Religious Literacy Academy
Around 1400 years ago, in the year 610 A.D., the Arabic merchant Mohammed ibn Abdallah climbed a mountain near his hometown Mecca to meditate in the solitude of the desert. There "halfway up" the rock, the archangel Gabriel appeared to him and commanded him to proclaim the faith in the one and only God. At least that is what Mohammed's most important biographer Ibn Ishaqs later tells us, who wrote the Sirat Rasul Allah, the oldest surviving biography of Mohammed less than 150 years after Mohammed's death.
As a missionary, diplomat and conqueror, Mohammed spread Islam on the Arabic Peninsula. Within a few decades after Mohammed's death, his successors carried the new faith through the deserts of North Africa to Spain and in the east to the Indus. In the following centuries, the world religion expanded even further, so that today Muslims live in Near and Central Asia, the Indian subcontinent, Southeast Asia, East Africa, Europe, and the Balkans. Today, there are approximately 1.8 billion Muslims around the world, about 24% of the world’s population.
Islam (literally “submission to God”) is a monotheistic religion. Despite fractions among different Muslim communities, for example the conflict between Sunnis and Shias, the followers are united by the faith one God and in Mohammed as the messenger of this one God. Muslims understand God to be the Creator and Ruler of the entire universe, the ultimate Judge of all human beings, and to be characterized above all by the qualities of compassion and mercy. Islam gives hope to the faithful, because it promises them - similar to Christian teaching - a life in the hereafter. The one who has spent his existence on earth in God-pleasing ways will go to heaven after the judgment at the end of all days.
The Quran (“recitation”) is the Holy Book of Islam, which is arranged in 114 surahs. Muslims understand the Quran to be the word of God revealed to Mohammed. Quranic teachings are considered to be the core of the Islamic tradition and hence the text has been the subject of many voluminous commentaries by religious scholars, ranging from conservative to reformist and liberal interpretations. The Islamic doctrine of faith has a second source of religious norms: the Sunnah ("customary action, established custom"). The Sunnah is the prophetic tradition, which is based on eyewitness records of Prophet Mohammed’s words, actions, and approbations, and is described in Hadiths. Many Muslims base their lives on it, because besides the Quran it is the most important source of knowledge about their religion. It describes what their prophet Mohammed said or did, how he acted in certain situations and what he considered wrong and right.
The Quran, the Sunna and the Hadith are the major sources of the Islamic law (sharia), which touches on virtually every aspect of life and society, from banking and welfare to the environment. Fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) and ijtihad (independent juristic reasoning) help to interpret Sharia. The multitude of sources and different understandings of how to apply ijitihad lead to the fact that Sharia is not a unitary legal system; but rather it is open to various interpretations, again ranging from conservative to reformist interpretations.
The whole community of Muslims is called Umma. Every member of the Umma should practice the five pillars of Islam: the profession of faith in the one God and in Mohammed as his messenger (Shahada), the prayer (Salat) five times a day facing Mecca, giving alms (zakat), i.e. donating a fixed portion of one’s income to community members in need, fasting during Ramadan (sawm) in order to renew one’s awareness of and gratitude for everything God has provided, and last but not least, the pilgrimage to Mecca (hajj). The end point of the hajj is the Kaaba, a black cuboid building, in the center of the Great Mosque of Mecca – which is the center of Islam because Mohammed was born in Mecca.
Islam does not have strictly organized hierarchy. Instead, numerous scholars play an important role in interpreting the Quran and the obligations and commandments that a Muslim should adhere to. Muslim children learn about them when they go to a Quranic school, a madrasa. Alternatively, Muslims can study the Quran together with an Imam, the leader of the Muslim house of worship, the mosque. Mosques are easily recognizable by the minaret tower, from where the muezzin calls the believers to prayer five times a day.
Brahma Kumaris is a worldwide spiritual movement dedicated to personal transformation and world renewal. Founded in India in 1937 by Prajapita Brahma Baba, Brahma Kumaris has spread to over 110 countries on all continents and has been working in many sectors as an international NGO. The spiritual headquarters, which is called Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual University, is located in Mount Abu, Rajasthan in India. Activities of international interest are coordinated regionally from offices in London, Moscow, Nairobi, New York and Sydney.
Brahma Kumaris is not a classical faith-based organization. According Tamasin Ramsay on Oxford Bibliographies, scholars categorize the organization in three ways: as a millenarian New Religious Movement, as a new religion, and as a Hindu sect. By contrast, the Brahma Kumaris members identify their community as a family (with spiritual kin), a school (for spiritual learning), and a hospital (to heal spiritual illness). They do not see themselves as belonging to a religion, but to a teaching institution or a spiritual path that has been established to restore human souls to their original purity, thereby restoring the world.
Brahma Kumaris understands the importance of helping individuals to shift their view on the world from a materialistic to a spiritual perspective and to develop a deep collective consciousness in environmental issues. As such, the organization focuses on different areas of activities for example spiritual education, the environment and renewable energy, engaging the youth and empowering women and men.
The Brahma Kumaris Environment Initiative is one of their greatest commitments to environmental policies and is based on five main principles: Living with simplicity, Buying Compassionately, Using economically, Learning continuously and Sharing generously. This initiative encourages greater understanding of the role of consciousness and lifestyle in environmental issues, through dialogues, partnerships, participation in UN conferences and local initiatives.
Brahma Kumaris delegates attend the COPs of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change as well as conferences by the UN Environment Program, where their message is “Conscious and Climate Change” trying to raise the level of awareness and change attitudes. In the Indian-based “Awareness and Training Centre”, the Environment Initiative offers workshops and trainings that are aimed at empowering individuals and communities by focusing on important values needed for changing their lifestyles.
Since the mid 90's, Brahma Kumaris has become one of the key developers and promoters of renewable energies in India. With Indian and German government support the organization has carried out various research and development projects. They work on the development and distribution of solar steam cooking systems, photovoltaic systems and other technologies for renewable energy. They have distributed more than 20,000 solar lanterns, 500 home light systems and 400 solar cooking boxes along the years.
Brahma Kumaris means ‘daughters of Brahma'. Brahma Kumaris is the largest spiritual organization in the world led by women. It was the founder, Prajapita Brahma Baba, who chose to put women in front from the very beginning, and it has set Brahma Kumaris apart on the stage of the world's religions and spiritual organizations.
The Brahma Kumaris runs on voluntary contributions, both financial and in kind. Students of the organization contribute regularly in support of the work. Funds from philanthropists, national or international agencies are sometimes received for humanitarian and environmental initiatives, in such fields as solar energy projects, health and education. The organization now has approximately one million adherents worldwide.
Faith and Development in the next 60 days
13 February 2020
Webinar on Secular and Religious Dynamics in Humanitarian Response
In the webinar, Dr. Olivia J. Wilkinson discusses her book: “Secular and Religious Dynamics in Humanitarian Response.” The book teases out the reasons why humanitarians are reluctant to engage with “messy” cultural dynamics within the communities they work with and explores how this phenomenon can lead to strained or broken relationships with disaster-affected populations and inappropriate disaster assistance.
14 - 16 February 2020
EcoSikh Forest Making Workshop, Mandi Gobindgarh, India
EcoSikh hosts a free 3-day intensive hands-on training on forest planting in the walls of Baba Banda Singh Bahadur Engineering College in India.
27 February 2020
Webinar on “Faith in Beijing+25 and the UN Commission on the Status of Women: Advocacy at the UN in New York”
On the occasion of the 64th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women, the Joint Learning Initiative on Faith and Local Communities hosts a webinar that will focus on different ways to influence country delegations during the Session.
9 - 20 March 2020
64th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women, New York, United States
Held under the theme “Beijing +25: Realizing gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls”, the session will focus on the review of the implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and the outcomes of the 23rd special session of the General Assembly. The review will include the empowerment of women and its contribution towards the full realization of the 2030 Agenda.
2 April - 27 May 2020
Wilmette Online Learning Course: Preparing for Interfaith Dialogue
The Online Baha’i Learning Centre “Wilmette Institute”, is organizing a preparation course for the participation in interfaith dialogue. Participants will study documents about the interfaith movement and explore opportunities for coming together with like-minded people of faith (and of no faith) to find ways to understand each other better and to serve humanity together.
Insights and Perspectives
This study examines faith actor roles in Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health (ASHR) and partnerships between faith-based, governmental, and intergovernmental actors that promote access to ASRH services and information. The study includes an analysis of the opportunities, challenges, and lessons that enhance partnership effectiveness.
Based on the Beirut Declaration and its commitments on “Faith for Rights”, this toolkit aims to implement the “Faith for Rights” framework into practical peer-to-peer learning and enriching capacity building programs. It suggests prototypes of peer-to-peer learning modules, exploring the relationship between religions, beliefs and human rights, and provides approaches that are adapted to faith actors, civil society representatives and educational institutions.
This study analyses the multidimensional roles local churches play in responding to protracted crises in conflict-affected fragile states. It also provides an important and little-documented church perspective on faith-based organizations’ distinctive contribution to holistic well-being. The research focuses on four themes, including the impacts of conflict on the local church, the roles the church takes on in responding to conflicts, the churches’ motivations for responding, and the church’s own perspectives on barriers, constraints and opportunities for engagement.
In October 2019, KAICIID convened more than 190 faith leaders, policymakers, state actors, civil society and human rights representatives, journalists, educators, and dialogue practitioners in Vienna to discuss ways of recognizing and fighting the growing global phenomenon of hate speech. The international conference entitled, “The Power of Words: The Role of Religion, Media and Policy in Countering Hate Speech” comes at a time when the phenomenon is disrupting social cohesion, undermining pluralism, and destroying lives around the world.
Explanatory Position Paper: Reducing Suffering During Armed Conflict: The Interface Between Buddhism and International Humanitarian Law, as Background for an International Conference of the International Committee of the Red Cross, 2019.
From 4 - 6 September 2019, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) organized a conference on “Reducing Suffering During Armed Conflict: The Interface Between Buddhism and International Humanitarian Law (IHL)”. During the event connections between Buddhism and IHL were explored and a constructive dialogue and exchange between the two domains was encouraged. The conference aimed to act as a springboard to understanding how Buddhism can contribute to regulating armed conflict, and what it offers in terms of guidance on the conduct of, and behavior during, war for Buddhist monks and lay persons – the latter including government and military personnel, non-State armed groups and civilians.