Seeds of Peace
[by Dianna Ott, Freelance Writer]
The attendees left their shoes at the door and climbed the steps into the mosque where the enticing aroma from a Mediterranean-style buffet dinner filled the space. It seemed that every single folding chair was filled. Guests, in their stocking feet, some wearing yarmulkes, some wearing hijab, squeezed in together to hear the panelists.
The event “Seeds of Peacemaking in Christianity, Judaism and Islam,” planned by Interfaith Paths to Peace as an open house for the Louisville Islamic Center at the River Road Mosque, was scheduled on April 24 in response to the difficulties encountered as the Islamic community sought approval for a cemetery in Bullitt County. Organizers say attendance swelled to nearly 300 after the news that suspects responsible for the Boston Marathon on April 15, just a week earlier, were Muslim brothers from Chechnya.
Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer opened the event, describing it as typical of what the “Compassionate City” project is all about. In 2011, Louisville adopted the international “Charter for Compassion,” making Louisville the largest city in America to take this action.
“Louisville is well known for its interfaith traditions,” Fischer said. “We’ve hosted the Festival of Faiths for 18 years now. The festival broadens the worldview of those who participate while deepening a commitment to their own faith,” said Fischer.
Rabbi Joe Rooks Rapport from The Temple, Rev. Joe Phelps pastor of Highland Baptist Church and Imam Wasif Iqbal from the River Road mosque participated in the hour-long panel discussion moderated by Terry Taylor from Interfaith Paths to Peace.
When asked to name key concepts and definitions of peace and peacemaking in their particular faith tradition Rabbi Rapport answered “In the Jewish tradition we offer prayers for peace every day, in every service,” describing that peace is at the core of every blessing.
“Peace is the reason we pray,” he continued.
Rapport described “Shalom Aleichem,” as a greeting that translates as “peace be unto you” which is a shared commonality of all three faith groups represented.
“But shalom means more than peace,” Rapport said. “It means wholeness. It is more than an absence of conflict. It implies that all need to be made whole, meaning ‘to make’ peace. It takes work with other people in order to achieve that.”
Imam Iqbal agreed, saying “We say the same – as-salāmu ʿalaykum, peace be unto you, and add on grace and mercy be upon you as well.”
“It (peace) is a general word. Islam means peace in Arabic.” said Iqbal. “And submission also comes from the same word.”
The Imam said that Muslims are taught to be aware of oneself, of people around them and of the community.
“In the Quran, we are taught that to be conscious in this way is to be aware of God and that there is less evil in the world when we are aware,” he continued. “When you lose this awareness, you have lessened your faith.”
According to Rev. Phelps, Christianity’s view of peace is best expressed by the life and parables told about Jesus. “The view is to surrender not retaliate. To love, not seek vengeance,” said Phelps.
When the panelists were asked to cite passages found in the sacred texts dealing with peace Rabbi Rapport recited from Isaiah: “And they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”
Rapport asked the audience to try to imagine what it was like to live in those times. The swords and implements of war were made from soft metals like bronze or copper but changing these into farming tools took time and effort. And it would also take some time to change them back. “So this implies that your people felt safe. They felt secure. You had time to build something of value, and settle down,” said Rapport. Rev. Phelps said the Sermon on the Mount from The New Testament, “Is all about peace.”
“Here is when Jesus said ‘Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called children of God.’ And Jesus also asked his followers to turn the other cheek, to turn away from anger and to go the second mile,” said Phelps.
Imam Iqbal answered the question by saying “Quran has God telling all mankind that we have created you as male and female and in many tribes and nations. The lesson is not to despise each other. That no one person is better than another. And if anyone comes to you with an offer of peace, then never reject it.”
The panelists concluded with examples of peacemakers from each of the faith traditions. For Muslims, the examples named included human rights activist and 2011 winner of the Nobel Prize Tawakul Karman, Louis Farrakhan and Louisville native Muhammad Ali.
“Every single one of us should be a peace activist,” said Imam Iqbal.
“I’d have to name Saint Francis of Assisi,” replied Rev. Phelps. “But I’d also add André Trocmé who stood up to the German occupation during WWII in France, and Roger Williams who was perhaps America’s first abolitionist,” he continued.
“That’s not to forget Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., but we must remember that his inspiration for nonviolence was learned from Ghandi,” said Rev. Phelps.
“It took a man of peace, King Solomon, to build God’s house,” answered Rabbi Rapport, saying that it couldn’t have been easy to be the son of David, a warrior. Rapport also cited Abraham Heschel and Elie Wiesel, who is quoted as saying “Hope is like peace.”