London Interfaith Iftar with Mayor Sadiq Khan, HE Cardinal Nichols, & Chief Rabbi of the UK

AR Invited to London Mayor Sadiq Khan’s Interfaith Iftar Dinner with H.E. Cardinal Nichols, Chief Rabbi of the UK Mirvis

Last Tuesday was one of the rare early summer evenings in London that seem to last forever.  I could not think of a better way to spend it than to go with Sheik Ghassan Manasra to an event that was in its own way as brilliant as the evening.  We had been invited as special guests to an interfaith Iftar event hosted by His Eminence Cardinal Vincent Nichols at the Catholic Archbishop’s House. The evening was sponsored by the Naz Legacy Foundation along with the Chief Rabbi of the UK Ephraim Mirvis and the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan.

We arrived just in time for the introduction of Sadiq Khan, whose remarks were funny, topical and inspiring.  They were were particularly aimed at the 100 young people (aged 18-30 years old, the average age was 23!), representing all 32 boroughs of London, from all faiths and none.  After the remarks, the young people broke up into groups to discuss ‘how they best thought they could bring faith and non-faith communities together in London for the betterment of all our communities.’  This was a great chance for us to mingle and listen to the many yet harmonious voices of young Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Bahias, Buddhists, Sikhs, and those of no particular faith.

Sheik Ghassan gently introduced the Abrahamic Reunion to everyone he met, and the reception was always enthusiastic.  I also went from table to table to listen and talk about the AR.  My favorite reaction was from a young woman who said:

“What a wonderful idea.  Too often religion is blamed for conflict, and here is an example of true religion bringing peace.”

The setting was beautiful, the throne room of the Edwardian residence of the Catholic Archdiocese. Being in that setting reminded me of my Catholic upbringing.  I remembered the excitement of the first interfaith events, which in Wisconsin were between the Catholics and the Lutherans.  Listening to the young people of so many different faiths explore ways to bring people together was a great lesson in how far we’ve come and how bright the future looks.

 


2017 Passover & Easter Peace Messages from the Peacemakers

The Abrahamic Reunion Peacemakers would like to offer messages of peace during Passover and Easter Season 2017 – from Rabbi Yakov Nagen, Father Nael Aburahmoun, and Sheikh Khalid Abu Ras.

Passover message from Rabbi Nagen

The Passover Hagada – The wise son returns to the questions

by Rabbi Yakov Nagen, AR Board Co-Chairman

“The Torah speaks of four children: One is wise, one is wicked, one is simple and one does not know how to ask.”                The Haggada

 The four children represent four different types of personalities. Because life is dynamic, each person, during the course of his or her lifetime, often  incorporates aspects of all four of these personalities. The transformation between the different identities may be confusing and frustrating, especially when it is from a “positive” personality, to one which is considered  “negative”. This is why it is important to understand that each of the four personalities mentioned in the Hagada reflect four stages of spiritual searching. Sometimes, a person has to pass through each of them. This idea may help guide us through life’s journey.

“He who does not know how to ask…”

Asking questions is the basis for growth. One who asks questions gets a chance to see the world from a new point of view, and is willing to learn and change. This motivates him to search and discover. Without the ability to ask, a person remains stagnant in the same place and at the same level. He is aware only of the familiar, and the rest of the world remains a sealed book. The Mishna opens the discussion about the mitzvah of telling the story of the redemption during the seder by describing “… and here the son asks his father, and if the son has insufficient understanding, his father instructs him…” (Pesachim 10, 4) What does the father teach his son? We would think that he tells him the story of the exodus from Egypt. Instead the mishna continues with a list of questions: “Wherefore is this night different from all other nights…?” In other words, the father’s job is to teach his son how to ask!1

“He who is simple…”

The simple one knows how to ask. However, because of his great simplicity, he is ready to accept simple answers. These simple answers are at times caused by the limited knowledge of the responder, and often, by that of the asker “…and according to the knowledge of the child, the father instructs him…” (Ibid) Either way, the answers that the simple son gets are all banal, and don’t deal with the depth and complexity of the questions. Nonetheless, this is why he lives in a harmonious world where everything is orderly and understood. At first glance, there is charm and grace in this naïve life, but it is only an illusion. The world and the reality is complex, and one day the child will grow up and realize that not everything is so simple.

He who is wicked…”

The possibility that questions can be more convincing than the answers can cause a crisis. The wicked son feels cheated. He is upset at all those who have been feeding him lies, and despises those who still believe the answers, which seem to him shallow and unsatisfactory — if not fake. He loses trust in the society wherein he was raised, isolates himself, and refuses to accept anything from those who disappointed him. When he was more naïve, he believed everything, and now he does not believe in anything. That is the tragic process of the wicked son in the Hagada. He is no longer interested in the search, and his questions are for defiant purposes only. “The Wicked Son, what does he say? ‘What is this service to you ?’ To you, but not to him. Since he has excluded himself from the community, he has denied himself the essentials of our faith.” (The Hagada)The denial of faith begins by stepping out of the question and answer dialogue, which is so essential for the continuation of Jewish life.

“He who is wise…”

The difference between the three previous sons and the wise son is that none of the above tries to view the world through spectacles of questioning and searching. The first son does not know how to ask, the second son thinks that all of his questions have been answered, and the third son thinks that his questions have no answer — so there is no point in asking and searching. As opposed to them, the wise son returns to the questions. He is willing to return and re-ask the questions.

Where did this ability to start over come from? Just like the wicked son, the wise son understands the complexity of reality, but this comprehension leads him to opposite conclusions. The world is complex and the expectation for perfect answers has never been anything but an illusion. The answers are limited because of the nature of the world, so the responders cannot be blamed and looked down upon. The wise son understands that just because adults, including his parents, do not know everything — does not mean that they do not know anything. In fact, there is much to learn from the people that he used to degrade. As Mark Twain put it, “When I was fifteen, I discovered that my dad was dumb. When I was twenty, I was amazed by how much the ‘old man’ learned in the last five years.”

The world is complicated and full of contradictions, and for this reason, even if the person feels that not everything he used to believe in is true, it doesn’t mean it is a lie. The easiest way out is to dump everything. It is much harder to look for the little bits of light and truth that are hidden in everything and everyone, which make it all meaningful. 

The wise son of the Hagada did not get his name from his sharp answers, but because of the questions he asks. He is the only one out of the four sons who knows that he does not know. He approaches the world with modesty. A world that is so beautiful because of all the secrets it conceals. The wise son hears God cry “Seek  for me always,” and knows that the search is the meaning of life. He returns to the naiveté that is mentioned in the Hassidic saying, “Innocence is greater than wisdom, but how wise does a person have to be, to become innocent.” 

Easter & Passover Blessings from Fr Nael Abu Rahmoun

Salaam Shalom Peace and greetings to everyone from Nazareth,

Passover is a call to remember the crossing of the people of God from slavery to freedom.

Easter is a call to remember the passing of Jesus Christ from death to life.

So we are then reminded that Life, Joy, liberty, Reconciliation, Justice and Peace will have the last word.

In these days we continually hear bad news of violence and wars and racism against humanity, but celebrating these feasts we will renew our faith in God and hope to a better life and future.

It is time for religions and spiritual leaders to contribute more than ever in peace building… Easter Blessings to you

Christ is risen  He is risen indeed… Alleluia

المسيح قام   حقا قام  هللويا

Happy Passover Feast  חג פסח שמח

 

Fr. Nael Abu Rahmoun

Anglican Priest

Christ Church Nazareth

 

Passover Blessings from Sheikh Khalid Abu Ras

Al-Salamu Alaykum , Shalom

Wishing you joy and many blessings Passover and throughout the year.

Passover is a Jewish festival celebrated in commemoration of the release of the Hebrews from the brutal slavery of the ancient Egyptians.

ALLAH God bless you and our world, and give us to recognize this

Experience.

you always be blessed with peace and happiness.

Wishing you and our world a Happy Passover.

Chag Sameach.

Love you

Khalid

 

Easter & Passover Blessings from Shahabuddin David Less

Each of the religions of Beni Israel have developed out of the breast of the prophet Abraham. His message was clearly to appreciate the wisdom and love of the one G*d, the G*d of and in all peoples, and to worship G*d by loving the creation of that infinite being. As we love each other and as we love nature we are worshiping the truth and wisdom of Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar.

The teachings of all the prophets can be found in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. There are different traditions and different ways of expressing the connection with G*d, but the underlying theme of each religion is to love G*d and appreciate that G*d is the creator of all human beings. During the time of Easter and Passover and soon Ramadan, we have an opportunity to remember that although our ways of worshiping might differ we all worship and love the same perfect G*d and G*d’s creation – the human being.

 

 


“Ethical Connection & The Light of the Holidays” – SRQ Text Study

Sarasota Interfaith Scriptural Reasoning Session at Temple Beth-Sholom, Dec 1st, 2016

With over 35 people turning out for our December Sarasota Abrahamic Reunion meeting, including Rabbi Michael Werbow (Temple Beth-Sholom, our host), Fr. Joe Clifford and Mary Homola (St. Thomas More Catholic Church), David and Anna Less (Rising Tide International) , Sheikh Abedelsalam Manasra (Sufi Muslim Sheikh from Nazareth) and Ted Brownstein (Baha’i, Lake Worth Interfaith Coalition), conversation was bubbling and exuberant. Ted gave out free copies of his booklet “Interfaith Prayer Book” and David offered copies of his book Universal Meditations as a gift to all participants, and the themes of connection and light brought out the inner light of all who participated.

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Sheikh Ghassan Manasra (far L), and his father Sheikh Abed Manasra (far R), as Ghassan begins the gathering.

Sheikh Ghassan Manasra led the meeting, and was joined by his father Sheikh Abed Elsalam Manasra Sr. and his two daughters Zainab and Zuhaira at the meeting. Zainab and Ghassan’s father are visiting Sarasota for the next 6 months.

After Rabbi Michael Werbow of Temple Beth-Sholom started off the session, we heard presentations from the Clergy on topic.

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Rabbi Michael Werbow giving us a historical evolution of the Hannukah ritual as an extension of Sukkot, and the rabbinical discussions around when to light the candles.

Rabbi Werbow shared how the Jewish tradition holds up examples of becoming a “Lamplighter” – and that to become a lamplighter and bring divine light into the world is one of the highest aspirations. The Torah lays out a path for becoming a lamplighter:

“The Hasid asked: “How does one become a lamplighter?”

The Rebbe replied: “One must begin with oneself, cleansing oneself, becoming more refined, then one sees the other as a source of light, waiting to be ignited. When, Heaven forbid, one is crude, then one sees but crudeness; but when one is noble, one sees nobility.”

“The soul of the human is a lamp of God,” and it is also written, “A mitzvah is a lamp and the Torah is a light.” A Jew is one who puts personal affairs aside and goes around lighting up the souls of others with the light of Torah and mitzvoth. That is the true calling of a Jew – to be a lamplighter, an igniter of souls.”

 (by Menachem Mendle Schneersohn)

Rabbi Werbow explained that in Hannukah can lighting another candle for each day mirrors the idea that “One of our jobs in life is to Increase our light and increase our holiness as we go on in life.”

He also showed the group a video of a Jewish stand-up comedian Yisrael Campbell who talked about how much consideration goes into the feelings of a Hannukah candle – “The second candle gets lit first. Why? It might be nervous. Because the first candle was already lit. So the second candle gets lit first. Out of consideration for the feelings of a candle!” Rabbi Werbow pointed out that this is a form of ethical teaching woven in by anthropomorphizing the candles, which is also done with the bread and wine blessed on Shabbat.

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Fr. Joe Clifford of St. Thomas More, sharing his insight into Catholic and Celtic Christian traditions of Advent and Christmas

Father Joe of St. Thomas More Catholic Church continued on the candle theme by teaching our group about Advent Candles – which are lit in succession on the four weeks leading up to Christmas so that 4 weeks before Christmas (the 1st week of Advent) there is one candle lit. The next week there are 2 candles lit. And so on until on Christmas you have all four advent candles lit, plus one candle lit especially for Christmas.

“Our tradition is based on the Jewish tradition so we’re connected so so beautifully,” he said. “In the Celtic Faith Tradition Advent…is a waiting period…it’s about sitting in the barrenness of the desert and whatever comes comes. And the Candle is a reminder of that, to almost empty ourselves to be filled with the light. The candle is symbolic of the light of Christ” which is renewed in the faith community every Christmas…”re-birthing the Christ-child within us.”

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Rev. Chris Miller of Rising Tide brought several quotes from the Sufi tradition in regard to ethical human connection, including Rumi and Inayat Khan:

“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and right doing,

there is a field. I’ll meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass,

The world is too full to talk about.

Ideas, language, even the phrase “each other” doesn’t make any sense.”

 Jelaluddin Rumi, 13th Sufi Poet

 

“The secret is that our benefit in life depends upon the benefit of others. We are dependent upon each other…If you wish to be happy, think of the happiness of your fellow people.” 

– Inayat Khan

Chris also shared that in the Sufism of Rising Tide, there is an emphasis put on rising above the ethic of reciprocity – ‘an eye for an eye’ – and into the ethic of beneficence – wishing well even giving boon for curse – and even to go beyond this one step further in the ethic of unity – seeing the interdependence and interconnection in each interaction so keenly as to realize that every action towards another is the exact same action towards oneself.

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Ted Brownstein (middle), AR Advisory Board Member, Baha’i, member of Lake Worth Interfaith Association, joined us from the Palm Beach area.

And Sheikh Ghassan Manasra shared a few suras of the Qu’ran, including the Prayer Of Light, to go along with the theme of the light of the holidays:

O God! Grant me Light in my heart,
Light in my grave,
Light in front of me, Light behind me,
Light to my right, Light to my left,
Light above me, Light below me,
Light in my ears, Light in my eyes,
Light on my skin, Light in my hair,
Light within my flesh, Light in my blood,
Light in my bones.

O God! Increase my Light everywhere.

O God! Grant me Light in my heart,
Light on my tongue, Light in my eyes, Light in my ears,
Light to my right, Light to my left,
Light above me, Light below me,
Light in front of me, Light behind me,
and Light within my self; increase my Light.

 The Prophet’s Prayer, Hadith

Zainab Manasra recaps her group's discussion of the weeks' texts.

Zainab Manasra recaps her group’s discussion of the weeks’ texts.

A lively discussion amongst small groups ensued, leading to much ethical human connection, and the shining of light in many an eye.

The next AR Sarasota event will be a night of Music, Middle Eastern Food, and Interfaith Peace, January 7th at Rising Tide International.

Exact times TBA – Tentative Timing: Food at 7:00pm, Music starting 8:00pm, as a fundraiser for the Abrahamic Reunion. We are blessed to have Sheikh Ghassan’s son Abed (AR Israel Co-Director) and Abed’s wife Isra in town – they are professional Middle Eastern Musicians and will provide beautiful music.

The next AR Sarasota text study will be January 26th, time TBA.

We hope to see you there – wishing everyone a peaceful winter season of Advent, Hannukah, Christmas, and Gregorian Calendar New Year!

Catholic, Conservative Jewish, and Baha'i friends smile after a beautiful meeting.

Catholic, Conservative Jewish, and Baha’i friends smile after a beautiful meeting.

 


Ghassan Manasra Extended Biography

sheikh-ghassan-photo-1Sheikh Ghassan Manasra is a globally recognized Interreligious Dialogue Facilitator and Expert, Fulbright Scholar, and Lecturer from Nazareth, Israel. He serves and has served on the board of numerous Israeli, American, and International peacemaking organizations, including The Middle East Civic Forum, Sulha Peace Project, Anwar Il-Salaam (Lights of Peace Center), and the World Congress of Imams and Rabbis for Peace.

Sheikh Manasra was awarded the 2014 Outstanding Leader in Interreligious Dialogue Award from the Dialogue Institute of Temple University in conjunction with the Fulbright Foundation and the US State Department. He is a trusted advisor to heads of state in the Middle East, Europe, and North America, both secular, Jewish, and Muslim, with friends across religious and political divisions.

Sheikh Manasra is a trained scholar in both Arabic and Hebrew, is a writer, poet, and author, and has taught at Hebrew University in Israel. He is sought after around the world for lectures and workshops on peacemaking, Islam, interfaith and multifaith dialogue, and interreligious relations, and has lectured at Universities and Governmental and Religious Institutions, including Cornell, Cambridge, American, Temple, Yale, and Ryerson Universities, Parliament of the World’s Religions, Congress of Rabbis and Imams for Peace, and many others around the world.

Ghassan is Interreligious Dialogue Lecturer, Coordinator, and Advisor for Rising Tide International, and Co-Coordinator of the Abrahamic Reunion, a network of Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Druze, and secular peacemakers dedicated to rebuilding trust and creating a lasting harmonious peace in the Holy Land through interreligious dialogue, prayer, events, and religious influence.