Clergy Beyond Borders held its inaugural “Inter-Religious Dialogue and Reconciliation Awards” ceremony on October 31. In a time of increasing need for interfaith understanding and conflict resolution, CBB, as a relatively young organization, honored three individuals from the Maryland area who have made sustained contributions to the field: Imam Bashar Arafat, Reverend Toni Fish and Rabbi David Shneyer:
Imam M. Bashar Arafat
Imam Arafat convenes the annual interfaith youth leadership conferences, “Better Understanding for a Better World,” as well as “Partners in the Work of Peacemaking” conferences for clergy. Born and raised in Damascus, Syria, he served as Imam in Damascus and in Baltimore and now serves as president of the Islamic Affairs Council of Maryland. He teaches college-level courses in Islam in ecumenical settings and offers interfaith education across the U.S. and around the world. Imam Arafat founded the Civilizations Exchange and Cooperation Foundation, based in Baltimore, MD, to promote cooperation among different religions. Among its programs is religious and cultural training for international exchange students.
Reverend Toni Fish
Rev. Toni Fish has served as the Spiritual Leader for Unity in Frederick in Frederick, MD, since 2001. In 2005, working with the Association for Global New Thought, she introduced the Season for Peace and Nonviolence program to Frederick, to bring education and awareness of the principles of non-violence and interfaith cooperation to that community. She has worked with local faith leaders to bring joint celebrations and events to Frederick. Toni’s call to these principles began during her 20-year odyssey as an international technology security consultant as she explored the issues of business and community in the diverse cultures and faiths of our world.
Rabbi David Shneyer
Rabbi David Shneyer’s communities are members of Interfaith Works, a community social justice ministry serving Montgomery County. His band, the Fabrangen Fiddlers, has performed at numerous interfaith events including the annual concert of the Interfaith Conference of Greater Washington, DC. He directs the ecumenical Sanctuary Retreat Center (Beallsville, MD). Rabbi David organized A Spirit Fest at Sanctuary celebrating the spiritual traditions of several communities. His additional interfaith efforts include the annual Prayer Vigil for the Earth; Am Kolel’s “Daughters of Abraham” project, an effort to bring together Jewish, Christian and Muslim teenagers to learn about each others’ faith heritages and do community service together; annual invitations to Christian and Muslim speakers to address congregants attending High Holiday services; many dialogues and conferences over the years. Rabbi David is also a member of a new interfaith advisory group working with the U.S. Department of Education.
A Vibrant Gathering
Participants had an opportunity to celebrate the on-going work of these three religious leaders and participate in musical prayers from the three faith traditions.
Imam Arafat led the community in a Sufi chant in Arabic, “there is no God but God,” while he chanted the 99 names of God and a verse in the Qu’ran describing the brotherhood of all people.
Reverend Fish led the community in an singing “…Hatred cannot dispel hatred…only love can do that.”
Rabbi Shneyer led songs from the Psalms, “Chesed u’mishpat ashirah… of love and justice I will sing; to you, O God, I’ll sing praises.”
All three awardees joined in leading another of Rabbi Shneyer’s tunes, words from the 150th Psalm: “Halleluyah [Praise God]…Kol haneshamah tehallel Yah [All souls (breath) praise God].”
The room was filled with what we used to call “good vibrations” — both beautiful musical sound waves and great positive energy. As the US struggled through the close of a most contentious election season, this small event offered strong moments of hope for the future. Imam Bashar, Reverend Toni and Rabbi David have been at the forefront of inter-religious dialogue and reconciliation. With the help of such individuals, CBB is building on these positive foundations to develop a collective voice, using the resources of each faith tradition to promote peace, justice and increased understanding.
Domestic Caravan for Reconciliation
Participants in the awards program also learned about CBB’s plans for the coming year. Among new programs highlighted was the “CBB Caravan,” a cross-country interfaith Journey of Reconciliation for the USA. While CBB continues to work on training interfaith teams for faith-based approaches to reconciliation around the world, the current climate in the US suggests that much work is also to be done domestically.
More news of this program will be coming soon. Meanwhile, please let CBB know if your community in the US would be interested in hosting an interfaith team.
The October 31 awards event was held at the Gaitherburg Community Center in Gaithersburg, Maryland.
Check back for pictures and video.
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