By Mary Liepold
“In Arabic, Islam means peace,” said Sabiha Ahmed of the Community of Living Traditions. So, is Islamophobia fear of peace?”
Sabiha asked her question at a gathering of religious peace fellowships convened by the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR) at the Stony Point Center in upstate New York March 14 – 16 of this year. Stony Point is an expansive retreat and conference center that belongs to the Presbyterian Church in America―the other PCUSA. The Presbyterian Peace Fellowship is headquartered at Stony Point. Among the 28 participants representing an equal number of organizations were Pax Christi Program Associate Amy Watts and Bob Cooke and Mary Liepold of the Metro DC-Baltimore Regional Council.
Participants came from the Adventist, Baptist, Buddhist, Episcopal, Lutheran, Muslim, and Orthodox Peace Fellowships, as well as allies and affiliates like FOR, Pax Christi, the Mennonite Church USA, Shomer Shalom Institute for Jewish Nonviolence, Christian Peacemaker Teams, and the National Campaign for a Peace Tax Fund.
Islamophobia was one of several topics on the wide-ranging agenda. It’s especially timely given Rep. Peter King’s “radicalization of Islam” hearing the week before; FBI harassment and the issuing of subpoenas to Muslims and activists in Minnesota, Michigan, and Illinois; and concern that the upcoming 10-year commemoration of 9-11 will unleash new hostility. Participants brainstormed a wide range of ways to stand with Muslims in our communities, including personal friendships, letters to Congress, peace walks, joint social service projects, “Screen Me Too” campaigns at airports, and participation in the nationwide Shoulder to Shoulder Coalition. Rick Ufford-Chase, who coordinates Stony Point’s many initiatives with his wife Kitty Ufford-Chase, recalled a news photo of Egyptian Christians forming a protective circle around Muslims and expressed his wish to see a similar spirit in the US.
“Our children don’t know what to do when people shout ‘Go home!’ ” said Samina Sundas of American Muslim Voice. “They have no other homes.”
Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb is co-founder of Shomer Shalom. Like Sabiha, she belongs to the Community of Living Traditions, where Christians, Jews, and Muslims live together in several houses on the Stony Point campus. An outspoken advocate for the rights of the Palestinian people, she led one of the most popular breakout sessions on the second day, when attendees chose from an array of topics.
Mark Johnson of FOR led a breakout session on the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers, young people from the Bamiyan Province who are reaching out to the world with their desire for peace. Amy Watts coordinates Pax Christi’s relationship with the group. Judith Kelly, Jim Noonan, and others are with Kathy Kelly in the current Voices for Creative Nonviolence delegation that will meet with them and other Afghan peacemakers.
Discussion also touched on human needs and the economy, structural violence, and the politics of long-term change. Gently but insistently, Beth Adams of the National Campaign for Nonviolent Resistance brought up the environmental dimension of every topic under discussion. A small group gathered after the sharing of poems and stories on Tuesday night to watch Scarred Lands and Wounded Lives, a documentary about the impact of war on the environment.
Many of the participants had exchanged emails with each other but never met face to face. All were grateful for the opportunity to connect in person and optimistic about new possibilities for collaboration. “If nothing else, we can let people in power know that someone is watching,” said Spencer Chiimbwe, Center for Conflict and Dialogue, New York.” Jordan Blevins, Church of the Brethren and National Council of Churches, added “Moving from radical individualism to radical relationality is a daunting task, but God is already there.”