MOTTO: The motto of The Salaam Network (TSN) is “Striving to Make Our Beloved Community of Louisville Whole.” The word “Salaam” is an Arabic word (“Shalom” in Hebrew) generally translated as “Peace” but it also refers to Wholeness, Safety, and Well-Being.
MISSION: TSN is an educational network which aims at creating harmony and wholeness in a highly diverse and divided city through dissemination of accurate information about those who are seen as “The Other” or as different from us. Islamophobia and other forms of discrimination including racism, sexism, classism, and exclusivism on grounds of religion, ethnicity, culture and political affiliation, have contributed to the growing “us versus them” mentality. TSN’s mission is to build a knowledge-based foundation for an all-inclusive community which is reflected in a video made by its Art Director, celebrating the cultural diversity of Louisville: https://m.youtube.com/watch?feature=youtu.be&v=5h0pG53kY98
Louisville has many rich resources including its religious communities, its multiplicity of cultures, its educational institutions, and its medical facilities. It is the city of Muhammad Ali, America’s best-known Muslim and a global peacemaker. It is also the place where Thomas Merton, the universal mystic, had his epiphany which he described as follows: “In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness …This sense of liberation from an illusory difference was such a relief and such a joy to me that I almost laughed out loud…” However, like many other cities in the country, Louisville is not free of the division, discord and discrimination which result from seeing those who are different from us as “The Other”.
TSN was founded in 2016 by Dr. Riffat Hassan, Professor Emerita of the University of Louisville, an internationally-renowned scholar of religion, feminist theologian, and social justice activist who has devoted her life to promoting dialogue and peacemaking amongst different – oftentimes conflicting – groups in many countries. The educators who have joined her in TSN come from a variety of backgrounds and professions. They include scholars, writers, artists, and community activists who are committed to breaking down walls and building bridges so that Louisville can become a model justice-and-compassion-centered city which protects and promotes the dignity, safety, equality, and individuality of all who live here.
In recent times there has been an alarming escalation of negative rhetoric and actions both in Louisville and in places across the country, aimed at vulnerable minorities which include Indigenous Peoples, People of Color, Muslims, LGBTQ Persons, Immigrants and Refugees.
TSN’s multi-disciplinary team of educators uphold the view that misconceptions and derogatory stereotypes that are generally held of “The Other” are primarily rooted in ignorance. They have been diligently engaged in dispelling such ignorance through presenting numerous knowledge-based programs at a variety of venues. These include educational institutions, religious places of worship such as churches, mosques, temples, and synagogues, community centers such as La Casita Center and Americana Community Center, and public fora such as Metro United Way, Louisville Free Public Library and its branches, and Public Radio.
During the time of the coronavirus pandemic, TSN has continued offering its educational programs through zoom meetings which have enabled it to enlarge its outreach to people living in other cities and states.
Since religion plays a significant role in the lives of the majority of people, TSN has done much work to promote understanding and goodwill amongst Louisville’s religious communities. In this context it has focused especially on the three Abrahamic religions, namely, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, which together comprise more than one-half of the human race.
In view of rampant Islamophobia, TSN’s team of educators have made several high-quality presentations about the core Islamic beliefs and practices, and the history of the cordial relations between Muslims and Christians in the first century of Islam. In this regard, attention has been drawn to little-known historical facts such as the Covenants of Prophet Muhammad with the Christian World, including his Edicts to the Monks of St. Catherine’s Monastery in Sinai (626 CE) and the Christians of Najran (631 CE) in which Prophet Muhammad placed Christian churches, monasteries and communities living under Muslim rule in his personal protection.
Other presentations by TSN’s experts have highlighted significant features of the “Golden Age” in medieval Andalusia which left behind a rich legacy of interaction amongst Muslims, Jews and Christians. An illustrated presentation on “Islamic Contributions to World Civilization” has effectively demolished the myth that Islam is an alien and fossilized religion at odds with modern sensibilities. A six-week course in Louisville’s Public Library examined the roots of terrorism, challenging the popular assumption that it is Islam which breeds such a wide-ranging phenomenon.
An important verse in the Qur’an reads: “O followers of earlier revelation! Come to a word that is equitable between us and you.” (Surah 3: Al- ‘Imran: 64) This Qur’anic exhortation to Muslims to invite Jews and Christians to come to an equitable understanding with them has encapsulated the spirit of several TSN presentations. Heightening the awareness of the commonalities amongst the three Abrahamic faiths has been one of TSN’s most notable educational contributions to our community. By bringing to the fore the profound veneration of the Blessed Mary (Hazrat Bibi Maryam) in both Catholic and Muslim devotion a strong bond has been created between the two largest religious communities in the world.
Cognizant of crucial contemporary issues, TSN has developed programs to address issues of religious discrimination against women and LGBTQ individuals. Our Workshops on Women in the Four Spiritual Traditions – Native American, Jewish, Christian, Muslim – held in the setting of churches of different denominations, a university, and a public library – have been well-attended and well-received. A great public need has also been met by our panel presentations in which our scholars have re-examined and re-evaluated the sacred texts of the three Abrahamic religions which have traditionally been used against their LGBTQ believers. A Seminar on “Normative Islamic Education for Muslim Women” which is based on a close reading of Qur’anic texts relevant to understanding the larger theological and ethical context, as well as specific issues of modern Muslim women living in the U.S., is one of TSN’s most valuable programs which has been attended by persons of many faiths.
In Spring 2020, TSN in collaboration with the Interfaith Coalition for Immigrant Justice, hosted a number of panel-presentations by legal experts and social justice activists, to make the public cognizant of proposed legislation which, if passed, would have had catastrophic impact on immigrants and refugees, as well as on Kentucky’s diversified culture and economy. This awareness-raising educational effort was regarded as an important service to the community.
In its five years of existence (2016 – 2021) TSN has emerged as Louisville’s leading education network due to the scholarly excellence and integrity of its presentations. This is made evident in the compelling testimonials which TSN has received from many distinguished educators who have participated in its events. Its programs have consistently provided cutting-edge knowledge which is the outcome of years of original research and study, free-of-cost, to the community. It has had a two-fold purpose in doing this: a) to give the community resources to counter the misinformation which has led to the marginalization and victimization of Muslims and other minorities who are perceived as “The Other”; and b) to create a knowledge-based culture which respects the individuality, dignity, security and equality of every person living in Louisville. The Salaam Network regards these as preconditions for making the Beloved Community Whole.