Preserving the First Amendment

(San Jose, 6/6/07) ING Concludes Academic Year 2006-2007 with Record Number of Interfaith Events

The public impact of religion has increased worldwide according to recent data and trends. Here in the U.S. according to a Harris Poll in January 2003, 90% of Americans believe in God, 84% believe in the survival of the soul after death, and 82% believe in heaven. At the same time, religious grievances have been significant factors in civil wars, national conflicts and international acts of terrorism. For this reason, it has never been more important to reinforce and promote American ideals of tolerance and freedom of religion that is enshrined in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. It is to this end that ING today is more engaged than ever before in interfaith dialogues and education, seeking to promote understanding through civil discourse. Initiating an interfaith component of our educational outreach, last year ING hired an nterfaith Coordinator, Yasmine Khan, who has over the past academic year engaged Bay Area Muslim Americans in record numbers of interfaith events. These have included events organized by ING as well as outreach at houses of worship, faith based schools, and institutions of higher learning in the form of education, dialogues, and participating in interfaith panels.

These events, which reached and brought together thousands of Americans of all faiths, included the following:

  • Five major interfaith events organized by ING, which were attended by hundreds of Americans of all faiths.
  • Over a dozen interfaith events with ING speakers participating in panels with other faith leaders addressing specific topics.
  • Over fifty interfaith dialogues, including conferences, meetings, religious commemorations and other events.
  • Over sixty presentations and dialogues at various houses of worship, faith-based middle and high schools, as well as faith-based colleges, universities, and institutes.
  • An ongoing dialogue and partnership between ING and the JCRC-East Bay, which has included monthly meetings, and participating in each other’s religious events.

ING Initiated Interfaith Events

Since last fall, ING initiated five events including ING’s Interfaith Ramadan Dinner, which was attended by hundreds of people of various faiths, who along with fellow Muslims shared in the breaking of the fast while hearing inspirational advice from an imam, priest and rabbi.

One of the most exciting aspects of ING’s interfaith work has been the initiation of interfaith events that bring together, not only religious leaders from various faiths, but more importantly lay practitioners to learn and dialogue with each other on the same topic. Three of these events were part of the Peninsula Interfaith Dialogue series which was funded by the Community Peninsula Foundation. Topics of discussion focused on such provocative questions as, “Is there Value in Faith?”, “Have Women’s Leadership Roles Changed in Religion?,” and “Is there Room for Fundamentalism in Religion?” All three events featured speakers from the Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, Hindu and Jewish communities and were well attended by audiences representing all the faith traditions.

Feedback from participants reflects the enthusiasm and appreciation they felt after attending one or often all three of the Peninsula events. Comments include the following from diverse audience members:

– “It has been interesting to meet Muslims who are tolerant and respectful toward other spiritual travelers. Yes, I will be telling about the meaningful experience of meeting with 5 faiths instead of 1 or 2. The hospitality was also impressive!”

– “My experience in the dialogue will definitely affect the way I grow spiritually, toward a unique faith.”

– “I have learned more about other religions, but more importantly, learned something about people of diverse faiths.”

– “Dialogue was very thought-provoking and positive.”

– “Small group, very diverse, very interesting – quite vibrant discussion. Pleasantly surprised how valuable these were.”

– “Please continue these gatherings every other month. The organizers did a fabulous job! Bravo!”

ING also organized a An Interfaith Response to a Controversial Speaker, who was scheduled to give a talk at Santa Clara University in April. In an unprecedented show of support, twenty interfaith groups endorsed the statement which decried attempts to divide or demonize communities.

ING Presented in Interfaith Panels and Events

ING speakers and staff also took part in over a dozen interfaith events over the past academic year, including a number of interfaith peace events, such as an International Day of Peace Service, an interfaith gathering with the theme, “Breaking Bread Together,” and the Carry the Vision Community Nonviolence Conference and Youth Leadership Summit. ING’s president Maha Elgenaidi, and ING’s Interfaith Coordinator, Yasmine Khan, also participated in the Rose Rock Institute’s World Forum 2007, as well as general interfaith events, such as a dinner where the topic for the evening was “Respect for the Sacred,” a conference centered around “Women in Religion in the Bay Area,” and the Santa Clara County Office of Human Relations’ “Holocaust Remembrance Day” event. Organizers and participants of these events have repeatedly expressed the value and importance of having representation and participation of Muslim Americans, and are particularly pleased with the fresh perspective ING brings to the table. It is the sharing and exchange of both similar and diverse ideas and views that help each one learn and grow, and some of the greatest advantages of living in a pluralistic society that values diversity.

ING Participated in Interfaith Dialogues

Since September 2006, ING has also participated in over 50 interfaith dialogues, including a dialogue between religious leaders sponsored by the Silicon Valley Conference for Community & Justice (SVCCJ) and Interfaith Space, a clergy and civic leaders dialogue by the Peninsula Clergy Network, the San Francisco FAITHS leadership group meetings at the San Francisco Foundation, meetings with our partners at the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC-East Bay, Friends in Faith dialogues, the North American Interfaith Network (NAIN), and the South Bay Interfaith steering committee. Again, the inclusion, particularly of Muslim women who are able to articulate a vision of interfaith work and relations has been welcomed and embraced at all levels.

ING Provided Educational Presentations and Engaged in Dialogues at Houses of Worship & Faith Based Schools or Institutions of Higher Learning

Representatives from ING also participated in over 60 educational presentations and dialogues over the last year at a variety of faith based venues, including houses of worship and faith-based middle and high schools. They also addressed institutions of higher education, including faith-based colleges and universities such as the Dominican School of Philosophy & Theology, Notre Dame de Namur University, Santa Clara University, and the Graduate Theological Union on a variety of topics, including “Anthropology and Evolution in Islam.”

With the daily news of bombings and violence as the main context of discussions about Muslims in the news, providing an authentic voice of Islam that is greatly missing from most discourses was invaluable for all participants. As one of the students in a high school class room remarked at the conclusion of a presentation,

“It is critical for people to hear the alternative voices of Muslims instead of only the radicals we hear about every day on the news.”

ING Appreciates the Contributions and Involvement of all Participants

As we finish the academic year, ING would like to thank each and every one of the participants and host organizations for allowing it to share and participate in their events and their lives. Over the past nine months, ING has viewed each of these interfaith gatherings as an opportunity to remind ourselves and others of our shared humanity, as well to build bridges based on mutual respect, cooperation, and civic responsibility.

We are especially grateful to our numerous Bay Area interfaith partners, which include:
* Peninsula Community Foundation
* San Francisco Community Foundation
* Interfaith Space
* Silicon Valley Conference for Community and Justice
* South Bay Interfaith
* Friends in Faith
* Peninsula Clergy Network
* Carry the Vision Conference
* Interfaith Council in the Presidio
* Jewish Community Relations Councils (JCRC) – East Bay, San Francisco, & Peninsula
* San Francisco Faiths Initiative
* Peninsula Interfaith Spring Series Partners (Peninsula Temple Beth El, New Vision United Methodist Church, and Yaseen Foundation)