World peace mission brings Sufi sheik to Berkeley

They were Jews and Muslims, Christians and Buddhists. And they came to Berkeley to hear a Sufi sheik from the West Bank preach a message of unity.

As nearly 100 people gathered around the sheik, some in chairs, most on the floor, each seemed intent on receiving the message of the spiritual leader.

"We all must invoke the power of the Holy One to help us along in our deeds, in our words, and in every action we take," said Sheik Ali Salah Mohammed Hussein, addressing the audience at Chochmat HaLev. a sponsor of his recent talk. Co-sponsors were the Oakland-based Aquarian Minyan and Berkeley's Kehilla Community Synagogue.

Speaking through a translator, the sheik said: "We are the children of Abraham. We share a common past together and will share a future together. We must never lose sight of this."

Traveling with his son, apprentice sheik Yacob Hussein, the sheik was on his first Western tour, on a mission to spread peace throughout the world. A Sufi master and spiritual leader of a rural Palestinian village, Dir Qadis, the sheik has worked to encourage dialogue between Palestinians and Jews.

Sufism, a mystical branch of Islam, focuses on unity with God. Members meditate and pray for world peace, seeking the well-being of all humanity.

During his talk in Berkeley, the sheik sought to encourage an ongoing dialogue about the unifying factors common to all religions.

"The Creator sent more than one prophet, not just Moses, not just Mohammed, not just Abraham," he said. "So we ask why. And the Creator will tell us that he sends compassion to all people. Not just Arabs or Muslims or Palestinians or Jews, but for all people. This is the secret that Sufis learned to transmit and share."

Visiting the United Nations after speaking engagements in California, the sheik hopes to eventually teach the world to celebrate the things all humans share in common, and to stop the violence that spawns from differences in faith. The Walking Stick Foundation, a small retreat center in the wilderness outside Cuba, N.M., organized his visit.

For Jews, the sheik's words seemed especially poignant, as he began discussing the great role that Abraham plays in the Torah and in Jewish lives today.

"The heart of Abraham is bigger than the Pacific Ocean," said the sheik. "When Abraham sent Ishmael to the desert, we must wonder if he lacked compassion. But we know this is not true. Abraham is always constantly giving love, peace and kindness."

The sheik also explained the significance of Abraham's sons, Isaac and Ishmael. "From Ishmael comes Mohammed, and from Isaac comes Moses. There will always be a spiritual connection between the two, and this is what resides in the heart of the Sufi tradition."

In the final minutes of his talk, the sheik opened the floor for dialogue, saying, "Every question from you is a beautiful gift that opens spiritual knowledge."

Listeners, wasting no time, began asking questions that went straight to the heart of spiritual living. As he fielded questions about life on Earth, divine knowledge, and the roles that individuals should play in spreading peace, the sheik remained light-hearted, often joking and evoking laughs from the audience.

His words were deeply felt by at least one member of the audience, Jay Lohmer. A longtime San Francisco resident, Lohmer made the trip across the bridge specifically to see the sheik.

"So many great ideals are part of the Sufi tradition, and there is so much to learn from tonight," said Lohmer, after the talk. "The sheik was captivating and brilliant, and above all else, tremendously inspirational."

At the conclusion, the sheik led a prayer ritual, asking the Creator to open the hearts of everyone in the world. The short meditation summed up a night filled with hope for the future and dreams of worldwide peace.

"We are the children of Abraham, and we all have a Holy Task," said the sheik. "We know the immense love of Abraham, and we rejoice in the peace that we spread through the world."