Faith-Based Organizations Discuss Civil Society at LA Conference
By Dr Shaheen Kassim-Lakha


Dr. Azim Nanji delivers his address. The panel included Prof Amir Hussein,
Dr. Jack Miles, Rabbi Elliot Dorff and Rev. Leonard Jackson

Distinguished representatives of local government, academic institutions and faith-based organizations convened on Monday, December 16, 2006, at Loyola Marymount University, for a conference on “Government and Faith-based Communities: Working Together to Build a Civil Society .”
The conference sought to examine the role of voluntary associations, faith communities and non-profit organizations in assisting those whom governments cannot reach. The event was co-sponsored by the Department of Theological Studies, Loyola Marymount University (LMU), the School of Religion, Claremont Graduate University (CGU) and His Highness Prince Aga Khan Council for the Western United States.
In his welcome address, Father Michael Engh, Dean of the Bellarmine College of Liberal Arts at LMU, stated that “civil relates to both the civic community as well as to the communities whose members are civil to one another.” Dr. Karen Torjesen, Dean of the School of Religion, CGU, expressed the hope that the conference could explore ways for greater dialogue between faith-based organizations and institutions, hopefully leading to greater understanding between them.
Moderated by Prof. Amir Hussein of LMU’s Dept. of Theological Studies, the guest speakers included: Dr. Azim Nanji, Director of the Institute of Ismaili Studies in London, England; Dr. Jack Miles, Resident Scholar, Getty Museum and Senior Fellow, Pacific Council on International Policy; Rabbi Elliot Dorff, Rector, Professor and Co-Chair Bioethics Dept.., University of Judaism and Rev. Leonard Jackson, Special Advisor to the Mayor of the City of Los Angeles.
Working upon the premise that a civil society cares for humanity and provides social order through the voluntary involvement of individuals working for a common good, speakers addressed the ethical premises of their respective faiths that related to service to others, and the inspiration they drew from their sacred texts, in promoting this concept. Dr. Nanji noted that “the dichotomy is not between faith and the world; in fact, the components of civil society may become a bridge between the notion of faith and how to engage the world.”
To demonstrate the practice of such traditions, representatives of nonprofit organizations, whose genesis lay in religious teachings, namely the UMMA Community Clinic, Dolores Mission and the Jewish Family Services, described their efforts in providing services to those in need, irrespective of background and creed. It was noted that this event was a good first step in encouraging greater dialogue amongst the various institutions and would be instrumental in creating the momentum towards working more closely with the City of Los Angeles in assisting those on in need.
In her closing remarks, Ms. Samia Rashid, President of the His Highness Western United States expressed the hope that “a process of engagement with each other would also allow our community leaders to better understand each other and for our youth and others to develop relationships that may be productive for many years.”
Guests at the event included Rabbi Allen Freehling, VP of the LA Human Relations Commission, Professors Zayn Kassam of Pomona College, Hamid Mavani of CGU, Ismail Poonawalla of UCLA and Karen Leonard of UCI, Dr. Nazir Khaja of the Islamic Information Service, Rabbi Steven Jacobs of Temple Kol Tikvah, and Shabbir Mansuri, Director of the Council on Islamic Education.

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Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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