It is rare in today’s society to see leaders of multiple faith communities coming together except during times of tragedy. It seems to be something we forget that is vital to our growth as individuals and as a community.
Last month four experts from different religious congregations did just that; met in a time of peace to discuss that very topic. Joshua Christy representing the Baha’i faith, Reverend Joseph Hickey-Tiernan representing the various branches of Christianity, Doctor Turan Kayaoglu representing Islam, and Reverend Kojo Kakihara representing Buddhism all served as panelists during the first public interfaith dialogue in Tacoma.
The discussion was led by Dr. Amanda Feller, Associate Professor in School of the Arts and Communication at Pacific Lutheran University. Her teaching, scholarship and practitioner work combines communication theory, conflict management and pedagogy. She particularly focuses on the method of dialogue in learning and peacebuilding. Each expert was asked to comment on what peace means to their respective faith. While each individual response was quite different, the message ultimately was very similar.
“When I think of Islam and peace the first thing that comes to my mind is the term ‘Salam’ which comes from the term ‘peace,’” said Dr. Kayaoglu. “Peace with ones’ self, peace with God or the creator, and peace with fellow beings.”
“Enlightenment which is what we Buddhists aim for is the state of perfect peace, serenity and joy,” said Rev. Kakihara. “To give others peace is to bring us peace. In peace, there is the feeling of safety; no fear, no hatred, no suffering and no delusions. In Buddhism, wisdom and compassion are the basis of all teachings. We understand and respect each other, and acknowledge that we are different. In the eyes of Buddhism, we are not all the same, but we are one, even in our differences.”
“My understanding of peace comes from the Baha’i teaching that says ‘When a thought of war comes oppose it by a stronger thought of peace, a thought of hatred must be destroyed by a more powerful thought of love,’” said Christy. “That is to say that peace is not a passive state that is derived from the mere state of lack of problems and disagreements. In contrast, peace comes from an active, more powerful state of love. Peace is not derived from avoiding disagreements or pretending like there are no problems. Peace comes when there is the genuine spiritual state of love and unity that brings together hearts, communities, and nations. A lot of the work of the Baha’i community is bringing together people of various backgrounds to work together in service to their communities.”
“For Christians, long before we construct an ethic of peace, we already live in awareness that peace is already given,” said Reverend Hickey-Tiernan. “We seek it in others, created in the image of the other. We find it hidden in ourselves, a treasure to be discovered and shared. Peace is the way to peace; living life fully, with awareness and attention, engaging with those who struggle and suffer, feeling kinship with all who are devoted to truth and compassion connects us. We understand one another within our understanding of what Jesus saw in us and in the world. We accept that others have come to the same place through other paths. We are at peace.”
The audience was asked to break into groups to discuss multiple topics to inspire thought and conversation. These subjects included some hopes and fears people may have in sharing their beliefs, individual peace building efforts, religious backgrounds in different peoples’ names, and various personal experiences in discrimination or judgment.
“I love those lessons of learning what that feels like,” said one audience member of the Baha’i faith who shared an experience she had with discrimination. “It makes me more empathetic to people who face that on a daily basis.”
The various beliefs of audience members was even more diverse than the panelists, ranging from Unitarian Universalists, Jews, Catholics, Evangelists, Agnostics and even some who solely believed in science.
During the course of these group talks, audience members grew closer to one another. Some who were quieter at the beginning began to open up and talk more. Others who did not have any experience with people of different religions began to make connections to their own in the basic foundation of beliefs. Others still shared future dates, times and locations for services within their faith – inviting their new friends to participate even exchanging contact information.
“This event helped me a lot because I don’t usually talk to people about my religion and other people’s religion,” said one audience member of the Jewish faith.
This dialogue left each participant feeling uplifted and hopeful towards a future of peace within our community.
“It was a really nice opportunity to meet with different people,” said one participant of the Buddhist faith. “We’ve lived here maybe a year and a half and haven’t had the chance to get out there and meet as many people as we want to so hearing about people’s different experiences and what their life has been like has been a truly refreshing experience.”
The event ended with a prayer from each expert, with some audience members of the same faith participating in the tradition and words they knew all too well.
“The religion of God is for love and unity,” sang Stephanie Christy, wife of the Baha’i expert, as a closing prayer. “Make it not the cause of enmity or dissension.”
Guests discuss the commonalities in their religions as multiple faiths gather together for the Pacifica Institute’s public Iftar dinner. (Photo credit/Chelsea Gitzen)
As the month of Ramadan nears an end next week on Tuesday, July 5th, it’s a time for the 1.6 billion Muslims around the world to finish their month-long dedication to prayer, charity and other acts of good deeds while seeking forgiveness as well as guidance. Many are currently celebrating the last 10 days in a total disconnect from the world to pray which is called Iʿtikāf (retreat). Others are using the holiday as an opportunity to come together to build lifelong relationships with their neighbors in the local community. This past week on Tuesday, a large group of nearly 100 local Muslims and people of many faiths were brought together by the Pacifica Institute, University of Puget Sound, and Associated Ministries to enjoy an Iftar dinner breaking the daily fast at sundown.
“As we all gather here tonight coming from different backgrounds, I see some faces that I know and those that I don’t know that I hope to meet,” said Tezcan Inanlar, Pacifica Institute’s Northwest Regional Director. “I want to encourage all of us to take our time and try to connect which is the way to bring our communities to a solidarity so we can build a capacity, foster relationships and mutual understanding. It’s already happening here in Tacoma and I’m very hopeful for that.”
Guests watch a video together on the meaning behind Ramadan and details about the custom of fasting as well as breaking the fast each night. (Photo credit/Chelsea Gitzen)
The room was filled with nearly 100 guests and practicing Muslims from the local community. Some were attending to learn more about the Muslim tradition of Ramadan and Iftar, others were seeking to form new relationships with people of a different faith, while others still were celebrating the end of their fast as well as the company of newcomers. As the second annual event, many were returning this year in hopes of showing their support.
The event was also educational, including a video on Ramadan and what it means to those who celebrate it. Guest speakers included members from different faiths who commented on the religious virtues related to togetherness and peace.
“In one of the verses in the Quran, Allah says to all human kind that he created you from a single pair of a male and a female and made you into nations and tribes that you might come to know each other,” said Dr. Etga Ugur, Professor in the Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences School at University of Washington Tacoma. “In the Quran, Allah also says if he wanted he could have created us as a single community but he chose to create diversity of tongues and colors so that we can strive as a community or race and strive in virtues and seek unity in diversity.”
Dr. Etga Ugur, University of Washington Tacoma professor, speaks at the 2016 interfaith Iftar dinner celebration at the University of Puget Sound. Dr. Ugur commented on the tradition of Ramadan and the Quran’s teachings to appreciate the diversity of the human race. (Photo credit/Bunyamin Sisman)
It is accurate to say the entire room of attendees felt unified as they grew closer to one another, and learned that we are not as different as one might think. The recurring theme that we all hold the same virtues dear within our respective faiths and want the best for our fellow mankind was present in both the presentations as well as the individual discussions at each table.
“This country, though far from perfect, is as great as it is because of the contributions from refugees from all over the world over the years,” said Rabbi Bruce Kadden of Temple Beth El. “Let us open our hearts and open our doors to refugees who need our love and support. May all who are refugees find love, support and care. May the wars which ravaged their homelands be resolved so that those who wish may return home. And may all who suffer come to know peace and justice.”
Featured Photo: Members of different religions share dinner and discussion at the 2016 interfaith Iftar dinner at the University of Puget Sound. (Photo credit/Bunyamin Sisman)
Editorial Note: The article below was written by an Associated Ministries’ Next Move intern in conjunction with two other Next Move interns. Associated Ministries was pleased to host three students from the Tacoma Public Schools. This students added to our agency with their new ideas, creativity and passion. The interns, Amaya Fox, Ella Banken and Tyreke Wilbanks were an integral part of helping write stories, research historic documents and add to our photo library to help us tell the story of Associated Ministries. Their final project, which was conducted as a joint interview, was with long-time Executive Director, Reverend David Alger. We hope you enjoy their work!
Reverend David Alger Interview by Amaya Fox
Reverend Dave Alger is a man who needs no introduction around Tacoma and Pierce County. As the former Executive Director of Associated Ministries for nearly thirty years, Alger has created a lasting impact on not only Associated Ministries, but also on the Tacoma community.
In his time as Executive Director, Alger was instrumental in the founding and development of many programs that sought to build a better Tacoma such as the Pierce County AIDS Foundation, the Moments of Blessing services, interfaith meetings, and the Hilltop Action Coalition.
I, along with fellow interns Ella Banken and Tyreke Wilbanks, was lucky enough to sit down with Rev. Alger for an hour and talk to him about his time as Executive Director and how AM was vital in the development of Tacoma, specifically the Hilltop community.
We discussed the idea of interfaith and the true meaning behind it, as it has been, and still is, such a prominent aspect of what is done at AM. In Alger’s perspective, the essential things necessary to effectively become an interfaith organization are “time, energy, and a willingness to accept the validity of other groups.” He goes on to say how, especially as Executive Director, he had to learn how to “roll with various religious customs and deal with the radical differences.” To him, interfaith means nothing without “honest, trusting relationships,” which is exactly what he strove to create in his time as Executive Director.
The Moments of Blessing are another effective service brought to Tacoma by Alger. He originally got the idea from a similar movement happening in Indianapolis and took it into his own hands; crafting it into a moving and spiritually uplifting program. In short, a Moment of Blessing is a service designed to reclaim a space where a homicide has occurred. It has become one of AM’s most effective and well-known programs to date. Alger strived to “work to involve people and show people how to be involved,” with such a rare opportunity to touch people’s hearts. “They are very, very moving and powerful times of healing.”
To begin getting involved in the Hilltop community, Alger made the decision to relocate AM right into the middle of Hilltop, in a time where gang violence was no stranger to the community. The move in his eyes “was a statement that we were committed to the city” and the building of a safer Tacoma, although the move initially did raise many safety concerns. This controversial decision was one of many that paid off immensely for AM and Hilltop, bringing the two together in a way that could not have been done otherwise.
Reverend Dave Alger, I’ve learned, is one of those people whom you could just sit down with for as little as ten minutes and think to yourself, “wow, I should be doing more to help the community.” He is an inspiration to many and a motivator for all. He encompasses the mission behind AM and all that it stands for in a way that no other person quite has, and for that Tacoma and Pierce County are forever thankful.
You are cordially invited to the Interfaith Ramadan Iftar Dinner on Tuesday, June 21st, 2016 at 8pm at the University of Puget Sound Tahoma Room in Thomas Hall.
Featuring: The Art of Living Together: Building Relationships
Keynote Speech: Dr. Etga Ugur
School of Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences, University of Washington Tacoma
Free admission, just RSVP at firstname.lastname@example.org
Event held by Associated Ministries, University of Puget Sound & the Pacifica Institute