As I leave the Parliament as its board chair, I want to express my profound gratitude for all that we have accomplished together. No one of us could have done this alone. But together what we have achieved is nothing short of miraculous.
Yes, we have done it. We’ve done it together.
But it could not have been done without the blessings of the Almighty. For that I am sure we all give deepest thanks.
Personally, I thank our board of trustees for exercising their trust in electing me six times as board chair. In fact, I’m humbled by the willingness of trustees to seek a change in the by-laws to extend my term, but of course I felt I must respectfully decline.
I take satisfaction in knowing that as I leave we are a much stronger organization in virtually every way. Just consider:
For four continuous years we’ve had a positive cash flow.
For the first time in our history, we have the funds in the bank to meet the budget for the coming year.
For the first time we have established an endowment for this organization, which we now must continue to build on with regular Parliaments every two years and support from individuals and organizations.
For the first time in our history we self-produced the largest, most inspiring, and most financially successful Parliament event. (By the final count, the total attendance at the Salt Lake City Parliament stands at 10,859).
This is where we Muslims say, Allahu Akbar. But please don’t duck. It just means God is the Greatest.
Yes, it took four years to reach these historic marks. And it took a whole lot of tough love, sacrifices, and out-of-the box thinking to get there. But we did it. And in doing so we:
Saved the organization from bankruptcy.
Disposed of most of the one million dollar debt.
Brought ourselves to a level of financial stability to enable us to offer small grants to grassroots interfaith organizations.
Developed a model for on-going financial viability, based on holding Parliaments every two years. (The risk of deviating from this model is a recurrence of financial instability and crisis.)
THE DALAI LAMA DILEMMA: WHAT DO YOU DO IN BETWEEN THE PARLIAMENTS?
One of the personal joys in serving as chair was the honor of meeting with the Dalai Lama. He is an inspiring but also humorous man. And he combines those qualities by masterfully posing a thoughtful and thoroughly serious challenge with his mischievous smiles.
He has repeatedly asked us the question that I have named the Dalai Lama Dilemma: what do you do in between two parliaments?
Our board deliberated on that dilemma and here is what we were able to do as a result:
In view of the rising fear, hate and anger the Parliament established Faith Against Hate campaign that organized interfaith leadership summits, webinars, and training events, as well as started the tradition of “Love Alerts” for the interfaith movement.
We developed an interfaith training program as a major component of our undertakings and included a role for facilitation. We introduced students in training for religious leadership to the realities and challenges of interfaith endeavors, made it possible for them to participate in Parliament events and guided them in reflection on their involvement, and gave them experience in working in a multi-religious world.
We established the Parliament’s United Nations Task Force that focused on the issues posed by nuclear weapons and our youth representative was invited to address the UN General Assembly during the U.N.’s World Interfaith Harmony Week.
We joined the coalition of “faith2endpoverty” partners of the World Bank.
As for the Parliament program itself, we anchored the event with focus on three crucial global-wide issues (climate change, income inequality and the widening wealth gap, and hate, hate speech, violence, and war) and three critical constituencies (youth/emerging leaders, women, and indigenous peoples). Each of these emphases on issues and constituencies was accompanied by a rigorous Declaration and a set of proposed commitments that invited individual, organizational, policy, and media involvement.
Subsequent to the Parliament, these six foci (issues and constituencies) are being developed programmatically in ongoing work in 2016, along with a strong emphasis on membership development.
So we now have a response to the Dalai Lama’s Dilemma as the work in key areas continues between Parliaments.
Organizationally we have become significantly stronger. In this area, what we faced as financial and organizational crises led us to take corrective actions that brought corrective results.
The Parliament board and executive committee met more often – four to five times more often – as board members took on increased responsibilities.
The board committees and task forces assumed greater responsibilities and became more active and stronger.
Auditors met with the board every year, which included not only reporting but also articulation of fiscal responsibilities.
In the search for executive leadership of the organization, including interim and non-interim leadership, a strong consensus has emerged that we need to balance the governance role of the board with the empowerment of the professional staff. (This is especially important now that we are not out of our crisis mode of operation.)
STRONGER INTERFAITH COLLABORATION:
While the Parliament is widely recognized as the mother organization of the interfaith movement, we have experienced an increasing sense of more competition than collaboration with other interfaith organizations. For that reason, we attempted to develop a spirit of cooperation with these sister organizations by meeting with them, attending their programs, partnering with them, and sometimes developing a formal memorandum of understanding.
An example of the latter of these is our memorandum of understanding with the Charter for Compassion, signed by Karen Armstrong and me, and made operative with our collaboration together for the 2015 Parliament.
We also achieved successful collaborations with KAIICID of Vienna, Austria, Claremont Lincoln University, and the United Religions Initiative (URI).
STRONGER COMMUNICATIONS NETWORK:
We could not have done all of this without giving major attention to an expanded communication program and use of information technology. The two are clearly related and both are essential to all other aspects of our endeavors.
As for communications:
We redefined our newsletter to serve our own programs as well as the interfaith movement at-large.
We tripled our email list.
With the help of continuing fresh content, our website has become among the top interfaith websites in the world.
We started “Interfaith Minute” on YouTube.
We increased our Facebook following by 566%
We delivered the first live-streaming Parliament.
We are developing an archive of Parliament programs that can be used for our publication and programmatic endeavors.
I sincerely value this opportunity to serve the interfaith movement and to work with you in this exciting and important effort.
I’m thankful for our hardworking staff, the host of volunteers for supporting me and this crucial organization of the interfaith movement.
I intend to continue to serve the interfaith movement, since I believe this movement must become stronger, more effective in communicating its messages, and more influential in relating to the guiding institutions within our societies and at the global level.
As a Muslim I did encounter hostility and Islamophobia, but also a whole lot of open arms, understanding, and, yes, love. But both of those poles are now a part of Americana. One foundation even demanded my resignation before they would even consider funding the Parliament.
The challenges we faced as an organization required me to abandon a passive leadership role in my first two years as chair. In making strong and sometimes majority vote decisions for what we saw as necessary for the organization, I know I have rubbed some the wrong way. I sincerely seek their forgiveness
Peace, Salam and Shalom!
Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid
Chair of the Board of Trustees
P.S. – I’ll see you at the 2017 Parliament, if not before. Until then you can always reach me at malik @ SoundVision.com
© Parliament of the World’s Religions
® Parliament of the World's Religions name and logo are trademarks of the Parliament of the World's Religions.