I am currently working on a book about my experiences during Ramadan over the past 16 years as a way of explaining how I became an Interfaith Quaker Peacemaker. As a first step, I put together a chronology of what I have done during this period, beginning 9/11 and ending with the election of the most Islamophobic and ignorant president in US history. I feel more than ever the need to be in solidarity with my Muslim brothers and sisters and to let others know what authentic Islam is really like. As I review the events of the past decade and a half, I marvel at how much my life has changed simply because I fasted and reached out to my Muslim neighbors, and did my best to be faithful to God's leadings. I will be posting selections from my book as it evolves. Here's an overview of this remarkable spiritual journey:
Timeline for my Journey as an Interfaith Quaker Peacemaker:
2001 – Shaken by the tragedy of 9/11, and by the US’s war-feverish response to it, I began fasting for Ramadan on November 16 to purify my mind and reach out to my Muslim neighbors. The mantra that kept going through my mind was: “Perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18).Up to that time, I didn’t know any Muslims personally. So I went to the Masjid in La Mirada (near Whittier) and not only got to know my Muslim neighbors, I also got invited to the home of a prominent Muslim family for an iftar. Thus began my first friendship with a Muslim, a physician named Dr. Hassan Butt and his family. I also attended for the first time the annual convention of the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) in Long Beach. Thus began my journey as an interfaith Quaker.
2002: I began going on a regular basis to interfaith events, such as a panel discussion on immigration at Japanese Buddhist Temple in LA.
I wrote and published a pamphlet called “Islam from a Quaker Perspective,” which circulated widely among Quakers and was eventually translated into German.
In the summer of 2002 I joined the board of directors of the South Coast Ecumenical Council, thanks to my wife Kathleen Ross, a Methodist pastor. She was invited to join the Board but recommend me to take her place. This led to my involvement with SCIC, the oldest and largest interfaith council in Southern California. In 1953 the council was first established as an ecumenical council – meaning that it was an organization comprised of only churches representing the various denominations of the Christian faith. But in 2004, with a historical vote made by the community, the council changed from ecumenical one to an interfaith council. The SCIC now has an association of more than 140 faith communities and organizations, encompassing over 35 cities and serving approximately 1.8 million people. For two years I worked with its amazing executive director Jenny Wagener, John Ishvardas Abdullah (my first close Muslim friend, a Sufi), et al.
Kathleen joined me in fasting that year and we wrote an article about it for the Methodist newspaper Circuit West. We also organized a series of luncheons at Walteria UMC Church with people from different faith traditions so we could get to know each other better.
2003: I wrote “Hungering and Thirsting for Justice,” the story of a homeless people I encountered during Ramadan, which was published in the journal Pilgrimage: Story, Place, Spirit, Witness. I also published a book entitled Compassionate Listening and Other Writings by Gene Knudsen Hoffman, Quaker Peacemaker and Mystic.
2004: I gave a workshop on Quakers and the Interfaith Movement at the FGC gathering in Amherst, Massachusetts, and took a group of Quakers to visit the mosque there.
I met Palestinian scholar/activist Abu Nimr at Pendle Hill and told him that I intended to observe the Ramadan fast until there was peace and justice in Israel/Palestine. A few months later I went to Israel/Palestine with the Compassionate Listening Project. I took part in a peace demonstration in Tel Aviv on the first day of Ramadan and observed the fast.
2005: During the month of Ramadan, I began writing Relics of America, an apocalyptic sci fi novel with a Muslim hero. This novel possessed me over the next three years, and was mostly written during the month of Ramadan, when I felt myself identifying with Muslims.
I began attending meetings of CIRC, the Interfaith Relations Committee of a national Quaker organization called Friends General Conference (FGC). I also started attending meetings of Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace (ICUJP), which was founded after 9/11 with the slogan: “Religious communities must stop blessing war and violence.” Surrounded by people of faith and conscience who passionately opposed war, I felt as if I had come home.
2006: I published an article entitled “Quakers and the Interfaith Movement” in Friends Journal. I joined the Board of SCCPWR, the local chapter of the Parliament of the World’s Religions. I also joined the board of the Quaker Universalist Fellowship (QUF) and helped to edit some of their pamphlets.
2008: Completed and self-published my novel, which features a black Muslim president, just before Obama was elected!
2008-9: I went on a cancer journey with Kathleen, and received tons of support from our interfaith friends. Among other things, she was given a beautiful silk head scarf to wear by our dear Muslim friend Sherrel Johnson. When my beloved wife died in the summer of 2009, I was invited to celebrate the first day of Ramadan with my friend Shakeel Syed, the executive director of the Shura Council of So Cal. In December I went to Parliament of World’s Religion in Melbourne, Australia, and shared my passion for interfaith peacemaking.
2010: A year after my wife passed, as I began to heal from my huge loss, I wrote “Joy of fasting,” based on a poem by Rumi, a Sufi Muslim. I continued to be very involved with interfaith work, especially ICUJP and QUF.
2011: I published Quakers and the Interfaith Movement under the auspices of QUF.
On Palm Sunday, at a peace parade, I met Jill Shook, an Evangelical Christian, and married her four months later. At first, she had concerns about my deep involvement with Islam (am I really a Christian?), but she has come to appreciate my commitment to be in solidarity with Muslims as a Christian committed to the two most imperatives of Jesus: “Love your neighbor” and “Love your enemy.”
2015: During Ramadan I attended Pacific Yearly Meeting and fasted in solidarity with California hunger strikers in solitary confinement
2016: I wrote a “Letter to God,” about my Ramadan fast.
2017: I began Ramadan by attending a Mulsim/Jewish celebration at Barndall Park, organized by my friend Marium Mohuiddin of New Ground. I also attended the annual Jewish/Muslim Iftar at the Wilshire Jewish Temple, also organized by Newground, After 40 days, Palestinian prisoners ended their hunger strike, calling it “victorious” because they were allowed two family visits per month instead of only one. I continue to hunger and thirst for justice as well as peace in this war-torn region.
Meanwhile, Trump continues to foment Islamophobia by dissing the Mayor of London and doubling down on his calls for a “travel ban” on Muslims. I feel more strongly than ever the need to be in solidarity with my Muslim brothers and sisters.