Imam Plemon El-Amin: Interfaith Cooperation Requires Sincere and Open Engagement

3370360“O Humankind! We created you from a single male and female, and made you into nations and tribes that you may come to know one another. Surely the most honored among you in the sight of God is the most righteous of you.” -Qur’an 49:13

This verse is often cited by Muslims as a scriptural incentive to engage in interfaith dialogue and exchange. The conception is that we all come from a single pair of parents and from that common origin, in time, we develop into diverse and distinct tribes, ethnicities, races, nations, and religions. The verse states that the purpose of these differences is to inspire us to know one another, and it also implies that through knowing the other we come to better know ourselves. It is important to note that it further states that our superiority is not found in our race, color, ethnicity, or nationality, but in our righteousness.

During my 40 years of active interfaith engagement, dialogue, and collaboration, the most consistent and intriguing outcome from cross-faith exchanges has been participants thinking more deeply and seriously about their own religious beliefs, practices, and traditions. As I learn about your faith, I reflect upon my own. As I come to know you, I see myself and my possibilities more clearly.

Religious diversity is a given today. In Atlanta, we cross paths at work, at the mall, in restaurants, and on the sidewalks with Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, Zoroastrians, members of the Bahá’í faith, and Christians of various denominations. Tolerance is not enough as a skill or virtue for interfaith encounter, nor does tolerance necessarily nullify ignorance, stereotypes, half-truths, or fears. Interfaith requires sincere and open engagement and/or relationship. It is not relativism, we do not leave our faith identities or commitments behind. Nor can we have hidden agendas. We must be honest, trusting, and trustworthy, seeking to know a good in common that we can’t know alone or within the limitations of our comfort zones. It requires conscious effort, thought, and deep regard for truth, decency, and humanity.

The Parliament of World Religions offers a Declaration Towards A Global Ethic:

“In the face of all humanity, our religious and ethical convictions demand that every human being must be treated humanely. Every person, without any distinction, has an inalienable and untouchable dignity. And every human is obliged to behave in a genuinely human fashion, to do good and avoid evil.”

This is the spirit and belief that calls me to sign, promote, and embrace the Atlanta Interfaith Manifesto. Adding my name to the list of diverse yet intrinsically connected individuals must also obligate me and each of them to live upon the higher values of faith, interfaith, and this Manifesto.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said “Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable…every effort towards the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle. Without persistent effort, Time itself becomes an ally of the insurgent and primitive forces of irrational emotionalism and social destruction. This is no time for apathy or complacency, this is a time for vigorous and positive action.”

Dr. King’s words capture why the Atlanta Interfaith Manifesto is necessary and important now. The alarming escalation of hate speech, religious intolerance, xenophobia, and racial fears, calls us to respond and take a stand for peace, freedom, equality, and decency. Apathy and complacency are suicidal in this present environment. The Manifesto is a covenant that must evolve into a social contract of civility and justice among the signers and hopefully throughout our City, State, and Nation. Following further insightfulness of Dr. King, on one hand, this Manifesto attempts to touch or change the souls of the individual signers so that society may be changed, and on the other hand, it is attempting to change the society so that individual souls will have a chance.

May our hearts be engaged, our minds enlightened, our souls expanded, our relationships broadened, our commitment deepened, our city beloved, and our humanity fulfilled. Amin

-Imam Plemon T. El-Amin

Plemon T. El-Amin is the Imam Emeritus of the Atlanta Masjid of Al-Islam, one of the largest and most progressive Mosques in the U.S. He is the former Director of the Clara Mohammed Elementary School and W. Deen Mohammed School of Atlanta. Working as a close aide and supporter of Imam Warith Deen Mohammed, Imam El-Amin has traveled the nation and the world, representing the concerns and interests of Muslim Americans and Interfaith adherents in such places as Palestine, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Syria, Jordan, Denmark, England, Spain, Egypt, Turkey, Malaysia and South Africa.

Imam Plemon El-Amin serves on various religious and civic councils, including Interfaith Community Initiatives, the Boards of the Faith Alliance of Metro Atlanta, the Atlanta Majlis Ash Shura, the Atlanta Interfaith Broadcasters, the World Pilgrims, and the Atlanta Fulton County Recreation Authority.

Gareth Young highlights the importance of recognizing one’s privilege when working towards interfaith cooperation

IMGP9713Those of us working to denounce religious bigotry, to speak up against disrespectful and inflammatory rhetoric, and to bring society together in love rather than allow us to be divided by fear and hate, find ourselves living in difficult, even dark times. From this perspective, the Atlanta Interfaith Manifesto is a rallying call to equity and justice.

But just as Rev. Dr. Gerald T. Durley expressed in his post last month, I approached signing the Manifesto with mixed feelings. “Is this,” I wondered, “just another ‘group-think’ palliative, on the one hand, a set of platitudes easily read and ignored, and on the other a call to action that makes us feel better without accomplishing anything? Can this document really make a difference?” After deep reflection I concluded I needed to sign the Atlanta Interfaith Manifesto, not just to stand in solidarity with those speaking out against bigotry (though that is certainly important), but more deeply because it is an invitation to experience a personal transformation which can lead to deeper joy and meaning, and to creation of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s Beloved Community.

Unlike Dr. Durley, I have never been “forcefully instructed” to move behind the white line on a bus or monitored to make sure I am drinking from the correct water fountain; unlike other African-American friends, I don’t have relatives who were lynched for the “offense” of being black, nor have I experienced racial profiling or institutionalized racism; I cannot imagine being, like Judy Marx, the child of holocaust survivors; and I will never need to explain to my kids, as some Muslim friends are having to, why neighbors won’t let their kids come over to play anymore. I come at the Atlanta Interfaith Manifesto from a different direction.

I was born white, Christian, male, and straight to a comfortably middle-class family in one of the wealthiest nations in history; I was protected and cared for and educated well; I had opportunity and access and, on those occasions when I needed a second chance, I received it. In short, I was privileged. But like so many with privilege, I didn’t know it. My education, my early business career, everything about my community and life was white and Christian and straight and comfortably middle class. Other cultural, racial, and religious experiences presented an occasional curiosity, but mostly they were both foreign to me and uninteresting, and in some unarticulated way inferior. I would never have understood myself as prejudiced or racist, but with the benefit of hindsight, I now see very clearly that I was.

My daughter recently told me I had given a great gift in showing her that as a mature adult I could change. These words are wise beyond her undergraduate years, but they necessarily miss that to the extent I gave her a gift, it was only possible because of the far greater gifts I have received from Jan Swanson, from Imams Plemon El-Amin and Furqan Mohammad, from Rev. Dr. Gerald Durley, from Rabbi Brad Levenberg, and from many others of diverse faith, race, sexual orientation, and socio-economic backgrounds who live deep integrated interfaith lives into which they have invited me. My daughter’s words also cannot comprehend the extent to which my current happiness, community, and business success are possible only as a direct result of the compassion, love, and wisdom of the incredible community of interfaith friends who have made themselves deeply vulnerable and shared their pain and suffering, their humanity, and their love and compassion with me.

If change is possible for me, it is possible for anyone. If it is possible for the person I was, not just to realize their prejudice, but to develop a deep and visceral sense of the pain and suffering this causes, and to recognize how much better his own life and those of others will be if he changes, then I believe it is possible for anyone to experience this same kind of transformation.

The Atlanta Interfaith Manifesto, then, is important as a platform for those of us who would stand up against the wrongs of prejudice and intolerance. It is also important as an expression of a life oriented around creating safe spaces and time and inviting all those living in privilege, fear, or ignorance to come on in as we offer love and vulnerability and are willing to be truly known. I invite you to read the manifesto and consider living these truths.

Read the full Atlanta Interfaith Manifesto here.

Gareth Young is an author, podcast host, and speaker. He is active in the community and a successful businessman. His passion is challenging preconceptions and helping people transform and grow into authenticity, happiness, purpose and sense of fulfillment without sacrificing worldly and career success.

Gareth was born in the United Kingdom and, after obtaining a BA in mathematics at the University of Oxford, began his career with Deloitte Haskins and Sells, one of the major accounting firms. He came with the firm to Charlotte, NC as a young audit manager. Two years later he left public accounting and joined BellSouth Corporation, initially managing due diligence, but within a couple of years running mergers and acquisitions transactions domestically and internationally, which he did for almost fifteen years.

After beginning his spiritual journey and moving down a path that would lead to him being ordained a Zen Buddhist priest, Gareth left the corporate world and developed a successful independent consulting business, and this led him into working with Alpharesults to help small and mid-sized businesses take advantage of Georgia business income tax credits. A few years later Gareth also left formal Zen practice to co-found Red Clay Sangha, an Atlanta Buddhist community. He is the serving president of Second Helpings Atlanta and is a board member of the Clarkston Community Health Center, Compassionate Atlanta, and the Faith Alliance of Metro Atlanta, as well as a member of the Board of Advisors of the Atlantic Institute. He is a regular observer of Ramadan, the Jewish High Holidays, and other faith and interfaith events, and is engaged in other social justice organizations and activities.

Gareth is also a blogger and the host of the #NewBusinessMindset podcast, a weekly series of informal conversations to encourage the cultivation of intimacy, vulnerability, and curiosity in the business world, and to bring integration and joy to life. He has written a number of books, including two novels, and contributed to several others. He is a father of two almost-adult children and lives in Clarkston, Georgia.

Masarrat Husain, of the Atlanta Interfaith Leaders Forum, encourages collaboration across organizational, religious lines to make the world a better place

Atlanta’s burgeoning population with flourishing faiths of all denominations are healthy signs for any city. Many interfaith groups in Atlanta are engaged in their own way to bring peoples of diverse faiths closer in order to understand and gain knowledge of their beliefs, practices, and rituals but not to denigrate or belittle them. The Atlanta Interfaith Leaders Forum (AILF) was founded in 2005 by the late Ben Johnson (a familiar figure in religious circles) for this very purpose and with the determination to make Atlanta an Interfaith City. Fortuitously, I became part of it and have since been reaping its benefits of greater understanding, tolerance of others viewpoints, protecting inalienable human rights and equality.

Holding events in churches, synagogues, mosques, gurdwaras, temples and other religious places of worship has reaped great fruits in terms of improving understanding, harmony, and goodwill among different religious groups. AILF would continue to pursue this course for the greater good. Our experience with these events has been very positive and heart-warming.

The recent controversy over attempts to shut down travels from some Muslim-majority countries to the United States and the banning of refugees from Syria has juxtaposed fear and faith. We may, perhaps, overcome this problem with greater understanding between faiths.

At some point in time, it is my belief that many interfaith groups in Atlanta continue to partner with each other to develop programs that will lead to greater strength, viability, and the achievement of intended objectives. Interfaith collaboration shows the community that we can work together across faith and organizational lines to make the world a better place.


Masarrat Husain

Chief, Planning

Atlanta Interfaith Leaders Forum (AILF)

Rev. Dr. George B. Wirth: Atlanta Interfaith Manifesto encourages us to become “a city that is not too busy to relate”

Dr.-George-WirthWhen our Steering Group of 35 Interfaith leaders from all across Atlanta re-discovered the Minister’s Manifesto, published on Sunday, November 3, 1957 in the Atlanta Journal and Atlanta Constitution, something significant happened. We realized that the 80 white ministers who signed that Manifesto sixty years ago were standing up and speaking out for racial justice and equality. We also found out later that Rabbi Jacob Rothschild from The Temple had helped to write the Manifesto, and remembered that all of this occurred while William Hartsfield was our mayor, a visionary leader who described Atlanta as “a city too busy to hate”.

This historical background served as the inspiration for the Atlanta Interfaith Manifesto which was published in our local newspapers last fall, signed by 75 religious, academic, business, civic and political leaders from all walks of life throughout metro-Atlanta. Since then, more than 600 people have added their names to the Interfaith Manifesto, which is “a statement denouncing religious bigotry and calling for interfaith cooperation.” As you may have already heard, the four basic principles of this Manifesto are:

-To advance interfaith cooperation, respect, and accommodation for diverse religious and secular identities

-To marshal religious diversity and respond to human rights challenges with innovative solutions

-To celebrate Atlanta’s broader significance as a beacon to this country and the world regarding civil, human and religious rights

-To take a stand and speak out against acts of hatred and intolerance that threaten the foundation of our society

The Atlanta Interfaith Manifesto of 2016, hearkening back to Rabbi Rothschild’s involvement in writing the Minister’s Manifesto in 1957, was initially drafted by a Muslim and an Eastern Orthodox Christian from the Interfaith Youth Core in Chicago who have served as consultants to our movement here in Atlanta. Moreover, the Atlanta Interfaith Manifesto has become a guiding light to the numerous interfaith organizations in our city which embrace a similar vision as we promote cooperation and a sense of unity among so many different faith traditions.

Back in the late 1990’s, I heard a sermon at Chautauqua Institution in New York delivered by Dr. Joseph Hough who was then the President of Union Theological Seminary in New York City. As he looked out over the 4,000 worshippers gathered together in the amphitheater, he said in closing that the future of the 21st century would largely depend on the different world religions learning to respect one another and to live together in peace. That statement caught my attention and it reminded me of something that Mark Twain wrote with tongue in cheek in 1896:

“So concerned was I about the discord and violence among God’s creatures, that I decided to take the matter in hand. So I built a cage and in it, I put a dog and a cat. After a little training, I got the dog and the cat to the point where they lived peaceably together. Then I introduced a pig, a goat, a kangaroo, come birds and a monkey. And after a few minor adjustments, they learned to live together in harmony. So encouraged was I by this success, that I added an Irish Catholic, a Presbyterian, a Jew, a Muslim from Turkestan and a Buddhist from China, along with a Baptist missionary I had captured on the same trip. And in a very short while, there wasn’t a single living thing left in the cage.”

-Mark Twain, “Man’s Place In The Animal World” 1896

Now we know that Mark Twain was a cynic, so we might expect that kind of attitude from him, despairing about human nature and our inclination toward discord and dissension. But with the intolerance, bigotry, and violence that has been unleashed across America and throughout the world thus far in the 21st century, who of us could claim that we are making real and substantial progress toward religious reconciliation and healing among the nations?

That is why the Atlanta Interfaith Manifesto is needed now more than ever before – to lead us toward embracing a new theme:  “A city that is not too busy to relate” – across religious and racial barriers, across economic and ethnic divisions, across class and cultural differences. That, I believe, is the compelling vision which God has called us all to affirm: The Beloved Community which Martin Luther King Jr. dedicated his life to creating which takes us beyond being a city that is too busy to hate.

So let us join hearts and hands and voices together as we stand up and speak out for justice, reconciliation, unity, and cooperation as people of faith while respecting those who do not adhere to any form of religion. If not now, then when? If not here, then where? And if not we ourselves, then who else will do it? The time has come for the Atlanta Interfaith Manifesto to become a guiding light leading us in the right direction.

The Rev. Dr. George B. Wirth

Pastor Emeritus, First Presbyterian Church

Rev. Dr. Joanna M. Adams discusses the plague of religious bigotry and the importance of hope

jma3_webIn a few weeks, the Jewish community around the world will celebrate Pesach, or Passover, a time for remembering the Lord’s mighty acts of liberation on behalf of the Hebrew people, who had endured the shackles of bondage for four hundred years. The Lord “passed over” the houses of the Jews, sparing their children during the last of the ten plagues, which had included, among six other menaces, frogs, flies, thunder and hail.

If I were asked to come up with ten modern day plagues, I could do so in a heartbeat, beginning with the quickly spreading epidemic of religious bigotry in our nation. The demonizing of followers of Islam, both American born and foreign born, and the proposed ban on entry to the United States of citizens from seven predominantly Muslim countries top the list. So would the alarming number of anti-Semitic threats and incidents involving Jewish schools and community centers. I would also include extreme speech. When laced with vitriol, it poisons politics, public airways, and private conversation.

If we ever needed the Atlanta Interfaith Manifesto, we need it now. As the Lord, through Moses, intervened in the midst of terrible times, I believe that the Lord will act, is already acting through people of good will. Instead of becoming resigned to endure troubling times, you and I need to be out there, gigging the frogs of fear and swatting down the flies of mean-spirited fundamentalism. We need to speak out in our city, using our voices to thunder against injustice. We must be hail-makers, pounding into the ground the seedlings of hatred that are growing in our city and across the land.

Atlanta has been a beacon of light to the nation in the past. After all, this city was the birthplace of the great Moses of modern times, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. As he led the south and indeed the entire United States to higher moral ground through the Civil Rights Movement, he thundered against injustice and called out purveyors of hate, but it was always to the end of replacing that hatred with civility and love. He was always a man of possibility, not negativity. In his honor, here are a few a few modern day possibilities (not plagues) that come to mind:

  • Atlanta will build upon its good traditions of tolerance, mutual respect, and inclusion.
  • We will not revert to the negative aspects of our past but instead will learn from them so as not to repeat them.
  • We will in our neighborhoods and social networks, in our faith communities and in our common life refrain from contributing rhetorical negativity into the atmosphere.
  • We will be always cognizant that people need to be lifted up and inspired, not made to feel belittled and discouraged.
  • We will pray that the day will soon come when America will once again live up to its ideals of liberty and justice for all. (Note: no qualifiers attached to “all”).
  • We will elect leaders who bring out the best in us, instead of pandering to our basest instincts.
  • We look for ways to create zones of civil discourse and then ourselves initiate the conversations.
  • We will align ourselves with the great moral teachings of the faith traditions to which we belong. In my case, I want to keep my life and values and treatment of others lined up with the way of Jesus who showed us what being human was meant to be and who embodied the universal love of God. Indeed, God must love diversity; otherwise, we would all be alike.
  • Daily, we will take a deep drink from the fountain of hope as we plan what we can do to heal and build up. St. Augustine once wrote, “Hope has two daughters: anger and courage. Anger at what is and ought not to be and courage to make what ought to be come to be.” Hope has changed the world before and will do it again.
  • We will work to improve our vision during these often dark and ominous times.

One day a great teacher asked his students, “How can one know when the night has ended and a new day has begun?”

One answered, “When you hear the rooster crow.”

Another said, “When you can see the silhouette of a tree against the horizon.”

“No,” the teacher answered. “It is when you can look into the face of a stranger and recognize him or her as your brother or sister. Only then can you know that a new day has begun.”

Preacher, educator, writer and community leader—the Rev. Dr. Joanna M. Adams continues to fill many roles since stepping down from her position as Morningside Presbyterian’s Senior Pastor and Head of Staff in January 2010. In January 2012, MPC was proud to honor Joanna as the church’s Pastor Emerita. One of her most recent endeavors is the blog Higher Ground, sponsored by The Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta, in which Joanna, an imam, a rabbi and another noted Christian minister discuss issues, challenges, and successes while demonstrating how collaboration can create a strong community. Other Presbyterian churches Joanna served during her 30 years of ministry include Atlanta’s Central, Trinity, and North Decatur, and Chicago’s Fourth Presbyterian.

A graduate of Columbia Theological Seminary, Joanna holds an honorary doctorate of divinity from Davidson College and also received the Alumni Association Medal of Honor from Emory and Columbia’s Distinguished Alumnus/ae Award. She currently chairs the boards of the presbytery’s New Church Development Commission and the Intown Collaborative Ministry. Among organizations she’s been instrumental in founding are the Our House preschool for children facing homelessness and the Covenant Network of Presbyterians, working for inclusion of all believers. Her adult children have followed her into the fields of education and theology and her husband Al is a distinguished Atlanta attorney.