Friday, 18 January 2008

Israel 2008 - Shalom Hartman Institute

Jerusalem is a city which is very dear to me for several reasons. It is a holy land blessed for the three faiths, Islam, Christianity and Judaism. It is a land which has brought tears to my eyes as I have read its history, walked its streets and seen some of the atrocities between those who revere it.

I am traveling to Jerusalem today! I have been invited to participate in the Annual Theology Conference at the Shalom Hartman Institute which is headed by the eminent Professor/Rabbi David Hartman, the world renowned philosopher and theologian in Judaism. I have been greatly inspired by Rabbi Hartman in the last two years that I have attended this conference as he has a clear vision of Israel being a pluralistic prospering city, a great vision to have. This years conference is on the way that the three faiths understand family relationships and deal with the present day challenges to the family structure. I think it will be an interesting conference with many important issues discussed and debated. One thing I like about this conference is that everyone speaks their mind, everyone is united in the goal of achieving an active discussion on interfaith. The structure of this conference is set on the 'hevruta' style of small study groups where a mixture of academics from different faiths get together and discuss a passage of scripture or other text, the discussion is lively and pretty frank, it is exciting but at times quite nerve wracking.

I want to invite you all on this spiritual journey to the Holy Land with me! I will be writing this blog every night with daily updates on what I have been up to! This is my 3rd year at the conference and if it was not as exciting as it is I think I would have given up on it but it is an interesting one. I receive emails ever so often from folk accusing me of being a Zionist/pro-Israeli etc etc but my answer is very simple. If we don't move forward to build bridges then they will never be built. If we sit back and blame one side and side with the other then we really are not upholding justice and peace, as is the model from the Qur'an (and the Bible). It is time to move out of comfort zones and sit with those who we have never sat with before. In the way that every year I seem to be sitting beside an Orthodox Jew on my flight to Tel Aviv. There is always a bit of a panick and fear on the faces of those flying to Israel. There is very little that I can do except smile and try to put people at ease, it often works. Last year I was stopped at Tel Aviv Airport for 3 hours and the year before for 6 hours...I wonder how long it will be this year!

Watch this space...

Thursday, 17 January 2008

Sea Shepherd Activists, Animals and Protests

BBC Radio Scotland
Thought for the Day
Thursday 17th January 2008
Amanullah De Sondy

This week, two whaling protestors out in the Southern Ocean have either been taken into custody, or taken hostage, depending on who is telling the story. Australian and Japanese diplomats are trying to resolve this standoff. The protestors boarded the Japanese ship, to present a petition, the ships crew are then said to have tied them to their radar mast. The Japanese crew has accused the protestors of 'dangerous harassment'. The Sea Shepherd activists were there to protest against the Japanese fleets plan to kill around 900 Minke whales and 50 fin whales by mid-April, the Japanese have said this is part of a research project.

This situation has made me think about the way in which we express our beliefs. There are prophetic traditions in Islam which advise that we should firstly try to change a negative situation with our tongue, then with our hands and if even still it is not rectified then the believer must remain content in rectifying it in their heart through prayer. I have wondered to what extent a believer should move to resolve a situation with their hands? I think a protest must always be non-violent, no matter how difficult the situation, this is surely the ultimate test of faith. I believe that a violent protest of beliefs indicates a weakness in faith; surely faith brings a humane obligation to us all.

Animals must inspire the beautiful within us, keeping our beliefs and convictions in context. As a Muslim, I am inspired by prophet Muhammad's great love of cats. It is said that he would often do without his cloak if he saw that a cat was asleep on it. In the words of the Caliph Ali, "Be like a bee; anything they eat is clean, anything they drop is sweet and anything they sit upon does not break." Maybe we all need to re-evaluate and consider our animal instincts.