Unite for MidEast peace, say US Sikhs, Christians, Muslims and Jews
In response to the bloody conflict between Hezbollah and Israel as well as Palestine and Israel, the World Sikh Council - America Region (WSC-AR) has joined hands with sister national religious communities across the United States to engage in practical work and prayers for peace in the Middle East.
The religious coalition for a cessation of the killing includes Christians, Muslims, Jews, Unitarians and interreligious bodies.
"We call upon the Sikh community to hold special prayers at Gurdwaras for peace in the Middle East and to partner with local inter-religious groups to pray for peace," said Dr Manohar Singh, Chairperson of WSC-AR this week.
He went on: "We need to recognize the suffering of all those affected by this escalating conflict and pray for Sarbat daa Bhallaa (well-being of all). We also should pray for the safety of the brave Sikh UN peacekeeping soldiers currently helping in Southern Lebanon and the rest of the Middle East."
Sikh United Nations peacekeeping soldiers in Southern Lebanon provided major assistance in the rescue efforts after the recent deadly shelling by Israeli defense forces of a UN observation post in which four UN military observers were killed. Hundreds of Sikh soldiers, serving as United Nations peacekeepers, are currently deployed in Southern Lebanon and the Golan Heights in the Middle East.
WSC-AR has developed the 'Season of Prayer for Peace in the Middle East' in collaboration with the National Council of Churches (NCC) - USA, Religions for Peace (RFP) - USA, and other Christian, Jewish, and Muslim organizations. Religious representatives of Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Sikh communities have currently signed on to this initiative. They have agreed to encourage their religious communities to participate and send in prayer resources from their communities that might be posted on a web site.
"Religious communities are good at praying for the suffering of our own," said NCC's Associate General Secretary for Interfaith Relations, Dr Shanta Premawardhana. "But the best in our religious traditions call us to pray for the suffering 'other' and that's what we are asking our religious communities to do."
"We are encouraging religious communities to pray for peace as they gather in their own communities. We are also encouraging religious communities to join with others in common events of witness for peace," said Rev. Bud Heckman, Executive Director of RFP - USA.
In order to provide religious communities resources to do this well, the Interfaith Relations ministry of the National Council of Churches USA has launched a new Web site, www.seasonofprayer.org. The website compiles prayers, scripture texts, hymns, litanies, poems and other prayer aids from many religious traditions, appropriate to the current crisis in the Middle East. It includes prayers from Sikh, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, and other faith traditions as well interfaith prayers.
The inter-faith coalition for peace in the Middle East has issued a statement explaining its intentions and actions:
ìWe, leaders of several religious traditions have come together to encourage you, our religious communities to engage in prayer for peace in the Middle East. We encourage you to do this as you gather for your regular worship or faith observances. We also encourage you to engage with other religious communities in your neighborhood in events offering a joint witness to peace. We will post prayers, litanies, scripture texts, hymns and other prayer aids on this web site. We also encourage you to send new and creative liturgical material that you have composed or used to post on this web site for others to use. As religious leaders we are deeply concerned about the escalating violence in the Middle East. We pray for all those who are suffering, both those of our own communities and those we consider the 'other.' We pray for an urgent end to hostilities that will both save lives and lead to a just, lasting, and secure peace.î
The declaration concludes with an injunction familiar in a number of faith traditions: ìPray like everything depends on God. Work like everything depends on you.î
Many of the Sikh soldiers in Southern Lebanon, who have come under fire from the Israeli defense forces, are a part of a battalion of a Sikh Regiment sent by India to this volatile region of conflict for the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFL) along with Ghana Army forces.
They are deployed at five "hotspots" in southern Lebanon near the border with Israel where the exchange of hostilities between Israeli defense forces and Hezbollah is taking place across their positions. Last week Rajinder Singh, a Sikh UN soldier of the 4 Sikh Regiment, was injured in the Israeli shelling of the border village of Houla, near the contentious Sheikh Abbad Tomb post in Shiite dominated southern Lebanon.
Some Sikh peacekeeping troops are also posted at the Golan Heights on the Israeli-Syria border since January 2006. They are a part of the United Nations Disengagement Observers Force (UNDOF), a group of 185 officers and troops from India, Canada, Japan, Slovakia, Austria and Poland.
While some Sikh civilians of Indian origin have been evacuated from Lebanon, hundreds more still remain in the country trapped by the cross-fire between Israeli forces and Hezbollah.
Sikhism, though it has been impacted by its own divisions and arguments, particularly the nationalist ones around statehood in the Punjab, seeks to be a unifying and peaceful religion. For the most part it is not pacifist, however.
The inter-faith declaration has been signed by: Bishop Dimitrios Couchell, Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America; the Rev. Dr. Robert Edgar, General Secretary, National Council of Churches USA; Dr Manohar Singh, Chairperson, World Sikh Council - America Region; the Rev Dr Stan Hastey, Executive Director, Alliance of Baptists; the Rev Dr Cliff Kirkpatrick, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly, Presbyterian Church (USA); the Very Rev Leonid Kishkovsky, Moderator, Religions for Peace-USA and Ecumenical Officer, Orthodox Church in America; Rabbi Michael Lerner, Tikkun and the Network of Spiritual Progressives; the Rev Michael Livingston, President, National Council of Churches USA and Executive Director, International Council of Community Churches; the Rev William G. Sinkford, President, Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations; Dr Sayyid M. Syeed, Secretary General, Islamic Society of North America; Rabbi Arthur Waskow, The Shalom Center; the Rev Dr Sharon E. Watkins, General Minister and President, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) of United States and Canada.
[Also on Ekklesia: Lebanon destruction a 'crime against humanity' says aid group 30/07/06; No way to security through fighting, says Holy Land bishop 29/07/06; Blair to press Bush for ceasefire as churches push for peace 28/07/06; Israel sees ceasefire hesitancy as a green light for its Lebanon bombing 27/07/06; Mennonites call on USA and Canada to pursue non-violent alternatives 27/07/06; Christian groups urge Blair to back ceasefire calls 26/07/06; South African churches propose bold Middle East conflict transformation process 26/07/06; Why violence cannot solve Lebanon or Gaza Strip showdowns 24/07/06; Christian Aid emergency appeal swings into action 24/07/06; Mennonites issue action alert on Middle East crisis 24/07/06; Middle East churches document and condemn Lebanon horror 23/07/06; US churches appeal to Bush as Israel seizes Lebanese village 23/07/06; Aid agencies say Blair must call for immediate Middle East ceasefire 22/07/06; WCC urges churches to support Middle East appeals 21/07/06; Churches redouble efforts and prayers for an end to Middle East hostilities 21/07/06; Williams laments Lebanon vicious spiral of violence 20/07/06; Gaza, Israel and Lebanon crises are imperiling Middle East security 19/07/06; Historic Galilee sites hit by rocket attacks 18/07/06; Pope condemns Lebanon raids as G8 converges and Blair blames Iran and Syria 17/07/06; Christians call for end to Lebanon violence as Israel vows revenge 16/07/06; Middle East Christians in anguish over Lebanon violence 14/07/06; Embattled Hezbollah backs Iraq 'doves of peace'; Christian warnings substantiated as Israel targets Hamas; Ex-spy wages peace on terror in the Middle East]