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March 2015

Seeking Peace through Art for Children

Fauzia Minallah is an award-winning Pakistani artist who uses her formidable gifts to help the world’s children know peace. When asked about her hopes and dreams, Fauzia offers a very long list: that girls will be valued as much as boys, that impoverished children have opportunities to read and to create art, that Pakistan will cherish its religious heritage and diversity, that visually-impaired kids will have safe places to play, and that all Pakistani children have access to clean air and water. It’s tempting to wonder how one woman, even one as creative and energetic as Fauzia, might accomplish all that in a single lifetime. She is the first to admit that her work is never finished, but a quick dip into the inspired waters of the Funkor Child Art Center shows how, in little more than a decade, thousands of children have been lifted up and served.

Interfaith Festival Deluged by the Spirit, Rain, and Hail

The Universal Multicultural Dialogue – an international interfaith festival – was launched in 2012 in Guadalajara, Mexico. As TIO reported last month, UMD II will be held this coming May 6-9. Elías González Gómez joined the Carpe Diem Foundation sponsoring the first UMD as soon as he heard about it. He has written an extended article about the experience. Excerpted below is his story of the 2012 festival’s opening day.

Creativity and the Spirit

The notion supporting this month’s issue is that the ‘arts,’ defined broadly, mediate ‘spirit and truth’ in ways religion cannot, particularly if you take religion to be doctrine, rules, and organization. Of course religion uses the arts in all sorts of ways, which muddies and makes more complex the relationship between our creative energies and what we hold to be true and important. Indeed, for the ancient Greeks as with most indigenous traditions, painting, sculpture, dance, music, and story emerge out of ritual and spiritual practice, where the artist and practitioner are one and the same.

Creativity Melts Syrian-Lebanese Barriers

Beirut - Muhammad, who arrived from the Syrian city of Homs, lost his leg in the Syrian war. At the border, he was met by Lebanese who treated and cared for him until he could walk on his prosthetic leg. He then went to the market looking for a job, where he was hit with racism. He could not find any work and store owners kicked him out, cursing him and throwing accusations that he would rob them for sure. This discrimination and oppression made him hate all the Lebanese without exception, forgetting those who cared for him and who extended a helping hand.

Preparing the Earth for May 6-9 International Interfaith Festival

When indigenous communities in México, El Salvador, and Honduras heard about the the Universal Multicultural Dialogue II (UMD II), they responded quickly. As announced in TIO last December, UMD II is an international interfaith festival being held in Guadalajara from May 6-8,2015. Thousands will participate, as they did at the first UMD in 2012, with more than 120 speakers, workshops, panels, ritual ceremonies, and arts. The theme this year is “We All Live Under the Same Sky.”

Art’s Role in the Interfaith Movement

As a college student studying art history and Jewish literature, I am particularly interested in how language and art create the stories that we tell about culture, community, and faith. Words and images cannot exist in a vacuum; almost anything we create is influenced by where we are, who we are surrounded by, and what ideas we hold.

Faith-Related Crafts as a Precursor to the Arts

Artistic expression is a form of prayer. It can be offered in the form of dancing, playing an instrument, singing, whirling, or chanting. In our case, since we work with kids, it often appears as crafts. Caregivers around the world use crafts to teach children about their faith traditions and create perfect resources for interfaith education. (At the end of this article you’ll find links to some of these sites.) Beyond that, these projects give kids the opportunity to discover the sacred, to offer a prayer without having to put it into words, and to co-create with the divine.

God Is Good, No Matter What You Call Her!

I was – we were (as several folks in the office crowded ‘round) – completely blown away. By its power and dignity, its implicit compassion and yet unblinking eye. What a wonderful project. – Ken Burns, Emmy Award winning documentary film-maker

When Poetry Brings Us Together

I’ve always been intrigued by the language of poets, how, through poetic expression, we can reach people from other faiths where prose falls short. So nearly two years ago I launched an interfaith project

A Sufi Parable in Fes

A band of birds of different species sets out on a perilous journey through the unknown, in search of their king. That is the story of The Conference of the Birds, the 12th century masterpiece of Persian poet Farid ud-Din Attar. Like Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, it offers an amalgam of myths

“To Be Still Enough” & “Where Music Comes From”

To Be Still Enough Perched on the high Himalayan slopes of cloud-shrouded Darjeeling, this gracious old hotel, built in 1887 as the summer residence of the Maharaja of Cooch Behar,

Courage in the Face of Fear

It’s been over a month since the armed assault on the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris, and the tragedy has been on my mind every day since. There are many issues deserving reflection, from free speech versus hate speech, rising xenophobia and violent extremism, or even avoiding the conflation of all Muslims with the violently radical, yet tiny network of heretics. Yet, my mind has been preoccupied with a more overarching theme of the core mission of terrorism – terror itself. The goal is more than a body count; it’s the arousal of our most instinctual response in evolutionary psychology: fear, and where that fear will likely lead us.

Is a World Faith Worth Dreaming About?

“A gradual assimilation of religions will in time function as a world faith” was the prophecy that the Indian philosopher Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan made more than 80 years ago.

The Interfaith Movement’s Evolution and Future Challenges

Bud Heckman, a frequent TIO contributor, has worked with many leading interreligious organizations, foundations, academic institutions, and community-based organizations.

Egypt Sings to End Sexual Harassment!

London - Last August, two young Egyptian musicians released songs on the topic of sexual harassment against women, which has been on the rise since the 2011 uprising in Egypt. These musicians’ songs are two important examples of many similar, serious efforts by artists to help fight this problem.

Where the Divine and the World Swirl and Dance

When I was ten years old, a man who owned a small record label wanted to sign me after hearing me sing at a talent show where I went to school with his daughter. My Pentecostal Christian stepmother, bless her heart, was adamant that a gift like mine should only be “used for The Lord, not for the world.” My family moved shortly thereafter, alleviating me from facing the theological dilemma she’d imposed.

Finding Light in the Darkness

The best of music and theater transport us somewhere outside our own particular time and place, even beyond our own cultural and religious coordinates. By allowing us outside our own boundaries, they offer a chance for fresh insight and inspiration. Susan Stein’s one-woman play “Etty,” directed by Austin Pendleton, does just that. In this Amnesty International Award nominated play, actress Stein introduces us to a most remarkable and spiritually inquisitive young Dutch Jewish woman of the early 1940s. Drawn entirely from the dairies and letters of Etty Hillesum, we experience a remarkable kind of theater-as-time-travel.

Finding Funding for Your Interfaith Film

The art of compelling storytelling is the core focus of the Hartley Film Foundation’s mission. Storytelling in documentary film is the foundation’s tool for connecting audiences to new experiences and ideas about real people, places, and events. The foundation supports filmmakers proposing narratives about world religions and spirituality. Implicitly, a primary Hartley goal is to strengthen interfaith understanding through these films.