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Suheil Bushrui speaks during a peace conference at Green Acre in Eliot, Maine, on Sunday
Staff phto by Caleb Raynor

Scholar shares vision of world peace

By Chris Elliott

ELIOT, Maine - When Suheil Bushrui speaks to you one-on-one, he often clutches your forearm, eyes intent upon yours, as though you are both the cause of an oncoming storm and a railing upon which to brace himself against it.

One of the world’s leading Arab intellectuals, the Nazereth-born Bushrui was raised in the Bahà’i faith, studied the Koran in his early years, and later went on to earn a doctorate at Oxford. He is currently a professor at the University of Maryland and a scholar on the works of Kahlil Gibran.

Bushrui’s speech on Sunday at Green Acre, a Bahà’i retreat located in Eliot, marked the conclusion of a two-day course in the principles of universal peace enunciated by Abdu’l-Baha in his 1912 visit to the West.

Abdu’l-Baha was the son of the founder of the Bahà’i faith, Bahà’u’lláh, who personally trained him to be his successor and the 20th century mouthpiece of Bahà’i.

Green Acre is the living legacy of Sarah Farmer, who owned and operated the Sarah Farmer Inn there from 1890 to 1916. Abdu’l-Baha spent a week at Green Acre during his lecture tour of the West, and remains an inspirational figure in Green Acre’s culture.

This weekend’s conference attracted visitors from most of the New England states and even from abroad. Mario Deana, a Brooklyn, N.Y., native now living in Italy, made the conference his last stop in America before returning to Rome.

"Bushrui is a great teacher and speaker," Deana said. "It is always helpful to hear a great scholar like Bushrui describe the Bahà’i vision of universal peace. It reinforces our belief that man’s survival and the evolution of mind are one and the same."

Green Acre offers a place to attend speeches and participate in discussion groups, and a beautiful environment in which to relax and ruminate over life’s largest questions. It provides overnight accommodations to conference attendees, as well as meals and, in the case of last weekend, warmth and sunshine.

"Even the weather cooperated this weekend," said Jeff Sacco of Green Acre, who was likewise delighted to have as distinguished a representative of the Bahà’i faith as Bushrui head up the conference.

"He has lectured all over the country and the world. We have been trying to get him to teach here since 1996, and it’s finally happened."

When asked if the current administration’s aggressive foreign policy was at odds with Bahà’i teachings, he was diplomatic and preferred to focus on the overall goal of promoting a global commitment to peaceful conflict resolution.

"We’re optimistic that mankind is moving in the direction of choosing peace over conflict," Sacco said.

In Bushrui’s closing lecture for the conference, he called upon his understanding of English prosody and his fluency in the Koran, the Tora and the Bible to express the notion that diversity and acceptance have always been defining precepts in the teachings of history’s wisest men and women.

He quoted ancient Sufi text that resembled lines from a Robert Frost poem, both of which referenced two individual eyes combining together to define one person’s sight.

"We must teach our young people that we live in a world where we depend on one another. We cannot be so spiritual that we are of no earthly good. We have celebrated the rational so much that we have become irrational," Bushrui said.

He espoused "a new politics formulated on principles rather than interests," and that in educating our children, we must cease to emphasize "the empty values of the marketplace," focusing instead upon "spirituality of heart and mind, and the concept of character."

Bushrui pointed out that Judaism, Christianity and Islam all count Abraham as the grandfather of their faiths through the lineage of Moses, Mohammed and Christ. He stressed a "unity of conscience" that all denominations could discover if they would see love as the foundation of all faith.

Following the address, Bushrui attended a luncheon in the Green Acre dining hall with members of the committee organizing the centennial celebration of the 1905 peace treaty that marked the end of the Russo-Japanese War. The signing of the treaty, which occurred at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, was attended by Green Acre’s founder, Sarah Farmer.

©Copyright 2003, Portsmouth Herald (NH, USA)

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