Interfaith Dove 13, ‘Tangnefydd’ in Jerusalem
“Creative Education that Empowers and Embraces all… Uniting the world in Peace.” The Peace Mala motto.
Peace Mala is an organisation that has been running for sixteen years and promotes interfaith dialogue as well as inter-cultural support. It is dedicating to promoting religious tolerance between communities and has been working with children and adults on awareness that each person on this planet is a global citizen.
The Sunday Tribune spoke to its founder Pam Evans about what Peace Mala offers and the many activities it is involved in.
The Sunday Tribune: Please tell us about Peace Mala’s beginnings
PE: I started this project for peace in 2001 whilst working as Head of the Department of Religious Studies in Coedcae School, Llanelli in South Wales. The school is a coeducational comprehensive school with around 1,000 pupils aged 11-16.
When 9/11 happened, the world changed forever. The terrible events of September the 11th, 2001 brought with it an aftermath of fear and confusion. The rise in Islamophobia in the world was to be expected, as a response to the attack. What was more shocking was the rise in fundamentalism, racism and prejudice that we are still faced with today.
My immediate concern at the time was for the minority of Muslim and Asian pupils in my school. The media was full of news about Islamic terrorists being behind the attack. The very morning afterwards I was stopped in the corridor by a colleague who asked me if I was still going to teach our students about Islam. I answered that the people who had hijacked the planes had also hijacked Islam as their actions were totally against the Muslim faith. It is written in the Holy Qur’an that taking one’s own life or the lives of innocent people is strictly against God’s laws. He was shocked with my answer. I went on to say that I would be doing my very best to teach our pupils about the true message of Islam.
As the days and weeks went by it became sadly apparent that our local community had not escaped the aftermath of September 11th. Islamophobia and racist taunts had also become common place in our school. Members of the local Muslim community had experienced extreme abuse. The mosque suffered a racist attack and one man had died from a heart attack probably brought on by the stress suffered during this shameful incident. Within the same year, the synagogue in Swansea was desecrated. It was one of the worst attacks on a synagogue in the whole of Britain. I was appalled.
TST: What was your inspiration behind starting Peace Mala?
PE: I realised that something had to be done to combat the racism, religious intolerance, ignorance and lack of respect shown to certain members of our community.
I thought of something simple but effective that would engage the minds of young people; a symbolic bracelet, loaded with messages, that would be fun to make and wear. The concept and design took me three evenings to complete.
When creating the design for the Peace Mala bracelet I was aware that the rainbow is an important symbolic link between heaven and earth in many cultures. Rainbows are rare and magical and double rainbows even more so. I also realised that the rainbow design would appeal especially to children and young people.
The Peace Mala bracelet comprises of fourteen coloured beads with a central white or frosted white bead strung between symbolic knots. The central white bead represents the wearer. The final single bead is used as a toggle to bring the bracelet around the wearer’s wrist. This represents unity, harmony and peace. Running through the Peace Mala is a simple thread which holds all the rainbow beads together. This may be called the Golden Thread of Spirituality which connects us all through the love in our hearts: acknowledging the Golden Rule and our spiritual unity opens up the pathway to peace.
Peace Mala focuses on the Golden Rule. Its intention is to educate and remind everyone that this rule is recognised by many scholars, teachers and philosophers. It is also universal to all compassionate faiths. Simply stated, it is: ‘Treat others as you would wish them to treat you.’
This is the central message of the Peace Mala bracelet. Its intention is to cut through all forms of prejudice, to confront bullying, to support human rights and to celebrate what makes us different from each other. Fourteen spiritual traditions, along with their individual versions of the Golden Rule, are represented on the bracelet.
Peace Mala reminds us that we all belong and that communities filled with colour and difference make life more interesting and exciting.
The word ‘mala’ is Sanskrit and means ‘garland of flowers’. In the East a mala is a string of beads used in meditation or prayer as each bead or ‘flower’ focuses on a prayer or mantra. Our mala is different. Its purpose is not for devotional use though it may be used in that way if the wearer so wishes. The rainbow beads on this mala of peace focus on the Golden Rule. They also represent the human family in all its glorious diversity and Divine potential.
I hoped that it would educate my pupils in a fun way and help stop the bullying. To my great joy it did! It spread through the school like wildfire. Members of faith communities across South Wales welcomed it as a positive move in the right direction to encourage respect and harmony in the community.
TST: What is Peace Mala’s mission?
PE: The Peace Mala bracelet was created as a simple representation of the world’s religions and cultures living alongside each other in harmony. Peace Mala cuts through every type of prejudice and celebrates what makes us different from each other. By wearing the bracelet, we are also encouraging children and adults to promise to help create a more compassionate world. As one of my special needs pupils pointed out in the early days of the project, “Miss…if everyone tried their best to live by the Golden Rule there would be no more wars, no more cruelty, no more bad stuff anywhere, and no more bullying.” “Spot on!” was my answer.
Beyond the bracelet itself, Peace Mala is also an educational project. Its main aims are:
- Education for global citizenship through the promotion of understanding, respect, friendship and peace between all communities, cultures and enlightened compassionate faiths.
- Supporting human rights, tackling bullying and all forms of prejudice.
- Raising awareness of issues of global interdependence and encouraging active compassion by learners that will lead to positive changes locally and globally.
Peace Mala encourages everyone to learn that diversity is to be celebrated and without fear. Bridges of peace can be built between faith communities and diverse cultures when people are prepared to listen to each other. Our world will be a better place when we learn to keep the Golden Rule that all faiths and spiritual paths share.
TST: Tell us about the people involved in Peace Mala
PE: Over the years, some wonderful people have endorsed what we are about. These include His Holiness Pope Saint John Paul II, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, His Holiness Pope Francis, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu and Dr Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, who was patron of Peace Mala for five years. The Most Reverend John D E Davies who is the present Archbishop of Wales, has also been an enthusiastic supporter for many years and always attends and takes part in our world peace interfaith events. From the very start of the project we have also received wonderful support from The Sufi Muslims of the Golden Chain of the Naqshbandia Tariqat, in particular Sufi Master and former Grand Sheikh Mawlana Muhammad Nazim al-Haqqani and the present Grand Sheikh, his son Sheikh Muhammad Mehmet Adil. Outside of the faith traditions we have received praise and support from wonderful people including international Welsh rock star Bonnie Tyler, acclaimed American singer-songwriter Beth Nielsen Chapman, Scottish singer-songwriter and actress Barbara Dickson, Welsh singer-songwriter Steve Balsamo, international superstars of sacred chant Deva Premal & Miten and hostages’ negotiator, humanitarian and author Terry Waite.
TST: Peace Mala is very much involved with education and schools
PE: After the launch of Peace Mala in 2002, interest in the project began to grow. We had received the Princes Trust Millennium Award which gave us what we needed to set up a wonderful youth project that could promote peace, tolerance, respect and religious harmony in our local community. Further awards were to follow including the ChildLine Friendship and Respect Award. We then decided to start presenting our own awards to schools who were now engaging with Peace Mala.
From 2006 until 2009 we held Peace Mala International Awards for Youth at the UNA Wales Temple of Peace Cardiff which is also the Welsh Centre for International Affairs.
These were wonderful events with schools participating from across the UK and abroad. After three years, I decided to introduce an accreditation process for schools, and youth and community groups. This would not be competitive and something everyone could work towards and achieve.
This new system is working brilliantly with many schools across the UK taking part. Our accredited schools are also reporting that very positive comments are being made about Peace Mala by the school inspectorate. The process provides a complete, effective and innovative answer to all the requirements of the Government’s ESDGC directive (Education for Sustainable Development and Global Citizenship). It also fits in perfectly with British Values and other initiatives being suggested by the government. Peace Mala Accreditation is not an ‘add on’ extra-curricular activity. It can be delivered through the existing curriculum involving change in emphasis rather than new work.
It is also a cost effective initiative which provides teachers and leaders of youth and community groups with the keys to educate and equip children and young people with necessary life skills through engaging in cross-curricular activities focusing on seven separate but related areas.
This article is to be continued.