COLUMN, Inter-Faithfully Speaking: Making our cities models of compassion

by Rev. Jan Chase of Unity Church of Pomona, member of the Claremont Interfaith Council

When Linda arrived at the community laundry room of her mobile home park, her friends were standing along the street holding their baskets of dirty clothes. When she asked why they weren’t already in the room, they answered, “You’ll see!”

Linda passed them by and entered the laundry room to find only one other person in there. From her hijab, it was clear that she was a Muslim woman. Linda was delighted, for only the day before a Muslim speaker had given the sermon at Unity Church of Pomona. Dr. Ahmed Soboh, a local Muslim leader (Imam) and Pomona dentist, had spoken about the Five Pillars of Islam that are the foundation of Muslim life.

Linda had learned the following about the Islamic religion:

1) Faith statement: “There is none worthy of worship except God, and Muhammad is a messenger of God.”

2) Prayers:?Performed 5 times every day.

3) Almsgiving:?Based on the Islamic principle that everything belongs to God.

4) Self-purification through fasting: Every year in the month of Ramadan,  all able Muslims fast from dawn until sundown, abstaining from food, drink, negative thinking and sexual relations. They also perform many charitable deeds from the compassion generated by fasting.

5) Pilgrimage:?Those who are able perform a spiritual pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in their lifetime.

On hearing about these spiritual practices required for a good Muslim, Linda’s fear of differences dissolved and was replaced with respect and curiosity. So when she entered the laundry room, she found it easy to speak warmly and respectfully, welcoming the other woman. She mentioned that she knew and respected the prayerful life that Muslims lead; her curiosity led her to say that although she would not be able to see the woman’s hair, she would like to know what color it was.

At this point, the stranger broke down, sharing that she had been in this mobile home park for 2 weeks and that no one had spoken to her in all that time. She and Linda then shared a compassionate hug as the community looked on.

Living in fear is a terrible thing for everyone: It separates, isolates and perpetuates stress-inducing stereotypes. Once people come together to learn about each other, fears dissolve and powerful, meaningful, compassionate relationships can be built. That is what the Interfaith Movement is all about. Los Angeles County is said to be the most religiously diverse place in the entire world. We have the opportunity to be a model for how diversity can be used to educate and elevate communities into cities of compassion.

Author, researcher and interfaith activist Karen Armstrong has created a Charter for Compassion, won in 2008 at a TED?conference. She urges “…all men and women to restore compassion to the center of morality and religion; to return to the ancient principle that any interpretation of scripture that breeds violence, hatred or disdain is illegitimate; to ensure that youth are given accurate and respectful information about other traditions, religions and cultures; to encourage a positive appreciation of cultural and religious diversity; and to cultivate an informed empathy with the suffering of all human beings—even those regarded as enemies.”

More on Ms. Armstrong’s project can be found at

Acknowledging that compassion is not only at the core of all religious traditions, but “essential to human relationships and to a fulfilled humanity…the path to enlightenment, and indispensable to the creation of a just economy and a peaceful global community,”  this Charter of Compassion encourages us to “transcend selfishness” and make compassion “a clear, luminous and dynamic force in our polarized world.”

A number of events are lining up to assist us in this lofty endeavor as part of our local “11 Days of Global Unity and Season of Interfaith Celebration.” Join us for any of the following major events:

Sunday, September 15 at 3:30 p.m. 5th Annual Interfaith Walk for Peace: Many Faiths, One Future. Begins at St. Ambrose Episcopal Church, 830 W. Bonita Ave., stops at Temple Beth Israel, 3033 N. Towne Ave., Pomonaa t 4:45 p.m. then continues to City of Knowledge Islamic School, Foothill and Garey in Pomona at 5:30 p.m.

The walk is sponsored by the Claremont Interfaith Working Group for Mideast Peace. For information, visit their Facebook page at ClaremontInterfaithWG. (Those unable to walk comfortably are welcome to drive between locations. Limited transportation after the rally is available back to St. Ambrose.)

Sunday, September 29 at 4 p.m. Sacred Sounds V: 5th Annual Interfaith Concert Celebrating the Divine at Temple Beth Israel, 33033 N. Towne Ave., Pomona.

During these opportunities to meet those of different religions, we can build relationships that allow us to create cities and communities of compassion. There is now a global movement to have cities sign the Charter of Compassion and even compete through Compassion Games to be called the most Compassionate City in the world. Let’s work together to make our cities models of compassion as we come to understand more and more deeply the concept of “Survival of the Kindest.”





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