The Eigth Annual
Sufism Symposium:
Celebrating Our
Divine Desire

from vol. 9, no. 2

Sufi Youth
by Seyedeh Sahar Kianfar

UN Report: 52nd Annual
DPI/NGO Conference

by Arife Ellen Hammerle

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, a non-profit organization
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The various articles presented
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Women's Wisdom: Women in Action
Bringing Ethical Leadership to the New Millenium
An Interfaith Conference presented by the Sufi Women Organization
A perspective by Soraya Chase Clow

"Every human being is a universe, and every mother is a teacher to this universe. She is the one who holds the key to a just or corrupt society, as she is the first teacher of any leader."
Seyedeh Nahid Angha,
founder, Sufi Women Organization

It is with the spirit that women, who hold the keys to a healthy, stable, peaceful and ethical society, planned and attended the first Interfaith Conference presented by the Sufi Women Organization. Women and men from many faith traditions, cultures and nationalities gathered at Dominican College in San Rafael, California to address the issue of ethical leadership. In particular, we discussed how we, as women, can effect positive, ethically based change worldwide, primarily by taking increased roles in leadership.

Like delicious apple cider, the conference came together with a pinch of this, a dash of that, considerable heat and many hours of tempered mulling. For the past several years, Sufi women from all over the planet have been sharing concerns, hopes, fears, prayers and ideas through the Sufi Women Dialogue on the Internet. Through this wonderful connection, we discovered something that might seem obvious, but hasn't really been possible to experience prior to the Internet: women all over the world share the same concerns, which can be expressed by someone one minute in Indonesia and responded to almost immediately by someone in France. No matter how different our individual societies or cultures are, whether "progressive,"individualistic, conservative or socialistic, we all worry about the condition of the planet, its inhabitants and what appears to be a continuing disintegration of ethical and moral behavior. In varying degrees, we all fear for humanity as a whole and for women and children in particular. For the most part, we do feel that

women must receive their rights. There are people who recognize and respect the value of women and we honor their support. Yet there are far too many situations in which women are victimized, from extreme examples of oppression like that of the women in Afghanistan by the
Taliban, to the far more subtle, less serious, but nevertheless abusive use of women's imagery (and the sexual connotations these images evoke) to sell anything from computers to alcohol in American advertisements. Women are perceived as possessions or objects of pleasure even in the most liberal of countries and this is also a form of oppression.

The Sufi Women Organization (SWO) was founded under the ideal that we all need to understand, honor and base our intentions and actions upon ethical principles as communicated by the prophets of God and the teachers of humanity. On the dialogue and in our regular luncheon meetings we spent many hours trying to formulate a code of ethics that clearly stated our intentions, mainly that all human beings must be free of suppression from other human beings. Our discussions on the dialogue over the past several years have provided specific examples of why we feel it is so important to honor these ethical principles.

It is natural then, with these values at the heart of our organization and with concerned women communicating on a regular basis, that the idea arised for an all women's interfaith conference devoted to developing a more ethical society. Conceived of within the midst of graceful trees and rolling hills at our Sufi Women Retreat last summer and beautifully brought to fruition over the course of the year by the capable hands of our founding leader, Seyedeh Nahid Angha, the conference was perfectly spiced with speeches by many powerful, fascinating women of many faith perspectives. All of them are leaders in their own right dedicated to improving our society.

The conference, co-sponsored by the Marin Community Foundation, was inspiring, to say the least. Gather one hundred and twenty peaceful, devoted women with the intention of not only sharing information, but of developing specific action plans, and watch the room light up! The opening speaker, Reverend Linda Compton, a Presbyterian clergywoman, set the tone by declaring: "these are glorious times"in reference to our intention of collectively supporting, honoring and helping women. California Senator Diane Feinstein sent a representative with her greetings, stating her appreciation and noting that such an interfaith conference is essential to the fabric of our country.

Some of the speeches at the conference included conveying values to the next generation, bringing health and ethics to the workplace, creating health and inner peace, the role of women in building an ethical and peaceful global community, challenges facing women in the 21st century, and the role of women in creating womenŐs leadership.

After the speeches, we divided into smaller groups to discuss specific action items, including outreach efforts such as giving presentations in a variety of arenas in order to inspire others; developing an ongoing interfaith spiritual women's network to continue sharing ideas; and supporting youth who are interested in leadership. On Sunday, which was expressly devoted to Sufi women, our action panels centered around how to expand the SWO through membership, increased participation by Sufi youth, and the planning of future SWO sponsored events. We also reviewed ways to strengthen and increase our service projects, which include education for incarcerated men and women, a literacy program for women and children, research and writing on issues that effect women, and other valuable community projects.

Delegates from SWO's Indonesian chapter shared their wisdom and practical experience with us. Struggling under the severe conditions of a country torn by civil strife, their efforts to provide food to hundreds of people, to support local orphanages and to schedule weekly sessions in which hundreds of people regularly gather to pray and learn the Holy Qu'ran were an inspiring reminder for us that no matter how difficult the situation, it is possible to make a difference in our world.

Creating a more peaceful, ethical world society in which differences are not only embraced, but celebrated, and in which men, women and children are all respected, is not only essential, it is our duty. Seyedeh Nahid Angha encouraged those of us who have taken the teachings of the great prophets and masters to heart to leave behind a better world than we entered: "As long as there are women in the corners of the world who are illiterate, financially dependent, victims of crimes, and do not have the freedom to stand up for their rights, then we, men and women, the members of the human family, have not taken our responsibility seriously and have ignored these teachers of humanity. We are accountable for what we leave behind."