Interfaith Symposium 2015

I was invited to the Interfaith Symposium 2015, a parallel event at the 14th Annual MAS ICNA Convention held at this time every year.    The convention draws over 15,000 of the Muslim faith, and this year was the first time the convention reached out and created an Interfaith Symposium.    Leaders 0f the interfaith movement from various faith communities around the Chicagoland area were invited to be speakers, and I was invited as a Board member of the UUCC Park Forest Church.

At the luncheon, Dr. Tariq Ramadan, Professor of Contemporary Islamic Studies at Oxford University, who teaches at the Oxford Faculty of Theology, spoke on the importance of the interfaith movement.

Then, in the main hall, 9 members of the interfaith religious movement in the Chicagoland area were given the platform to talk about what importance they placed in the interfaith movement.   These speakers were:

  1. Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid–President of Sound Vision and Radio Islam, selected 5 times as one of the 500 most influential Muslims in the world.    He is the board chair of the Parliament of the World’s Religions.   Imam Mujahid also chairs the Burma Task Force USA to stop the genocide of Rohingyas.
  2. The Very Reverend Thomas Baima–Vicar for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the Archdiocese of Chicago.   He served as editorial advisor for the journal Chicago Studies which published the Spring 2008 issue:  “Catholic-Muslim Dialogue:  Reflections and Perspectives.”
  3. Rabbi Michael Davis–Founding member of the Jewish Voice for Peace Rabbinical Council.
  4. Rev. Dr. Stanley Davis, Jr.–Co-Executive Director of the Council of Religious Leaders of Metropolitan Chicago (CRLMC), as well as Executive Director Emeritus of the Chicago and Northern Illinois region of the National Conference for Community and Justice.
  5. Dr. Robert Henderson–serves on the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of the United States.   His initiation and direction of the study “Models of Unity” resulted in a landmark analysis of intergroup unity in the Chicago metropolitan area.
  6. Jasvir Kaur–Board member of Sikh Outreach Services, which serves local Sikh youth and seniors and coordinates efforts to feed the needy.   She is co-founder of the Sikh Healing Collective and she volunteers globally and locally in disaster relief efforts and on medical missions with various organizations.
  7. Rev. Jay Moses–Pastor at Hope Presbyterian Church in Wheaton, IL.  Serves the committee for Interfaith relations and as the Muslim Relations Coordinator for Chicagoland at the Presbytery of Chicago.
  8. Dr. Marcenia Richard–Pastor at Life Center Ministries.  Formally the Executive Director of the Peace Coalition against Violence at St. Sabina, Marcenia is also the founder of Fierce Women of Faith, an interfaith coalition of women advocating for peace.
  9. Rev. Dr. Mark Swanson–The Harold S. Vogelaar Professor of Christian-Muslim Studies and Interfaith Relations and Associate Director of Center of Christian-Muslim Engagement for Peace and Justice.  He is an ordained pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

As you can tell by the bios of the speakers, they combine ferocious learning with a passion for reaching out to others of different faiths, including those of the Muslim faith.

There were several themes that came up in Dr. Ramadan’s talk at lunch and the interfaith speaker panel afterwards.

  1. Getting involved in interfaith work first requires knowledge.   If you say you tolerate those of a difference faith, that means you are passively (or perhaps passive-aggressively) disengaging yourself from them.    Positive acceptance  comes from approaching those of another faith not in the spirit of proselytizing, but of wanting to learn more about the other’s faith.
  2. Getting involved in interfaith work requires a vision, a plan and resources.   The vision comes from the faith of each individual, but a plan requires that the group come up with pragmatic goals that can be achieved.    And the resources need to be sought locally, in the community, first before trying to get resources from outside the community.
  3. Interfaith work means effective communication, which in this day and age means social media.   The traditional media are loathe to change the “traditional wisdom” with regards to any given topic, which sometimes means ignoring stories that don’t fit the established narrative, but they are often forced to cover topics that have created a stir on social media.

I was pleased to have been invited as an attendee, due to my position as Board member of UUCC Park Forest.   I hope the stimulating conversation and connections made at this event will bear fruit in 2016 to have the different faith communities work together for social justice.


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