeman, past president of Temple Israel, about building a new place. They both remarked how nice it was to share parking lots with a Methodist church and an Omaha theater on High Holy Days. They planned to relocate to West Omaha and contacted Dr. Syed Mohiuddin, president of the American Muslim Institute, whose group was also relocating. The conversation moved from sharing parking lots to wondering about a campus where three communities — Temple Israel, along with Muslim and Christian houses of worship — would share what is now known as the Tri-Faith campus. Temple Israel, the American Muslim Institute and the Episcopal diocese of Nebraska purchased the land in December 2011. A founding partner, the Episcopal diocese transitioned the partnership to Countryside Community Church, a United Church of Christ congregation, in April 2015.
Azriel, who is retiring in June, said he is not focusing so much on the Tri-Faith Center’s impact on the rest of the world. “I’m just interested in doing something here in Omaha, making sure the relationships are solid, meaningful and just,” he said. He added that it is possible that the same sort of initiative could work elsewhere, but “we have a long road before we accomplish this neighborhood that will be established finally in 2018.”Temple Israel opened on the campus in October 2013. The American Muslim Institute broke ground in May 2015 and Countryside Community Church is in the midst of making plans with an architect. A Tri-Faith Center, which will be shared by all three groups, will break ground sometime in 2016. “We are going to call it Abraham’s Tent,” said Mohiuddin. “He’s the father of all three religions and the building will be shaped like a tent.” Azriel said he’s excited about what he calls the fifth room, which is the open ground and yard area between the buildings. “It’s not just important to build the buildings for each faith community to remain in their buildings, secluded almost like a fortress,” he said. “The idea is to create a space in between that will engage all of the faith communities into work, social justice projects, celebrations and holidays.”

Mercy Sr. Maryanne Stevens is the president of College of St. Mary in Omaha, as well as the chair of the board of directors for the Tri-Faith Initiative, the 501(c)(3) incorporated in 2006 to build the campus. She said she was interested in the initiative because “I believe there is bad religion that incites anger, violence and hatred, and good religion that incites the gifts of the Spirit — charity, peace, patience, kindness and joy. All the major religions can turn bad and have at certain times in history.” “I also believe that the major Abrahamic religions have a big role to play in the world as the majority of humans who practice religion belong to one of these traditions,” she continued. “Therefore, in large part, peace is dependent on the understandings fostered among and between them.” Azriel told NCR that the synagogue already had a relationship with the Muslim community. On Sept. 11, 2001, 40 members of Temple Israel surrounded the mosque “because we knew there would be some possible difficulties for the Muslim community to go through a day of quiet. We went to make sure we could keep quiet and safety for the Muslim community in town.” The acceptance by Countryside Community Church is something Mohiuddin called visionary. “They were willing to give up a well-established building and move to a new place just because of this wonderful vision of the Tri-Faith Center and campus,” he said. “For us, it was easier because we didn’t have a big enough building, and the temple needed space.”

The Rev. Eric Elnes, senior pastor at Countryside Community Church, said his congregation has a long history of interfaith work, and offered support for the project before the Episcopal diocese approached the church in January 2013 to become the Christian member. Once the invitation was extended, Elnes said the entire church went through a major discernment process, first to decide “if this is a question the Holy Spirit wanted us to be asking.” In April 2015, the congregation accepted the invitation. While the majority approved of the move, Elnes said some of the congregation disapproved because of the cost and because the church would be leaving a building that was in good shape and next to a high school. “There was no example of changing just because of a vision,” Elnes said. Mohiuddin said the purpose of the American Muslim Institute is to provide educational resource facilities, cultural and civil service, and hopefully a medical clinic, which will provide free services. The institute also hopes to have a day care center and Sunday school for Muslim children to provide basic education.

“We hope the building will serve the Omaha community,” added Mohiuddin. “The Muslim community is increasing in number. Most of these are first-generation immigrants from different parts of the country — India, Pakistan, Middle Eastern countries. But also other Asian countries, including Iran, Indonesia and Malaysia.” He noted that “the University of Kabul [Afghanistan] and the University of Nebraska at Omaha have a working relationship, even before all this trouble started, so a lot of migration from Kabul [comes] here.” Each leader noted the generosity of the Omaha community. Azriel called Omaha a “well-kept secret” and said “people are really interested in creating a special community here.” Elnes called attention to the strong embrace of faith life, saying, “Faith really changes things when you take it seriously.” Azriel said people might be surprised this campus is possible in a time when there is a lot of darkness, bigotry and hate in the country. “A lot of people are willing to set aside everything and try to dream the proper dream,” he said. “This idea of intentionally coming together to establish a dream that maybe not everyone has the capacity of dreaming is unique. And we can do it in Omaha.” “There is nothing like this in the whole world. This is the first of its kind,” added Mohiuddin. “It will provide a message that we can live together, that we can be neighbors and we can share our paths, our dreams, and our hopes and not fear each other. I think it is the fear of the unknown, which creates our problems.”

[Elizabeth A. Elliott is an NCR Bertelsen intern. Her email address is eelliott@ncronline.org.]

 

The pastor and the imam:
Good sidewalks make good neighbors
 

 

EAST LANSING, MICH.

On the campus of Michigan State University in East Lansing, members of a Lutheran church and a mosque have forged a strong bond based on education, faith and mutual respect. For 37 years, the Islamic Society of Greater Lansing, the region’s sole mosque, has shared a property line with University Lutheran Church. Established in 1979, the mosque has 1,500 members and 150 children attend its school. In 1972 the Lutheran congregation moved to its current location from the old State Theater in Lansing. Today, the church has 750 members. The respective worship sites are practically wall to wall, with nothing separating them but shrubbery and brick walkways installed last year, a joint project between the communities. Imam Sohail Chaudhry arrived in Michigan in 2014 from West Virginia, where he had lectured at the Islamic Center of Morgantown and served as a prison chaplain in the Midwest and the South. Chaudhry, 34, said he was “over the moon” when he discovered the cohesiveness between University Lutheran Church and the Islamic Society.

“Since we share common goals, reaching out to those in need, we accepted the invitation to serve side by side and bring our faiths together,” he said. “We are thankful to God for such kind neighbors and want to transfer this love to the next generation.” “Islam means submission to the Creator,” he added. “His peace cannot be achieved without serving creation. That is the message of the prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him.” For the Rev. Frederick Fritz, pastor of University Lutheran Church, serving side by side with members of other faiths is all in a day’s work. This year, the church celebrates its 75th anniversary. Fritz, 62, has led its flock since 2003. In a spirit of solidarity, he offered to his neighbors use of the church parking lot on Fridays when the Islamic Society’s members assemble to pray. “Our reward is our service,” Fritz said. “Faithful discipleship is what Lutheranism is all about. That has to be the bottom line. We try not to see in black and white.”

Fritz has been preparing for his current role his entire career. Ordained in 1979, he served in parishes throughout the Midwest and taught education at Minnesota State University. As chaplain, he offered Muslim students space to pray at his church. “I grew up in a small Ohio town,” he said. “I always had a sense that the world was bigger. I wanted to get out and see it.” After ordination, he planned to study at an Islamic seminary in Cairo, but the Iran hostage crisis deterred him. He never picked up Arabic but said that Islam is “like a second language to me.” Fr. Mark Inglot, pastor of St. John Church and Student Center at Michigan State University, has worked closely with Fritz in ecumenical and interfaith events on campus. “Pastor Fritz’s church and the mosque are examples of what society needs to learn, to be good neighbors,” the Catholic priest said. Chaudhry’s faith journey began when he immigrated to the United States in 1999 to study at University of West Virginia. He described his faith as tepid back then, until he researched world religions. Judaism, Christianity and Islam “share a common thread,” he said.

“Muslims are like everybody else,” he said, “living paycheck to paycheck and worrying about the same things that we all worry about: jobs, kids, education. Does misunderstanding [between faiths] exist? Absolutely. That’s why the way forward is education. Leadership on both ends of the walkways is committed to sharing education.” After the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, members of the church stood with those from the mosque to guard the building and they supported plans to open the school at the Islamic Society. The Rev. Sara Cogsil, who is Episcopalian, is one of two female associate pastors at University Lutheran Church. Commenting on relations between the communities, she said, “This isn’t just a congregational partnership but a communal partnership. Our relationship is vital. East Lansing clergy are working on developing support for the Islamic center.” Fritz said that the relationship has grown stronger over the years. In October, 50 members of the mosque joined 100 parishioners for “God’s Work, Our Hands,” a service project where volunteers filled 10,000 plastic bags with rice, beans, spices, and soybeans and packed them off to food banks worldwide. “The poet Robert Frost wrote, ‘Good fences make good neighbors,’ ” Fritz said. “To that I would add, good sidewalks and playgrounds make good neighbors, too.”

[Raymond Tucker Cordani teaches writing at Jackson College in Michigan. He has written for Catholic News Service, Faith magazine and Columbia magazine.*]

Waris
A poem by Parvinder Mehta
Their eyes filled with suspicion
screening for potential danger
fail to see his humanity. Their gaze
of mistrust denies him approval, and
insists on random searches
again and again. He hopes they will
learn about him, understand him.
Someday they will…
Some kind eyes may politely
plead for additional scrutiny
yet many others glaringly intimidate
and dehumanize him. Their doubts for
his traveling to routine destinations
on vacations, on journeys to living his life
cast aspersions on his refusal to assimilate.
His bright turban, turns their cautionary
gaze, impelling them to demand
adherence. They ask him to take off
his turban at the fancy airports
celebrating diversity with humongous,
exotic frames of ethnic faces and
concrete smiles plastered and painted
on walls. “Only a routine check-up, Sir!”
smirkingly mutters one of them. He smiles
calmly yet refuses the exhibition demanded.
“Not here, never!” He asks for other ways to
alleviate their doubts. “Why do they come here
caring so much about the head nonsense?”
they mutter. He follows them with a calm fury
to another panopticon of surveillance.
“They do not understand,” he thinks,
patting down his own turban with
affection and respect, holding out
his hands to their suspicious scrutiny
and mechanized screening.
Someday they will…
He collects his belongings,
wondering about such unbelonging.
They do not understand
those traditions and histories,
those memories and chronicles
of sacrifices and affirmation,
brave resistance and resilience,
against conversion and assimilation.
Someday, he hopes, they will learn
to tolerate turbans, the crowns of
commitment to defend and stand tall.
Till then he must educate the errors,
tell them his reasons. Someday they will
accept his desire to follow, to cherish
this tradition of belonging and promise.
Someday they will…
Much Ado About Waris: Questions About Inheritance
My recent poem, Waris, is a reflection drawn from many real-life incidents where turban-wearing Sikh travelers have faced discrimination in the name of security. In the Panjabi laguage, waris means inheritor. This poem is about waris, it calls for a hope that someday others can truly understand the implications of following Sikh beliefs, and show solidarity with a Sikh’s right to affirm himself or herself without any prejudice.
Although the issue of how to treat Sikhs who wear turbans has been a point of continued vigilance by civil rights groups, the Sikh community, and individual Sikhs, there seems to be no abatement of incidents where Sikhs are subject to undue and impossible scrutiny during routine airport security checks. On Feb. 8, 2016 the Sikh American actor, Waris Ahluwalia, was barred from boarding his AeroMexico flight from Mexico City to New York when he refused to remove his turban. Waris remained in the airport and made several requests of the airline. These included a public apology, training to increase the airline employees about the Sikhs, and creating training protocols for improved screening of passengers with religious headwear. The Sikh Coalition was instrumental in ensuring that Ahluwalia’s demands were met.
This incident, although not uncommon, highlights the intrinsic need to understand why Ahluwalia refused to take off his turban. Some Sikhs and others, in socially mediated conversations, have jumped in to endorse his refusal as a necessary action needed for Sikhs to affirm their civil rights. Others have dismissively hinted that he should have followed the airline officials’ directions without a fuss or an “issue.” Some have even suggested that, as Sikh travelers, they have never faced any hostility, and had agreed to follow the security protocol in for the safety of all. A few have suggested that this incident has come to Ahluwalia’s advantage to further boost his fame and popularity. Whether or not we question the intentions of a person who faces such discrimination, it is apparent that the issue of the how to deal with the Sikh turban at airport security checkpoints is still being negotiated. The turban is not simply a religious symbol nor is it simply a covering for unshorn hair. It is tied to a long history of resistance to oppression, it is a sign of the integrity of humanity, and considered intimately tied to universal ideas of dignity and equality. Its removal is therefore, not just impractical or a matter of inconvenience.
In a less publicized incident, another Sikh Canadian entertainer, Jasmeet Singh aka “Jus Reign” was forced to take off his turban at a San Francisco airport on February 23rd, 2016. After following the security officials’ instructions, and taking off his turban in a private room, he had to then walk to the restroom to tie back his turban on his head. This incident only serves to highlight Waris Ahluwalia’s refusal to silently endure the discrimination and inconvenience it causes. True appreciation of diversity cannot come through tokenistic displays; it can only come through a sincere awareness of why some communities may be different from the mainstream. It can come through an acknowledgement that minorities too deserve civil rights for self-affirmation. It is this hope that we who carry the visible markers of our differences can be inheritors, can be the waris of a legacy of difference that is not only acknowledged but also truly embraced by the mainstream. Our differences should be not just markers of exhibitionist otherness to showcase; rather, they should be reached out to understand with a genuine empathy.
Removal: A Sacrilegious Act
The respect that a turban demands is sacrosanct in homes of practicing Sikhs. I remember while growing up as a child, that my father’s turban, when not worn, was always placed at a higher shelf, so it was never mishandled or violated. I had always carried my father’s turban, holding it in both of my hands, whenever my father would ask me to bring it. The turban is not a fashionable costume for embellishment. It is not an occasional indulgence to represent a selective solidarity. It is rather a symbol of life-long commitment and promise to follow the unique path drawn by Sikh Gurus, to affirm pride and self-identity by maintaining unshorn hair and wrapping them neatly and covering them by a turban. To remove a Sikh’s turban or to ask him to remove it is thus a sacrilegious act. It signifies a rejection of a Sikh’s right to follow his Gurus’ message of egalitarianism and equality. For Sikhs, to not adhere to this demand in public places like airports is not just a matter of security, but also a civil right to affirm their own identities. By refusing to take off the turban, Sikh men or women, may be seen as resisting the power that demands their own self-negation. Power can be good, when it is equipped with the wisdom and empathy to treat Sikhs and other minority travelers with respect for their differences rather than presuming suspicion on account of their non-mainstream differences.
Sikhs and the Airport Narratives:
Most Sikhs who travel by air have many stories to tell where they were deemed dangerous because of their turbans on their heads. Some Sikhs have even chosen to avoid wearing turbans and covering their head with baseball hats or bandanas. Such assimilatory acts, to not look different from others, actually alleviate the pride that most turban-wearing Sikhs feel about their uniqueness and ability to stand out. Yet it is understandable when some Sikhs want to avoid unnecessary harassment and suspicion-filled gaze of scrutiny from others beside them. It is imperative that this culture of suspicion be addressed optimally through a careful consideration of how ways of additional scrutiny be reviewed so it does not cause any harassment to Sikhs and others. I remember once traveling by air to attend a family wedding. My husband, Manmohan, was asked to follow the security officials for additional screening. After the initial X-ray screening that all the passengers also had undergone, my husband was asked to follow the security staff. He waited for screening of our children and me, before he agreed to follow them. They asked if he wanted a private room for additional screening, and he replied in the affirmative. While I waited with our children outside the room, my husband went in with them. The gaze of the other passengers, who looked at us with a hint of suspicion, was unsettling for me at first. My husband, like most Sikh travelers, is used to the additional screening expected at airports. That day, he asked the officials to change their gloves and wear new ones to ensure that his turban is not besmirched in any way. The officials agreed to do that, and it was a quick screening after that. On another occasion, my husband volunteered to pat his own turban instead of having his turban patted by others. Fortunately, most airports that we have visited in transit, have security officials who are aware about the Sikhs. Yet, it is also true that racism and hate can be found anywhere. Will hate-driven, ignorance-fueled, prejudice-laced encounters stop for Sikhs at airports and other public places? If governing authorities ensure a comprehensive education for their staff to understand the civil rights of the diverse minorities who may not a part of the mainstream lifestyle or who choose to affirm their rights in a different way, then perhaps discriminatory incidents against Sikhs in public places as airports can be avoided after all.
Parvinder Mehta©

Harvard Launches Free Online Class

To Promote Religious Literacy

Sales of the Quran skyrocketed in the United States following 9/11. Perhaps it was a search for answers, or a desire to parse out certain stereotypes, that made some people turn to the Muslim holy text.
But the increased circulation of the Quran due to the recent Paris attacks and rise of the Islamic State has not always helped people to better understand and respect the faith. If anything, fear and prejudice toward Islam has risen.
This is one example of the “widespread illiteracy about religion that spans the globe,” said Diane Moore, director of Harvard Divinity School’s Religious Literacy Project to The Huffington Post.
To combat this illiteracy, Moore and five other religion professors from Harvard University, Harvard Divinity School and Wellesley College are kicking off a free, online series on world religions open to the masses. The courses are being offered via an online learning platform called edX, which Harvard University launched with Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2012.
The timing is ripe for such a course, Moore said. Religious illiteracy “fuels bigotry and prejudice and hinders capacities for cooperative endeavors in local, national, and global arenas,” Moore told HuffPost.
The edX series will include six classes on different subjects that will each run for four weeks. Moore is teaching the first course in the series on “Religious Literacy: Traditions and Scriptures,” which begins on March 1. The next five will dive into specific faiths, covering Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism and Judaism.
Religious literacy entails more than just knowing the Five Pillars of Islam or Buddhism’s Four Noble Truths, Moore said. Such an approach “reinforces the problematic assumption that religions are internally uniform and ahistorical,” she added.
Instead, Moore suggested that religious literacy should include an understanding that religious traditions are “internally diverse,” ever-evolving, and play complex roles in people’s lives.
To that end, the course aims to offer participants an understanding of the history and interpretations of religious texts and why some were designated as “sacred.” Students will also dive into contemporary and historical interpretations of the texts to get a feel for just how “internally diverse” the traditions are.
Moore said she and the other facilitators anticipate up to 50,000 people will enroll for the series, given that it is online and free for students who audit the courses. For those interested in earning a certificate of achievement at the end of the series, edX offers a non-audit track for $50.

The course is especially aimed at educators, Moore said, as well as members of faith communities interested in multi-faith engagement and dialogue.

She added, “I’m excited to provide a platform for more informed discourse about religion.”
See Video about this online class by going to https://youtu.be/U-YQXRrNo70


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To Provide concrete modeling of women from different faith traditions working together in harmony for the common good.
To Empower women to take a more active role in furthering social justice and world peace.
To Dispel myths, stereotypes, prejudices and fear about faith traditions different from our own.
To Nurture the growth of empathy and spiritual energy that result from our projects and interfaith dialogue.

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