Churches & Inter-Faith Work - Edinburgh Programme - Summer 2014 12th Annual Edinburgh Summer Inter-Faith Peace Event
The 12th Annual Edinburgh Summer Inter-Faith Peace Occasion was held on Thursday July 3 from 7.30-9.15pm with 45 people present, representing a broad spectrum of faiths across the city and beyond. The event was organised by UfP Churches & Inter-Faith Work for Peace, in association with various faith groups; Edinburgh Theosophical Society graciously provided its elegant venue in Edinburgh New Town. It was conducted by Rev. Brian Cooper, UfP Churches & Inter-Faith Secretary, who welcomed everyone present, outlined the role and programmes of Uniting for Peace, and said the aim of the event was "bringing people of different faiths together to share insights, information and reflection on peace, with a view to action." The occasion highlighted personal, community and global peace themes.
Sister Louisa Gupta, leader of the Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual University centre in Edinburgh, who has opened the summer inter-faith peace occasions over the years with peace meditations, discussed the development of Brahma Kumaris and its core message of personal peace. It was started in mid-1930s in [what became] Pakistan by a man called Dada Lekhraji, following a series of visions. From them he believed the world would undergo transformation and that women needed to be brought forward into world affairs to offer their compassion and humility. When the movement moved to India in early 1950s, Dada Lekhraji gave his wealth to young female spiritual leaders to set up study centres to teach Raja Yoga. After he died, the new leader, the female teacher Dadi Janki, believed negative emotions hampered humanity, so it was vital to develop positive emotions and focus on personal development. She brought Raja Yoga to the West; it has since spread around the world. She died in 1969. The movement has received 6 peace awards and has started projects eg. 'A Million Minutes of Peace', with people donating minutes to practicing peace, and 'Global Co-operation for a Better World', with a core group of values emerging from people being interviewed on their vision of a better world [which led to the 'Living Values' education programme]. Sr. Louisa emphasised that "peace starts with the self, then spreads to the family, the community and out to the world." She then led all present in a Peace Meditation, urging all to keep their eyes open - "we can extend peace as we move about in our everyday lives" - and offering the affirmations "I am a being of peace. I am peaceful."
Ms. Safeena Rashid, of 'Beyond the Veil' Edinburgh Muslim Women's group, spoke of its work informing people of other faiths and none about Islam and women in Islam [by talks in schools and other centres] and encouraging Muslim women in civic participation. "It is important that Muslims, including Muslim women, are seen as part of the community and actively interact with others as a way of preventing prejudice." Integration into the community for Muslim women in particular also helped banish myths about them being different from other women and therefore needing to be treated differently; she suggested Muslim women had the same issues as other women. Sharing about Islam was very important: she stated that for a Muslim the purpose of life was to worship God - "everything one does can be turned into an act of worship."
The third section on Towards Peace in Syria was led by Rev. Brian Cooper & Mr. David Fraser Harris, who discussed the findings of recent NGO conferences on Syria. Brian Cooper briefly reported on the June 25 UfP London conference on Middle East - quoting the personal 'world peace plea' of sponsor Mr. Yasser bin Homran and the speech by Dr. Halla Diyab - and then on the 2014 UfP Spring Conference on 'No Syria Intervention - What Next?' [see UfP website for reports of both events]. The Syrian war had been going on for over 3 years, with so far over 160,000 dead, countless wounded and over 6 million refugees and displaced persons - but he queried whether it was still a 'civil war' as the majority of those fighting the Assad regime were from outside - an estimated 2000-plus groups of Jihadists of various brands of militant Islamism. He then reported on the speech
'Syria - what Hope?' by His Beatitude Gregorios III of Damascus, Patriarch of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church[London, May 20] who had urged the Vatican and global Christian community to help secure peace and reconstruction for Syria by lobbying governments to hold a 'Geneva III' peace conference, while stressing "all peace efforts must be Syrian-led" and "Syria's Christian Churches reject all foreign intervention". He rejected the notion of a Christian-Muslim conflict in Syria: Christians and Muslims had lived together there peacefully for 1,400 years, sometimes with tensions but rarely in conflict; there was much mutual respect and co-operation. Both communities celebrated each other's festivals and commemorated St. Paul's conversion on the road to Damascus; "the Grand Mufti of Syria preaches in our churches"; the state provided land for both churches and mosques; there was full freedom of worship; the war had not broken the mutual respect, but the foreign Jihadists, "who are against all Syrians, not only Christians", were wreaking great harm upon the Christian community. "Thousands of Christians' homes have been destroyed, 91 churches destroyed or damaged, 24 villages emptied of their Christian inhabitants, over 1000 Christians [civilian and military] have been killed; about 450,000 Christians have become refugees inside and outside Syria." His Beatitude stated: "The West should have a united voice against those Gulf nations which are arming the Jihadists."
His Beatitude stressed a successful political solution to the Syrian crisis "is key to peace in the Arab world and the whole world; to Arab unity; to Christians and Muslims living together in the Middle East, and cure for [Islamist] fanaticism in Europe and America." He declared: "The multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-confessional nature & tradition of Syrian society [must] be preserved, with human rights, dignity and religious freedom for all." Syria's churches were dedicated to being "servants of peace and reconciliation" ; he was in close touch with Pope Francis I and other church leaders about preparing a road map for peace to be commended to world political leaders.
David Fraser Harris [Unification Church], who lived in Damascus from 1997 to 2012 serving as Regional Secretary-General for the Universal Peace Federation in Middle East and North Africa[inter-faith body],reported with visuals on UPF and other conferences on Syria held 2013-14 in Amman, Jordan; Geneva, Switzerland; and Burgschlaining, Austria. These international meetings enabled genuine dialogue of NGOs, civil society, politicians, faith representatives, youth, etc. from different perspectives. Key themes voiced: need for widest possible involvement of civil society in eventual peace process and re-ordering of Syrian politics; recognition of grassroots reconciliation actions now under way; rejection of outside intervention and imposed solutions; need to build Syrian democracy from the ground up; need to define degree of separation of state and mosque; alienation of 'silent majority' of Syrians who feel no one 'side' speaks for them; need for ceasefire and priority for humanitarian assistance programmes, and separating the latter from political concerns; people must listen to each other 'with open heart'; the vital contribution of forms of Jewish-Christian-Muslim rapprochement to peace-building; Jihadists and extremists were trying to make the conflict a religious war: Shia against Sunni, Muslim against Christian; need to involve regional powers, and USA and Russia, in any final peace settlement, which must involve and be acceptable to representatives of the Syrian people; building 'communities of peace' must follow the end of fighting.
David Fraser Harris concluded by sharing, with sound and visuals, the prayers for peace and reconciliation - by Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant Christians, Muslims, Jews and Baha'i - in Geneva's Cathedral of St.Pierre, led by its Dean Emeritus, Rev. William McComish, at the end of the Geneva conference, January 2014.
Prayers and silent reflection interspersed the talks; inter-faith minister Rev. Clare Gately read anti-war poems including Wilfred Owen's 'Dulce et Decorum Est' and 'Veteran's Lament', and led singing of the Celtic Peace Blessing; the event concluded with all saying the Inter-Faith Affirmation for Peace and the Universal Prayer for Peace ['Lead me from Death to Life'].
Report by Rev.Brian Cooper & Rev. Clare Gately