Here, There and Everywhere

Posts tagged ‘God’

One by One They Died

Life of Nane Alejandrez. Excerpt from Don’t Just Sit There, Do Something! Grief’s Wake Up Call.

In photo: Nane holding photos of brother Tavo and Leo’s headstones.

naneOne by one they died . . . from drugs . . . from violence . . . from pain, hate and revenge. Nane’s oldest brother got wiped out when he was intentionally hit from behind on his motorcycle; his younger brother died from a heroin overdose; his uncle Pancheo was stabbed to death; numerous cousins succumbed to drugs or were murdered; and his father died from an accumulation of life-long exposure to pesticides, alcoholism and a blow to the head with a baseball bat during a gang fight. That Nane survived to tell his story is a miracle in and of it’s self. 

Mr. Alejandrez is now director of Barrios Unidos (Communities United), was instrumental in convening a national gang summit for peace and has received countless awards and recognition for his work in teaching and living non-violence. Barrios Unidos is a multi-cultural program whose mission is to prevent and curtail violence among youth, by providing alternatives such as the Cesar E. Chavez School For Social Change; outreach to youth clubs, parent groups, juvenile hall and kids on the street; and community economic development by operating a full service, custom silk screening business called BU Productions, where youth learn production, sales, marketing, design and administration skills.

NANE:

I’ve seen so many families get torn apart and so many men, especially men, go into hate and revenge and take somebody else’s life. Not thinking about what it’s going to do to the rest of the family. All the violence and anger . . . and a lot of us being brought up to not show any pain . . . to not let people know . . . so we act out, even at times when we don’t want to.

When I acted out I didn’t really want to, but I did it to show that I was looking out for the neighborhood; for the honor of my family. It felt like I wasn’t punking out. If you didn’t do nothing then someone else would think, “Oh well, kill one of those family members and nobody will do anything about it.” So the family would look at each other and say, “Who’s going to do something about it?” – That whole system of payback; trying to keep an image that causes a lot of pain. It’s easier to do that then to deal with your pain.

One thing I’ve learned throughout the years, is I wish somebody would have talked to me about pain and how to deal with it; how to not inflict pain. I learned how to numb it by using drugs and violence, which removed me from feeling it and kept my feelings busy on something else. That worked for a while, but what began to happen was the addiction started taking over. No longer was it about feelings; it was just being well. Surviving and the excitement of breaking the law and running with the home boys . . . you know . . . rebelling, not conforming. I didn’t know anybody that was dealing with it.

People would say, “It’s OK, everything’s going to be all right.” I’d say, “How do you know everything’s going to be all right, when I’m feeling like shit?! You tell me everything’s going to be all right, but that guy over there’s laughing at what he did to my family. Why shouldn’t I go do it to his family?” And then other people would just say, “Go out and take care of it.” They think, “Why isn’t he doing anything? Why doesn’t he take one of their people out?”

There’s that whole thing of not believing in a higher power. I said, “How can this God take my loved ones away? How can He allow it to happen . . . to take my heroes?” The heroes in my life were taken away in a short period of time. The heroes to me were my father, my Uncle Frank and my oldest brother.

After losing all these relatives I was still using drugs a lot of the time. When my father had his operation I was strung out and unemployed. Here I was having graduated from the university with honors and I was really down. When I went to see him in the hospital I was loaded. I went into intensive care. My aunt was there and we went into see him. There were five individuals in intensive care and you know a lot of people that go in there don’t come out. They told me he was all bandaged up and swollen and it would be hard to recognize him. I go in there and start to talk to my father and tell him how much I love him, how much I care about him, my aunts at the end of the bed rubbing his feet. I’m saying, “You’re going to be OK. I love you Dad.” Then my other aunt comes in and says, “Alejandrez is over here.” I look and say, “Wow man!” I was talking to the wrong man. (laughs) I was talking to another man two beds down from my father. My aunt let go of his feet and yelled! I could hear the rest of my family laughing, even in a situation like that, they were laughing. They were going, “Nane’s over there talking to another man.” I swear to God I felt like disappearing. If my father could talk he would have said, “I’m over here stupid!” or “Pendejo en estoy!” So I had to move from that bed to my Dad’s bed and repeat everything. That’s how fucked up I was. That’s an example of the madness. It took me about a year after my father died to really let go of that.

After all these deaths, when I really wanted to clean myself up, I was able to see a friend of mine who was clean. He’s now one of my best friends. We had used together in the past, so when I saw him clean I saw the possibility. He was looking good. I’d gotten busted and was going to court and he would show up in the courts. Every time I had a court date he’d be there supporting me.

Finally I just couldn’t do it no more. My family . . . my children . . . I wasn’t doing anymore talks. I couldn’t hide it anymore. I’d gotten so deep I couldn’t maintain. And I didn’t want to be doing stuff when I was loaded. I hid my addiction a lot. When it got to the point were I couldn’t do that anymore I asked for help. When I asked him for support he was there. Once I got clean and got the drugs out of my system I started to feel a lot of the pain.

I think I was always a spiritual person but I got side tracked. I got more involved in my traditional ways . . . my indigenous background . . . knowing that it was OK to pray. I’d go around with a lot of Native American teachers and prayer was always there. So I started to pray and go to NA (narcotics anonymous) and they always ended the meeting with a prayer. I began to feel different. My work started coming out again and I was really happy. I was seeing the faces of children and I told myself, “If I’m going to do this I need to do it right.” I need to be clean and I can’t be backsliding. I got more involved in my work and my self. It took a long time to do that again.

I’ve been gifted, you know, in certain situations where things were going to happen . . . by me being there . . . and the respect they have for me. Because I have been through a lot and they could sense it, it stopped it from happening again. People know that this is what I’ve been talking about for the last twenty years. “Stop the violence! Stop the violence!” Even through my madness I’ve stuck with it. People my age always tell me that that’s what they admire about me . . . that I’ve always stuck with it. It’s been hard. There’s been a lot of pain. People ask, “Why would you want to stay in a situation where you’re dealing with so much pain?” But at the same time there’s so much hope . . . the smiles on the kids. They’ve got this place, they’ve got a job, people that look like themselves running it. They got inspiration that maybe someday they’ll be doing it.

More of Nane’s story, and others, at: Don’t Just Sit There, Do Something! Grief’s Wake Up Call

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Death Like the Old Movies

An excerpt from Good Grief: Love, Loss & Laughter.

I wish death happened like it used to in the old movies. You know, those deathbed scenes were everyone gathers around, makes amends, say their good-byes, and drift off with visions of God and the angels dancing in their eyes. But it rarely does. Deathbed conversions are few and far between.

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When death approaches, or has taken place, most people live their faith, their beliefs (or their disbelief) in a God, or the hereafter, the same as they have the rest of their lives. If they believe in some creative force that is more than what we can see, they continue to do so through sickness and loss. If they believe God has a plan for everything that happens, and that Jesus is their savior, they continue to do so until their dying breath. If someone feels that there is no God, supreme being or spiritual meaning for anything on earth, they hold on to that belief after their loved one’s body is buried deep in the ground.

A friend once told me, as their mother was dying, that no matter how hard she tried she couldn’t make herself believe the same as her mother had all her life. She desperately wished she could. She wanted to understand and connect with her mother before she passed on in a way she had never been able to. She said that for awhile she pretended to believe as her mother had, but she knew she was pretending. She even went to her mother’s church and read the same readings and scriptures, without any change of heart.

A client I met with for several months repeatedly expressed her frustration that her husband had never believed in God. She couldn’t understand how he had gone to his death without accepting God into his life. For over forty years she had tried to convert him and get him to go to church, always believing that someday he would see the spiritual light.

A member of my family had an understandably difficult time when my uncle killed himself, and sincerely worried about his soul, wondering if he was suffering as much after death as he had during life. They prayed that God would forgive my uncle and provide the serenity that had always seemed to be just beyond his reach. The only way they could make sense out of the tragedy was to believe that he was “in a better place”. They had always believed that God provides happiness and peace, and used that faith to provide personal comfort, safety and meaning.

Belief in God, a Great Spirit, Nature, Jesus, or some other religion or spiritual path, doesn’t mean that people don’t question, argue, bargain or get angry with that in which they believe.

A colleague of mine was enraged when her daughter was killed in a car accident. She felt like her religious tradition had lied to her. “How could a loving God let such a bad thing happen to such an innocent child?! How could He take her at such a young age?!” She still believed in God, but couldn’t make sense out of what had happened. “Somebody was responsible for this!” she said. “There has to be a reason!” She prayed to God for an answer. “But all I could hear was myself talking to the empty air,” she explained. “It took me years of asking ‘why’, begging for an answer, before God gave me the strength and understanding to live with not knowing.”

Another client blamed God for allowing her abusive ex-husband to survive and live with his alcoholism, while her hard-working, kind friend died from liver cancer. She overflowed with unanswerable questions. “Why didn’t that son-of-a-you-know-what get this awful disease instead? Why does my friend have to deal with this? What did she ever do? Why? Why? Why?” Her friend continued to work as long as possible, and remained true to her sweet loving self until her death a year and a half later.

As in most sweeping statements of finality there are exceptions. Occasionally someone reacts to death and loss differently than they have lived the rest of their lives.

A woman I interviewed a few years ago said she made a bargain with God and it changed her life. As the car she was driving hit a side rail on the freeway, and begin rolling over and over she said, “God, if you let me live to raise my young son I’ll dedicate my life to you.” She had never believed in God and didn’t know where that had come from, but she said she heard a voice answer her that said, “Yes”. She survived the accident, continued raising her son as a single parent, and never forgot her promise. Though she had always seen herself as a selfish person, she started thinking of others and became involved in a number of charities. When her son was killed ten years later she never wavered from her promise and used her son’s death to inspire her to do even more of “God’s work”.

Death and grief can crack open our hearts. They can change our perceptions of how we see the world. They can wake us up to the reality of pain and suffering in ways that we never thought possible. Within the midst of such grief and pain we can reach out for comfort, look within for guidance, and find compassion and forgiveness from our religion, community or sense of personal responsibility.

Mourning can be a catalyst for clarifying our values and deepening our understanding, but it doesn’t mean we will throw our beliefs out the window or change our spiritual faith. We need not despair over our usual conditioned human response to loss. There’s always an old movie with a good deathbed scene we can find at the video store, take home and imagine ourselves saying our good-byes, making last minute amends and being carried off to the heavens!

More support and stories at: Good Grief: Love, Loss and Laughter.

Review of Teaching the Cat to Sit

9781451697292‘Teaching the Cat to Sit’ by Michelle Theall
Reviewed by Sara Rauch
21 May, 2014 Lambda Literary

Michelle Theall’s new memoir, Teaching the Cat to Sit, brings some big topics—God, sexuality, abuse, loneliness, love, family—to the page. It’s a rocky ride, full of contentious conversations, frank disclosures, and plenty of struggle.

Teaching the Cat to Sit presents two interwoven narratives: first, adult Michelle’s struggle to get her adopted son baptized in the Catholic Church, her decision to pull him from the Catholic school he attends, and the ongoing battle to win her mother and father’s acceptance. The second narrative begins with Michelle’s youth—a journey that leads her through abuse, her grasping to understand her sexuality, a brush with a pedophile priest, her first relationship with another woman in college, her attempts to “turn straight,” her coming out, her leaving her home state, and the healing process that eventually leads her to her life partner. A lot happens in this book—and Theall moves through the circumstances of her life with remarkable dexterity.

Theall writes with compelling honesty about loneliness—in fact, the title of the book comes from a line she overhears her father say to her mother on that topic—and the feeling she so plainly articulates has real resonance. And while her loneliness hobbles and confuses her as a young adult, her ability to be alone is ultimately what heals her.

God plays a big role in Teaching the Cat to Sit. And this isn’t just any God; this is the Catholic God—not exactly touchy-feely, not exactly a paragon of acceptance. And those with major chips on their shoulder in regards to the Catholic Church and its treatment of gays may balk at some of what Theall says. But ultimately, Theall’s grappling with the God of her youth deconstructs a very real barrier between public and private. God is, on one hand, such a personal choice, and worship, while often done in public, is arguably one of the most private acts we humans do. For Theall, having been forced to keep secrets for most of her life—to protect herself, to gain her family’s love—privacy has too long meant silence. And the breaking of a silence she is no longer willing to bear becomes the ultimate act of bravery, one that threatens to crack the delicate acceptance she’s gained from her family.

There are moments when I wanted Theall to slow down, to let me in and show me a little more of her internal struggle—but a book of this scope, covering as much ground as it does, can make that sustained interiority difficult. Some of the moments Theall presents, especially her encounters with wildlife, allow us a telling window into her state of mind—those moments of understanding, of transformation and acceptance, are very powerful.

Read entire review and more at: LAMBDA LITERARY

Muslims Protect Christians

Bishop thanks Muslims for protecting Christians in Egypt’s Al-Khosous

A senior Coptic bishop has praised Muslims in Al-Khosous who attempted to protect Christians during a recent bout of sectarian violence that left five people dead.

“The loving Muslims who protected Christians and the church during the deadly clashes in Al-Khosous highlighted the mistakes of the fanatics and showed the true meaning of religion and love,” Bishop Moussa, who is in charge of youth affairs at the Coptic Orthodox Church, said in a statement on Wednesday.

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“Our only consolation is that the victims gave their lives as a testimony to God and their pure souls ascended to heaven…,” he added.

Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II, along with other bishops, will on Thursday accept condolences from public figures at the papal headquarters in Abbasiya.

Deadly clashes erupted in Al-Khosous in Qalioubiya on Saturday after a group of Christian teenagers allegedly daubed what some Muslims deemed offensive symbols on the walls of an Al-Azhar institute in the town, state news agency MENA reported.

Four Christians and one Muslim died in the violence that followed.

On Sunday, a funeral for the Christian victims of the violence was held at St Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Cairo. As mourners were leaving the cathedral they were attacked by unknown assailants. Two people died and at least 90 were injured in the ensuing violence.

Police fired teargas and birdshot directly into the cathedral compound, sparking uproar among the Christian community.

Read Full Original Text

Dr. Sayyid M. Syeed,
National Director
Office for Interfaith & Community Alliances
Islamic Society of North America
Phone 202-544-5656 Fax 202-544-6636
110 Maryland Ave NE, Suite 304
Washington DC 20002
www.ISNA.net

“Rape is God’s Gift”

Dear Gabriel,

Last night a Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate claimed that raped women should be forced to carry their rapist’s baby to term because their pregnancy — a result of rape — is a “gift from God.”

Tell Republican Senate candidate Richard Mourdock: Rape is a heinous act of violence, and no politician should tell women that any part of being raped is a gift from God. Click here to automatically sign the petition.

Mourdock’s exact words — in the debate with his Democratic opponent — were:

“I struggled with myself for a long time but I came to realize life is that gift from God, even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape. It is something that God intended to happen.”

Mourdock is a staunch believer that abortion should be illegal even for victims of rape and incest. But even for an anti-abortion Tea Party Republican claiming that any part of of being raped is for the woman a “gift from God” is appalling.

Make no mistake: Tea Party Republicans like Mourdock will stop at nothing to send women back to the Stone Age. And if he wins election in Indiana, he will put Republicans one seat closer to control of the Senate. And that could mean that extreme anti-woman legislation passed readily in the House — defunding Planned Parenthood, redefining rape, blocking access to birth control — would now have a shot at passing the Senate.

Rape is rape. And it is not acceptable for a Republican politician campaigning for one of the highest offices in our government to tell women that if they get pregnant as a result of rape, that it’s a “gift from God.”

Thank you for standing up for women.

Becky Bond, Political Director
CREDO Action from Working Assets

Sikhs, Muslims and Hindus

Guest blog for Washington Post
by Vineet Chander, Valarie Kaur and Najeeba Syed-Miller
12 August 1012

In Conversation: Sikhism, Islam, and Hinduism

One week after the Sikh shootings in Oak Creek, Americans have learned more about the Sikh community, many for the first time. A brief introduction to Sikhism has caused people to wonder about the relationship between Sikhism, Hinduism and Islam.

Each religion is a distinct tradition with unique sets of beliefs, practices and values, and at the same time, all three have coexisted for many hundreds of years in the South Asian region of the world. India is home to one of the world’s largest Muslim populations and the birthplace of Hinduism and Sikhism. Of course, it has often been a complex, difficult and troubling history. But we have also seen moments of solidarity between these communities. We recall the slogan some of our grandparents used to sing in India: Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Isaee! Hum Saray Hai Bhai Bhai! “Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Christian. We are all brothers (and sisters).”

In the U.S., Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs share similar challenges in our pursuit to live, work, and worship in caring and safe communities. Hindu and Muslim Americans across the nation have reached out to Sikh neighbors to express their grief and support. In that spirit, we three authors – a Hindu American chaplain, a Muslim American peacemaker, and a Sikh American advocate – engaged in a conversation about the similarities and differences between our faith traditions.

How We See God

Vineet: Hinduism is the oldest of the three faith traditions, made up of diverse practices and beliefs that all approach the divine differently. In fact, Hinduism itself is so diverse that it is difficult and even misleading to categorize it using Western frameworks like “monotheistic” or “polytheistic.” Still, most Hindus say that, ultimately, they believe in one Supreme Being who is both transcendent and imminent. Some Hindus emphasize God’s oneness with the universe, seeing the divine in everything and everything in the Divine. Others emphasize God’s distinct personality and form, seeing Him as our divine parent and us as His eternal servants. Hinduism also recognizes the presence of devatas (often translated as “demigods”), celestial beings who manage the affairs of the cosmos. Hindus see devatas similar to angels or partial manifestations or energies of the One Supreme. Hindu teachers often speak of God as a great flame from which small sparks (all beings) emanate. In this sense, Hinduism holds that the divine is inconceivably one with His creation and yet always infinitely more vast and powerful. Hinduism suggests that Divinity can thus be manifest in the natural world, and that an important part of spiritual wisdom is learning to recognize it.

Najeeba: As a Muslim, I believe in the divine presence of God. Often you might here this referred to as Allah, which simply translated into English means “The God.” Islam is founded on the belief in tawhid, or the oneness of God, a monotheistic divine entity with no particular form and not in the image of a person. The Koran describes God as the light of the heavens and of the earth. God is also described with 99 attributes including the one we as Muslims call upon before any act, “the Most Merciful.” Muslims follow a tradition of prophet Muhammad that states, “God is beautiful and loves beauty.” God is viewed as deeply connected to the spiritual consciousness of humans and accessible through prayer. Even the plants and trees of this Earth are considered as part of the forms that adore God according to the Koran. Oneness of humankind emanates from the belief in one God, and the diversity of humankind under the umbrella of a common humanity. The basis for relations with other humans is mercy. Prophet Muhammad said “God does now show mercy to those who do not show mercy to others.” The holy book of the Muslims is the Koran and the sayings of the prophet Muhammad are the hadith, which are important sources for religious understanding. Muslims share with Christians and Jews many common prophets, from Adam to Jesus who is viewed as an important prophet but not the son of God. Muslims also highly value education; prophet Muhammad instructed Muslim women and men to pursue knowledge from “the cradle to the grave.” Thus, individual Muslims are also encouraged to learn for themselves and insure that they are always intellectually and spiritually improving themselves throughout the course of their lives.

Valarie: Sikhism is the youngest of the three religions. The Sikh religion was born in 15th century Punjab (now northern India and Pakistan), a rich meeting place for Hinduism and Islam that oversaw the rise of devotional (bhakti) traditions on either side of the Hindu-Muslim divide: Sufi Islam called for inward love for Allah, and Hindu Bhakti traditions advocated personal devotion. The founder of the Sikh faith, Guru Nanak, established a new devotional tradition based on direct loving devotion to one divine, Ik Onkar, and a commitment to social justice. As a Sikh, I see God as infinite, formless, creative, without fear and enmity, timeless, and self-existent. The unity of all that we know – human and divine – forms the basis of all of our relationships. “God’s in the self and the self is in God,” says Guru Nanak. “The fire is put out through knowing the One is within and without.” God is called by hundreds of names in the devotional poems of our scripture: Vaheguru, Hari, Allah. Through constant remembrance of the Divine, we silence the ego, realize mystical union beyond language and thought, and experience the interconnectedness between self and all. The experience is mukti, liberation: the feeling of freedom and ecstatic bliss when “the breath sparks and the sky thunders.” It produces an unending flow of compassion for all beings, fulfilled through seva or divinely-inspired service.

How We Pray

Vineet: Hindus engage in spiritual practice (called sadhana) in a variety of ways. They engage in ritual worship, formally in temples or informally in their homes. Such worship may involve reciting prayers or chanting sacred mantras, observing periodic fasting, or offering gifts in charity to the less fortunate. In addition, Hindus may practice their faith through study of sacred texts, through regular meditation and introspection, and even (or, we might say, especially) through performing their day-to-day duties in a selfless and generous spirit, in a way that uplifts themselves and others. While Hindus may occasionally emphasize some of these practices over others, most Hindus see them all as interconnected pieces of a singular, cohesive engagement with their faith. One of the most often misunderstood Hindu practices, at least in the West, is the use of visual representations or icons of the divine. Many Hindus (though not all) believe in connecting with God through forms, called murtis, considering them to be manifestations of the supreme in tangible forms that we can relate to and render service to. This allows Hindus to focus their meditation, have a more personal exchange with God, and to express their devotion to Him through rituals.

Najeeba: Ritual prayer is prescribed five times a day and in addition, zakat, or alms giving to the poor are key practices at the core of a Muslim community. Muslims may worship communally at the masjid, and congregational prayer accompanied by a sermon are regular features in the life of a Muslim community held on the designated Jum’ah of Friday of every week Muslims perform rituals of fasting during the month of Ramadan which is our current 30 day spiritual exercise in self-regulation and avoiding of food, anger and arguments during the day light hours Muslims also avoid consumption of alcohol or other intoxicating substances with the understanding that clarity of the mind is important to utilize the gift of aql or reason to make good decisions in life. Muslims are always concerned about their internal state as it relates to honesty, good works and kindness to others. “Every act is but its intention,” is a teaching of Prophet Muhammad and so reflecting on why one is doing even good acts becomes important so that one’s ego is not inflated. Contemplative practices such as dhikr (ritual chanting), dua (supplication) and other spiritual practices are utilized to bring one’s higher self into consciousness and work to reduce the ego. Family is the organizing unit of a Muslim community and honoring mothers, fathers and the elderly is considered a righteous act.

Valarie: Sikhs pray together in houses of worship and learning called gurdwaras [doorways to the divine] where we recite and sing devotional songs or shabads from our scripture, the Guru Granth Sahib. Through music and poetry, we meditate on the name of God in order to taste the bliss of divine union. In our devotion to the divine, Sikhs wear five articles of faith, including kesh (uncut hair), meant for women and men equally. Men traditionally wrapped their long hair in turbans. Some women wear turbans too, but most simply cover their heads with headscarves when praying. Our faith teaches equality between women and men and people of all classes and backgrounds. Our tenth leader requested us to drop our surnames (a marker of social status), and instead, embrace a shared surname: all women adopted the last name “Kaur” and men took the last name “Singh.” “Sikh” literally means ‘to learn,’ calling us to learn our whole lives.

How We Serve

Najeeba: Muslims are constantly admonished to perform sadaqa or charity for people within our community and for those who are not Muslim as well, especially for neighbors. The teaching regarding neighbors is not only for Muslims, it extends to the greater community whoever they may be and the circumference of neighbors is considered nearly one’s whole city by some scholars. According to the Koran, Muslims must give charity to many categories of individuals including: the poor, the needy, orphans, widows, those traveling and without homes. Charity is in many forms, it can be in actual money or comfort. Prophet Muhammad instructed Muslims that “The doors of goodness are many… removing harm from the road, listening to the deaf, leading the blind, guiding one to the object of his need, hurrying with the strength of one’s legs to one in sorrow who is asking for help, and supporting the feeble with the strength of one’s arms–all of these are charity prescribed for you.” He also said: “Your smile for your brother is charity.” Inherent in this structure of offering charity is to also ensure that those who are in the situation of potentially being abused must also be given justice in terms of their rights. Many second generation Muslims in the United States have become engaged in civil rights work, environmental justice and social work projects because of the emphasis on caring for those who have little access to resources or power to change their circumstances for the better.

Vineet: Hinduism has traditionally championed extending charity and justice to others as an inseparable part of living a life of dharma. Classical texts, such as the Upanishads and the Gita, describe that one the fundamental virtues to aspire towards is the awareness of the interconnectedness of all beings. Thus, these texts teach, the wise share in the joys of others and work to alleviate their suffering. More recently, the saints of the Bhakti movement—a movement of spiritual and social reformers renewing Hinduism’s devotional tradition, spanning from the 12th century to the modern day—have echoed these sentiments, and have even taken them further. “The truly devout Hindu,” one teacher declared, “is known best by this quality: he cannot tolerate the suffering of another.”

Valarie: Sikhs often recite the line from scripture: “Truth is higher than everything else; but higher still is truthful living.” We express our devotion through living an honest life of service to all. Sikhism has three pillars in our practice: Naam Japna, remembrance of the divine; Kirat Karna, earning an honest living, and Vand Chakna, sharing all resources with society. Every gurdwara serves langar, a free communal meal open to all people, and this practice encourages a commitment to divinely-inspired service or seva. A new generation of Sikh Americans is engaging in seva through various forms of service: making films, running social action campaigns, becoming lawyers, public servants, scholars, and more. In the wake of the tragic shooting in Oak Creek, Sikh Americans organized vigils, worked with law enforcement, and in a time of grief, found the courage to call for an end to hate and violence – not just against our community but all people.

What Inspires Us

Vineet: I draw my inspiration from the Bhagavad Gita (a sacred Hindu text which means “the Song of God”). The Gita is a dialogue between Arjuna, a great prince, and Lord Krishna, who is revealed to be the Supreme in human-like form. Throughout the text, Krishna teaches about dharma, one’s right way of living. He suggests that one should perform activities in a spirit of service and detachment, and especially emphasizes love and devotion as the essence of all religious practice. In the Gita, Lord Krishna displays his awe-inspiring majesty as the creator of all that is. And yet, he asks us to choose to be his instruments in this world. I am struck by this beautiful and seemingly paradoxical reality– that we can be so humbled and small before the Divine, and yet so radically empowered to reflect his love. In my own life and work, I aspire to be an instrument of this love, compassion, and justice in all that I do.

Najeeba: I am a peacemaker, a Muslim and an American. Deeply embedded in my beliefs is the saying of prophet Muhammad that Muslims were commanded to “make peace,” with others and that we are to be a mercy for others. In every facet of my life I seek to make peace between people and to save human lives, my faith guides me in the Koranic injunction that to save one human is as if one saved all of humanity.

Thus, whenever violence occurs, I find ways to make peace between people and to contribute to my country, my neighborhood and my family. Fidelity to my nation is also a key belief for Muslims, when one takes an oath, adhering to it is a central tenet of Islamic teaching and for me the basis of my commitment to my country.

With Vineet and Valarie I share a love of South Asian cultural heritage and the many common values we share as Americans to work together to build stronger ties between all communities with peace at its heart.
Valarie: The Sikh ideal is the warrior-saint: one who walks the earth devoted to God and committed to fight injustice in all forms. In the 17th century, a Sikh woman Mai Bhago became the first female warrior-saint and led Sikhs who had abandoned battle back into battle herself: she became the warrior-saint she was waiting for. Inspired by Mai Bhago, my modern-day sword and shield is film and law: using storytelling and advocacy, I am grateful to be able to fight and serve my community alongside my fellow Sikhs and Americans.

Valarie Kaur, a filmmaker, legal advocate, and interfaith organizer, is founding director of Groundswell, a multifaith initiative. Her documentary “Divided We Fall” is the first feature film on hate crimes against Sikh Americans after 9/11. Follow her on Twitter at @valariekaur.

Vineet Chander is coordinator for Hindu Life at Princeton University, a Religious Life Leader at the Lawrenceville School, and adjunct professor at Farleigh Dickinson University. Follow him on Twitter at@vineetchander.

Najeeba Syeed-Miller is a professor at Claremont School of Theologyand director/founder of the Center for Global Peacebuilding. She is two-time recipient of the Jon Anson Ford Award from the Los Angeles County Human Relations Commission and a leading figure in the establishment of Claremont Lincoln University, a jointly owned university with Muslim, Hindu, Jain, Jewish and Christian partners. You can fol. Follow her on Twitter at @najeebasyeed

For additional photos and links, go to Washington Post.

President’s Religious Freedom Message

THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
10 August, 2012

Remarks by the President at Iftar Dinner – East Room

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you, everybody. (Applause.) Please, please have a seat. Good evening, everyone. And welcome to the White House.

Of all the freedoms we cherish as Americans, of all the rights that we hold sacred, foremost among them is freedom of religion, the right to worship as we choose. It’s enshrined in the First Amendment of our Constitution — the law of the land, always and forever. It beats in our heart — in the soul of the people who know that our liberty and our equality is endowed by our Creator. And it runs through the history of this house, a place where Americans of many faiths can come together and celebrate their holiest of days — and that includes Ramadan.

As I’ve noted before, Thomas Jefferson once held a sunset dinner here with an envoy from Tunisia — perhaps the first Iftar at the White House, more than 200 years ago. And some of you, as you arrived tonight, may have seen our special display, courtesy of our friends at the Library of Congress — the Koran that belonged to Thomas Jefferson. And that’s a reminder, along with the generations of patriotic Muslims in America, that Islam — like so many faiths — is part of our national story.

This evening, we’re honored to be joined by members of our diplomatic corps, members of Congress — including Muslim American members of Congress, Keith Ellison and Andre Carson — as well as leaders from across my administration. And to you, the millions of Muslim Americans across our country, and to the more than one billion Muslims around the world — Ramadan Kareem.

Now, every faith is unique. And yet, during Ramadan, we see the traditions that are shared by many faiths: Believers engaged in prayer and fasting, in humble devotion to God. Families gathering together with love for each other. Neighbors reaching out in compassion and charity, to serve the less fortunate. People of different faiths coming together, mindful of our obligations to one another — to peace, justice and dignity for all people — men and women. Indeed, you know that the Koran teaches, “Be it man or woman, each of you is equal to the other.”

And by the way, we’ve seen this in recent days. In fact, the Olympics is being called “The Year of the Woman.” (Laughter.) Here in America, we’re incredibly proud of Team USA — all of them — but we should notice that a majority of the members are women. Also, for the very first time in Olympic history, every team now includes a woman athlete. And one of the reasons is that every team from a Muslim-majority country now includes women as well. And more broadly — that’s worth applauding. (Applause.) Absolutely.

More broadly, we’ve seen the extraordinary courage of Muslim women during the Arab Spring — women, right alongside men, taking to the streets to claim their universal rights, marching for their freedom, blogging and tweeting and posting videos, determined to be heard. In some cases, facing down tanks, and braving bullets, enduring detentions and unspeakable treatment, and at times, giving their very lives for the freedom that they seek — the liberty that we are lucky enough to enjoy here tonight.

These women have inspired their sisters and daughters, but also their brothers and their sons. And they’ve inspired us all. Even as we see women casting their ballots and seeking — standing for office in historic elections, we understand that their work is not done. They understand that any true democracy must uphold the freedom and rights of all people and all faiths. We know this, too, for here in America we’re enriched by so many faiths, by men and women — including Muslim American women.

They’re young people, like the student who wrote me a letter about what it’s like to grow up Muslim in America. She’s in college. She dreams of a career in international affairs to help deepen understanding between the United States and Muslim countries around the world. So if any of the diplomatic corps have tips for her — (laughter.) She says that “America has always been the land of opportunity for me, and I love this country with all my heart.” And so we’re glad to have Hala Baig here today. (Applause.)

They are faith leaders like Sanaa Nadim, one of the first Muslim chaplains at an American college — a voice for interfaith dialogue who’s had the opportunity to meet with the Pope to discuss these issues. We’re very proud to have you here. (Applause.)

They are educators like Auysha Muhayya, born in Afghanistan, who fled with her family as refugees to America, and now, as a language teacher, helps open her students to new cultures. So we’re very pleased to have her here. (Applause.)

They are entrepreneurs and lawyers, community leaders, members of our military, and Muslim American women serving with distinction in government. And that includes a good friend, Huma Abedin, who has worked tirelessly — (applause) — worked tirelessly in the White House, in the U.S. Senate, and most exhaustingly, at the State Department, where she has been nothing less than extraordinary in representing our country and the democratic values that we hold dear. Senator Clinton has relied on her expertise, and so have I.

The American people owe her a debt of gratitude — because Huma is an American patriot, and an example of what we need in this country — more public servants with her sense of decency, her grace and her generosity of spirit. So, on behalf of all Americans, we thank you so much. (Applause.)

These are the faces of Islam in America. These are just a few of the Muslim Americans who strengthen our country every single day. This is the diversity that makes us Americans; the pluralism that we will never lose.

And at times, we have to admit that this spirit is threatened. We’ve seen instances of mosques and synagogues, churches and temples being targeted. Tonight, our prayers, in particular, are with our friends and fellow Americans in the Sikh community. We mourn those who were senselessly murdered and injured in their place of worship. And while we may never fully understand what motivates such hatred, such violence, the perpetrators of such despicable acts must know that your twisted thinking is no match for the compassion and the goodness and the strength of our united American family.

So tonight, we declare with one voice that such violence has no place in the United States of America. The attack on Americans of any faith is an attack on the freedom of all Americans. (Applause.) No American should ever have to fear for their safety in their place of worship. And every American has the right to practice their faith both openly and freely, and as they choose.

That is not just an American right; it is a universal human right. And we will defend the freedom of religion, here at home and around the world. And as we do, we’ll draw on the strength and example of our interfaith community, including the leaders who are here tonight.

So I want to thank all of you for honoring us with your presence, for the example of your lives, and for your commitment to the values that make us “one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” (Applause.)

God bless you. God bless the United States of America. (Applause.)

END

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
السلام عليكم ورحمة الله

Dr. Sayyid M. Syeed,
National Director
Office for Interfaith & Community Alliances
Islamic Society of North America
Phone 202-544-5656 Fax 202-544-6636
110 Maryland Ave NE, Suite 304
Washington DC 20002
www.ISNA.net
Click here to watch ISNA’s Interfaith Message

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