Faith & Works Episode Two: Is America Losing Its Religion?

Faith & Works Episode Two

Bob Bruttell, Saeed Khan and Reverend Robert B. Jones Sr. discuss what religion means in the American context. The function of America has been formed by the presence of many different religious traditions and understandings. Continuing on the theme of what religion is becoming, the group asks if America is losing religion or if in fact it never left?

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Meet The Panelists

Robert Bruttell

Robert Bruttell

Panelist

Robert Bruttell is Vice Chairman of the InterFaith Leadership Council of Metropolitan Detroit and Vice chairman of the Ecumenical Theological Seminary, Detroit. He is Adjunct professor of religious studies and history, University of Detroit Mercy and a member, Christ the King Parish (Roman Catholic)

Saeed Khan

Saeed Khan

Panelist

Saeed A. Khan is currently in the Department of History and Lecturer in the Department of Near East & Asian Studies at Wayne State University-Detroit, Michigan, where he teaches Islamic and Middle East History, Islamic Civilizations and History of Islamic Political Thought. Mr. Khan is also a Research Fellow at Wayne State University’s Center for the Study of Citizenship. He is also Adjunct Professor in Islamic Studies at the University of Detroit-Mercy and at Rochester College, co-teaching a course on Muslim-Christian Diversity.

With areas of focus including US policy, globalization, Middle East and Islamic Studies, as well as genomics and bioethics, Mr. Khan has been a contributor to several media agencies, such as C-Span, NPR, Voice of America and the National Press Club, as well as newspapers and other outlets, and is also a consultant on Islamic and Middle East affairs for the BBC and the CBC. In addition, he has served as consultant to the US-Arab Economic Forum. Mr. Khan has founded the Center for the Study of Trans-Atlantic Diasporas, a think tank and policy center examining and comparing the condition of ethnic immigrant groups in North America and Europe, consulting the US and UK governments on their respective Muslim communities. Most recently, Mr. Khan has become co-host of the radio show “Detroit Today” on Detroit Public Radio.

Saeed Khan

Saeed Khan

Panelist

Rev. Robert Jones, Sr. is a native Detroiter and an inspirational storyteller and musician celebrating the history, humor and power of American Roots music. His deep love for traditional African American and American traditional music is shared inlive performances that interweave timeless stories with original and traditional songs.

For more than thirty years Robert has entertained and educated audiences of all ages in schools, colleges, libraries, union halls, prisons, churches and civil rights organizations. At the heart of his message is the belief that our cultural diversity tells a story that should celebrate, not just tolerate. 

 

 

IFLC Welcomes New Board Members

Rev. Gerald Cardwell

Venk Hollabbi

Asim Khan

Lisa Mason

As we continue to grow our mission of bringing educational resources to Metro Detroit in order to foster better understanding between religious communities, educate the Metro Detroit community about the spiritual and religious practices of our neighbors in order to build a more beloved and resilient community, the Detroit Interfaith Leadership Council welcomes four noteable members to its board: 

  • Rev. Gerald Cardwell is an Ordained Itinerant Elder in the African Methodist Episcopal Church and is an Associate Minister at Oak Grove A.M.E. Church in Detroit.  He is the former pastor of Community A.M.E. Church in Ecorse; St. John A.M.E. Church in River Rouge; and Quinn Chapel A.M.E. Church in Flint.  He served as Chair of the Metropolitan Christian Council of Detroit and Windsor Advisory Board and served on the board of the International Christian Education Association of Michigan.  He is the former Director of Clergy Relations for Michigan Faith in Action, a social justice organization headquartered in Flint. Rev. Cardwell is also a Retired Major serving in the United States Army Reserves.  He is a former accountant, field service manager and national dealer auditor for the Cadillac Division of General Motors and has worked as a new and used sales and leasing consultant for Detroit Area Cadillac Dealerships. Rev. Cardwell lives in Southfield, Michigan and has been married to his wife Betty for forty-nine years. Together they a son and a daughter and three grandchildren.
  • Venkatesh Hollabbi is a community leader and a long-term resident of Canton Michigan. He has been a Balavihar Teacher (Sunday School for children) for over 25 years for
    Hindu culture and Self Unfoldment for high schoolers in Michigan. He holds several adult study groups in SE Michigan. He is a founder member of Canton
    Balavihar (Sunday School for children). He is well known in the Hindu community in Michigan and with many temples and religious faith communities.
     Hollabbi holds a Bachelor Degree in Mechanical/Aerospace engineering and an MBA. He has held various Managerial positions for 25 years in the areas of Product Planning and program
    Management, Product Development in Ford Motor Company and the Boeing Company. Recently, Hollabbi completed a two-year Residential Vedanta course (detailed study of
    Hindu philosophy) at Sandeepany Sadhanalaya in India and in the Himalayas. Venk and his wife Veena left a lucrative career at the Boeing Company and Public Library jobs to
    pursue Vedic studies full time.
  • Asim Khan is a board member of Michigan Muslim Community Council (MMCC). Khan is originally from India and did his MSEE and MBA from Wayne State. He is involved in Diversity and Inclusion efforts in Farmington Area Interfaith Group and also at Ford Interfaith Network. He is the founding member of Tawheed Center Mosque and Chair of the Outreach Committee there. He has also served on the board for MCM/ICA – Michigan Community Mosque/Islamic Cultural Association in Farmington Hills and has also served on the board of Islamic Huda School in Franklin, Michigan. A cost engineer at the Ford Motor Company, he lives with his wife and three children in Farmington Hills.  
  • Lisa Mason is Vice President of Program Partnerships at Greater Detroit Area Health Council. With over a decade in healthcare management, Mason serves as head of IFLC’s healthcare committee, informing clergy about mental and physical healthcare resources for them and their congregants. Lisa enjoys contributing her time and talents to the community, currently serving as a board member of Common Ground, an Oakland County crisis intervention and support services agency and Partners for Health, a product of Neighborhood Services Organization aimed at helping the most vulnerable patients with complex medical needs.  Lisa is a long-time volunteer at the Detroit Institute of Arts, where she has served in a number of leadership positions, and at Manna Meal, a soup kitchen in Detroit. Lisa resides in Royal Oak with her husband; they have three adult children and three teen-age grandsons.

IFLC Welcomes Imaan Singh to its staff

IFLC welcomes Imaan Singh to its staff. Singh’s primary role will help bolster IFLC’s grants and sponsorship funding. 

Singh is a public health major and global health and social medicine minor at Wayne State University. She serves as the  State Lead for Khalsa Aid International Michigan Chapter. Established 21 years ago, Khalsa Aid International strives to provide direct and immediate humanitarian relief around the world to refugees as well as victims of natural and manmade disaster and conflict areas. Khalsa Aid International’s mission is based upon the Sikh principle of “Recognise the whole human race as one.”

Singh said she is greatful for her work with Khalsa, which has given her the opportunity to work with people from all different backgrounds to develop her communications skills.

“I wanted to take what I learned from Khalsa Aid and apply it to my work at IFLC,” said Singh. “I hope to create more awareness about the diverse cultures and religions throughout Metropolitan Detroit. I am a strong believer in giving back to the community and would like my career to reflect that.”

Outside of her professional pursuits, Singh, who grew up in West Bloomfield, enjoys playing the Dilruba, an Indian classical instrument, for 11 years. She’s also an avid Detroit Pistons fan

 

IFLC Leaders March, Speak out against racism and Police Brutality

Like many faith leaders in Metro Detroit, IFLC board members Stancy Adams, Robert Bruttell and  Raman Singh hoped to change hearts and minds

as they attended faith-based protests and vigils over the past week on Woodward Avenue in Detroit and on the grounds of the Muslim Unity Center to speak out and reflect upon the racial profiling and police brutality that most recently led to the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minn.

“There was a positive presence and a prayerful nature at these events,” said IFLC President Singh, who has marched many times in her life for civil rights. “There is a time for marching and yelling, but there is also a time to reflect and be prayerful.  What I learned from this past weekend is you don’t become an activist overnight. But you can be mindful. You can make changes on an individual basis and examine your own biases and behavior.”

Singh said after the marches, protesters can return to their faith communities and congregations and begin to have the conversations to “root out racism wherever it is found.”  Another way faith communities can help to affect change is to partner with other civic organizations that are helping with voter registration and making sure there is ease of access to voting this November.

Singh said that the purpose of being part of a religious community is to provide human services wherever they are needed. Right now, Singh said, religious groups can stand with the protesters and service can include providing food and water.  For example, the Sikh community in New York City and elsewhere came out and prepared huge, portable feasts for the protesters. Locally, Michigan Gurdwaras served meals to protesters in Detroit through Aasra Food Pantry , Seva Truck , and Khalsa Aid grocery distribution. This coming weekend, the community will be partnering  Saturday with New Era Detroit to support the activists.

As a woman in her 50’s with aging parents in town, Singh is aware that partaking in these civil rights protests during a pandemic comes with risks.  To minimize exposure, she said she and other IFLC members hung back from the crowds and stayed across the street from those marching on Woodward Ave. Most activists wore masks, she said.

The gathering at the Muslim Unity Center in Bloomfield Hills on Sunday, June 7 was limited to 100 people. Singh, who is Sikh, spoke as a representative of the Mata Tripta Ji Gurdwara Sahib. (see photograph at right).

“Over and over again in the holy scripture of the Sikhs it says that God does not recognize race, gender, ethnicity or caste,” she said. “God only recognizes the oneness of your soul.  It asks Sikhs to follow this teaching and stand up for justice. Therefore, Sikhs are automatically for Black lives.”

Other religious and civic leaders who spoke included:

Mark Crain -Dream of Detroit Executive Director and senior advisor at MoveOn

 

Imam Mika’il Stewart – Muslim Center Detroit Associate Imam

Imam Al-Masmari, Muslim Unity Center

Rabbi Sam Englander, Community Outreach Manager of AJC/JCRC Detroit

Pastor Aramis D. Hinds, Breakers Covenant Church International

 

Speaking again about taking chances by coming to speak out against social injustices amid a pandemic, Singh referred back to Crain’s words, who described the founders of the world’s great religions were “risk-takers and disrupters.”

“Whatever faith you follow, there are teachings and texts in your religion that compel us to face injustice. And sometimes, doing what is just comes with taking a risk.”

My Aching Heart

Rev. Dr. Jimmie Wafer

We are living in a scary reality, which is an exhibition of the foundational racist threads that permeates and supports the fabric of America’s soul. The insatiable thread of racial hate seeks to steal, kill, and destroy the essence of black lives by blatantly murdering a black man on the world-wide screen in broad daylight. And that hateful, murderous, racist, xenophobic, misogynist, and evil thread put a knee of the neck of George Floyd to feed the destructive racist thread that exposes the DNA of white superiority. Since 1619, Black men and women have suffered the rising and ebbing of an American spirit that finds satisfaction in killing those who gave precious blood, sweat, and tears for the development and accumulation of wealth.

Black Lives are valuable, but in this country, Black and brown lives suffer under the influence of small hateful minds who embrace visceral hate for Black lives.

 Our country is susceptible to the viruses of covid-19 and rabid racism, and both cause premature death in vulnerable people. What does it mean for citizens to live as an essential part of a society that consistently violates, hates, marginalizes, and murders them indiscriminately? Here we are protesting and declaring that “enough is enough” after centuries of systemic and structural relationships that offer fear, oppression, destruction, and death for Black folk. After 400 plus years of various forms of slavery, Black and brown people are experiencing degrees of devastating racism, hate, ignorance, and arrogance that the sovereign of the universe probably struggles to comprehend. In front of a church with a bible in hand, a divisive figure stood spouting empty words in search of the authority to demand order that would quiet the cries, moans, and disenchantment of a hurting populous. The protestors are requesting change not found in the sanctity of the second amendment, and the bold threat of military action is old school and not an incentive to get off the streets and behave orderly. Historic America is struggling to maintain a level of injustice that sanctions death by kneeling on the necks of Black and brown people. If America is to survive and prosper,  we must minimize and eradicate those destructive foundational threads of hate that hide in the DNA of the nation and fosters the desires to kill the truth that Black Lives Matter. Collectively, are we willing to witness the destruction of America so that the lie of white superiority might live another day? By faith, the superior power of LOVE is exposing and breaking the racist threads that permeate and support the fabric of America’s soul. My soul cries out that Black Lives Matter because I am Rev. Dr. Jimmie Talas Wafer, a Black citizen of America , but it matters most that the sovereign of the universe knows and loves me as a Black Man of justice, hope, love, joy, and peace! 

Rev. Dr. Jimmie Talas Wafer is Pastor of New Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church and Board member, Ecumenical Theological Seminary and IFLC

 

IFLC Reacts to Death of George Floyd

IFLC Reacts to Death of George Floyd

Fourth night of protests against police brutality in Detroit (credit: ClickonDetroit)

It has happened again. Another black man killed by police. George Floyd murdered before our eyes in Minneapolis. It happened as we are enduring the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and its devastation on the world’s population. The pandemic itself has revealed the ongoing racism and segregation that restricts health care, education, job opportunities and housing for black, brown, and other people of color. We see both the sharp, deadly brutality inflicted upon people of color by law enforcement officers as well as others and the slow corrosive racism that inflicts another kind of violence. People are angry – especially black people who are justifiably angry.

During this crisis the InterFaith Leadership Council is determined to be Resilient and not turn away from the racist evidence before our eyes.

Four years ago, the InterFaith Leadership Council, together with leading faith and human relations leaders, developed a “Commitment to be Resilient” to combat the rise of religious intolerance and hatred following the 2016 presidential election. All the while since then expressions of hate and incivility have increased in society. The need to promote resilience is even more compelling today, as we recognize that black lives continue to be threatened by violence and the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. We will again join with our partners, other faith and human relations leaders, to be allies, as we address the segregation that is so toxic and to clearly identify the racism that we must combat together.

Please read the reflection below written by of our African American board members, Reverends Stancy Adams and Jimmie Wafer. White folks often do not see how wrenching racism is to the people whom it affects directly. They are heart-wrenching and offer a perspective we all can benefit from. We will also feature the perspectives from other religious traditions within our IFLC family.

 

Commitment to be Resilient

 

I believe

that we are called to lift each other up,

that we are stronger standing together,

that our differences are a blessing,

that empathy and love reveal the path to peace,

and that justice will prevail,

because each of us is Beloved.

Therefore, I commit to

answer intolerance with goodwill,

live by faith and hope, not fear,

seek understanding and friendship whenever I can,

stand with those facing prejudice and injustice,

meet resistance with resiliency as I build the Beloved Community

each day.  

Ramadan under Coronavirus: A Perspective from Donna Jawad

From a personal and a community standpoint, The Holy month of Ramadan is certainly different this year.
There will be no family gatherings, whether they be immediate or extended. My children and their families will not be coming over as we usually do during this, the holiest month on the Muslim calendar. My son, who lives in Los Angeles, will not be coming home this year.
As of now, there are no Eid celebrations planned.  And I don’t see any happening.
 There are a few birthdays coming up in my family which we will not be able to physically gather. Instead, we will face time to celebrate Ramadan April and May birthdays virtually.
The Islamic Center of America will hold virtual lectures every night. But no community prayer. We will stay connected by social media and sharing photos and videos. Many of us are also getting pretty savvy at using Zoom and are incorporating this technology into our observance.
We have been able to get many of the Ramadan foods but the lines were long. Special desserts made during Ramadan may be hard to come by.
Islamic Center of America has delivered hundreds of food boxes to many needy families and in the coming weekends, they will be passing out boxes of food again.
Even though many of the traditions of Ramadan will be missed this year, one thing for certain you can still read Qu’ran, do your prays, and listen to lectures all from home. Which we may find a deeper connection with God this year being isolated from one another.

Donna Jawad is Community outreach coordinator for the Michigan Center for Contextual Factors in Alzheimer’s disease

She is also a member and event coordinator of the Islamic Center of America in Dearborn. 

First RDJ Anywhere receives Positive Takeaways

On April 22, teachers, IFLC volunteers and the Muslim Unity Center in Bloomfield Hills embarked on a pioneering effort in order to continue to teach its student ambassadors about the world’s major religions.

In our age of physical distancing to slow the spread of Coronavirus, our schoolchildren are feeling the brunt of the necessary isolation. They miss their routines as well as engaging with friends and different students in their classrooms, and especially special opportunities to learn through hands-on field trips such as the kind Religious Diversity Journey provides.

IFLC Staff and volunteers were not quite sure how the first RDJ Anywhere would turn out. But in the end, the virtual trip welcomed 108 students (with some of their parents joining on the Zoom call) representing 14 schools. That meant that six of the seven 2019-2020 cohorts for the RDJ program participated across six school districts and one Detroit Charter School.

RDJ Anywhere started with a welcoming presentation from Muslim Unity Center member and longtime RDJ volunteer Rouzana Hares and a thoughtful question and answer session between students and Imam Mohammed Almasmari, RDJ continues to fulfill its mission of teaching 7th graders in metro Detroit about other faiths.

According to feedback following the event, here are some takeaways from students:

There are lots of similarities Islam has with other religions

I found it interesting that Muslims believe that Jesus was a prophet.

I learned that when you go to a service you are all together and they don’t care about what you look like skin color or culture you are the same to them so they have everyone stand shoulder to shoulder.

I learned that people of the Muslim community were brilliant inventors and that the things that they made we still use today.

One of the schools included the alma mater of Imam Almasmari. Students from Holbrook Elementary in Hamtramck gave a special thanks to Almasmari, and his teacher, Sheila Flowers, was so glad to see him and proud of him that he grew up to serve his religious community in adulthood.

Here are some reasons why students (and one parent) liked RDJ Anywhere:

I liked that RDJ is taking initiative to teach us about Islam even through these hard times.

I liked that we were together, even if it was virtual. I have felt so alone.

Even though we can’t be together, we can still learn new things.

I liked that we were able to ask questions in this meeting like we usually do in any RDJ journey but this time virtually.

 I could connect to the Muslim faith leaders and say hi to my classmates.

I liked how even in the middle of this crisis, RDJ still found a way to have this meeting the opportunity to immerse myself and family in different cultures from home.

As a parent, I am glad this opportunity was offered for the kids. We loved the real field trips, and I’m appreciative that the kids can at least do them virtually now.

In May, RDJ Anywhere will continue sharing more resources with its RDJ teachers and students. There will be a virtual visit to the Hindu Temple of Canton and perhaps the Detroit Institute of the Arts and the Holocaust Memorial Center.

Ramadan During Coronavirus

Ramadan During Coronavirus

Photo Credit: The Forward

Just as Jews and Christians experienced a strange emptiness as they tried to create a feeling of community during Passover and Easter through the use of video conferencing technology, now Muslims confront celebrating the holiest month on the Islamic calendar from a social distance as Ramadan begins sundown Friday, April 24. 

For the last 15 years, Ramadan for Rouzana Hares of Novi and her family has revolved around being with her community at the Muslim Unity Center in Bloomfield Hills. The dentist and longtime volunteer at both her mosque and with IFLC helped plan Ramadan programming and events. Each day at the MUC during Ramadan there is a flurry of activity for all ages: from prayers to meals to special study sessions during the last 10 days of the month. 

“We would be at the mosque nearly every night with friends and extended family,” Hares said. “Now, this has all been taken away from us. We all feel lost on how we can maintain our spirituality and renew those connections and bonds of friends and family as we usually do during Ramadan.” 

Like Hares, thousands of Detroit area Muslims will try their best to observe Ramadan. Mass gatherings will be replaced with virtual ones, and many in the community will put in extra efforts to prepare and deliver Iftar meals to the elderly and those in need. 

Hares said that during the last 10 days of Ramadan – the holiest period where Muslims believe that Allah revealed the Koran to the Prophet Mohammed – Imam Mohammed Almasmari arranges special study sessions with the teens at the mosque, complete with his specialty-brewed tea. They study and socialize and even sleepover in the mosque, have an early morning pre-sunrise breakfast, and then go home. This is something that her son Yusuf will especially miss, she said. 

Still, MUC is planning to have zoom sessions over Ramadan. Also, the mosque is planning several charitable action events, such as preparing and delivering Iftar meals to seniors and first responders working on the front lines of the pandemic during the month. 

For more information, visit the mosque’s website at https://muslimunitycenter.org/

Guest Post: We are All Interconnected

The following is a guest blog post from Tokyo Interfaith Council member Rabbi David A. Kunin of the Jewish Community of Japan, which originally appeared on his blog, Lost in Translation, A North American Rabbi in Tokyo. 

The post contains a link to the 1-hour video recording of those around the world offering healing prayers in an array of languages and faiths – (including IFLC Chair Stancy Adams, IFLC President Raman Singh, and Muslim Unity Center Imam Al Masmari), during this time of sickness and uncertainty.  For your convenience, we listed a time stamp if you want to jump to a certain prayer. 

Former IFLC Board Member April Cook, who is now living in Toky0 since May of 2018, is one of the founding members of the Tokyo Interfaith Council, which was created in 2019.

For more information please visit our website tokyointerfaithcouncil.org

We welcome you to come back to this post whenever you are in need of some comfort as the weeks of this pandemic wear on. 

The coronavirus has served, with tragic results, as a reminder of the interconnectedness of humanity.  Nations have attempted to close their borders, hoping to isolate themselves from the pandemic.  Yet, like a steamroller, people, especially the elderly, in nation after nation have suffered the effects of this deadly virus.  Hopefully, one positive outcome of the pandemic could be a stronger sense of global interconnection and responsibility.

Up to the present, cooperation does not seem to the reaction of choice by most of the world’s nations.  Border after border has been closed, while the wolf is already in the chicken coop. While quarantine and social separation may indeed be the best way to slow the spread of the coronavirus, tribalism in all its aspects (especially of nation, class, ethnicity, and religion) will only exacerbate the suffering.  There has been a significant rise in bigotry and attacks against Asians across the globe. The wealthy have also been prioritized in the unfair distribution of testing and perhaps treatment.  Indeed, instead of working together, it appears that many nations are treading their own paths, focusing on their internal economic well-being, rather than the threat to human life and health posed by the COVID-19.    The virus has been utilized as an excuse to strengthen political agenda’s, having little to do with slowing its spread.  Instead of empathy, too often selfishness has been revealed through actions of nations and individuals.  This virus, and the fear it engenders, will be defeated only when the nations and peoples of the world come together in cooperation, taking joint responsibility for the world in which all of us dwell.

It is precisely a crisis such as this where the world’s religions can be at their best, both individually and jointly.  People across the globe are suffering and are also questioning why we face such times.
Let us be tentative in offering answers, as these most often are facile and appear self-serving. There is also the temptation to explain away  suffering of the innocent by connecting it to particular religious agendas. We should, however, be quick to offer words and prayers of hope and comfort.  We should be there for the suffering, with both physical and spiritual support.  We should be speaking out for empathy rather than selfishness.  Yet, as noted, COVID-19 is a worldwide crisis, where adherents of every religion (and no faith) in every community and continent are threatened.  All humanity needs comfort, and for those who seek solace in the Divine, that comfort can be best provided as the world’s religions join together, offering our unique prayers of healing and hope.

Such unity of purpose was demonstrated at a joint virtual interfaith service hosted here in Tokyo by the Tokyo Interfaith Council, of which I am a member.  Members of the Edmonton Interfaith Centre for Education and Action (Alberta, Canada) and the Interfaith Leadership Council of Detroit (Michigan, USA) also joined with us.  

Eleven prayer leaders representing diverse religious traditions –

Later Day Saints (6:00)

Baptist (11:00) 

Muslim (15:00) 

Jewish (18:00) 

Buddhist (29:00) and (38:00) 

Jain, (34:00) 

Sikh (42:00) 

Bahai (46:00)

and Catholic (50:00)

– from three countries, and attendees from many more joined “together” on their computers for an evening (or very early morning) of hope and comfort.  The service on the 21st had been long in planning.  It initially focused on the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (sadly, the necessity of such a day is revealed yet again by the rise in bigotry and hatred against Asians in recent months).  As Tokyo and the world effectively closed up shop, the service was moved online and refocused on healing and hope.  What did remain, however, was the structure, which asked both for respect and authenticity.  Each tradition presented its prayer in its own words and language.  Though the prayers were each unique and called upon the Divine using many different names, they all reflected our universal care for humanity and the world in which we dwell.  Taken together, they could not help but offer comfort and renewed hope for the future.  It is just this unity of purpose which transcends but does not erase (but celebrates) diversity, which points to a path for hope in the future of humanity and the world built on a sense interconnection and joint responsibility.