The “Interfaith Indaba – Journey into the radiant current of interfaith” – hosted by multiple communities and organisations, culminated last night in an observance of compassion for Sri Lanka at the Al Azar Mosque in District Six, Cape Town, South Africa.
Leaders and common people – Muslims, Jews, Catholics, Protestants, Hindus, Buddhists, Africanists, mystics and many unnamed others met in numerous events to continue the discovery of that which unites.
While the global circumstances around South Africa’s Freedom Day weekend – 3 devastating religiously-motivated massacres in Christchurch, Sri Lanka and San Diego – are deeply disturbing, the real story is the response.
And this bigger story is palpable evidence of a fresh emerging culture across religious, cultural and economic barriers in Cape Town. Many organisations are involved – this is indeed a “broad church” of activists, devotees, and seekers creating conversation and community on the ground.
The umbrella organisation and burgeoning hub for much of this conversation is the Cape Town Interfaith Initiative (CTII). The Inititive’s director, Berry Behr, returned last week from Jordan where she received (together with James Ellman) the first prize for World Interfaith Harmony Week from His Majesty King Abdullah II, himself an ardent and eloquent supporter of interfaith harmony. She insisted during the proceedings that the award belonged to all communities and organisations involved.
Amongst these actively engaged organisations are the The Novalis Ubuntu Institute, The Emissaries of Divine Light, Groote Kerk and the Dutch Reformed Church, Al Azar Masjied and other Muslim communities, United Religions Initiative, Holy Cross Catholic Church District Six, The Jewish Board of Deputies, CT Unitarian Community, The Turquoise Harmony Institute (founded by Fethullah Gülen, the Turkish scholar), and many more.
Over the weekend’s events there was teaching, oratory, meditation, song, drumming, dance, and most important, conversations that resonated with the energy of people discovering their power to love, heal and create, to take initiative and to risk, and to be their authentic selves in the freedom to serve others.
Friday at Novalis was a daylong seminar called the Future of Interfaith with Keynote speaker David Karchere, the spiritual director of the Emissaries of Divine Light based in Colorado, USA. It had a strongly intercultural as well as inter-generational dimension, and conversations flowed between suburb and township, learner and retiree, African, American, and European. One 14 year old participant summarised the event, noting “You are much safer when you make friends”.
Saturday, Freedom Day, was a tour of Cape Town’s sacred sights. The evening was hosted by the Turquoise Harmony Institute’s Turkish community, a tremendous display of hospitality and conviviality and opportunities for conversation with people from diverse backgrounds including Turkey, Kazakhstan, and Hawaii.
On Sunday morning, the CTII led their monthly “Sacred Connections” gathering at Novalis with a rousing call to deeper unity by David Karchere. He talked of our need to move from the negative fear based positions to tolerance, then respect, then understanding and then appreciation. He noted that any suicide bomber, far from expressing “faith”, had in fact lost all faith in goodness.
The weekend climaxed at Al-Azar. The Mosque itself is one of the few buildings that escaped demolition by the Apartheid government in the 1966, and it seems appropriate to have come together here in this symbol of the enduring power of faith and community in the face of deeply divisive and destructive forces that still haunt the world today.
While solemn, sensitive and sincere, there was also much joy and conviviality as perhaps 120 people affirmed their common dignity and connection to one another. Sheikh Ismael Keraan is a profound presence, educated, warm, deeply rooted in many traditions, and his growing relationship with courageous dominee Riaan de Villiers of Groote Kerk is truly a sign of hope. As one member of Al Azar said “This was unimaginable 5 years ago”.
This weekend’s events were certainly well organised. However, they represent something more than mere organisation: a groundswell of goodwill that is breaking out in Cape Town, in Colombo, in Christchurch, and across the world as people overcome the fear that fuels hatred, and discover the miracle of shared humanity that is open to and flowing with the Sacred, by whatever name we might use.