Tuesday, May 29, 2007
(picture taken by Qiyamah A. Rahman)
I wrote the following essay to my class mates for my online class, Islam in India, the class for which I originally set this blog up. In the course of the class we had studied about hijas, individuals in India that we might refer to as cross dressers or homosexuals in the American culture. In past years they have served in a sacred ritualistic role and were called on for certain life's passages like birthdays. More and more these roles are diminished and they are being ostracized instead of included as a vital and acceptable part of the Indian culture. While the example from Pakistan does not appear to fall into the category of hijra, it nevertheless raises the issue of justice and protecting the vulnerable segments of society against those who would use the individual's marginalized status to futher victimize them.
March 29, 2007
Dear Friends: I attribute my increased awareness about gender diversity outside the USA to our class, Islam in India and particularly the unit on hijras. In the course of the class I have come across two articles in the popular media that addresses the issue of gender diversity. One, long pas and carried in the NYT was about an individual in India that does a talk show. This individual is in a high visibility position. For some reason I was annoyed and concerned with the individuals "inappropriate flirtatiousness" and even some "raunchy" innuendos (my language) described in the article. I think unconsciousnessly I recognized the power of the position and wanted the individual to more fully appreciate the fact that they represent a tremendous opportunity to educate folks and to use the role positively. As an African American I know where that "noble thinking" comes from and it is certainly a set up for a life on a pedestal. The individual seems to be really enjoying her life and all the visibility that comes with it. You go girl! And I need to get over my "holding up the whole race thing."
The second case, in Pakistan is a tragic example of two individuals that love each other that are being persecuted simply because of their love. The Chicago Tribune World section 1 today, May 29, 2007 carried an article titled, Pakistan Jails "same-sex" Couple. In Lahore, Pakistan the couple sought legal protection against harassment and ended up being sentenced to 3 years in prison for lying to a Pakistani judge. The lie had to do with the fact of whether t surgery had turned one partner into a man. Shumail Raj was born female and had breast and uterus removal operations sixteen years ago. Shumail Raj and Shahzina Tariq, both 26 years old, married last year and approached the court for protection against harassment from Tariq's parents. They contended they married to prevent Tariq from being sold into marriage to pay off her uncle's gambling debts. The court-appointed doctors examined Raj and ruled that earlier operations were not complete and therefore Raj was still a woman. Not only were they sentenced to three years in prison but fined $165, the equivalent of two months salary. Fortunately, the judge did demonstrate some mercy and dropped the charges of "unnatural lust" which can be punishable by life in prison. However, the court is still resuming hearings to determine whether to annul the couple's marriage which Tariq's family says contravenes Islam and Pakistani laws. Meanwhile, the two are in jail. So not only are same sex unions illegal but sexual reassignment surgery is illegal in Pakistan. The only exceptions are instances where a person is born with hormonal disorder.
Thank you Professor Ibrahim for the resources that you provided. Because it allows me to return to them to follow cases like this and to raise the issue of human rights abuse as primary rather than to judge this couple solely on their actions. An examination of the context indicates they had no options short of leaving Pakistan. The couple admitted they lied about Raj's gender because they "were in love and wanted to live together."
May we work to achieve a time and a legacy for our children when it is acceptable for people to love freely and to know that love is a good thing. Blessed Be!
Tuesday, May 22, 2007
(Doorway of Possibilities - photo by Qiyamah A. Rahman, 2006)
Our Lives as Living Breathing Documents
Claiming ones life as a living breathing document is part of the training that most clergy acquire to learn effective companying with individuals in crisis or simply to assume a pastoral presence. Our experiences, past and present help to inform us about our inner landscape that then allows us access to understanding others and how we might best engage them in effective pastoring. Self reflection is the first step toward not only differentiation and the ability to distinguish between where ones own feelings and thoughts begin and end and where others begin and end. Differentiation is critical toward developing a transformative consciousness. What do I mean by that? If we want to be self aware we have to engage in self reflection. If we want to create a shift from where we are to achieve a goal outside of our current reality and the space that we currently inhabit, then we have to know how to shift our thinking and therefore self awareness is imperative. It is very similar to watching the watcher and being able to step outside of ones self in order to deconstruct behavior, particularly chronic behavior patterns that oftentimes plague many of us. Replaying and reinterpreting our life's narratives and stories help us to identify such patterns of thinking and behavior. Knowing that we desire to alter such behaviors does not automatically move us toward inhabiting a new and different space and way of being. It takes awareness, it takes honesty and it takes hard work and patience.
Shaharazard, a client, is working on claiming her power. While that may seem abstract and vague I worked with her to establish specific tasks necessary to demonstrate milestones that she was in fact claiming her power. Establishing small gestures such as not allowing herself to minimize compliments from others with her usual unconscious replys like, "Oh, it's nothing." Or a typical retort to compliments about her funky and stylish way of dressing, "Oh these old clothes? I got this ten years ago at the Salvation Army." Bigger tasks also were assigned that forced her to speak to three individuals each time she attended seminars and workshops and to obtain business cards before she left a social function. We acknowledged her awkwardness at such functions and the tendency to resort to her old shy patterns of behavior instead of standing in the power of her new identity that she has been forming over the last ten years. While others view her as a powerhouse she is oftentimes engaging in positive self talk to get herself through difficult situations that others would not even be phased by. Recently, in response to initating a contact to further a goal she received a call from the individual inviting her to a social gathering. When she realized that the gathering was at the home of a former U.S. Senator she lost her composure for an hour. She later recounted how she talked herself down as she dressed and how she could actually see the humor in her panic because it was actually what her old identity would have done and yet even as she indulged in obsessive behavior like what to wear and what to expect she knew whatever the situation, that she had it within herself to "rise to the occasion." She was surprised how effectively she could stand aside and watch herself behave irrationally worrying about silly things. She convinced her inner child that she needed to settle down and not feel threatened because the adult was going to handle this grown up situation and that her inner child could stay "home" or come and appropriately bring her "playful humorous self" to the social event. Thi was an intervention that she and I had worked on in our sessions. Sharazard reported that the evening went well. While she didn't "enjoy" it she enjoyed the conversations and seeing how other families did holiday rituals and gatherings.
Another client, Carmen recently received her doctorate. She talked abot using her new title, "Dr" and how it was sometimes a challenge since she did not want to bring attention to herself. Yet, she is very outgoing and verbal around social justice issues and does not hesitate to claim her prophetic voice. Internally however, she is constantly engaging in a process of analysis about her surroundings and her inner landscape. Not only does she love being in her head but it is apparent that her insightful analyses have benefitted her career. However, the contradictions between her behaviors and her abilities are stark. There is no question that Carmen has the ability to assume any role or responsibility she chooses. She is resourceful and possesses good instincts. Her archilles heel is her ability to know the truth about who she is. And that is where she is lerning to stand in her power and to declare that in the very moment her self doubts begin. She was recently sweating bullets when she attempted to make reservations for a conference out of the country. Money issues came up that triggered guilt about spending the money and taking time away from her current position where she was working on a special project approaching its due date. Even though she had a contingency plan she still found it very difficult to make the reservations that she found herself overwhelmed by the flight options after spending hours comparing different airlines. Some of her old tapes were activated, "I should not be spending money to fly to a conference." These disparaging messages assailed her even though she had been literally working full time to finish her Masters in Divinity after being granted a doctorate that she had been working on for many years. She finally convinced herself that she deserved the treat. She informed me in one of her sessions that she endured an early morning ride to the airport at an ungodly hour and several stops and layovers because she was simply unable to really treat herself to the cost which would have been an additional $300. But she didn't beat herself up about her decision and when reporting the escapade to me she was clear about her behavior and owned all the consequences rather than making herself the victim.
We devalue ourselves and judge ourselves for not being good enough or deserving enough. Examining our life's narratives helps clarify the stories that we have bought into about ourselves, some good, some bad and some indifferent. Carmen's and Sharazard's life narratives main themes support their belief that they are not good enough to experience their good. So they go out of their way and stop short of going for the gusto and often settle for less than their wildest dreams. The plus is that their behavior is no longer covert or unconscious. When Carmen panicked at the thought of a social encounter with individuals she didn't know she realized her old tapes had seized control and that she had the ability to regain control. Furthermore, she knew exactly what parts of her were threatened and the usual pattern of acting out was squelched and she could appease her inner child by promising that she did not have to entertain adults but the adult Carmen would do the necessary work. Another strategy she employed was to reconceptualize failure not as something bad, nor a reflection of herself but something that visits all of us sooner or later and that if she simply continued to try to avoid any possible failure, not only would she have a boring life but it be even harder for her to deal with failure when it eventually showed up in her life.
Thus, it is not about us not being good enough.
In the instance of another client, a recent career "failure" left Naim feeling defeated and unworthy until we worked through the feelings that he was holding onto that labeled him a failure in a society that is schizophrenic about failure. We say it is inevitable and a learning tool, yet when we fail, our employers and supervisors place our heads on the chopping block. Sometimes that might even lead to the auction block and unemploymen. Naim was determined to work through his feelings about failure once and for all. As an African American male, some of those issues may never go away, instead, Naim worked on getting better and better at recognizing the games he played with himself that buy into dysfunctional patterns. Now, when he has the desire to beat up on himself, Naim remembers to start his internal dialogue, that is, processing the situation and to not give in to his emotions that want to indulge the distortions around not being "good enough" "liked enough" etc. Recently, I delivered a presentation on some research that I had been working on. I spent time delivering and posting flyers and talking it up. First of all, claiming the intellectual space to assert my leadership was a major milestone. Furthermore, marketing it meant I was important enough to expose my ideas and create a forum to share my research. Finally, I delivered a well organized and well thought out presentation. That is never the real worry. It is always about, "who do you think you are.?" "How dare you think that you should bring attention to yourself." The truth of the matter is that in my childhood I was the invisible one sitting off in a corner with a book. I learned to love my solitude and I learned to love reading and experiencing life through the written word. As a result, I have capitalized on my love of knowledge and have far more education in my family of origin than all my siblings. That is not a judgment on them or me. Book knowledge does not make a inherently good or smart etc. I am demonstrating how my use of a survival strategy benefitted me over my lifetime. However, what I have noticed is that some of my siblings who have less education are more entrepreneurial than I am. An entrepeneur requires risk taking and the willingness to strike out on their own and march to the beat of a different drummer.It has taken me a lifetime to even begin to think about being self employed. I make a good employee because I usually choose jobs that reflect my passions in life and then I give my all and all. I now understand that tendency is part of my compulsive/obsessive pattern and I have learned to honor my tendency to drive myself while still setting limits. I will push myself for a designated period over time to finish a project. After that I will rest and enjoy my success before moving on to another major project. I usually check in with myself to make sure that I am practicing good self care like diet, exercise, movies and tv, meditation, reflection time and time with others. It is so easy to isolate myself and experience some degree of content until I start to crave social interaction. So I often have to push myself to get out. When I do, I usually enjoy it but it is not my first inclination.
Ministry is about self awareness. The more proficient we become at understanding ourselves, the better we can engage others and be present with them. Wrestling with ones own inner demons also is a great way to foster empathy, compassion, non-judgemental attitudes and patience. Using our own lives as living breathing documents is both necessary and empowering.
(Breaking through Glass Ceilings - picture by Qiyamah A. Rahman,2006)
Following are examples of Muslim women leading various aspects of Muslim worship. This column will continue to be expanded to add new voices and examples of Muslim women claiming self agency and forging new frontiers in Islam:
Dr. Amina Wadud in Barcelona -- One of the world’s leading experts on the Qur’an and its discourse on gender led a mixed-gender congregation in a Friday communal prayer in Barcelona, Spain yesterday.
The impromptu prayer came after Wadud, professor of Islamic Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University, was invited to lead a congregation by several Muslim women during a question and answer period following a talk by Wadud at the International Congress on Islamic Feminism.
After answering a slew of questions on the historic mixed-gender prayer she led earlier this year in New York City, members of Spain’s Muslim community quickly organized a makeshift prayer in a conference room at the Alimera Hotel in Barcelona, where the Congress was being held.
About thirty worshippers participated in the prayer.
Before the prayer a minor controversy erupted about whether Spanish television cameras can record the event, with several congregants refusing to be filmed. Soon, the TV cameras were removed and the prayer began with the call to prayer followed by a short sermon by Wadud.
Ahmed Nassef is editor-in-chief of muslimwakeup.com.
Raheel Raza describes her experience delivering the kutba, Muslim sermon:
It was April 22, earth day and here we were, a motley crowd of some 40 people gathered in a backyard – close to earth. Although the meteorologists had predicted rain, the skies were bright blue, the sun shone and there was a slight breeze. I felt the heavens smiling on us and I took a deep breath of peace. The time for Friday prayers was near.
I wasn’t so calm three weeks ago when Tarek Fatah, founder of the Muslim Canadian Congress (MCC) asked me if I would lead a mixed gender prayer for the community. My first reaction was to say no because I wasn’t ready to be part of media frenzy.
So Tarek took the petition to my husband who convinced me that it would be a natural progression of the work I do in interfaith, to actually lead a prayer for my own community. I thought about this deeply and realised that there are many Muslim women who don’t have a safe space in which to pray, so this might open some doors. Once my intention was clear in my mind, I agreed. My sons were concerned for my safety, but once I made the decision, I left the rest up to Allah, praying for guidance and strength.
My trepidation was not unfounded because the venue had to be changed twice before it could be considered safe. We finally ended up in Tarek’s backyard which had been cleaned up in a record one hour and had carpets laid out in a row.
About 40 people turned up, more men then women surprisingly, and it was a joy to note the diversity. It was also remarkable to note that this was not a ‘reactionary’ crowd or a battle of ‘progressive vs conservative’ because there was an Imam and women in hijab in the group. I was humbled as I stood before the congregation on this landmark occasion. I thanked them for their trust and confidence in inviting me to lead them in prayer. “Your faith today” I started by telling them, “is the only criterion really required in Islam to empower a person to lead prayer. This is especially heart-warming for me as I’ve lead prayers in churches, synagogues and temples and feel honoured as I stand here with my own community”.
I explained how we would proceed. A young man called out the azaan (call to prayer) and I gave the sermon beginning with the first verse from Sura Nissa (the chapter on women in the Quran).
O mankind fear your Guardian Lord who created you from a single person, created out of it His mate and from them scattered like seeds countless men and women – fear Allah through whom you demand your mutual rights and be heedful of the wombs that bore you for Allah ever watches over you.
I continued “So we know at this moment Allah is watching over us and I believe from my heart and soul that Allah made us equal in creation and wanted all of us to have this equality that is denied to many women today. What we are doing today is not re-inventing our own tradition, rather following in the teachings and role models of our faith. And how auspicious is this occasion today, being the birth anniversary of our beloved Prophet who is a mercy for all humankind.”
The fact that this momentous event was taking place on the birth anniversary of my beloved Prophet Mohammed, was a sign of great blessing for me. Yet I knew that some of these brave men and women, who were here to support me, may have doubts and in the second half of my sermon, I allayed those fears.
I said “I’m often asked where I get the strength of conviction that I’m doing the right thing. I’m inspired by the first woman of Islam – Hazrat Khadija – uumul momineen – mother of believers – it is said that her wealth could cover the grounds around the Kaaba – yet she donated her assets to build that small Muslim community which desperately needed her support. I’m motivated by Bibi Fatima who relayed the Prophets sermons to the larger community and tradition records that when she entered the room, the prophet stood up in respect for his daughter. I draw strength and courage from Bibi Zainab who shook the court of Yazid with her impassioned khutba after the tragedy of Karbala. Here we see a woman building an empire through her financial status, a woman stabilizing that empire though her piety and a woman shaking an empire though her passion for truth and justice. And of course, I’m impressed by Hazrat Ayesha, a theologian and narrator of hadeeth.”
By this time I could see some eyes were getting wet – the message was getting through. I ended with the following words: “Today it doesn’t matter who leads prayers. This event is just to break the domination of a few misguided bigots who try to reduce God to a policeman and who’s only interest in ‘profit’ is the kind that comes out of their bank account. Each one of us today is empowered to take with us a message of peace, justice, equality, tolerance, compassion and open mindedness. This is not my message or that of our host – this is the message of the book”
We ended with a dua, but as we rose to our feet to meet and greet each other, I was overwhelmed with tears and so were others. Some of the women told me they had not prayed in years and were ecstatic to come back into the fold. For at least one person, this was their first congregational prayer so this auspicious occasion was blessed from the inception and became a ‘first’ for many of us, held together by love of Allah and His Prophet.
Muslim Sisters around the world are challenging the prevailing gender stereotypes of Muslims and non-Muslims. By assuming roles that traditionally have been relegated to Muslim males, Muslimas or Muslim women defy the myth of the submissive Muslim woman. They come veiled and unveiled, bringing different cultural traditions and Islamic tradition, practicing their religion they reimagine not only themselves but even imaging Allah as the feminine:
"I wanted to talk about the Allah that I knew and loved intensely, but one that few Muslims met at the mosque. The Allah who calls Herself "the light of the heavens and the earth" and tells us that when we call upon Him, "I am near"." Imama Nakia - AKA Nakia Jackson
Not Without My Maybelline: The Advent of Imama Nakia
After attending and speaking at an event at Brandeis University featuring Asra Nomani talking about her latest, Standing Alone in Mecca, the conversation turned to continuing the efforts that had begun on March 18th with Dr. Wadud. Asra, being the action-oriented woman she is, secured a spot for a Jumu’ah prayer that Friday. We were talking about who to invite and other logistics, letting me know that this was for real, that we were going to have the kind of Jumu’ah that we’ve been waiting to attend for years. But the panic that I was barely stifling was due to an older fear.
I knew that I’d gotten myself into trouble when I realized that I had agreed to be khateeba. Sure, I’d just given a four-minute speech an hour before, but what did I know about giving a khutbah? I was familiar with the format, but had never memorized the standard phrases and du’a that were essential to an authentic khutbah. On the ride home, I went into panic, calling my dad to bring myself down from the adrenaline high I was on. I told him about the weirdness of that day- the police escorts, the metal detectors and bomb-sniffing dog, trying to pray while flashbulbs went off in front of me. He was glad that I was protected... I was more worried about making a fool of myself.
I wanted to make sure that the khutbah fit into the standard format, so I looked up the fiqh of the Jumu’ah khutbah . I quickly abandoned hope of memorizing the formulaic opening and du’a, so I had everything printed out for me to fall back on, especially if I blanked out, which I tend to do while under performance anxiety, and this was stage fright squared.
Picking a topic was the area where I got the most help, but needed the least. I knew exactly what I wanted to do: I wanted to deliver a khutbah that had what many were waiting to hear, and some, like me, had given up hope in hearing from the minbar. I wanted to talk about the Allah that I knew and loved intensely, but one that few Muslims met at the mosque. The Allah who calls Herself "the light of the heavens and the earth" and tells us that when we call upon Him, "I am near".
I chose du’a for forgiveness and support, not so much for any sins real or imagined, but to lift the burden of guilt that so many Muslims bear for not dressing, thinking, speaking, smelling just like the Prophet (SAWS). If the Forgiving can forgive us for being ourselves, perhaps we can find a way to do the same.
I turned in at three in the morning, my khutbah nearly done, I had one question left- what to wear? I knew that no choice of attire would endear me to naysayers, but the wrong choice would give them extra ammunition. I went for something somewhat conservative-a grey jilbab with pearl buttons, and a silver scarf. After agonizing over the makeup issue for more than an hour, I decided to go natural- natural, for me, that is. The demure makeup look that I chose may not have passed conservative muster, but I refused to make history without my Maybelline. Qaradawi might condemn me to hell, but he couldn’t deny that I looked good.
I was on the train later that morning, reviewing my khutbah, streamlining the speech. The khutbah is supposed to be brief, according to the Sunnah, but somehow, I’ve never listened to a khutbah that was less that forty minutes. I had planned for no more than ten, telling my dad I was going for some "Old Time Religion". I got a call from Asra, and had a few nightmares of what she was going to tell me in the few seconds before she announced that a local cable news station and a member of the Turkish press would be filming the service and interviewing us. Great for the performance anxiety I was experiencing. I’d count myself lucky if I didn’t dissolve into a Porky Pig- like stutter.
I arrived at the site Asra reserved, and was told that we couldn’t use the site if it was going to be filmed, citing security concerns. After a bit of going back and forth, we decided on a site by the Charles river, one popular with local fowl. I staked out a relatively clean spot , gave interviews, and waited for our muezzin to show up. He’s the guitarist and backup singer of the mostly Muslim punk rock group the Kominas, although the rest of the group couldn’t make it. He finally arrived two hours after our intended starting time, bringing tales of adventure with a nice but completely hapless cab driver. After giving a last interview, we were ready to begin. He called the adhan, I gave salaams and sat down, told him to call the adhan again. After some confusion, it went as smoothly as any Jumu’ah I’ve ever attended- only much nicer.
I told no tales of hellfire , made no calls for anyone’s death, and frightened no one. I could have done better, but I’ve heard worse. I had to read most of what I had prepared out of nervousness. I ignored the cameras during the service, and didn’t blank out during the salah, Alhamdulillah. Afterwards, we had to pose in "prayer mode" for the cameras, bringing me back to surreality. We went to lunch and crashed , and my sermon on the parable of light in the Qur’an got a few compliments. I’m just glad that no one fell asleep. I asked a few people in and around Boston what the khutbah they listened to was about, and the answers that they gave told me that I did exactly what was needed: no khutbah that I inquired about contained the light, beauty, mercy and love that I strove to fill my khutbah with. Our Fridays have been filled with darkness for too long. It’s time to return to the light of Allah.
Nakia Jackson is a musician and budding young troublemaker living in the Boston area. She enjoys alte musik, belly dancing, and scaring men
The following essay brilliantly depicts the organic process of religious practices that adapt to foreign assimilation efforts that stave off cultural amnesia. During 1845-1917 several thousand East Indians immigrated to British colonies in the Caribbean. A practice of taziyahs, was brought over and evolved to contemporary times that reflects a Carribean flabor. Taziyahs, that is, miniature replicas of Imams shrines that are paraded in religious processions during the festival are termed Hosay. The author Asad Rizvi provides an overview of this fascinating example of an interracial and interreligious practice that every religious comunity takes place in.
Hosay: Caribbean Cultural Expression of a Shi’ite Heritage
By Asad Rizvi
Shi’ite Islam, like many religions, has taken on distinctly indigenous forms in the different lands that it has spread. The practices of “popular Shiism” are where the differences are most pronounced. These popular practices are often the most important agents in spreading a religion in lands where it is foreign and must be understood through a reconstructed native understanding. A very important example of this is found in Iranian history when Safavid rulers sent out Sufis across the vast regions of Iran to proselytize people in the doctrine of Twelver Shiism. Here, we see how the Gnostic inclination of Iranians was reconciled with the charisma of the Twelver Imami line. The Iranian practice of visiting Sufi shrines transformed itself into popular pilgrimages to the shrines of the Imams and their lineage.
Eventually, Iranians became so attached to their new faith that they created the first drama in the Middle Eastern world, the taziyeh. The taziyeh is a distinctly Iranian dramatic reenactment of the events at Karbala. Persia’s conversion to Shiism was so strong that later attempts to convert Iran back to Sunnism by Afghan rulers were unequivocal failures. With the example of Shiism in Iran, we can see how religion must be willing to adapt to indigenous ways of understanding the world if it wishes to survive in foreign territories.
We find a similar pattern in the nativization of Shiism in India. Here, Muslims were of course the minority. Furthermore, Shi’ites represented a minority within a minority. Thus, Shi’ites could not force their faith upon Hindu India without some cultural dialogue and exchange. Islam, itself, was spread in India via the charisma of Sufi saints, the subsequent orders they left, and the institutions of the shrines whose significance was wisely recognized by the political rulers of India who looked to their blessing for political legitimacy.
Shi’ites also adapted to native understandings of spirituality. This is most visibly seen in the large Muharram processions commemorating ‘Ashura and Arba’een seen in major Shi’ite centers of India like Lucknow and Hyderabad. These processions often took on a festive theme as people of all confessional backgrounds joined in the commemoration of the martyrs of Karbala. The employment of tassa (drums), the adoption of richly adorned elephants, and the creation of elaborate taziyahs (unlike Iran, this term refers to the manufactured miniature replicas of the Imams’ shrines that are paraded in these processions) were all part of the distinctly Indian contribution to popular Shiism. One of the most distinctly Indian aspects of the Muharram observations is the participation of Hindus and Sunnis. Many in these communities also participate in what many in their orthodoxies would consider taboo Shi’ite practices such as breast-beating <(matam). We shall see how some of these elements were greatly influential upon the legacy of Shiism in the Caribbean. Most notably, what we must recognize in the examples of the popular understandings of Shiism in Iran and India is the fact that Shiism has survived and remained a point of reference for many in these lands largely due to the willingness of the religion to be reconciled with indigenous customs.
During 1845-1917 several thousand Indians immigrated to British colonies in the Caribbean like Guiana and Trinidad to fill the labor shortage left by the emancipation of slaves in 1838 (Korom, 97). Many of these immigrants were from the North Indian regions of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar where many of the subcontinent’s Shi’ites are concentrated (98). Naturally, these immigrants brought their religious traditions with them. Often, all they had was the memories of their homeland and the religious customs they practiced.
The separation from the religious institutions of the homeland explains why many Shi’ites and other Muslims became more secular in their new homes in the West Indies. However, the development of Hosay in the Caribbean was a self-conscious effort to reincarnate the Muharram processions of the subcontinent. Moreover, those genuine participants of Hosay do not see themselves as heretics but rather as faithfully continuing an old tradition directly inherited from the Indian motherland. Frank Korom writes that these immigrants faced a “cultural amnesia” because they were far removed from India and lost connections to their old communities (105). Korom writes about the East Indian Shi’ite “need for a reasonable amount of free play in interpretation to reconcile the incongruity between self-perceived notions of unchanging tradition and the growing need for innovation as a strategy for cultural adaptation” (106). Again, we see the importance of adaptation as a means of survival that was a continuation of the tradition which spread Shiism in Iran and India into the popular consciousness. However, it is undoubtable that Hosay took on a strong cultural symbolism that rivaled its significance as a religious tradition. This cultural marker was one of the few elements that distinguished a uniquely East Indian identity, which partly explains its popularity beyond the Shi’ite community.
However, the popularity of Hosay cannot be solely explained in either cultural or religious terms. There is also a social element which was important in solidifying Hosay as a popular festival. Both Vijay Prashad and Frank Korom argue that Hosay was utililized as a means of social and political protest. The tortuous conditions of indentured laborers in the plantations and by the exploited Chinese, Afro-Creole, and American Indian laborers created a point of solidarity in oppression which brought together the “subaltern classes” at the Hosay festival (Korom, 101). The work in the plantations was exploitative and geographically constricting. Hosay was one of the only occasions in the year when laborers could come converge and enjoy their time off (Prashad, 79). As the sugarcane industry went in decline during the late 19th century with the growth of beet and unrestricted free trade, the cash crop that the indentured servants and most of the West Indies depended upon lost value. This led plantation owners to work their servants twice as hard for a lesser amount of money (Korom, 113). Naturally, this brought upon several strikes during 1870-1900. This period also saw an increased regulation of the Hosay festival as colonial officials were threatened by the convergence of subaltern classes during these processions (114).
Colonial officials utilized several classic “divide and rule” tactics to weaken the solidarity of the oppressed classes. This was done by limiting the participation of Hosay in Trinidad to Muslims, fully aware that Muslims only composed one part of the hugely popular festival (114).
Another significant interventionist policy adopted by the colonists was restricting the movement of tajdahs (replicas of tombs; taziyahs in India) into the towns (115). Quite significantly, there was an attempt at polarizing Indian religious identities by encouraging the arrival of Muslim and Hindu religious missionaries to indoctrinate the respective communities back to the “real” faith (Prashad, 82). On the surface, these missionaries claimed to be fighting their Christian counterparts but in reality, they were encouraged by colonial officials to “create fissures across the landscape of the working class” (82). Brahman authorities like Sanathan Dharma Sabah and Arya Samaj tried to indoctrinate Hindus while Muslims were challenged by the Sunni orthodoxy of Anjuman Sunnat ul-Jamaat in their polycultural religious foundations (Prashad, 82; Korom, 117).
The tragic climax of this troubled period was the Hosay tragedy of October 30, 1884 in San Fernando, Trinidad which claimed 16 lives and 107 casualties after colonial authorities began shooting at the Hosay participants (Korom, 112). That particular year was a climatic point of protest against economic policies that were hurting plantation laborers and it fell exactly during the time of Muharram.
The channeling of political and social grievances through the religious processions of Muharram is a continuation of the tradition seen in Indian ‘Ashura protests against the British occupiers, in Iran in the lead up to the Islamic revolution, and in modern-day Iraq (Prashad, 81). Thus, Hosay’s popularity is due to the simultaneous functions it plays as a forger of “ethnic unity”, social protest, and specifically a cultural marker for displaced Indian indentured servants trying to reclaim their Indian origins (Korom, 106).
Hosay was also a platform for opposing groups to come and fight each other during the frenzy of the festival (106). Often this was the token reason cited by colonial officials to suppress the festival when in reality it wasn’t the major essence of the threat that the British feared, but rather a good excuse for an unjust policy. Korom argues that Hosay “provided a more flexible arena for interracial and interreligious participation” than Hindu festivals which also were imported into the West Indies (98). Every religious and racial community took a part in the Hosay festival. Afro-Creoles were often chosen as the drummers along with the Hindu leather-working caste of the chamars who continued in a position they occupied in the Indian subcontinent’s processions (101). This was a direct continuation of the Indian legacy which saw the inter-communal participation in the Muharram processions.
The Hosay festival places great emphasis on the tajdahs, or the replicas of the shrines of the Imams (Prashad, 79). This is most strikingly an inherited legacy from the subcontinent. The competitive nature of the tajdah builders is also inherited from India (Korom, 107). The tajdah workers take their job very seriously and often actual Shi’ites are the main participants in this field such as in the northern Trinidadian town of St. James (117). As an expression of their solidarity with the plight of Imam Husayn in Karbala, these tajdah workers abstain from meat, sex, alcohol, and fried food during the time that they begin working on these replicas (usually the 1st of Muharram at the latest) until they throw them into the waters on the 13th of Muharram (126). The yards where these tajdahs are built also are grounds for prayer meetings starting from the 1st of Muharram. These tajdah workers embody the personal devotion of the Hosay festival in their passion for their work as an expression of a long religious and cultural tradition they know only from their forefathers (121).
There are of course many differences between the Hosay festival in the Caribbean and the Muharram processions in India. You will not find breast-beating, flagellation, eulogy recitation or stick fighting in Hosay (Korom, 119). However, certain traditions continue on such as the playing of the tassa drums and the carrying of alams which are standard bearers of the People of the Cloak symbolized by a hand with five fingers symbolic of the Prophet Muhammad, Imam Ali, Fatima, Imam Husayn, and Imam Hasan (125). The two characters most represented at the Hosay festival are Imam Hasan and Husayn. Indeed, many participants believe that Hasan and Husayn were martyred together at Karbala (125). They are symbolized by two moon structures, one green and one red. The green moon represents the poisoned Imam Hasan while the red represents the blood of Imam Husayn (124). On the 7th of Muharram, the processions begin as the alams are brought out to the streets along with tassa drums. The 8th of Muharram is referred to as Little Hosay Night in which the replicas of Hasan and Husayn’s tombs are brought out. On the 9th, the symbolic red and green moons are seen by the public for the first time along with the tajdahs. The 10th is the final day of activities.
A more sensationalized aspect of the Hosay festival has been the consumption of alcohol, drugs, and sensuous dancing (120). However, Korom argues that the Sunni orthodoxy has exaggerated the element of dancing in the festival to undermine Hosay when in actuality, dancing has greatly declined over the last couple of years in this festival (120).
The contemporary governments in Trinidad have utilized Hosay as a marketing tool for their tourism industry (Korom, 122). They understand the popularity and the festivity of the event and they have specifically reached out to the urban locale of St. James in northern Trinidad which has one of the most popular Hosay festivals (124). We continue to see the multiple ways of interpreting the Hosay festival. Although one cannot deny that it differs more from the Iranian and Indian versions of commemorating Muharram than the Iranian and Indian variations differ between themselves, it nonetheless is an inheritor of a tradition that is dynamic and adapts to indigenous lands for religious and cultural survival. We can see how the ideas of a Shi’ite ideology are perpetuated and reconstructed, sometimes unconsciously, by observing the comments of some non-Muslims who are zealous participants or advocates of Hosay:
“one member of the conservative, and separatist, Hindu Sabha told anthropologist Gustav Thaiss a few years ago that Hosay is a ritual to remember the conflict between Hasan (a Muslim) and Hosayn (a Hindu), and that they ‘died together battling over their Faiths. People now make the tajdahs to commemorate their deaths,’ he said, and to ‘show we should all live in unity together’” (Korom, 83)
Korom also writes about a Hindu questioned about his involvement in Hosay:
“When one of the main organizers of the event in southern Trinidad was asked if he saw a contradiction in being a Hindu who participated in the Muslim rite and believed in its power, he simply responded, “I presume I am a Muslim one month each year”. Such religious oscillation reflects the amalgam of many different cultural influences that have gone into making Hosay what it is in Trinidad” (124)
Although many Shi’ite Muslims argue that what these participants of Hosay practice is heresy, one cannot deny that the tradition is part of a longer history of the cultural adaptation of religion which creates a “popular religion”. Indian practices during Muharram such as walking over fire are often questioned by non-Indian Shi’ites in the same manner and many wonder if this is not excessive or even haraam. Conversely, many Shi’ites in the subcontinent do not accept the dramatization of Karbala in Iranian taziyehs because of their adherence to a strict interpretation of the ‘no depiction’ notion in Islamic law. Thus, we must understand the universality of the processes that created the distinctly Caribbean Shi’ite festival called Hosay. Korom writes in his epilogue about Shi’ite missionaries who have newly arrived to Trinidad to teach the Shi’ites there a more globally accepted notion of Shi’ism. This has already created rifts between the black Afro-Creole Shi’ite communities who adhere to a more orthodox Shiism and embrace the Shi’ite mission’s message and the East Indian Shi’ite community that adheres to the traditions of Hosay and the distinctive legacy of that history. The only rule governing all these processes is a dynamic process of global exchange. What one must not forget to do is engage in a dialogue rather than an authoritarian monologue which can draw people away from faith by creating a reaction to foreign impositions. The legacy of cultural adaptation that took place in Iran and India must also be allowed to foster in the Caribbean.
Asad Rizvi is a student at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, NJ where he is graduating with a degree in Political Science and Middle Eastern Studies this year
Korom, Frank, J. Hosay Trinidad: Muharram Performances in an Indo-Caribbean Diaspora. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2003.
Prashad, Vijay. Everybody was Kung Fu Fighting: Afro-Asian Connections and the Myth of Cultural Purity. Boston: Beacon Press, 2001.
(Wall Hangings in the Boudoir of an African Princess -picture taken by Qiyamah A. Rahman
Welcome, traveler! Enter and take your rest in the Chaikhana. What is a chaikhana. It is a teahouse along the legendary Silk Road pilgrimage and trading route linking China to the Middle East and Europe. It is a place of rest along the journey, a place to shake off the dust of the road, to sip tea, and to gather together to sing songs of the Divine...
(excerpted from: Poetry Chaikhana at www.Poetry-Chaikhana.com)
Sarmad, or Hazrat Sarmad Shaheed, is a fascinating and complex character who seems to have bridged several cultures in Persia and India. Apparently, Sarmad originally lived in an Armenian community in Iran. Some believe that Sarmad was from a Jewish background, earning him the modern epithet of the Jewish Sufi Saint of India. Other scholars suggest he was Christian before taking up the Sufi path.
He had an excellent command of both Persian and Arabic, essential for his work as a merchant. Hearing that precious items and works of art were being purchased in India at high prices, Sarmad gathered together his wares and traveled to India where he intended to sell them.
Near the end of his journey, however, he is said to have fallen in love with a dervish boy. This ardent love ('ishq) created such a radical transformation in his awareness that Sarmad immediately dropped all desire for wealth and worldly comfort. In this ecstatic state, he even lost all concern with social convention and began to wander about without clothes, becoming a naked faqir.
He continued journeying through India, but now as a naked dervish rather than as a merchant. He ended up in Delhi where he found the favor of a prince in the region and gained a certain amount of influence at court. That prince, however, was soon overthrown by Aurengzeb, who saw the naked Sarmad as a political enemy. Sarmad was eventually accused of political crimes and unorthodox Muslim practice, and Sarmad was eventually put to death.
The following account provides more detail about the interaction between Hazrat Sarmad Shaheed and his final demise at the hands of his adversaries:
His entry into Delhi
He reached Delhi in this state of nakedness. Prince Dara Shikuh was Sufi-orientated and a friend of fakirs. When he discovered that Sarmad had entered Delhi he ensured that he became acquainted with the Shaykh very soon. After he got to know the Shaykh closely, he was greatly affected by his spiritual power. He respected the Shaykh very much. Prince Dara Shikuh was one of his admirers. Thus he became to have much influence at court.
A change of government
Prince Aurangzeb defeated Dara Shikuh and took the reigns of power into his own hands in lieu of Shah Jahan. Dara Shikuh began to wander from desert to desert and settlement to settlement. This period was a testing one for Dara Shikuh’s sympathisers, supporters and associates. Hazrat Sarmad was one of these too. Some people had fled with Dara Shikuh and those who remained considered themselves in danger. Hazrat Sarmad chose not to leave as he knew that his burial place would be in Delhi.
The accusations which were made upon him were not free from political machinations. The first accusation was that he had apparently rejected the Prophet’s (Allah bless him and give him peace) physical Ascension [mi’raj] in the following quatrain :
Every man who is aware of his secret
He becomes concealed even from the skies
The mullah says that Ahmad  went to the heavens
Sarmad says that the heavens were inside Ahmad!
The second accusation made upon him was that he was a sympathiser and well-wisher of Dara Shikuh. The third was that he was always nude which is against the teachings of the Shar’iah. The fourth accusation was that he did not read the full kalimah and only recited the words, “There is no god ” .
Aurangzeb sent the Chief Justice Mullah Qavi to Hazrat Sarmad to question him about why he remained naked. When Mullah Qavi asked him the reason as to why he remained naked he recited the following quatrain:
He is happy on account of my humble self
Evil eye and wine is stolen from my hands
He is in my bosom; search for Him in me!
Tis strange that a thief has caused me to be naked!
He was summoned before the court. In this gathering there were the greatest scholars and divines present too in addition to Aurangzeb. Aurangzeb asked him, “People say that you gave Dara Shikuh the good news of the sultanate. Is this true?” Hazrat Sarmad replied, “Yes it is true; and that good news was truthful for he has attained the crown of the eternal sultanate.” The scholars asked him, “Why do you roam around naked?” He gave the same reply which he had given earlier to Mullah Qavi. The scholars asked him to put on some clothes but he ignored them  . Aurangzeb addressed the scholars and said, “Being naked in itself is not a reason to kill someone. Ask him to recite the first kalimah.” Sarmad was asked to recite the kalimah. As per his habit he only recited, “There is no god”. When the scholars heard these words of negation they were extremely annoyed. He replied, “Presently, I am drowned [mustaghraq] in Negation  ; I have not yet reached the (spiritual) station of Affirmation yet. If I read the full kalimah in this state, I will be telling a lie.” The scholars decided that this action of his was blasphemy [kufr] and that repentance was necessary. Hazrat Sarmad refused to repent. The scholars decided that the death penalty was permissible in this case.
The next day he was taken to the execution spot. When the executioner came near to him with a gleaming sword in his hand, he smiled on seeing him and then lifting his eyes to the heavens spoke these historic words:
“May I be sacrificed for you! Come, come, for whichever guise You come in, I recognise You!” Then he recited this distich:
There was a commotion and I opened my eyes from the dream of Non-Existence
I saw that the night of sedition still remained, and so went back to sleep!
After reading this verse he presented his neck and drank from the goblet of martyrdom. His martyrdom occurred in the year 1070 A.H.
His shrine is beneath the Jamia Masjid in Delhi and a fount of blessings and grace.
Hazrat Sarmad was a perfect intoxicated [majzub] saint. He had no equal in his Islamic knowledge and virtues. Many people were his followers and disciples. His letters, which are known by the title, “Ruqa’at e Sarmad” [Epistles of Sarmad] are a testimony to his knowledge. He also wrote many quatrains [rubai] in Persian and these are famous as Rubaiyyaat e Sarmad (Quatrains of Sarmad). These have been published. Two of his most famous quatrains are given below and are a representation of his thought and ideas:
O’ Sarmad the pain of love is not given to slaves of their desires
The burning of the moth’s heart is not given to the honey-bee!
A whole lifetime is required to obtain Union with the Friend
This treasure, Sarmad, is not given to one and all!
I have been honoured with the office of Love
I have been made oblivious to asking from creatures
Like a candle have I been melted in this world
Due to my burning have I been made a confidante!
After his martyrdom the words, ”There is no god but Allah” were heard from his mouth thrice. Not only did his severed head recite the kalimah but it continued to praise Allah Almighty for some time afterwards. Aurangzeb ruled for nearly 48 years after Hazrat Sarmad’s martyrdom but never achieved peace and tranquillity. He spent a long time fighting in the Deccan and finally died there.
The following poems,all separately titled and separate poems represent a small sampling of Hazrat Sarmad's poetry:
Along the road, you were my companion
Seeking the path, you were my guide
No matter to whom I spoke, it was you who answered
When Sun called Moon to Sky, it was you who shined
In the Night of aloneness, you
were my comforter
When I laughed, you were the smile on my lips
When I cried, you were the tears on my face
When I wrote, you were the verse
When I sang, you were the song
Rarely did my heart desire another lover
Then when it did, you came to me in the other.
Every Man Who is Aware of His Secret
Every man who is aware of his secret
He becomes concealed even from the skies
The mullah says that Ahmad went to the heavens
Sarmad says that the heavens were inside Ahmad!
To the Dignified Station of Love Was I Raised
To the dignified station of love I was raised,
And from the favours of the people I was freed.
Like a candle I was melted in this assembly,
By being burnt, in the divine mysteries I was initiated.
This next poem, unlike the previous ones were written by the poet, Dariya Sahib. Sant Dariya Sahib of Bihar was born in India at a time when the power of the Muslim Mughals was declining and the British had not yet fully asserted their power over the region. It was an era of many petty rulers and warlords and general social turmoil and religious strife. Sant Dariya emerged as a poet-saint who encouraged harmony between Hindus and Muslims. He received enlightenment at the age of 20, and began to teach a path of non-violence and love for all.As a poet, Sant Dariya composed more than 15,000 verses.In fact, in one of his books, Dariya suggests he was the great poet Kabir in a previous incarnation. There is some disagreement about the years of his life, but many assert he lived nearly 150 years.
You Have Nothing to Worry About
You have nothing to worry about.
Be free from worries,
And remain immersed in love for the Beloved.
He shall take you across the ocean of the world,
If you seek support of his boat sailing in this ocean.
No amulet, charm, yogic practice
or other holy repetition is of any avail.
Only he provides the technique which destroys sins,
and removes vices from the heart.
By seeing and reflecting within your heart,
You will be freed from all ills
Just by kindling the wick of Nam
with the Satguru's lamp.
A final poem by Dariy Sahib:
Without Love There Can Be No Devotion and Wisdom (from Love Chapter)
Sant Dariya Sahib of Bihar was born in India at a time when the power of the Muslim Mughals was declining and the British had not yet fully asserted their power over the region. It was an era of many petty rulers and warlords and general social turmoil and religious strife.
Sant Dariya emerged as a poet-saint who encouraged harmony between Hindus and Muslims.
He received enlightenment at the age of 20, and began to teach a path of non-violence and love for all.
As a poet, Sant Dariya composed more than 15,000 verses.
In fact, in one of his books, Dariya suggests he was the great poet Kabir in a previous incarnation.
There is some disagreement about the years of his life, but many assert he lived nearly 150 years.
Sunday, May 20, 2007
(L-R Rev. Shuma Chakrarty and seminarian Catie Chi Olson)
Finding Our Way Home
By Qiyamah A. Rahman
On April 12-15, 2007 approximately forty Unitarian Universalists gathered from around the corners and recesses of the United States of North America, including one globetrotter from Geneva, Switzerland. Billed as a “retreat” the gathering was a “life line” “a shot-in-the-arm” for one of the smallest identity based groups within the movement and denomination of Unitarian Universalism, seminarians and ministers of color. Many of the individuals present had gathered two years ago for the historic first retreat. Two years later some individuals known to each other mostly by name, emails, conference calls and long distance check ins were worshipping, singing and breaking bread over conversations and in between networking.
Bill Sinkford, UUA President, was one of the invited guest speakers. Bill, himself, an African American, talked about some of the pioneers whose names are not as well known to us as some others that have been more visible in our movement and denomination. Sinkford knows first hand of some of the racial tension that our movement and denomination has engendered and endured over the years. The Black Empowerment Period caused Bill Sinkford and other African American UUs to leave in record numbers which to this day have never been fully recouped. Years later, Sinkford was among the few African Americans that returned to Unitarian Universalism.
According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the term “retreat” refers to a “get-away.” Thus, in part, ministers and seminarians of color were able to momentarily step away from their usual tasks and responsibilities. But ultimately they were not able to escape the reality that this movement and denomination that they derive so much fulfillment and satisfaction from, also is the source of a great deal of frustration and yes, disappointment. Such stress take its toll on ministers and seminarians of color. Ultimately, UUA leadership and seminarians and ministers of color were not able to ignore the serious attrition rates sometimes resulting in painful departures and ugly silences that tend to be the norm in UU culture. Hence, the “retreat” to nurture relationships to cease the troubling pattern while providing a respite for seminarians and minister of color. Relationships within UUism are no different from any other faith community, that is, meaningful intimacy is established and developed through interactions. However, that is not always possible for seminarians and ministers of color that are spread out so widely in a movement and denomination that spans all fifty states. Yet, it has become essential for ministers and seminarians of color to be able to get together more frequently than the annual gathering at General Assembly. However, the opportunity to do so assumes adequate professional development budgets and funds for those not in settlement nor currently ordained. So it was with gratitude and joy that we gathered for a brief while before returning to our various destinations around the country. Before doing so we were able to fellowship with our brother, Rev. John Crestwell at Davies Memorial UU Church where the members were treated to the presence of the largest number of ministers and seminarians they have probably witnessed outside of General Assembly. I know that John was proud to have us bless his sanctuary with our presence and we were proud to be present in his home congregation that he pastors. Much thanks to Rev. Dr. Michelle Bentley for making the weekend possible. Kudos to you Michelle for all that you so tirelessly do! (Rev. D. Neil Shadle)
Saturday, May 19, 2007
International Women’s Day Statement from United Nations Development Programme Administrator Kemal Dervis
(This picture was taken in Turkey and reads, "End Violence Against Women.")
Ending Impunity for Violence against Women and Girls
A few months from now in July 2007, we will pass the halfway point on our timeline for achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). As that date approaches, we should pause and take stock of the impediments we still need to overcome to reach our promised targets by 2015. One obvious barrier to the MDGs is violence against women.
A central tenet of UNDP’s human development mandate is the recognition that we will not reach the MDGs unless women are afforded the same freedoms and opportunities as men. Such equality is impossible in a world where at least one of every three women faces some form of violence in her lifetime, regardless of her culture, religion, socio-economic class or education level.
As we celebrate International Women’s Day 2007 on 8 March, we can say that we have made some progress against the violence that women confront on a daily basis. The clandestine trafficking industry - the buying and selling primarily of women and girls for commercial sex; the use of rape as a weapon of war and the role this plays in the spread and feminization of HIV; honour killings, forced marriages and dowry-related violence including domestic violence – each of these crises are being more clearly articulated than before. But we have a long, long way to go before we see the culture change that will stop this behaviour.
International Women’s Day is a reminder of our community’s obligations to women and girls, and this year’s theme, ‘ending impunity for violence against women and girls’ should re-energize our efforts to take on this international emergency.
In times of crisis, violence against women is a pandemic which is regarded by some as an inevitable, if regrettable, consequence of conflict and humanitarian situations. This attitude virtually guarantees impunity for perpetrators and effectively silences the survivors. There is also growing evidence that war and civil unrest endangers and intensifies violence against women in the home. More generally, the repression of women and their rights continues to be part of unequal social structures and the lack of freedom that is holding back human development. This has to change.
UNDP is committed to pushing for that change. In Sudan’s Darfur region, we work in partnership with the International Rescue Committee and a number of Sudanese human rights organizations on a programme that advocates for women’s rights and helps the survivors of violence seek legal redress. In partnership with UNIFEM and DPKO, UNDP recently concluded a study of policing in Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Nicaragua and Liberia, designed to make policing more gender-sensitive while recommending practical measures to build the capacity of the police forces to respond to violence against women. These measures include making rape kits available in police stations, increasing the number of female police officers and training police officers in human rights law. In Mozambique, we are supporting new legislation to end impunity for violence against women, particularly domestic violence.
UNDP is also part of UN Action against Sexual Violence in Crisis, an initiative involving ten UN bodies designed to provide more and better support to women victims of violence in crisis situations: to increase our coordination, to enhance accountability and end impunity for those who practice violence against women. This initiative is in response to Secretary-General’s 2006 study calling on the United Nations to take a stronger, better coordinated and more visible leadership role to address violence against women.
The same report reaffirmed what we know - that violence against women is a result of historically unequal power relations between men and women. This is intolerable. It reinforces subordination and discrimination and, as such, is a violation of women’s human rights and a fundamental impediment to human development for all. On this International Women’s Day, we rededicate ourselves to ensuring that half of the world’s people are not prevented from reaching their full potential.
Ministerial Transition Committee - 2003 kneeling - Latricia Penny and daughter Bayla; L-R Richard Kushmaul; Rev. Amy Brooks; Karen Parker; and Rita Heath-Singer; missing Jay McLeod)
As I move into the final phase to complete my Master of Divinity I look back in amazement and wonder how I got to this point and over some of the obstacles, including myself and some of very formidable barriers. Perhaps there are some clues in the title of a gospel song from my child hood, "I Look Back in Wonder and Wonder How I Got Over." It describes my amazement, my gratitude and awe.
The individuals in this picture were gracious enough to journey with me for eighteen months. They are all members of my home congregation, Unitarian Univeralist Church of Charlotte. I wish to lift them up because they were committed to me in ways that were demontrable. They showed up. They listened to me. They critiqued me and gave me feedback and probably most important, they believed in me. So we stumbled and fumbled through the process together. :)I know it was grace that got me through and this far.
I thank each of you once again for your presence and the gifts that you brought. I hope to see each of you at my ordination this year in Charlotte!
warmest regards, Qiyamah A. Rahman
Spring time has cast its sun drenched rays on the campus of the University of Chicago. Warm weather brings the familiar sights and sounds of the Krisnas seeking to share their teachings and way of life. In the course of your life, make it a regular habit to seek out those whose beliefs and teachings are different from your own. Cultivate a sense of curiosity and respect for others so that we might truly come to know that we are one family. And though we may lean more towards our fragmented and alienated selves we have the capacity to heal the wounds of the past and create a new future for ourselves and for our children.
Excerpts from Beyond Birth and Death by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
We are reminded by His divine Grace A.C. Bhakivedanta Swami Prabhupada, founder of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, that we are separate from our bodies and that we are spiritual beings. We are pure consciousnss encased in our body. However, it is our pure consciousness and not our bodily dress that will allow us to achieve happiness and independence. The energy of the soul is produced in the shape of consciousness. Sri Krsna encourages humanity to transcend the bodil conception of existnce and attain actual spiritual life.
"As a boat on the water is swept away by a strong wind, even one of the senses on which the mind focuses can carry away a man's intelligence."
For more information about Krishna Consciousness in the Chicago area contact: 773 0526 or firstname.lastname@example.org or www.krishna.com
(The class members on the last day of class having survived and yes, even thrived in our semester course entitled, Religious Education in a Multicultural Context - from left to right Renee, Qiyamah, Dr. Julia Speller, Lynn, Jade and Francisco)
By Their Fruits Shall You Know Them: Religious Education in an African-American Contextby Qiyamah A. Rahman
April 26, 2007
The following essay identifies and discusses the social, psychological, biblical and theological foundations of Religious Education (RE) in an African-American context. The researcher offers a cautionary note that African-Americans, like any other ethnic group are not a monolithic group and thus these models and comments do not presume to apply to all African Americans.
The initial presence of Africans in the early settlement of what is now known as the United States of North America, Central America, West Indies and South America is the result of Africans capture and forced relocation. Slave ships brought Africans to the western hemisphere via the Atlantic middle passage to the Caribbean where they were “seasoned”, that is, made manageable, and then re-exported and subsequently sold on auction blocks and purchased by white southern plantation owners. The forced breeding of slaves for economic purposes resulted in racially mixed ancestry among most Blacks that is evident today.
Characteristics of African Americans - Social and Psychological Foundations
As stated, African-Americans are not a monolithic group, however they do share some general characteristics as a culturally distinct group bound by ideological unity and a functional system of values and beliefs. A definition of African American in its broadest sense is anyone of African heritage whose ancestry is linked to Africa and self identifies as an African American. Race according to Exum, et. al. is a central factor in most African American’s lives and it is the lens through which they view the world and through which they are most often viewed in race conscious society’s such as the United States of America. One is struck by the resiliency that African-Americans have demonstrated despite enormous assaults on their humanity. Franz Fanon, noted Algerian psychologist, in describing similar patterns of oppression exacted by the French refers to these racist assaults as “psychological warfare” and the resulting deleterious effects as “mental disorders” that included social and economic deprivation. Many African Americans have never the less remained resilient and have clung to their cultural heritage. Exum ‘s research findings substantiate this claim that the core elements of African American culture and their African antecedents still persist. Some of the survival qualities evidenced in African Americans include: endurance, drive, determination, rebelliousness, and the ability to tolerate pressure. Common values taught in African American families include collective responsibilities and interests; emphasis on harmony and helping and sharing. A.A. Hilliard pioneered research on North American culture in which he identified two distinct behavioral styles: atomistic-objective and synthetic-personal. The atomistic-objective style breaks down experiences into component parts that can be understood. This approach perceives the observer as separate from the phenomena being observed. European Americans tend to favor this approach reflecting permanence, regularity, predictability and environmental control. According to Exum, et.al., the atomistic-object behavioral styles is similar in form and operation to the analytic-cognitive style described by another researcher, J.E. Hale-Benson. The majority of African-American’s appear more compatible with synthetic-personal and relational-cognitive style that reflect many of the trends indicative of African American behavioral patterns. African- American fundamental cultural and philosophical premises are derived from their West African heritage and include some of the following: 1) oral transmission of knowledge, 2) emphasis on the group rather than the individual; 3) experiential rather than numerical time; 4) use of folklore; 4) adult-child relationships; 6) strong sense of justice and 7) hospitality.
An examination of African-American ontology includes: 1) notions of interrelationship between all elements of the universe; 2) a synthesis of self, phenomenal world and spiritual world; and 3) less emphasis on individual and personal competition and more on community. A review of the African American worldview reflects the following: 1) preference to respond to and with “gestalts” than with atomistic “things; 2) impatience with unnecessary specifics; 3) preference for inferential reasoning to deductive reasoning; 4) approximations over accuracy in minute detail; 5) focus on people and their activities rather than on things; 6) seek acceptance and integration with the environment; 7) tend not to be world bound or time bound; 8) emphasis on non-verbal communications and 9) value style of presentation more highly than content.
Theological and Biblical Foundations
Religion and the African-American church have been pivotal institutions in the African-American community. The purpose of RE is to help African-Americans interpret their faith in light of their experiences of American racism and their status as relational refugees. Thus, RE serves as a vehicle to find hope and liberation in the midst of a hostile environment and to answer questions such as, “what does it mean to be Black ad Christian/Jewish/Muslim/Unitarian Universalist etc. where people are hostile in the larger society and also while claiming allegiance to a shared faith tradition. Additionally, the role of the Black church includes the following values: 1) transmission of traditional values of piety, love, compassion, hospitality and inclusivity; 2) strengthening family ties, 3) the belief that everyone is a child of God and 4) no one is a unredeemable or a bad person. The role of African-American ministers in the civil rights movement is well documented. Historically, African-American ministers served as teachers, counselors and political activists. Thus, to summarize the purpose RE in the Christian of African Americans is to teach members that God loves and cares for them and has entered into covenant with them as children of God. Thus to be Gods Child is to be of value and an affirmation of ones humanity.
African-American religious beliefs run the gamut from Christianity to Islam. However, the majority of African Americans are Christians. Religious practices contain elements of African spirituality, including the belief in the “direct link between the natural and supernatural, significance of music to invoke the supernatural, importance of human intervention in supernatural world through possession and spiritual control and importance of participatory verbal performance.” Food is a central focus and the source of community and connectedness and an important form of hospitality in the African American community. African Americans, particularly southerners and so called third world people similarly have a strong sense of hospitality and heartily welcome the stranger in their midst and exemplify a sharing spirit regardless of the paucity of their resources.
Religious Education Implications as Informed by Biblical and Theological Foundations
Spirituality is an important dimension in African-Americans lives as has been noted. It has been shown that spirituality is the engine that fuels and drives the well being of most African Americans. Organized religion serves as a mediating structure according to Wimberly. It is a mediating structure that stands between the individual and the larger institutions of the public sphere. Everyday new information is reported that draws the connections between spirituality and a positive outlook in life and a strong immune system. This positive outlook contributes to a sense of hope and a balanced mental health/state of being. Because of strong religious roots, African-American RE, adult’s or children’s, usually reflects a narrative spirituality informed by stories from the Old and New Testament. This approach is particularly effective in teaching about lifecycle transitions and conveying values. Some dominant Biblical narratives that have assisted African-American Christians include: stories of the Exodus, experiences in the wilderness and Jesus’s life, death and resurrection. Other faith narratives such as the story of Job, Abraham’s faithfulness and Ruth’s loyalty have inspired generations of African-American Christians. Likewise, tapping into the passing down of family stories, images and values from one generation to the next permits a continuity and reinforcement of cross generational roles and maintains connections across generations. African American women have developed a particular affinity to Hagar and her story as told in Genesis. Hagar was a slave that was given to Abraham when his wife Sarah could not conceive a child. Ill feelings between the two of them resulted in Hagar running away into the desert where in a state of hunger, thirst and despair the angel of the Lord spoke to her and revealed a divine plan for her life. Hagar returned, bore a son named Ishmael.
According to Wimberly, the elders are responsible for ensuring that the next generation has what it needs to negotiate its life-cycle tasks and to build meaningful life structures. Yet, at the same time, societal changes have increased the separation of family members from their relational roots, thus resulting in nihilism and meaninglessness. Children, youth and young adults today are negatively impacted by these changes as their parents loose their familial support systems and informal networks that often include college friends and other long time friends. Such changes weaken the family structure and make adult and children more vulnerable than previous generations. Spirituality and relational support enable African American families to deal better with life in general and specifically marital and family transitions. Furthermore, networks of support for identity formation are important countervailing forces that support wholeness in an unfriendly world.
African American cultural norms begin with the belief that they and all of humanity are part of God’s eschotological family. Wimberly contends that religious life is very important to African-Americans for the following reasons: 1) it provides the language and symbols that integrate the life of the people 2) human beings are viewed as spiritual and religious beings who interact and participate in community where central values are to be celebrated 3) the role of communal stories and biblical stories is critical in the growth and development of persons and 4) ritual is significant because it is fundamental to the communal life of the people.
The ability of the Christian faith to help African-Americans interpret their faith in light of their experiences of American racism in a hostile environment has been foundational to RE in the Black church. Thus, effective RE has to acknowledge the psychological, sociological and theological implications of their historically marginalized status and a sense of hope for the future. According to Wilkerson, RE in an African-American context is characterized by three dimensions: 1) identity formation, 2) relationship and 3) social context. The identity component provides alternative constructs for self and group location in a hostile environment. To be God’s child is to be of value and thus an affirmation of ones humanity. Examples of this component in RE is evident in emphasizing the worth and value of individuals and God’s love for humanity. Jesus the liberator was one of the initial attractions to African slaves and it appears that the liberatory grace of the bible has not dimensioned over time.
Again, it cannot be emphasized enough that in the African American community the relationship component is inherent in the culture. Everything is relational, including ones relationship with God. The existence of community is thus relational and based on a personal contact with its members. Thus, role models, that is, teachers and mentors as encouraged as extended and surrogate family essential to deliver the foundational faith to its members, particularly the children. The church’s role to call African American’s to spiritual wholeness and to the family of humanity is based on the kinship of all people and constitutes an essential message in the gospel.
An exploration of the social, psychological, biblical and theological foundations of Religious Education (RE) among African-Americans revealed that effective RE has to acknowledge the psychological, sociological and theological implications of African Americans historically marginalized status. Thus, an essential element of RE is to help African Americans interpret their faith in light of the experiences with racism, and we might add, sexism, classism, heterosexism, ageism, globalism, internalized oppression and any –isms that threaten the recognition of the sacredness and value of African Americans as people of God. A spiritual cosmology and experiences of adversity have generated values that include faith and resilience. The African American culture of hospitality, mutuality and compassion are transmitted through RE along with other biblically inspired messages of faith, hope, love and community to name a few. It appears that the universal nature of these themes would be justified and relevant whether the congregation in question is a culturally specific congregation of African Americans or a culturally diverse one comprised of African Americans and other racial and cultural groups. Thus, because cultural formation and identity is such a crucial part of healthy human development it would be equally important to provide opportunities for African American members to sustain and reclaim their cultural identity utilizing RE. Inspired by the role of the Black church in the lives of African Americans this researcher poses a final question, “How can the church/synagogue/temple/house of God continue to be faithful to itself and others in a world of injustice and oppression, so that the gospel of hope and renewal prevails?”
Wednesday, May 16, 2007
(Thai Women Praying - picture taken by Kaleema H. Nur)
International Relations, Congregational Polity and the Unitarian Universalist Association
by Qiyamah A. Rahman – March 16, 2007
"In all the activities of our vocation, we seek to be present at those points at which the sacred discloses itself among us, those points at which the brokenness of life is most pressing, those points at which creative and restorative power is operating in behalf of the whole being. Our task at those points is to become part of the action, to encourage it, to draw the attention of others to it and to engage them in it with us, to interpret its meaning in the perspective of liberal faith, and to cultivate ever-fresh means of celebrating the image and activity of the spirit among persons and in the events of history."
Unlike many other issues relevant to congregational polity, no specific policies appear to guide congregations in international relations. Thus, the purpose of this essay is to begin a preliminary exploration of Unitarian Universalists international relations and to determine what policies, if any, have guided congregations and the Unitarian Universalist Associations international relations over the years. From such an investigation this researcher anticipates being able to more definitively determine whether formal (written) or informal (unwritten) policies exist that perhaps guide congregations and the UUA in their decisions about internationalism. Additionally, this essay will include brief descriptions of the primary international organizations historically associated with the UUA and UUism.
An Understanding of the Theological Groundings of Internationalism
Many religious scholars maintain that religion functions for the well being of people. Rob Eller-Isaacs, Unitarian Universalist minister, defines the purpose of the church as helping, “engender the holy in people’s lives so that they might blossom into compassion and grow souls.” Eller-Isaacs suggests that Unitarian Universalist congregations are called to “transform suffering in their midst and in the world.” Similarly, Roger S. Gottlieb asserts, “authentic religion must be an activist transforming presence in the political world; that the moral and psychological insights of religion are of enormous value for those seeking progressive social change.” Gottlieb, maintains that religious voices are needed to “achieve the goals of justice, community and a rational society.” Furthermore, Roger S. Gottlieb, contends that authentic religion must be a transforming presence in the world. One can extrapolate from Gottlieb’s contentions that in order for religion to be a transforming presence that they must be effectively engaged in the world, hence, internationalism could be viewed as an effective approach to UUs providing a transforming presence in the world. Virtue ethicists embrace the belief that our actions reflect who we are. Thus, they endorse public witness as a way to reflect values. Religious institutions by virtue of their faith and calling should be engaged with public issues as a moral authority, the voice in the wilderness, that prophetic voice warning of grave dangers – that is, Bosnia, Rwanda and Darfur. They can provide the early warning signs through their prophetic messages.
James Luther Adams, UU theologian, contends that there are two types of religion: prophetic and pietistic. Prophetic religion finds meaning of life in social responsibility and emphasizes collective responsibility as well as individual responsibility. Pietistic religion tends to focus on one to one relations between persons and between the person and God. Interest in pietistic religion is concerned with what goes on in small groups while prophetic religion is focused on the larger world. At its best, Unitarian Universalism is outward focused and would easily be viewed as prophetic rather than pietistic.
A conceptual framework that helps to explain the appropriate context for internationalism is the covenantal process that undergirds congregational polity. The covenant referred to calls Unitarian Universalists into relationship with one another. The exodus narrative and the Sinai narrative from the Hebrew Bible form the foundation for understanding covenant in the early church. In the exodus narrative, God frees the Israelites from bondage with their Egyptian rulers. Not only does God free the Israelites but confers the title of “chosen people” on the Jews with these words, “I will be your God.” God in turn, claims the Tribe of Israel and contends, “You shall be my people.” Essentially an historic covenant was then formed between humans and God. This unprecedented act furthermore, established expectations for human moral conduct. The exodus experience conveyed to the Israelites awareness of what it meant to be God’s people. God hears the cries of the captive and suffering slaves and “entered human history to bring deliverance and freedom.” Thus the people of Israel personally experienced the love, grace, and mercy bestowed upon them by their God. Modeling compassionate and liberating actions, God conveyed the message that the helpless and hopeless are precious priorities and worthy of our attention. In turn, the Exodus narrative taught the people by example of God’s compassionate nature. The Sinai narrative serves to teach how people of God live and conduct their lives. For it was at Sinai that God instructed the Israelites how to live in the world as people of God.
As former slaves the Israelites knew first hand the mercy and grace of God. As God’s people they were expected to act in a spirit of God consciousness, a shining example of righteousness and justice. From the earliest days of their writings, the prophets linked social justice and righteousness as qualities of “Gods people.”. Amos 5:24, a scripture quoted and made familiar by Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. in his I Have a Dream speech, “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.” As people of God the prophets emphasized social justice, an integral component of the Christian mission. The Prophet Isaiah in 58:2-4 poignantly conveys the interconnected relationship that exists between “people of God” with these inspiring words, “Our very well being depends on how we treat others.” The concept of righteousness is so essential that Micah denounced those that failed to show compassion for the helpless (Amos 5:7, 6:12). Furthermore, Prophet Micah communicated the primacy of righteousness and justice with these words, “He has told you, O mortal, what is good, and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”
While this writer has solely addressed the theological grounding of internationalism from a theistic perspective, it is equally applicable to a non-theist perspective utilizing Aristotilian philosophers and later the Stoic philosophers. These philosophers sought to identify a core of shared moral principles to unite the diverse peoples and customs of their times. Thus, one can approach congregational polity from a theological perspective, and a philosophic or humanist perspective to understand the ethical dimensions of international relations and how it intersects the principles of Unitarian Universalism. The researcher will now provide a brief overview of congregational polity, followed by a historical overview of Unitarian Universalism.
Congregational polity is a governance process that originates in the local congregation and grants autonomy to its members, in contrast to institutional polity. The Catholic Church is an example of institutionally based polity in which the clergy are appointed by an ecclesiastical body that serves as the decision making body. Unitarian Universalists, Disciples of Christ and the United Church of Christ are examples of congregationally based polity, that is, the laity is autonomous and elects its own officers, determines membership, confers the power to ordain and call their ministers and to replace them. In congregationally based polity clergy are called rather than hired, therefore they are not employees in the usual sense. A Letter of Agreement is negotiated by the Board of Directors and the minister which serves to bind them one to the other. Unitarans use of congregational polity was formally documented in a now historic event referred to as The Cambridge Platform. The Cambridge Platform had its origins through an ecclesiastical council of congregational representatives that gathered in Boston, Massachusetts in 1648 and produced a detailed organizational chart including specific roles and responsibilities for various offices within the congregation. Deeply rooted in the values of religious freedom, self determination and egalitarianism congregational polity has long served as a hallmark of Unitarians, Universalists and Unitarian Universalists over the years.
Congregational Polity and Internationalism
Congregational polity has continued to be a mainstay in Unitarian Universalist congregations since the1600s. However, congregational polity possesses both strengths and weaknesses. At its best, congregational polity is the standard bearer of true democracy that places ultimate power in the hands of the congregation as a reminder that it is these individuals that have gathered and covenanted to be together. Thus they know and depend on one another to make decisions in their best interests using a democratic process. While in theory this is a good concept and one to be celebrated and cherished what we know is that who in fact was at the table were property owners, that is, the wealthy and those allowed in the inner circle of Puritans and later Unitarians. Having noted that discrepancy, this fact alone does not detract from the democratic process but is more importantly a recognition of the racism and classism so prevalent then among Puritans and that is still prevalent among Unitarian Universalists today. Taken to its extremes, congregational polity can become very inward focused, fostering a suspicious community of individuals that are guarded of others, including their own denominational/associational bodies. It is this version of congregation polity that tends to “circle the wagons” in an “us and them” syndrome that then denies opportunities for accountability and precludes rich connections to other UUs. This distorted version of congregational polity often restricts any financial support for necessities such as theological education, denominational support, ecumenical outreach and community social service because they are so insular.
The paradigm shift from independence to interdependence, from individualism to relationalism noted by the Commission on Appraisal points to a more flexible and dynamic approach to congregational polity. This more inclusive model of congregational polity approaches polity not as a principle of local autonomous congregations which purportedly disempowers UUs. Instead, this model of congregational polity emphasizes a “community of autonomous congregations”. This approach is more empowering and consistent with the spiritual vision of who UUs are and what UUs seek to become. Furthermore, it avoids the duality of total autonomy that is, an all or nothing tension characterized by the earlier model. Additionally, there is an invitation and expectation to be in relationship with other congregations since that is the norm integral to the paradigm shift. It is therefore not an option for a congregation to be a lone ranger. Additionally, this model does not cater to individuals but encourages collaboration and partnerships.
The history of Unitarianism and Universalism’s internationalism according to one source can be characterized in two approaches: 1) periods of international engagement and 2) periods of withdrawal. How has congregational polity influenced these fluctuations? Most individual congregations appear to be influenced by several factors: 1) what the UUA is emphasizing in its international focus, that is currently, Darfur, Transylsvania and the Kosi Hills 2) individual congregational boards and mission statements that emphasize income generating projects influenced by such examples as the Holdeen Fund and 3) external issues that are compelling enough to exact a response from congregations such as sex trafficking, globalization, HIV/AIDS and poverty. According to the Commission on Appraisal the establishment of new churches and administrative programs has been the area of international work in which congregations have been least involved. Anecdotal information suggests that giving to Non Governmental Organization’s (NGOs) and other non profit organizations are often the result of individual ministers or members influence within the congregation. While it is the exception, some individual members, have even been known to underwrite and sponsor programs abroad that include assistance for entire villages in the form of schools, clinics, medical supplies and equipment, salaries for staff, wells and latrines.
According to Reverend Gene Reeves a few churches have, from time to time, been led by a minister into strong interest in international relations as revealed in his comments:
. . . the Community Church of New York where Donald Harrington brought, from Chicago, a strong interest in non-Christian religions and in Transylvanian Unitarianism to his ministry. “I don’t know to what extent he converted members to such interests or to what extent he, and the style of congregation he developed, attracted people with such interests. In any case, congregational polity did not seem to limit the ability of that minister and congregation to be actively engaged in such organizations as the International Association for Religious Freedom. Part of what I think, was Harrington’s interest in engaging real people of other religious traditions, such people being found in New York City, of course, but also in other countries. At the Charles Street Meeting House, on the other hand, Ken Patton was perhaps even more strongly oriented to non- Christian religions, but his interest, and therefore the congregations, was only in hypothetical others. I don’t think he was at all comfortable dealing with real people of any kind, and so, in that place, interest in non-Western religions did not lead at all to overseas relationships."
As the former President of Meadville Lombard Theological School, Gene Reeves comments provide interesting historical anecdotes that reflect the influence of individual Presidents, on internationalism, a parallel the researcher has already noted in congregations and the UUA:
"I don’t think congregational polity has had much effect on the School’s (M/L) internationalism. The internationalism, I think, comes from a history, mainly a history of individuals interest in international relations, but also a history of welcoming students from overseas. Malcolm Sutherland, for example, was very involved in international matters, including the International Association for Religious Freedom (IARF) and the founding of World Council on Religion and Peace (WCRP) before he became President of M/L. Naturally, he kept that interest while there and expanded the School’s overseas relationships. Professor John Godbey specialized in Eastern European Unitarian history, so naturally had an interest in Transylvania and in having students come from there to Chicago. When I became head of the school, I had only been marginally involved in such things as the IARF, but the School’s history naturally led me to greater involvement in relations with Japan, Transylvania, Europe and the Kasi Hills. Spencer Lavan, who followed me, was much involved in International Association Religious Freedom before he came to M/L as head of the School. So there was a fairly long history of involvement, led by individuals who were themselves involved in international relations. I think, however, that Bill Murray had relatively little interest in such things and so the School’s involvement in International Association of Religious Freedom and its member organizations declined considerably. As for students, two Japanese, fore example, went to M/L very soon after WWII. Fujio Ikado, a Japanese Universalist, went there, primarily I think, because of the existence of the Federated Theological Faculty, from which he received a degree. Micho Akashi, also Universalist, followed very soon, These men helped to create an impression that the School was hospitable to Japanese. Some students from other International Association of Religious Freedom groups, especially Rissho Kosei-kai and Konkokyo, went there. Sometimes this was with considerable encouragement (recruiting?) by the heads of the School, but the fact that other Japanese had succeeded there was probably a much more important reason for anyone here being interested in going there."
Global Unitarians and Unitarian Universalists
There is a large international population numbering approximately 100,000 that is not a part of the UUA. This population primarily recognizes themselves as Unitarians. They include members in Australia, the Czech Republic, Ghana, Denmark, Great Britain, Hungary, India, Ireland, Nigeria, Romania, South Africa and Spain. Nine congregations affiliated with the UUA are also located outside the United States. They are Mexico (2), Argentina (1), Belgium(1), France(1); Japan (1); New Zealand (1) Philippines (1) and S. Australia (1) and Cuba (1). Until recently, Canada and its congregations were a part of the UUA. However,in recent years Canadian leadership made the decision to withdraw formal affiliation of its 42
congregations to focus its fiscal and human resources to more effectively serve its membership. Canadian UU’s felt their needs were not adequately served in the shadow of the UUA’s United States driven identity, mission and subsequent vision. This was reflected in the bias in curricula development in particular and other publications such as the UU World. One of the most unique Unitarian communities, founded in 1887 is in the Khasi Hills in India. This Unitarian movement was founded by members of an indigenous people who had converted to Calvinism, but who questioned the beliefs. This community is today comprised of ten thousand members and thirty congregations that have integrated their traditional beliefs into Unitarianism. Unlike other congregations in developing nations, Unitarianism was not brought to the Khasi Hills by missionaries but by a young Khasi named Hajaom Kisor Singh Lhngdoh Nongbri. There appears to be a long and rich exchange between MLTS and Unitarians in the Khasi Hills that includes exchanges with and between students and faculty over the years.
Tensions in International Relations
There appears to be at least three instances where there were terminations of international congregational support initiated by the UUA that the Commission on Appraisal questioned that they believe might have been “racist and evidence of the continuing parochialism disparaged decades ago by (UUA President) Greely.” In the three instances that they cite, either fiscal and/or human resources were provided and then withdrawn. These actions appear to have discouraged the existence of further start ups in Calcutta, India. However, the Khasi Hills Unitarians and other micro enterprise programs through the Holdeen Fund continue to exist. Relations with the Rissho Kosei-kai continue to exist but the school and social service program in Seoul, Japan dos not appear to have continued once funding was discontinued. However, approximately six congregations exist in Japan.
Another tension involving Reverend Ethelred Brown was lifted up in Mark Morrison Reed’s book, Black Pioneers in a White Denomination. Morrison-Reed irrefutably proved racism was at the heart of the lack of support of Brown’s Montego Bay new start congregation and later his Harlem, New York newstart. However, Morrison-Reed notes that the American Unitarian Association was not committed to mission work in Jamaica and they gave Brown support only because they saw his work as a humanitarian effort and felt it their social responsibility to help improve the life of Blacks. The three international examples that the Commission on Appraisal reviewed include the following:
Calcutta, India – Reverend Doctor Sunrit Mullick (social service organization)
Montego Bay, Jamaica – Reverend Egbert Ethelred Brown (congregation)
Seoul, Japan – Reverend Ryongki Jio (school and social service organization)
Reverend Doctor Sunrit Mullick, a graduate of MLTS and Indian minster, was affiliated with the India Project when it was “defunded” without notice. Mullick recounts the incident and he raises questions about the process that took place in the late 1980s:
"Back in the early eighties, I got interested in the Brahmo Samaj, the faith of my ancestors. I wanted to become a minister of the Brahmo Samaj. I obtained a Master’s degree in Comparative Religion in 1984 from Visva-Bharati University, India. Then I met Spencer Lavan in Kolkata who arranged a grant for me to come to Meadville/Lombard Theological School where several ministers of the Brahmo Samaj had trained between 1900 and 1932. The tradition broke off at that time and I re-started it. I obtained a Doctorate of Ministry (D.Min.) in 1988. . . In 1988 just after I graduated, I was invited to Boston for a meeting with Bill Schultz, the then UUA President and Spencer Lavan, both of whom I knew with Melvin Hoover, whom I met for the first time and who handled international congregations at that time, was assigned to be my supervisor. The UUA agreed to fund a ministry in India through a program called Project India. I returned to India and started a ministry with the Brahmo Samaj and Unitarian groups. For the time, the Brahmos and Unitarians saw professional ministry in practice. They enjoyed my reformist ways and styles of preaching. But the leadership of the Brahmo Samaj, which over the years had ossified into an orthodox community didn’t. They killed the program. And the UUA supported them against their own employee. I learned later from a Unitarian friend in India that the Brahmo Samaj representative in the International Association for Religious Freedom, Punyabrata Roychoudhury, had successfully influenced John Beuhrens, the then President, whom I had never met, telling him that I was over-qualified for India and that I should be recalled by the UUA. Every summer I would return to Boston to report on my work, and attend GA reporting was one way, though. I never got any feedback from the UUA, though they had assigned Mel Hoover to be my supervisor. In the summer of 1994, I walked into the office of John Beuhrens, to do my customary reporting. I was meeting him for the first time. He told me curtly that the Project was over and handed me over to Ken Maclain to discuss my separation formalities .. . No one at the UUA was interested in the sudden separation. No one called for an explanation. Except Max Gaebler, Minister Emeritus of the First Unitarian of Madison, Wisconsin. I was his intern during my student days. . . I struggled for five years doing this and that, including weddings, funerals and christenings. In 1999 I joined the United States Educational Foundation . . . I love my job."
The following list of is comprised of organizations identified by that author that possess two characteristics: 1) their mission and goals are international in scope and 2) they intentionally engage Unitarians, Universalists and Unitarian Universalists:
The International Association of Liberal Religious Women (IALRW) is one of the oldest international women's organizations in the world. . The IALRW represents such diverse religious traditions as Buddhists, Hindus, Christians, Muslims, Unitarians and Universalists, and the liberal wings of other faith groups It was convened in Berlin in 1910 and since that time has provided a link between liberal religious women throughout the world. It serves to promote friendship and co-operation between like-minded women and is a channel of communication for those striving for a liberal religious life and includes the following activities: Newsletter-An annual newsletter reports on the activities of members in their different countries, and voices opinion on current issues and questions of concern to religious women -Social action-The Association promotes equality for women and economic and social justice. It sponsors a social action project for women in India, offering training in literacy and vocational skills to enable disadvantaged women to become self-sufficient. It also promotes the inclusion of women's roles in religion on the agenda of special events in the UN calendar and other national and international gatherings. – Conferences-There are international conferences every three years and national and regional conferences in intervening years. Recent triennials have been held in South Korea, India, Germany and the USA.
International Association for Religious Freedom (IARF) – is an inter-faith association of religious organizations with over 100 member groups, with regional offies staffed in 6 cuntrs (the Philippines, India, Hungary, Japan, and at the United Nation in New York amd Geneva) and 13 chapters in 33 countries around the world. Founded in 1900,it is the oldest such association. It is comprised of 12 religious traditions. Current programs include: building a Religious Freedom Network of 200 young adults; the development of audiovisual materials dramatizing religious freedom as a human right; exploring the concept of “religious responsibility” and encouraging religious harmony through its work in schools with the United Nations.
International Council of Unitarians and Universalists (ICUU) – was organized in 1995. Its goals are: to strengthen the worldwide network of Unitarian, Universalist and Unitarian Universalist organizations. Some of its programs include: personal visits, publications, leadership seminars, curricula and symposia. Its member groups include: Australia/New Zealand, Canada, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Europe, Finland, Germany, Great Britain, Hungary, India, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, Poland, Romania, Russia, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lana, and the United States. Emerging groups include: Argentina, Burundi, Cuba, Latvia,
Religions for Peace – an international multi-religious coalition dedicated to reaffirming religion’s moral commitment to peace and to translating shared concerns into practical, effective action. Founded by Dna McLean Greely and Home Jack, with strong affirmation and support from Founder Niwao of the Rissho-Kosei-Kai in Japan. On local, national, regional and global levels, the organization mobilizes religions to wok together across religious barriers to engage in common actions in six program areas: children and youth, conflict transformation, disarmament and security, development and environment, human rights and peace education.
Religions for Peace-USA – is part of the World Conference of Religions for Peace and has strong ties with the UUA and with leadership serving on governing boards of the international chapter. Religions for Peace-USA works closely with leaders from the broadest range of religious organizations in the country and with other interfaith and civic society organizations to create multi-religious partnerships that mobilize the moral and social resources of religious people to address their shared challenges. Their work on the nation, regional and local levels enables a safe forum for religious leaders and real differences to enhance mutual understanding; the building of community; and active, sustainable programming to address a range of issues that lead to a more peaceful and just society. Programmatically the organization works to build community, address diversity and to examine the role of the United States in the world.
Independent Affiliate Organizations that Relate to International Issues
Unitarian Universalist Partner Church Council – strives to establish global citizenship as a common commitment of liberal religion, transforming UUs and congregations and thus making international engagement a moral and spiritual principle of UU congregation life
UU Peace Fellowship – is committed to increase public awareness of the philosophy and strategies of nonviolence, especially the rich UU history of peace activism. The aim is to strengthen and support district and congregational activities, in partnership with other faith-based groups, to bring about the psychological, social, economic and religious conditions for peace. Each year UUPF presents the Adin Ballou Peace Awards, honoring individuals and organizations for their deep commitment to peace and justice.
UUs for Justice in the Middle East – is concerned with working for peace and justice in Palestine and Israel, including a settlement that would affirm the equality, dignity, freedom, and security of all peoples involved.
UU United Nations Office – provides educational programs and services as a direct means for individual UU and UUs and Unitarian Universalist congregations to be informed about and to support the work of the United Nations. The UU United Nations Office, an association member of the UUA continues to function as an important part of the UU community providing programs and services.
Unitarian Universalist Holdeen India Program (UUHIP) - works with organizations of India's most excluded and oppressed peoples: women; dalits, so-called "untouchables" who fall outside the caste system; and the adivasis or tribals who are India's indigenous peoples, especially migrant, bonded and landless agricultural laborers. UUHIP supports their efforts to participate fully in the social, economic and political life of India. The Unitarian Universalist Holdeen India Program (UUHIP) was established thanks to a generous bequest to the UUA from Jonathan Holdeen, a businessman and attorney with an interest in assisting the most impoverished people of India. In 1984 the Program (UUHIP) was organized in its current form as a non-sectarian religious and philanthropic trust.
Since 1984 UUHIP has identified and supported more than 70 groups of marginalized peoples to help increase their organized strength and self-reliance; gain access to productive resources, services, and opportunities; increase their livelihoods, assets, economic independence, and social security; influence government policies, laws, and budgets in their favor; challenge discriminatory social practices; and build, manage, and control their own institutions, programs, and resources.
UUA Office of International Relations - is responsible for assisting congregations and UU organizations in strengthening the connection of US UUs with the larger world, including indigenous Unitarians and Universalists some of whom are considered "first nations peoples" in their own countries. The Office represents the UUA in the international interfaith arena, promotes advocacy around UUA General Assembly international resolutions, and manages the UUA's funds for international human rights and development work. The Office works to foster institutional partnerships which model right relations, economic fairness and responsible stewardship among partners, which promote human rights, religious freedom, international peace and justice, and which increase the visibility of Unitarian Universalism as an active, positive religious presence in the world.
Unitarian Universalist Service Committee - The Unitarian Universalist Service Committee advances human rights and social justice around the world, partnering with those who confront unjust power structures and mobilizing to challenge oppressive policies. The Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC) envisions a world free from oppression and injustice, where all can realize their full human rights.
World Conference on Religion and Peace - was founded in the 1960s by leaders of the UUA and leaders of the Japanese Buddhist sect, the Rissho Kosei-kai. World peace is an important focus of the two faiths.
In general it appears that congregational polity has contributed to the insularity of the UU movement and international relations. Furthermore, it appears that the Presidents of the UUA have over the years made decisions that reflect international priorities more often than utilizing resolutions forth coming from General Assembly. Congregational polity appears to be most visibly linked with international relations when individual congregations and districts partner to engage in educational tours to Transylvania or donating special collection plates for particular causes. Thus no discernible congregational policies presently guide congregations. For the most part congregational input to international issues has been weak, and administrative authority has been stronger and more autonomous. However, those international relations, except for the Khasi Hills Unitarians, have not appeared to support new start congregations but are instead more social service and social justice oriented issues.
Conclusions and Recommendations
This essay represents a preliminary exploration of Unitarian Universalisms
International relations. Using the lens of congregational polity this researcher examined how congregations and the UUA determine what policies guide international programs. In so much as congregational polity allows for the right of every congregation to choose its own leaders and order its own affairs this researcher concludes that the onus is on each and every individual congregation to formulate its own international policies. Furthermore, there are no stated policies regarding international relations among congregations and the UUA. So while this research unearthed no new insights it reinforced the earlier recommendations that the Commission on Appraisal made in its 1997 report (see page 2 of this research paper). I strongly encourage Meadville Lombard Theological School and the UUA to allocate funding to implement the recommendations. Furthermore, initiating partnerships in Africa, beginning with Nigeria where the Unitarian Brotherhood Church was founded in 1919 and also focusing on South Africa where the existence of four Unitarian congregations would provide a critical link between the International Council of Unitarian Universalists and the Unitarian Univeralist Association, it is to the advantage of the UUA to initiate closer working relations with Unitarians abroad. This researcher is highly motivated to create such bridges with the support of Meadville Lombard, Starr King School for the Ministry and the UUA, a strong partnership could result in educational tours, scholar’s exchanges, work camps, internships and a myriad of other endeavors. Finally, I would encourage participation in the International Council of Unitarian Universalists Conference held November 1-5, 2007 in Oberwesel, Germany (outside Frankfurt). Participation would nurture global perspectives and foster relationships among the student body, faculty and congregations. Liberal religious voices can provide much needed alternatives for those seekers in the world among the religious voices speaking and acting and witnessing for justice and peace in parts of the world that so desperately need our message.