Sufi Women Organization Delegates Represent Sufism and Islam at the Parliament of the World’s Religions in South Africa, 1999

CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA — After the amazingly successful 100th anniversary of the original 1893 Parliament of the World’s Religions was held in Chicago in 1993, it was decided to organize future sessions of the Parliament every 5-6 years at various international sites. Thus it was that Cape Town, South Africa was selected as the host of the 1999 Parliament.

Jointly organized by an International Interreligious Planning Committee, the Directors and staff of the Chicago-based Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions, and the African Advisory Committee, the Cape Town Parliament events were spread over several venues in the central area of the city, including the University of Cape Town, Cape Technikon, Good Hope Centre, the Civic Centre, and the old Cape Town City Hall.

The program began on December 1st with an opening ceremony at Company Gardens, speeches by Government Ministers and blessings from religious representatives, followed by a procession of religious representatives through central Cape Town. The first of many Plenary Sessions of the Parliament was held that afternoon in a large auditorium of the Good Hope Centre. Speakers were drawn from the Parliament Committees, our South African hosts, and various religious bodies. Every evening during the Parliament, some sort of entertainment or talk was offered at the same venue, the highest audience attendance being for former South African President Nelson Mandela’s welcoming speech on December 5th and for the Dalai Lama’s talk at the final Plenary gathering on December 8th. Adjacent to the auditorium in the Good Hope Centre were several large rooms in which booths were set up and occupied by various international and local organizations.

imageHonored Delegates from around the world
and all faith traditions gathered at the
Opening Session for the Parliament of the World Religions.

IAS and Sufi Women at the Parliament

From December 2-8, performances, seminars, lectures and workshops on various topics were scheduled in classrooms of the Cape Technikon complex every morning and every afternoon. Seyyedeh Dr. Nahid Angha, founder of the Sufi Women Organization, led a workshop on the community building projects of the Sufi Women Organization, and participated in a roundtable discussion on the Earth Charter. Following is a description of the presentations:

Women in Islam: The Sufi Women Organization’s Role in Promoting Universal Human Rights

The lecture will begin with a brief discussion of the historical role of women in Islam, moving on towards current conceptual issues within the Muslim world, in terms of both cultural and religious values. Looking towards the next century and the increasing opportunities for women, Dr. Angha will introduce the Sufi women Organizations (SWO), a humanitarian, non political, non sectarian organization. SWO has been laying foundations for a dialogue of creative engagement, among the Sufi women of the world, committed to promote the recognition and disseminationof universal human rights with a focus on women’s rights. Being committed to a culture of equal rights, the SWO has been been successful in bringing Sufi women of the world together for the goal of promoting its universal mission.

Prominent Religious Leaders Respond to the Earth Charter

In this session prominent representatives of different religious and spiritual traditions reflect on the ethics and implications of the Earth Charter from their own ethical traditions. Panelists will illustrate principles of the Earth Charter which are in convergence with their own tradition and will discuss the potential of the Earth Charter to serve as an ethical common ground for global action to promote a sustainable and compassionate future for the earth community. Mary Evelyn Tucker will moderate the discussion. Presenters included: Seyyedeh Dr. Nahid Angha, Soka Gakkai Al Albergate, Laurence Arturo, The Very Reverend James Parks Morton, Karan Singh, Chair of Board, Dr. L.M. Singhvi, Rabbi Awraham Soetendorp, Dada Vaswani, and Tu Weiming.

During the final three days of the Parliament, a select Assembly of religious leaders and scholars were invited to meet in morning and afternoon sessions at a separate location (in the Civic Centre) to discuss “The Call” document and practical means of implementing it. Seyyedeh Dr. Nahid Angha was among the selected leaders invited to participate in this group, representing Sufis and Muslims.

Gifts of Service to the World

At the Parliament, the assembly will issue a “Call to our Guiding Institutions”; inviting governments, religions, educational institutions and the like to make changes and contributions to the world. “The Call to Our Guiding Institutions will provide inspiration and direction for those wishing to offer gifts of service to the world. To give such a gift is an expression of a fundamental spiritual inclination towards generosity, caring, hospitality, compassion, and good will. The extent to which goodness has existed in the world has always been directly related to the giving of such gifts and the spirit in which they are given. In spite of the progress made through ambitious endeavors and noble institutions, the fate of the world continues to rest on such gifts — and now, more than ever.” (From the CPWR site) Possible gifts might range from: resolving conflicts within one’s own family to working for reconciliation in a troubled community; from a local community’s outreach to women, children, and the poor to a personal offering of regular prayer or meditation; from the fostering of spiritual renewal to the promotion of structural social justice; and so on.

The Sufi Women Organization, Sufi Youth International, Sufism and Psychology Forum, and the IAS Prison and Literacy Project offered the following Gifts of Service to the World at the Parliament of the World’s Religion’s Conference in Cape Town, South Africa:

Sufi Women Organization

The SWO — a humanitarian, non-political, non-sectarian organization — has undertaken a variety of gifts of services. In its ongoing effort to help women and children in Indonesia, the SWO allocates donations from various SWO Chapters and delivers much needed supplies to Jakarta, Padenglang, Tanjung, Priok, Aceh and neighboring areas. The goal is to collect enough money to provide food, supplies, and clothing to student activity groups and the elderly. Reports of the project will be published online and in the SWO newsletters. In addition to their work in Indonesia, the SWO also hosts and organizes and annual Interfaith Women’s Conference. All SWO efforts are celebrated and solidified through WO luncheons every six weeks, where outstanding women speakers share their spiritual journey with a large audience. [Learn more about the Sufi Women Organization]

Sufi Youth International

SYI is an international network of Sufi youth dedicated to serving their community through mentorship programs and social service projects. As a network of youth, the SYI has been involved in numerous interfaith projects designed to create reflective leadership development programs and peer counseling projects. As a Gift of Service to the World offered at the 1999 Parliament, SYI would like to use their resources to foster relationships with community service programs and to encourage more youth involvement in community development. SYI will speak with local school representatives to find ways in which community service can be encourage within local communities. [Learn more about Sufi Youth International]

Sufism Psychology Forum

The SPF is continuing dialogue between people of the mind and soul who have established numerous Healing Centers in the United States. The Healing centers provide individual and group counseling and psychotherapy, integrating traditional sufi healing practices with Western psychology. In an effort to promote a broadening of perspectives within the field of psychology, SPF members will launch an extensive and ongoing research project dedicated to defining the psychological benefits of meditative practices in relation to a wide variety of healing models. Portions of these research projects will be published online and in the SPF newsletters. [Learn more about the Sufism and Psychology Forum]

IAS Prison and Literacy Projects

The goals of the Prison and Literacy Projects is to promote health and personal responsibility for physical, mental, and spiritual health in order to increase self-understanding and self-acceptance. These projects focus on developing libraries within prisons and lower-income communities, establishing healing relationships with inmates, and bringing needed information and supplies to prisons and lower-income communities. With the support of the Sufi Women Organization, the prison and Literacy Projects will begin a Breast Cancer Awareness Program for female inmates. The program will also include a series of workshops to teach inmates about breast cancer and self-exams. In addition, the programs will gather relevant medical information and disseminate it among inmates and prison officials. [Learn more about the IAS Prison Project and the IAS Literacy Project]

The Parliament of the World’s Religions was a historic event as foremost religious leaders from around the world gathered to discuss peaceful resolutions to global problems. The International Association of Sufism is please to have been able to offer a great deal to the discussion and action.


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