"Tent of Abraham" Retreat, September 9-12, 2004

Jews, Christians, Muslims at Shalom Center event, 1/13/2005


I. Spiritual/Faith Activities

We journeyed through four fairly distinct paths: sharing our spiritual journeys, sharing our forms of prayer and mediitations, sharing our thoughts about inter-religious connection, and beginning to plan for multireligious action to heal the world.

On Thursday evening and Friday morning, we began by sharing our spiritual journeys, as a way of both getting to know each other and our diverse traditions more deeply, and spiritually enriching ourselves and each other through the speaking and the listening.

On Friday afternoon, we all participated in a traditional Jum'a service. Imam Talib led it, reading verses from the Koran and delivering a powerful sermon on the nature of Prophecy in the past and of the prophetic vision today. Neil (Saadi) Douglas-Klotz delivered the call to prayer, and led in the praying part of the service.

On Friday evening we welcomed Shabbat with Kiddush. Following dinner, Saadi led us in Dances of Universal Peace. These dances were developed originally by a famous Western Sufi teacher, Samuel Lewis.

On Saturday we held a Shabbat service in the morning, led by Rabbi Phyllis Berman in the renewal tradition, with chanting, silent meditation, and reading from the Torah. Towards sundown at the edge of the Hudson River we held the "Ashes, Stones, & Flowers" Litany commemorating the tragedy of 9/11 and remembering the dead of terrorism and war. The text we used for that event is available here:


On Sunday morning we held a Christian Agape (love feast) service, led by Rev. Bob Morris, drawing on New Testament traditions of sharing food (especially bread and grape juice or wine) that preceded and were distinct from the Last Supper/ Eucharist. We sang a Taize chant and some other new and traditional songs appropriate for worship. Thi included a hymn sung beautifully by Cat Stevens ('Morning Has Broken'), who later became a Muslim! — renamed Yusuf Islam.

One of the wonderful aspects of all of these practices and ceremonie was the way that the essence of each tradition was expressed in a manner that allowed all of us to participate without ever feeling uncomfortable or compromised within our own faith. It turns out that this is not only possible, but felt enriching both as a guest in someone else's faith, and as a host in one's own.

And while there were some issues that arose — at times, in an emotional manner — they came up freely, and were addressed openly with the goal of resolving them.

For the women, in particular, the tension between the conservative and progressive points of view about involvement of women in all of our traditions was a source of old pain that occasionally emerged in our weekend together as well.

The gentle and open way these issues were addressed felt very good, and reinforced the sense that this was a meeting place not only of our minds, but of our hearts as well.

II. Themes toward shared thought & action

Between these important spiritual sharing activities, we discussed ideas that unite us as a group - and worked on possibilities for the future. There seemed to be consensus on some broad points:

    * Our faiths have some common roots that can be used as a basi for healing and sharing today.

    * Especially because it began with sharing of our spiritual journeys, our work can proceed at a deep level that most interfaith encounters and dialogues do not reach. From our perspective, this depth is essential to our purpose.

    * Some of us come from traditions where we represent something new and emerging, alongside a more conservative majoritarian view. Our work can support each other, across faith boundaries.

    * Multifaith organizing is a powerful tool, much needed today to confront war, intolerance, poverty, human rights abuses, discrimination and environmental destruction.

    * Our work should be about relationships; it should be learning and experiencing what leads to action. It should involve our faiths at the congregational level, not just leadership.

    * Our work needs to be long term, and thought of in that way from the beginning.

III. Possible joint action

What emerged from the planning sessions was agreement on the following:

    * Around the theme and image of The Tent of Abraham, we seek to move forward on organizing around the confluence of holidays in 2005: Ramadan, the Jewish month of Tishrei (when the High Holy Days, the harvest festival, and the renewal of Torah occur), both beginning October 3 or 4; and St. Francis' Day (October 4).

The goal of our organizing will be to create relational groups that share with us the moral imperative of a covenant among the families of Abraham.

    * In cities where there is interest, at that time, the event will be organized around the relational model. We will be seeking participants to actively sign up in various cities and commit to working on the confluence activities. Committees will also be established at the local level with the intention of working on human rights issues that affect Muslim citizens and immigrants, and other detainees held by our government outside the country as part of the present US wars.

    * We support the 'Tent of Abraham, Hagar, & Sarah' New York Times ad (as revised out of discussions among us) for peacemaking in the broader Middle East, and will re-circulate it asking for others to join, for publication at a later date.

    * Our present efforts are to issue a call, establish a website, and engage in thinking, planning and networking. We also talked about how a print magazine might ultimately be a good avenue for implementing our broader goals.

    * We understand that the spiritual/ religious cannot be divorced from the 'political,' and we will explore what issues we might define a crucial parts of our work and others that we might encourage as part of this effort, offering them as possible themes and encouraging local organizers interested in them to make their own decisions.

    * The issues or approaches that evoked the strongest sense of general support were:

      working on human rights issues that affect Muslim citizens and immigrants and other detainees held by our government inside and outside the country as part of the present US wars;

      encouraging the connections of religious women working together acro religious boundaries; from a multireligious perspective;

      facing the continuing profound issue of racism in USA society;

      and working toward a multireligious Youth Service Corps or project.

    * Among the ideas that evoked support and encouragement to be identified at this point as possible efforts for some or all of the emerging local groups were: (a) the 'Beyond Oil' project soon to be initiated by the Shalom Center (especially since strategic control of oil seems to be at the root of the Iraq war, and much of the world's oil reserves are in Muslim countries); (b) concern for human rights in US prisons.

IV. Planning for Group Continuity

    * To advance and deepen our agenda, we will plan a second retreat to take place on January 28-30. We will extend invitations to reach 20 confirmations. It is important that our group continue to be gender balanced, and continue to include a serious proportion of people of color - recognizing that race cannot be an afterthought in our organizing. We are also interested in younger participants, and, if it' possible, geographic representation at least across the US.

    * A Gathering Statement will be drafted and placed on our website, as focal point for our initial efforts. It will address the moral imperative of the Abrahamic Covenant.

    * We will be careful not to rush towards institutionalizing or ending our planning/ideas phase until more people have been included successfully.

    * We created committees to advance these plans:

    * The Ramadan/ Tishrei/ St Francis confluence: Talib, Anne, Arthur

    * Web/List: Saadi will set up a list, and is prepared to establish a basic website and help us locate a web designer for additional help.

    * Inviting others for next retreat: Vincent, Arthur, Meena, Elizabeth. This committee will pay attention to our composition as a group, and to how best to invite new people. We agreed that all of u were welcome to send recommendations to this committee for their consideration. The committee will then present a proposed list to the full group before invitations are actually issued.

    * Women's Trialogue Peace Network: Bobbi, Meena, Elizabeth.

    * Youth Service Corps (including hip-hop generation) : Vincent, Anne

    * Protection of human rights, with emphasis on Muslim citizens, immigrants, and detainees: Talib and/or his recruit, Arthur and/or hi recruit.

    * Planning for January retreat: Bob, Phyllis, Saadi.

    * Bob will draft the Gathering Statement, it will be reviewed by Arthur, and will then passed on to the entire group for additional comments, then going back to Bob for revision.


Please take some time to think about your interfaith experiences in the past, comparing them to this retreat. Write something that reflects your impressions and understanding, and include notes about what works best in your experience. The due date for this is October 1st.

Some of you have already distributed the Tent of Abraham New York Time ad to your lists. Thank you!

Please send in names of people you think would be good to invite to the next retreat in January. Send them to Arthur, Vincent, Meena, and Elizabeth at: Awaskow@aol.com

We ended with thanks to the Garrison Institute for warm and pleasant hospitality and to the Ford Foundation for its generous grant support.


Rabbi Phyllis Berman,
director of the Riverside Language Program, a school for adult immigrants and refugeees from all over the world, and director of the Summer program of Elat Chayyim.

Barbara Breitman,
MCSW, co-directors of the Center for Jewish Spiritual Direction.

Rabbi Andrea Cohen-Kiener,
leader of the Compassionate Listening Program for Israelis and Palestinians.

Neil Douglas-Klotz,
co-director of the Edinburgh Institute for Advanced Learning; a Murshid in the Sufi Ruhaniat International; author of a number of books on ancient Middle Eastern spirituality and on the Gnostic gospels.

Vincent Harding,
Illiffe School of Theology, a Quaker theologian with roots in the nonviolent civil rights movement.

Charles Lenchner,
National Organizer for The Shalom Center.

Sister Anne McCarthy,
OSB (Benedictine sisters of Erie, PA), Director, Center for Social Concerns, Gannon University, and former executive director, Pax Christi.

Rev. Robert Morris,
Episcopal priest and director of Interweave, an interreligious group in New Jersey.

Will OBrien, editor of The Other Side (progressive Christian magazine published in Philadelphia),
organizers of "Word and World" grass-roots school in applying religious tradition to public issues.

Rev. Elizabeth Reed of the Shalem Center
Columbus, Ohio (dedicated to wholistic healing and growth from an interspiritual perspective;
member, Sufi Ruhaniat International.

Imam Talib Abdur Rashid,
Mosque of the Islamic Brotherhood, Harlem, NY.

Meena Sharify-Funk,
School of International Studies, American University.

Rabbi Arthur Waskow,
The Shalom Center.

Resources - how we can help each other
Help in publishing progressive faith articles, or reaching journalists/audiences.
Retreat locations. Invitations to speak. Web links.

Reading list
Ornament of the World There is a River - Vincent Harding
Blood and Oil - Michael Klare
Democracy Matters - Cornell West Ali Shariati - Hajj
The Twilight of American Culture - Morris Berman Paul:
Radical Jew - Daniel Boyarin

Web sites worth visiting - in no particular order

The Other Side

Elat Chayyim

The Shalom Center


Erie Benedictines

Pax Christi USA

Fellowship of Reconciliation

Gamaliel Foundation

Earth Force

Spiritual Directors International

The Academy for Spiritual Formation

The Upper Room Publications

Edinburgh Festival of Middle Eastern Spirituality and Peace

International Association of Sufism www.ias.org

United Religions Initiative

International Network for Dances of Universal Peace

The Temple of Understanding

Harlem Congregations for Community Improvement

Rabbis for Human Rights

Religious Working Group on the World Bank and IMF

Clergy Leadership Network
www.clnnlc.org P

rogressive Faith Media (no website)

Methodist Federation for Social Action

Islamic Society of North America

International Institute of Islamic Thought
www.iiit.org <http://www.iiit.org

Interfaith Conference of DC - IFC

Office of Religious Freedom

Faith and Policy Forum, DC
- unclear

Center for the Study of the Presidency - American Muslim Project Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy.
President's report, very informative:

NED NDI Muslim Dialogue Project Hands across the Nile Project United States Institute of Peace,
Special Initiative on the Muslim World

USIP - religious peace making project:

USIP Abrahamic Trialogues

IPI peacebuilding institutions in the Muslim world Concerned Philosophers for Peace

Gandhi Memorial Center, DC

The American Muslim Alliance

The Majlis Ash-Shura of NY
The Harlem Shura
The Muslim Consultants Network
A Partnership of Faith in NYC

Interfaith Center of NY

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