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Heavy metal, Middle Eastern band of brothers!

Who knew heavy metal could promote peace?  But that’s just what’s happening as the Israeli band, Orphaned Land, and the Palestinian band, Khalas, have toured Britain.  They come from different countries.  They even write different kinds of lyrics. But they have shown how art has an ability to transcend lines that politics often can’t.

Who knew heavy metal could promote peace? But that’s just what’s happening as the Israeli band, Orphaned Land, and the Palestinian band, Khalas, have toured Britain. They come from different countries. They even write different kinds of lyrics. But they have shown how art has an ability to transcend lines that politics often can’t.

We’re constantly bombarded by implicit and explicit images of the relationship that Jews and Muslims supposedly have in today’s world. We are bombarded with the cliched reminder that we “used to get along” but recently have become enemies.

We’ve almost become used to it, accepted it as some sort of reality.

And, ironically, all these “interfaith” events can often cause us to feel even more disconnected. They just don’t seem as genuine as a true connection. It would seem the only people you would need to show such “unity” with is people you don’t get along with.

Which is why we need to look deeper. We need to look wider. We need to see that “unity” doesn’t mean press. It doesn’t mean “shows of support”. It means genuine connection and giving.

And the truth is that the world is scattered with that. The truth is that the press likes to say just one side of the story, likes to focus on conflict. But there is unity. There is connection.

All we need to do is look!

Listen as the tour leaders speak of their unity and message:

Sources: Sky News, PopChassid, metalinjection.net, The Guardian, alarabiya.net, cnn.com

March 26, 2015 Posted by | Arab lifestyle, Geography, Human Rights, Interfaith, Peace, Religious Reconciliation, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

World Peace Summit held in Seoul, South Korea

More than 60,000 men and women from around the world gathered in the Seoul Olympic Stadium for the World Religions for Peace Summit. Among those attending were political and religious leaders and heads of NGOs from 150 nations.

More than 60,000 men and women from around the world gathered in the Seoul Olympic Stadium for the World Alliance of Religions for Peace summit. Among those attending were political and religious leaders and heads of NGOs from an estimated 172 nations. Thousands of cards are assembled in the background to image Roman Catholic Cardinal Gaudencio Rosales, of the Philippines, as he addresses the gathering.

Sam flashes peace sign at the opening ceremony of the World Peace Summit in Seoul.

Sam flashes peace sign at the opening ceremony of the World Peace Summit in Seoul.

A plea for world peace and an end to war

The three-day World Alliance of Religions for Peace (WARP) peace summit was held in Seoul, South Korea, 17 – 19 September. I was privileged to join several participants from Saudi Arabia. Our main goal in being present for this huge conclave was to network with other faith leaders from around the world. And that we did!

More than 60,000 people from 172 countries took part in the spectacular opening ceremony at Seoul’s Jamsil Olympic Stadium. (Be certain to watch the short video at the end of this article!) Just about all the world’s religions were represented, including the major Abrahamic faiths–Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

From the time we arrived in South Korea until the day we left, event staff were among the most hospitable I had ever met. Every detail regarding meetings, lodging, meals and transportation were meticulously well organized. These workers did their very best  at all times to make us feel comfortable and kept informed.

During the opening ceremony, event chairman Man Hee Lee urged global leaders to double down on their efforts to become “peace promoters and peace advocates.”

A congratulatory video message from Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the spiritual leader of South Africa and recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984, attracted much attention. In his message, he said, “I would like to congratulate both Chairman Man Hee Lee and the members of HWPL for hosting the World Alliance of Religions’ Peace Summit. Thank you for delivering the message of peace and the cessation of wars to the whole world.”

Alexander Rutskoy, former vice president of Russia, said, “As a part of the world, a citizen of Russia and as a friend of the Korean people, I want to support this work, offering my experience and knowledge, declaring our common ways to build peace and uniting nations and traditions.”

Present was a diverse line-up of attendees that included former and current heads of state, prominent religious leaders, academics, government legislators, Nobel Prize laureates, as well as community, youth, and women’s leaders from every continent.

Sam with Omani religious leaders.

Sam with Muslim leaders from Oman.

Middle East well represented

There were numerous delegations from the Middle East. Egyptian Grand Mufti Shawqi Abdel Karim Allam was among the list of high profile speakers set to deliver an opening address, but he was unable to attend at the last minute and was replaced by Doha (Qatar) International Centre for Interfaith Dialogue chairman Dr. Ibrahim Saleh Al Naimi.

The Qatari official stressed the importance of dialogue in his speech, describing it as the only way to address conflict among communities.

Bahrain sent a 20-strong delegation from the Bahrain Association for Religious Co-existence and Tolerance (BARCT).

BARCT chairman Yousif Buzaboon told the GDN that his group is now considering the idea of hosting a similar event in Bahrain. “We would certainly like to see such an important summit that promotes peace being held in Bahrain,” he said. “Bahrain is sending a strong message by having such a large delegation at this summit. We are showcasing the achievements of our country and welcome activities that promote peace and empower youth.”

Yemini Nobel Peace Prize winner Tawakkol Karman championed the cause of peace and women's rights.

Yemini Nobel Peace Prize winner Tawakkol Karman championed the cause of peace and women’s rights.

Seminars and focus groups

Throughout the three-day event there were various leadership seminars and focus groups discussing regional issues and various methods of conflict resolution.

In recent years, peacebuilding initiatives have been on the forefront of leading a country’s economic, social and political strength, laying the foundation for development and conflict management. Sustainable peace can, however, present its own challenges as it calls for a nation to gather its utmost efforts across a wide range of activities.

Among important efforts are establishing security on a nation’s borders, providing assistance to refugees, organizing elections of new governments and financing programs towards the protection of human rights. Preventive measures and integrated strategies are greatly needed to assist in the development of best practices , especially in postwar recovery and reconciliation.

Tawakkol Karman from Sana, Yemen, a journalist and the first Arab woman and youngest ever Nobel Peace Prize winner, declared that the Arab Spring has seen a wave of liberation for women throughout the Arab world.  “Women are no longer victims,” she said. “They have become leaders. They are at the forefront of the demonstrations. We will share a role in all aspects of life, side by side with men.”

More than 100 thousands participated in the peace parade ending at the Peace Monument at the Seoul Olympic park.

The closing of the Peace Summit saw more than 100 thousand people rally in the peace parade which culminated at the Peace Monument in the Seoul Olympic Park.

The closing ceremony included an hours-long Olympic-style show replete with fireworks, marching bands and celebrants. Korean theatrics created an emotional display of pomp and pageantry. At the end, many of us joined the Koreans on the field for photos and well wishes.

World peace parade

On the last day of the WARP Summit, a total of 200,000 people including summit participants, members of international NGOs and local citizens, participated in the “Walk for World Peace” near Seoul Olympic Park. This event, hosted by the International Peace Youth Group (IPYG), commemorated the final day of a successful “World Alliance of Religions Peace Summit.”

There were speeches by various youth leaders from many countries and all of them spoke of sufferings in their respective countries and the need for world peace to end the wars in their regions.

Chairman Lee said that world peace is attainable if all the leaders of various religions aggressively continue their efforts to attain world peace. He emphasized the role of religious leaders to encourage their communities to work closely together and also asked the media to promote peace messages around the globe.

Man Hee Lee welcomes participants to the Peace Summit.

Man Hee Lee welcomes participants to the Peace Summit.

Reservations and concerns

While I applaud the efforts of the World Alliance of Religions for Peace to have conducted this international Peace Summit, these efforts have seemingly been based on the leadership of one single man–Chairman Man Hee Lee.

In her statement lauding Man Hee Lee at the opening of the summit, Nam Hee Kim, chairwoman of the collaborative International Women’s Peace Group referred to Lee as “the Peace Advocate, heaven-sent for all humanity.”

In an “Action Plan” released to summit delegates it was said, “Leaders of religions around the world must join hands with the chairman of HWPL for the alliance of religions and frequently meet to achieve the unity of religions.”

Midway through the summit, Lee distributed a statement defending himself from accusations made by the conservative Christian Council of Korea (CCK). The CCK says Lee’s Shincheonji Church of Jesus and his organization Heavenly Culture World Peace Restoration of Light are “cultic.”

Lee himself denied that he had once claimed to have fulfilled the Second Coming of Jesus; however, several comments made by Lee at the summit were disturbing to me, especially his insistance that all delegates sign a statement that called for merging all religions into one single world religion. It read, in part, “Therefore, all religions must unite under God as one…. We pledge in the sight of God, all people of the world, and the Peace Advocate to become one under God through the unity of religion.… We hereby pledge with all reasonable endeavor, to take on this duty to establish peace and end all wars on this earth, and, as a united religion, to leave a world at peace….”

2014-10-09 18.43.03_resized

Faith leaders from all major faiths and 170 nations met for discussions on war and peacemaking.

Faith dialogue very important

World peace is certainly a noble goal. And, without a doubt, dialogue among the world’s major religions and faiths is needed. Many of the conflicts and wars taking place today are caused by religious extremists who have hi-jacked faith for their own political purposes. Such is the case of ISIS (IS or ISIL) and other militant groups now committing horrible atrocities in the name of Islam.

During the past millennium we have seen such circumstances time and time again as even Christians annihilated Muslims, leading their warring military charges under the cross of Jesus in their Crusades to capture the Holy Land. War was conducted on numerous occasions by Catholics who sought to blot out the “heresy of Protestantism” or as World War II Nazis sought to destroy Judaism.

Such evil is also seen today as Israeli Zionists continue a 60-year war of ethnic cleansing, seeking to remove millions of Palestinian Christians and Muslims from the Holy Land or as normally peaceful Buddhists continue a slaughter of the Muslim minority in Myanmar.

The need for dialogue among peoples of faith is of utmost importance, but the it appeared that the predominant view of those attending the Seoul peace summit is that this should not entail eliminating any one faith group or merging all faiths into one.

There is a beauty in the diversity of faith and tradition. And as we met and discussed our beliefs with many faith leaders from around the world, one thing is certain: no faith on earth, based on its holy books, can justly call for the annihilation of innocent men, women and children who believe differently than they. Therefore, we must all do our part to stop the vicious conflicts and carnage being unjustly perpetrated today in the name of any religion or faith group.

Take a few minutes to watch the spectacular opening ceremony of the WARP Peace Summit in Seoul:

 

October 9, 2014 Posted by | Human Rights, Interfaith, Religious Reconciliation | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Visiting the King Abdullah Interfaith Center

KA Interfaith Center Vienna

Saudi Prince Saud Al-Faisal and faith leaders from around the world at the opening ceremony of KAICIID, November 2012.

The King Abdullah Interfaith Center, Vienna, Austria

Sam Shropshire with Fahad Abualnasr, chief of staff of KAICIID, Vienna, Austria.

Sam Shropshire with Fahad Abualnasr, chief of staff of KAICIID, Vienna, Austria.

It was my privilege to meet the first of September with Fahad Abualnasr, chief of staff, of the King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz International Centre for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue (KAICIID) in Vienna, Austria.

KAICIID was founded to enable, empower and encourage dialogue among followers of different faiths and cultures around the world. The Centre is an independent, autonomous, international organization, free of political or economic influence.

The Founding States are the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Republic of Austria and Kingdom of Spain. They constitute the “Council of Parties” responsible for overseeing the work of the Centre; the Roman Catholic Holy See has been admitted as a Founding Observer to the Centre.

The Board of Directors comprises high-level representatives of the major world religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism) and cultures. The Centre is headed by a Secretary General. An Advisory Forum of up to 100 members of other religions, cultural institutions and international organizations provide a further resource of interreligious and intercultural perspective.

Our discussion at the KAICIID Vienna offices

KAICIID’s mission, to facilitate interreligious and intercultural understanding, and enhance respect for diversity, justice and peace is reflected in the diversity of its staff from 19 countries, four continents, and a wide range of cultural and religious affiliations. Respect for diversity is a cornerstone of KAICIID’s recruitment policy.

The Foreign Minister of Austria, Sebastian Kurz, the Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia, Prince Saud Al-Faisal, the Deputy Foreign Minister of Spain, Gonzalo de Benito Secades, and Reverend Father Miguel Ángel Ayuso Guixot of the the Founding Observer, the Holy See, signed the declaration during a Ministerial Meeting of the Council of Parties to the KAICIID Dialogue Centre in New York on 25 September 2014.

The Foreign Minister of Austria, Sebastian Kurz, the Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia, Prince Saud Al-Faisal, the Deputy Foreign Minister of Spain, Gonzalo de Benito Secades, and Reverend Father Miguel Ángel Ayuso Guixot of the the Founding Observer, the Holy See, signed the declaration during a Ministerial Meeting of the Council of Parties to the KAICIID Dialogue Centre in New York on 25 September 2014.

My discussion with Fahad Abualnasr centered on current religious extremism among all faiths its resulting conflicts. We spoke of my work with Muslim Voice for Peace & Reconciliation and about the need for Islam itself to be known as a more vigorous partner in initiatives promoting world peace, human rights and environmental concerns, recalling that the founding document of KAICIID cites principles enshrined in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, especially, “the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion”–with emphasis on “human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion.”

I was, indeed, blessed and encouraged to have learned more about the work of KAICIID and by meeting Fahad Abualnasr and members of his staff.

KAICIID statement condemns religious extremism

On 25 September, meeting at the KAICIID offices in New York, the foreign ministers of the Republic of Austria, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and the Kingdom of Spain signed a declaration affirming dialogue as a path to lasting peace and social cohesion. This was in response to the current deplorable violence and humanitarian crisis in Northern Iraq and in Syria, as well as in other parts of the world. KIACIID hopes, with the combined support of all faith, to develop international solidarity n ending sectarian violence in various parts of the world.

The released statement said, “We condemn violent conflict in the world, more so violence committed in the name of religion, and call for an end to violent hostility. We deplore loss of life and commend those who seek to alleviate suffering, as well as those who strive to promote well-being, harmony and peace.”

The statement, as well, opposed the instrumentalization of religion to make war and strongly condemned “terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, committed by whomever, wherever and for whatever purposes.

Hate speech and extremism that incite violence and fuel prejudice were also singled out.

Enjoy this sand-art performance during the opening ceremony of KAICIID on 26 November 2012:

Sources: Ecumenical Review, Time Magazine, KAICIID.org

September 29, 2014 Posted by | Human Rights, Interfaith, Islam | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Merry Christmas to you all!

"The angels said, 'O Mary, indeed God gives you good tidings of a word from Him, whose name will be the Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary - distinguished in this world and the Hereafter and among those brought near [to God ] (The Quran / Family of Imran 3:45).

“The angels said, ‘O Mary, indeed God gives you good tidings of a word from Him, whose name will be the Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary – distinguished in this world and the Hereafter and among those brought near to God'” (The Quran / Family of Imran 3:45).

Dear Friends,

I wish all who love and seek to honor Jesus a very merry Christmas!

While Jesus’ birth year is estimated among most modern historians to have actually been between 7 and 2 BC, the exact month and day of Jesus’ birth are unknown. Western Catholic and Protestant Christians have chosen to celebrate Jesus’ birth on December 25th while Eastern Orthodox Christians celebrate January 7th as Jesus’ birthday.

But did you know that the same story about Jesus’ miraculous virgin birth is also told in the Qur’an?

In fact, there are two chapters of the Qur’an which tell the story of Mary’s life and Jesus’ birth. One chapter is entitled “Mary,” and the second is entitled “The Family Imran” (or “Mary’s Family”).

Here one reads about the birth of Jesus (also known in the Qur’an as “the Christ”–“the Messiah of God”). Here there is detail about the life of the Virgin Mary and Jesus. One reads the same story about Jesus’ virgin birth that is allso told in the New Testament gospels of Matthew and Luke.

In the Qur’an one reads, “”The angels said, ‘O Mary, indeed God gives you good tidings of a word from Him, whose name will be the Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary – distinguished in this world and the Hereafter and among those brought near to God…’ She said, ‘O my Lord! How shall I have a son when no man has touched me?’ He (the Archangel Gabriel) said, ‘Even so: God creates what He wills. When He has decreed a plan, He only says to it, ‘Be!’ and it is'” (Qur’an / The Family of Imran 45-47).

During this season and the coming year 2014, may we all seek to honor Jesus’ words and teachings by loving God immensely and by loving others as much as we love ourselves!

Sam Shropshire

December 24, 2013 Posted by | Interfaith, Religious Reconciliation, The Quran, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Merry Christmas to you all!

Ascending the minaret–a childhood dream

Minarets tower over the world's mosques as powerful symbols of Islam's daily calls to prayer.

Minarets tower over the world’s mosques as powerful symbols of Islam’s five daily calls to prayer.

Dream come true

Today my friend Aidarous Al Mashhour drove me to the Khalil Mosque here in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. After we prayed together at the mosque, Aidarous told the imam about my childhood dream—to climb to the top of a minaret.

The imam directed us to the caretaker of the mosque who was more than happy to unlock the door to the inner stairway of the minaret. After some ten minutes of climbing through very narrow openings I arrived at a balcony which encircles the upper section of the minaret. I was so happy to be able to look out over the city of Jeddah and to consider the hundreds of years of Islamic history that minaret represented..

Sam stands atop Jeddah's Khlil Mosque minaret.

Sam stands atop Jeddah’s Khalil Mosque minaret. (Click photos to enlarge.)

The history of this marvelous structure

The minaret is one of the most distinctive features of a mosque. It’s history is interesting, not just to Muslims, but also in the annals of architecture.

Remarkably, there are very few references to the minaret in Arabic literature.

The name itself is somewhat strange, and in no way represents the purpose for which these towers are built. The word in Arabic means “an object that gives light” ((Arabic nur, meaning “light”; hence mi-nur-rat or minaret). So, from the name itself one could wrongly conclude the minaret to be a type of “light house” or tower with a light on top.

Some suggest that the minaret gets its name from the light that the muadhin (“caller to prayer”) would hold as he recited the adhan (call to prayer). Others indicate that in some of the oldest mosques, such as the Great Mosque of Damascus, minarets doubled as illuminated watchtowers.

The earliest Islamic mosques had no minarets. The mosques built in the days of the Prophet Mohammed in Mecca and Medina were very simple. There was nothing like a tower associated with these early houses of prayer and worship.

The call to prayer

Sam's friend Muadhin Shafik Zubir calls the faithful to prayer five times a day at Tuqwa Mosque near the Red Sea Promenade in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

Sam’s friend Muadhin Shafik Zubir calls the faithful to prayer five times a day at Taqwa Mosque near the Red Sea promenade in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

The use of the adhan goes back to the lifetime of the Prophet Mohammed. The adhan is, for sure, one of the most characteristic, powerfully evocative symbols of Islam. This Arabic call to prayer, dramatically intoned by a muadhin from high atop a lofty minaret—once heard—it can never be forgotten!

The use of the adhan goes back to the lifetime of the Prophet Mohammed, and is mentioned only once in the Qur’an, in connection with the Friday assembly:

“O you who have believed, when [the adhan] is called for the prayer on the day of Jumu’ah [Friday], leave your business and proceed to the remembrance of God. That is better for you, if you only knew” (Sura 62:9).

Muslim tradition explains how the adhan came to be used to announce the times of the five daily prayers.

After the emigration of Mohammed and his followers from Mecca to Medina (known as the Hijra) a believer named Abd Allah ibn Zaid had a vision in which he tried to buy a wooden clapper to summon people to prayer, as was the tradition of Christians living in Medina at that time. But the man who had the clapper advised him to call out to the people instead and to cry:

God is the greatest! God is the greatest!

I testify that there is no god but God.

I testify that Muhammad is the Prophet of God.

Come to prayer! Come to prayer!

Come to salvation! Come to salvation!

God is the greatest! God is the greatest!

There is no god but God!

The Qutub Minor Mosque in New Delhi, India, has the world's  tallest brick minaret.

The Qutub Minor Mosque in New Delhi, India, has the world’s tallest brick minaret.

Bilal, Islam’s first “caller to prayer”

According to Ibn Ishaq, the eighth-century biographer of Prophet Mohammed, Ibn Zaid went to the Prophet with his story and Mohammed, having had a similar dream, agreed. He told Ibn Zaid to ask an Ethiopian believer named Bilal, who had a marvelous voice, to call the Muslims to prayer.

Early traditions indicate that Bilal made his call to prayer from the rooftop of the Prophet’s house, which doubled as a residence and a place for prayer and worship.

Indeed, no towers were used or mentioned. The ancient poet al Farazdak spoke of the adhan as being prounounced “on the wall of every city.” In the later hadiths it was said “the muadhin, if he is on the road, may make the call to prayer while riding; he need not halt.”

(Note: Below, I have put a short, stirring video of the call to prayer being made from the minarets of Jeddah. Listen to it.)

First mentions of minarets

The first time a minaret is referenced in connection with the mosque was in Medina–some 80 years after the Prophet Mohammed’s passing.

The massive minaret of the Great Mosque of Kairouan in Tunisia is the oldest standing minaret. Its construction began during the early 8th century and was completed in 836 CE. Its imposing square-plan tower consists of three sections of decreasing size reaching 31.5 meters (103 feet). Considered as the prototype for minarets of the western Islamic world, it served as a model for many minarets to come.

The tallest minaret, at 210 metres (689 ft), is located adjacent the Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca, Morocco. The tallest brick minaret is the Qutub Minar in Delhi, India.

Perhaps you heard recently about the 12th-century Great Umayyad Mosque in Aleppo, Syria. It was a UN World Heritage Site. Sadly, its ancient minaret was completely obliterated a few months ago during a battle of the ongoing Syrian Civil War.

The minaret’s design

Minarets basically consist of three parts: a base, shaft, and the tower gallery. For the base, the ground is excavated until a hard foundation is reached. Gravel and other supporting materials may be used as a foundation.

The crescent moon adorns the tops of many mosques.

The crescent moon adorns the tops of many mosques.

Minarets may generally tapered upward, square, cylindrical, or polygonal (faceted). Stairs circle the shaft in a counter-clockwise fashion, providing the necessary structural support to the decidedly elongated shaft.

The gallery is a balcony which encircles the upper sections from which the muadhin may give the call to prayer. It is usually covered by a roof-like canopy and adorned with ornamentation, such as decorative brick and tile work, cornices, arches and inscriptions, with the transition from the shaft to the gallery typically sporting muqarnas (collections of small corbels that form a transition from one plane to another). Formerly plain in style, a minaret’s place in time can be determined by its level of embellishment.

The symbolic moon

The crescent moon, sometimes combined with a star, often tops the minaret. This symbol was often used by the late Turkish Ottoman Empire; however, its not the official symbol of Islam.

In many nations; however, it remains a generally accepted symbol of Islam in much the same way the Star of David represents Judaism or as the cross is representative of Christianity.

The crescent moon points to God’s awesome creation. We read in the Qur’an, “Surely your Lord is none other than God, Who created the heavens and the earth in six days, and then ascended His Throne; Who causes the night to cover the day and then the day swiftly pursues the night; Who created the sun and the moon and the stars making them all subservient to His command. Lo! His is the creation and His is the command. Blessed is God, the Lord of the universe” (Qur’an 7:54-58). A similar sentiment is echoed by the prophet King David in the Psalms, “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?” (Psalm 8:3-5).

The crescent moon is not, as some Islamophobic individuals continue to wrongly assert, a “secret Muslim moon god”! The Qur’an forbids the worship of idols of any kind. “And from among His signs are the night and the day, and the sun and the moon. Do not bow down (prostrate) to the sun nor to the moon, but only bow down (prostrate) to God Who created them, if you (really) worship Him” (Qur’an 41:37).

Watch this short BBC report on Jeddah’s mosques and the call to prayer:

Sources: The Oxford History, wikipedia.com , Saudi Aramco World, BBC, CNN, Architectural History

August 18, 2013 Posted by | Jeddah History, Religious architecture, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Merry Christmas! ~ Sam and Family

Sam, Jana and JanulikChristmas in Slovakia 2010

Sam, Jana and Janulik
Christmas in Slovakia 2010

Merry Christmas!

_______________________

Dear Friends,

Jana, Janulik and I are wishing you all a very merry Christmas!

May your friends and families realize the joy, love and peace of God during this season, and may we all dedicate our lives anew to enlisting in God’s army of peacemakers around the world.

Our gift to you: Take a few minutes to enjoy this contemporary arrangement of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.”

My work here in the Middle East, in the field of religious reconciliation and Middle East peace continues. This morning I was thinking about all the new friendships I’ve made while being here. I thank God for all these new friends from so many different nations–Kenya, Somalia, Ethiopia, Sudan, Yemen, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Palestine, Israel, Syria, Iraq, Myanmar, Bangladesh, India, Indonesian, the Philippines, China, Pakistan, Bahrain, Iran, UAE, Oman, Qatar, Kuwait and, of course, Saudi Arabia. I’ve learned a lot about all the different cultures and faiths here and in other parts of the world, and they are learning about America through me.

All of our peoples face difficult challenges today. There is so much political and economic unrest, but we do not live as those who have no hope!

During the next few days, I hope to join Jana and Janulik in the Carpathian Alps of northern Slovakia for a very white Christmas and New Year’s holidays. Pray that this will be possible.

Despite international wars  and conflicts, and despite the tragic gun violence in our own beloved America, we must not lose heart. As we celebrate Jesus’ birth, let us rededicate our lives to the peace work God has commisioned us to do.

To our Jewish, Muslim and Christian friends in America and around the world, we love you, and we thank you for your prayers, correspondence and encouragement during the past year!

May God’s perfect peace be ever present with you and yours!

Sam Shropshire

____________________________________

December 24, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Jeddah, Saudi Arabia organizes to stop plastic debris

Sam joined a Jeddah city councilman and professors from King Abdulaziz University in organizing an environmental committee for meeting the challenges of plastic debris overwhelming the Arabian peninsula.

Environmental awareness committee formed

Hundreds of camels die on the Arabian peninsula every year from ingesting plastic bags.

I am a proud founding member of a Jeddah municipal committee to study many of the environmental problems adversely affecting the Arabian peninsula. We will suggest solutions, improving life here for people and animals alike.

Saudi Arabia is a good country. Our committee has strong support from the Jeddah City Council and is made up of area professors and engineers with a common mission of correcting many of the harms now contributing to Saudi environmental degradation.

Having provided leadership in the United States for clean air, banning phosphate fertilizers, banning plastic retail carry-out bags, banning the hormone-disrupting chemical BpA (bisphenol-A) from baby bottles, etc., I am able to advise my Saudi colleagues on environmental matters.

Our committee will begin by researching several known challenges in our Jeddah community–one being plastic debris. Plastic bags and bottles cover the banks of the Red Sea, are scattered about through the deserts, line city streets, and fill public landfills.

Hundreds of camels and thousands of sheep and goats die annually from ingesting plastic bags. They are also killing marine life in the Red Sea and the Arabian Gulf.

Our faiths have a lot to say about the environment

If the Abrahamic faiths of Muslims, Jews and Christians believe God created the world, then it follows logically that we must honor God by caring for his creation. As believers in the God of Abraham we must respond to the damaging influences of over-consumption and pollution that are ruining planet Earth.

Believers are well equipped to respond to the many environmental crises—including the larger problem of climate change/global warming.

According to one Muslim source, many scientists and philosophers “agree man is considered as the major factor in disturbing the natural balance of the universe. Man interferes intentionally or unintentionally in the earth’s ecosystems by impairing its perfect order and precise sequence.”

The holy books speak about caring for creation

Plastic bags can be deadly for marine life which often mistakes plastic bags for food.

We read in the Qur’an, “There is the type of man whose speech about this world’s life may dazzle thee, and he calls God to witness about what is in his heart: yet is he the most contentious of enemies? When he turns his back, his aim everywhere is to spread mischief through the earth, destroying crops and cattle. But God loves not mischief” (Al-Baqarah: verses 204 and 205).

In the Torah we read, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” (Genesis 2:15). The Torah also commands us, “You shall not pollute the land in which you live…. You shall not defile the land in which you live…” (Numbers 35:33-34).

We believers cannot by our own efforts, “save the earth.” Only God, who is the Creator, Sustainer and Redeemer of all creation, can do that. But we are expected to join God in maintaining his work. We seek to right many of the wrongs we’ve committed. In our homes, in our schools, at our places of work, in our times of recreation, and in our places of worship, we can begin to model creation care.

There are many hymns about creation and God’s love for nature, but these words penned by Edith Downing seem quite appropriate:

Sam’s efforts to ban plastic debris are known worldwide. Here’s an article from the The Sontagg, Dusseldorf, Germany. (Click image to enlarge).

O God, your heart is broken
by our abuse of earth.
We overuse resources
denying nature’s worth.
Forgive our selfish lifestyles
that feed on culture’s greed.
Urge us to take fresh courage
to tend our world in need.

Convert our hearts to caring
for creatures great and small.
Help us save birds for singing
their lovely mating call.
The evidence is mounting–
our planet is in pain–
more land and sea is shrinking
throughout the Earth’s domain.

We can now change direction,
with courage take a stand
to work against pollution
that harms both sea and land.
You count on us as stewards
to never hesitate
to act to save creation
before it is too late!

The Genesis Covenant

People of faith have a shared vision that all faith communities around the world can work together to halt climate change. The global climate crisis must bring out the best in all our faith traditions. The Genesis Covenant presents a shared action to make a public commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from all our places of worship and facilities by 50% within ten years. The covenant states:

Sam holds a couple of loose plastic bags he found on the ground in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Leaders of the Jeddah community are campaigning to rid the city of plastic debris that lines the streets.

“We are a growing community of faithful people from many religious traditions who have decided to work together to save the Earth.

We have put aside our religious differences to focus on what we share in common: an understanding that global climate change is threatening our world and a commitment to do something about it.

If you share those two beliefs with us then you are already a part of The Genesis Covenant. We are not an organization. We are a community of volunteers from all walks of life. We are people with strong personal religious convictions. We honor that in one another. We do not debate our differences. We celebrate what we share in common. We express our faith through action. We work together not just because we agree, but because we care. We are many traditions united for a single purpose.

Welcome to our community! Welcome to The Genesis Covenant. We are honored to have you with us.”

Demonstrate your personal concern

Here’s a simple way you can make a difference. When you do your grocery shopping refuse plastic carry-out bags. Show that you care about the environment by using reusable shopping bags. One reusable bag, when used consistently for a year, will replace hundreds of plastic bags.

The impact of plastic bags is long-lasting.  Because of the chemical composition, a plastic bag takes between 500 to 1000 years to decompose. In the US alone more than 100 billion of these plastic bags are distributed by retailers annually. And they are accumulating by the 100s of billions in our landfills, forests and waterways.

Not only are these ubiquitous bags an eye-sore in our communities, the consequences of these bags for marine life and animals are often tragic.

Many cities, states and nations are banning plastic carry-out bags. While bans on these bags are sweeping the United States, many other nations including China, France, Ireland, England, Kenya have either banned the bags outright or put restrictions on their use.

Oceans of plastic

Plastics have so polluted the earth’s oceans that there is now a swirling “soup” of plastic in the North Pacific gyre, at times the size of Africa. But the evidence of the plastic pollution of our waterways and oceans is evident throughout the planet. And it’s accumulating day by day.

The United Nations is encouraging the world’s nations to halt the distribution of plastic carry-out bags. “Some of the litter, like thin film single-use plastic bags which choke marine life, should be banned or phased-out rapidly everywhere. There is simply zero justification for manufacturing them anymore, anywhere,” says Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary-General and United Nations Environmental Program executive director.

Here’s an excellent film produced by ABC’s Nightline describing the ravages of plastic debris. Take a few minutes to watch this documentary:

September 19, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Reporting from the Holy City of Medina, Saudi Arabia

Sam with Afghan and Chadian friends at the Nabawi Mosque in Medina, Saudi Arabia. This mosque is very sacred to Muslims around the world as it contains the burial place of the Prophet Mohammad.

My visit to Medina

Today I’m at the Nabawi Mosque, one of the places most sacred to the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims. The Prophet Mohammad is buried here. I’m with Muslims from Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Sudan, Ethiopia, Chad, Afghanistan, Syria, Jordan, Palestine, Saudi Arabia and many other nations.

When people find out I’m an American they crowd around to shake my hand and to hug and kiss me on the cheeks. They all express solidarity with America. And there are the typical questions, “Hey, Sam. Do you know my cousin Abdullah in Chicago?”

Over nine months since I first arrived in Saudi Arabia

A sign of hope from the next generation of Libyans.

I’ve been here in Saudi Arabia 9 months now, and I haven’t had even one negative experience.

But, of course, just like in Washington, DC, there are probably neighborhoods and places where any intelligent person shouldn’t venture. I haven’t run into those yet. I walk or take taxis everywhere I go. I ask my Muslim friends to introduce me to “radicals” so I can meet them–to speak with them–to find out why they think the way they do. But my friends here say they don’t know any people like that.

The Muslims I meet are good people. While they are very dedicated in their faith, they love and respect America. They deserve our support just as much as we support Israel.

Responding to radicalism

Of course, we know there are radical Muslims—just as there are radical Christians and radical Jews. They exist. When they start attacking each other and smearing each other the evidence can be quite sadistic. They insult. They curse. They murder. We see it now in Libya and Egypt. Innocent people die.

May God give us wisdom to behave as Jesus would behave in the face of false accusations, smears and fighting. Let us seek peace instead of war. Wherever and whenever possible, let us overcome evil with good.

Fareed Zakaria explains what’s happening

Rage stemming from the recent anti-Muslim film continues to spread globally. Last night Wolf Blitzer welcomed CNN colleague Fareed Zakaria for his expert analysis and perspective on the Arab Spring and anti-US rioting. Click here to watch Fareed’s excellent explanation.

The makers and promoters of this hate film have done Muslims a great injustice, and because America is perceived to be a “Christian nation,” the film has led to wrongful, vicious attacks on American embassies.

September 14, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Ramadan ended with greetings of “Eid mubarak!”

New moon sighted–Ramadan ends

It’s official now! The new moon was sighted two days ago, ending the 30 days of Ramadan. Now we are in the middle of three-days of the public holiday called Eid-al-Fitr (Arabic: ‎عيد الفطر ‘Īdu l-Fiṭr). The holiday is most often simply called Eid. Foreigners and Arabs alike greet one another with the common greeting, “Eid mubarak!” (English: literally “Happy Feast!”).

In most Muslim countries celebrants dress in their best clothes and adorn their homes with lights and other decorations. Old wrongs are forgiven and money is given to the poor. Special foods are prepared and friends or relatives are invited to share the feast.

Eid is a joyous occasion. Its underlying purpose is to praise God and give thanks to him. More than 2.2 billion Muslims are celebrating Eid around the world!

Ramadan/Eid holiday season marked by generosity and giving

Eman Kaskas oversaw the distribution of food to needy Ethiopian families of Jeddah. Eman also conducted a fundraising dinner for the Dar al Aytam children’s outreach in Lebanon.

During my first Ramadan celebration, I often joined my Muslim brothers and sisters in fasting and prayer at our local neighborhood Al Takwa Mosque.  I also went along to help distribute food and other gifts to the poorer immigrant populations of Jeddah.

Eman Kaskas and the students of the British International School had collected more than two tons of canned meats and vegetables, soups, dates, spices, bags of rice and pastas for distribution. This very generous collection was distributed to Ethiopian immigrant families.

In a sense, Eid is a Christmas-like festivity. There are big family meals. Friends and family members gather to exchange gifts. On the eve of Eid shopping malls and stores are open late. Shoppers wait in long lines, in a hurry to purchase last-minute gifts, candies and cakes. (The traffic jams reminded me of trying to get to the Annapolis Mall on Christmas Eve!)

Numerous fundraisers were conducted throughout Jeddah and other Saudi cities during the past month to benefit various causes for children, the disabled, the poor and the elderly.

Dr. Safi and Eman Kaskas invited guests to a dinner at the Sands Hotel which raised thousands of dollars for the Dar al Aytam children’s home in Beirut, Lebanon. Close to a hundred guests gathered that evening to lend their support to this orphanage that was established nearly a hundred years ago to care for Lebanese orphans of World War I.

Since that time Dar al Aytam has expanded its programs to provide services to the mentally disabled as well as homeless children. Services are now available in more than 30 locations (Greater Beirut, The Bekaa Valley, Mount Lebanon, and in various other northern and southern locations).

Muslim Americans fearful during Eid

Some American Christians expressed solidarity with Muslims during this special holiday. The Rev. Peter De Franco and the congregation of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Clifton, New Jersey, used Eid as a time to show support for Muslim believers in their town.

In the US, where Muslims are a tiny minority population, celebrating Eid seems strange and different, especially to those who have wrongly targeted all Muslims as being “anti-American.”

This past Thursday, a Palestinian American was visiting his father’s grave at a Muslim cemetery in Evergreen Park, a suburb southwest of Chicago, when he noticed obcene graffiti written on the tombstones.

During the past month, seven Islamic centers, from California to Rhode Island, have been attacked.In one of the attacks, a mosque in Joplin, Missouri, was burned to the ground.

Many US Muslims are appealing to the media and their elected officials for help.

Unfortunately, on some occasions, a few individuals like US Representative Joe Walsh, instead of offering hope to their Muslim constituents, are instead fanning the flames of hate.

Speaking on August 8 at a packed town hall event in the Chicago suburb of Elk Grove, Walsh told his supporters, “I’m not sure of a lot of things, but one thing I am sure of is that there are people in this country, there is a radical strain of Islam in this country. It’s not just over there–trying to kill Americans every week.”  He continued, “And it is a threat that is much more at home now then it was right after 9/11. It’s here, it’s in Elk Grove, it’s in Addison, it’s in Elgin.”

Many Americans respond during Eid with love and support

Sam with Dr. Safi Kaskas in Jeddah. Safi is the president of the Association of Muslim Social Scientists in the US. Safi has spent years building bridges of faith and understanding between the world’s Christians, Muslims and Jews.

While it’s true that all three Abrahamic faiths (Jewish, Christian and Muslim) have their radical, violent elements; they are simply a noisy minority. They grab headlines by torching buildings or through inflamatory hate speech and through bombing and killing.

Some US churches and Christian organizations, including Sojourners, an evangelical Christian outreach, have expressed solidarity with America’s persecuted Muslims and are organizing support for both the Joplin mosque and the Muslim community in Ever Green.

The overwhelming majority of those who believe in the God of Abraham, are peace-loving, desiring freedom and democracy for all faiths.

Recent polls indicate that greater than 80% of Muslim, Christian and Jewish teenagers and young adults want peace–not war. They have dreams of good jobs, families, homes. They want the best for others and seek to build bridges between their faiths and to support those who are persecuted or wrongly treated.

My work alongside Dr. Safi Kaskas here in the Middle East is in the field of religious reconciliation.  Our work is vitally important to ongoing peace efforts, in the US, here in the Middle East and around the world.

May we all do our part to improve understanding–to reach out to men, women and children; families and individuals who may express their faith differently. And may we vigilantly confront Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and anti-Christian hysteria with good information, loving kindness and hope for a much brighter, more prosperous future for all God’s children.

While we continue to celebrate here in Jeddah during this festive, Christmas-like spirit of Eid, I was thinking this morning of Henry W. Longfellow’s Christmas carol–“I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” Longfellow described the bells “ringing, chanting” throughout the world–a message of peace. But, alas, he sighed:

  • And in despair I bowed my head
  • “There is no peace on earth,” I said,
  • “For hate is strong and mocks the song
  • Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

Here in Saudi Arabia I don’t hear church bells, but I do hear a very faithful, heartfelt call to prayer from many mosques five times a day. It’s a call to prayerfully thank God for his mercy and grace and a call to personal and world peace. Saudi Arabia is surrounded by wars and conflicts (Yemen, Somalia and Sudan to the south and east; the Sinai, Lebanon and Syria to the north; Iraq to the northeast; and now a “pending” war between Israel and Iran. There are conflicts in other parts of Africa, and in Asia and South America. It would be easy to give up–to curl up comfortably in our own corner of the world; deaf to those who cry for freedom, uncaring and unconcerned. But that is not what God has called us to do.

Longfellow ended his poem with a message of hope. As he thought of dismal world conditions of his time, he proclaimed:

  • Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
  • “God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
  • The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
  • With peace on earth, good will to men.”

I thank all my Quaker friends for holding us in the light over here. Your Muslim brothers and sisters here in Jeddah send you their love and greetings, and they join you in prayer for reconciliation and world peace.

Muslims celebrating Eid around the world:

August 21, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Egypt’s first democratically elected president promises pluralism!

Sam expressing solidarity with Ethiopian friend Abdulrehman and Egyptian colleague Waleed. Says Sam, “We hope the very best for Egypt’s new democracy.”

New Egyptian president promotes religious reconciliation and pluralism

Today we can certainly be enouraged by what’s happening in Egypt as the new Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi is appointing both a woman and a Christian as vice presidents of the new democracy and promises he will give them “significant powers” in the new democratically elected government. Watch and learn from the video clip below!

When Jana, Janulik and I were living in Tujunga, California, my wife got her US teaching certificate from the University of California, taking courses at UCLA and UC Northridge. Morsi was a professor at UC Northridge!

President Morsi has both the education and the experience to understand western societies and to guide the new Egyptian democracy towards freedom and religious pluralism.

Thank you, Annapolis Quaker Friends!

I thank all my Annapolis Quaker friends for holding my Muslim friends and me in the Light!

Until I received your recent e-mail, I had not realized the extensive financial support and involvment of my Annapolis Quakers during the time of the Middle East Peace Conference in Annapolis and in particular your specific, strong, past and present support for the Geneva Accord promoting Israeli-Palestinian peace.

Your recent e-mail from the Annapolis Peace and Justice Center is wonderfully encouraging! Once again, my heart is gladdened.

My Muslim friends say I’m a “son of the road”

Thank you, also, for passing on your kind, supportive words about my endeavors here in Jeddah. Dr. Safi Kaskas, his staff and I salute our Annapolis Quaker Friends. Today, Safi and I were translating together a passage from the Qur’an which instructs Muslims to care for those who are deemed financially unfortunate in life. It reads, “Righteousness is not a matter of turning your faces eastward or westward (in religious gestures). Rather, righteousness is believing in God and in the last day and the angels and the Book and the prophets, giving your precious money to relatives, orphans, the poor, travelers, and beggars, freeing slaves, performing prayers, paying the poor-tax, keeping promises, and enduring misery and adversity in time of threat. It is they who have proved themselves true, and it is they who are conscious of God” (Chapter 2, verse 177).

Safi and I, while discussing each word of this verse, had some lengthy discussion when translating the Arabic word for “traveler,” as certainly there are many who travel who either don’t need financial support or other forms of help. When we examined the Arabic word, we found it says literally “sons (or people) of the road.” It could be used for emigres or immigrants, fellow citizens who are unemployed and travelling in search of work, people who are homeless, or people who have recently relocated to another country after fleeing from war or persecution. It could also refer to individuals who have left all, at the calling of God, to serve him in another land.

So it has been determined by my fellow Muslims here that I, Sam Shropshire, am a “son of the road”! Maybe I should rename my blogsite “Son of the Road”!

It’s rather comical, in a sense, as Safi pointed out, “Because of your strong stand for religious reconciliation and solidarity with Muslims a very few may consider you to be a ‘son of a b..ch’! But here in Saudi Arabia, by God and your Muslim friends, you’re appreciated and loved as a ‘son of the road!'”

The Prophet Isaiah speaks a similar message to us today

After re-reading the above verses from the Qur’an, I began thinking of the words of the Old Testament Prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 58). He was explaining to Israel the difference between self-righteousness and true righteousness. He also addressed care for “people of the road,” or as he called them, “poor wanderers.” He said:

“Shout it aloud, do not hold back. Raise your voice like a trumpet. Declare to my people their rebellion and to the descendants of Jacob their sins. For day after day they seek me out; they seem eager to know my ways, as if they were a nation that does what is right and has not forsaken the commands of its God. They ask me for just decisions and seem eager for God to come near them. Why have we fasted,’they say,’ and you have not seen it? Why have we humbled  ourselves, and you have not noticed?’”

God’s response to self-righteousness:

“Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers. Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists. You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard   on high. Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for people to humble themselves? Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed and for lying in sackcloth and ashes? Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord?

“Is not this the kind of fasting   I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter — when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: ‘Here I am!’

“If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail. Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.”

Pray for Egypt and President Morsi. And pray for the Syrian people as they struggle for freedom and democracy–that they will soon know peace. Continue to hold my Muslim friends and me in the light!

Your “son of the road”! ~ Sam

June 27, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment