Nahid Angha

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Nahid Angha, Ph.D.
Dr. Nahid Angha.jpg
Dr. Nahid Angha at the International Conference on Science and Spirituality, Cortona, Italy, June 2009, addressing the subject of Human Dignity and the New Frontiers of Science
Occupation Scholar, activist, lecturer, translator, and author

Dr. Nahid Angha, PhD is a Sufi scholar, author, lecturer and human rights activist. She is the co-director and co-founder of the International Association of Sufism (IAS),[1] founder of the International Sufi Women Organization,[2] the executive editor of Sufism: An Inquiry,[3] the main representative of the IAS to the United Nations (for Non Governmental Organization with the Department of Public Information: NGO/DPI), and the creator of the Building Bridges of Understanding Series. She has over twenty published books, many articles, and has lectured on Sufism, spirituality, human rights and peace at the UN; the Smithsonian Institution; Science and Spirituality, Italy;[4] CPWR’s conferences in Cape Town,[5] Barcelona; UNESCO’s culture of peace conference in Mexico, among others. and was among the distinguished Sufi leaders and scholars invited to gather for the first annual Shakir World Encounters in Marrakesh, Morocco in 2004. She is the first Muslim woman inducted to the Marin Women’s Hall of Fame,[6] honored at Visionary Marin in 2012 by the Marin Interfaith Council,[7] and the Huffington Post named her as one of the 50 Powerful Women Religious Leaders To Celebrate On International Women's Day, 2014.[8] She has been an active advocate for human rights with focus on women’s rights.[9]

Early life and background[edit]

Nahid Angha is the daughter of the 20th century Persian Sufi master Moulana Shah Maghsoud (d. 1980) of the Uwaiysi lineage.[10] Her mother, Mah Talat Etemad Moghadam (d. 2012), was from one of the prominent Persian families, and a descendant of Etemad Saltaneh[11] whose journals and memoirs remained as one of the important manuscripts on Qajar Dynasty, Iran.[12] Her father appointed her to teach and lead Sufi gatherings when she was in her early twenties. She initially held gatherings at her father's Khaneghah in Sufi Abad, Iran, she continued to teach in the United States. Nahid Angha has studied at the University of Teheran, Iran; SW Missouri State University, US; and University of Exeter, UK, and has doctorate degrees in Psychology and in Islamic Studies. Angha has two daughters, Hamaseh and Sahar and she lives in California with her family. She began her humanitarian, interreligious collaboration and peace efforts in the US in the early 1980s and continues those efforts today.[13]

Spiritual, Educational, and Advocacy Initiatives[edit]

Nahid Angha, together with her husband Dr. Ali Kianfar, co-founded the International Association of Sufism(IAS), a California non-profit devoted to the teachings of Sufism and Sufi Masters of the past and present (1983).[14] Historically, Sufis have made great contributions to the development of science, literature, poetic styles, astronomy, architectural designs, and more.[15] The International Association of Sufism has as its mission to make known the interrelations between Sufi principles and scientific principles through lectures, publications, Sufism An Inquiry Journal, and creating a forum for a continuing dialogue among Sufis from around the world. Angha has said that it took her about ten years to gather Sufi schools and Sufi masters from around the globe for the first Annual Sufism Symposium, a weekend conversation in March 1994; she considers organizing that Symposium one of her greatest achievements.[16] Her vision and tireless works brought together Sufis masters and schools from around the globe,[17] an unprecedented effort that made the International Association of Sufism the first organization ever created to initiate a global intra-faith movement within the Sufi community, and she became one of the leading Sufi voices for women’s rights.[9] As a response to the need at the time, she expanded the IAS’ roles to include humanitarian, interfaith collaboration,[18] and human rights advocacy.[19] Through her efforts IAS received a UN NGO/DPI status, in 1997, and her peace works have also made the IAS a Messenger of UNESCO’s Manifesto 2000 for contributing to a Culture of Peace and Non-Violence. She serves as IAS main representative to the NGO/DPI. Symposium has been celebrated in the United States as well as in Spain, Egypt and Scotland.

In 2015 she celebrated the twentieth anniversary of the Sufism Symposium, and published the history and the biography of over 140 Sufis masters and interfaith leaders who have participated and presented during those twenty years in Caravan: Biographies from Sufism Symposia 1994-20014. This annual event continues to serve as a forum encouraging peaceful conversation, education and human rights advocacy in the United States and across the globe.

In support of and to advocate for expressive art and to honor the roles of sacred lyrics, hymns and songs of faith traditions in our social justice and civil rights movements,[20] she organized the Songs of the Soul Poetry and Sacred Music Festival, 2012,[21] and Building Bridges of Understanding: Expressions in 2014, highlighting the beauty of poetry and sacred music in spirituality and faith traditions.

International Sufi Women Organization[edit]

Women have played important roles in the development of art, science, education, entertainment, politics and more, yet the field of religion remains one of the most challenging for women’s leadership. It is important to also acknowledge women who, through their endeavors and perseverance, have made contributions towards equality[22] and freedom in the field of religion and spirituality. Angha has been one of those pioneers whose vision of and works towards humanitarian efforts, inter-religious dialogue and intra-religious movement, equality, peace, and freedom have played fundamental roles in creating the International Sufi Women Organization in 1993.[23]

Breaking Gender Roles[edit]

Angha has made a point in her work to redefine the social standard for gender roles in the Sufi religious context.[24] At the 1994 Sufism Symposium, as the first Sufi woman sitting together with male leaders in the center circle of zikr, a position historically reserved for men, she led meditation and paved the way for other Muslim women to participate and lead in Sufi worship.[25] Her efforts continue to create forums for harmonious, global, peaceful dialogue[26] within Sufi communities as well as normalizing the leadership of Sufi women in the traditional Sufi gatherings.[27]

Global Dialogue, Humanitarian Efforts, Women’s Leadership[edit]

Through her efforts and the works of many Sufi women from around the globe, the Sufi Women Organization was able to create a global dialogue among women of different cultures and spiritual backgrounds[28] with the goals to promote women’s rights, promote the right to education, and to create social awareness as a pathway towards peace. In 1999, it held its first international conference on Women’s Wisdom, Women in Action[29] which hosted women leaders from diverse spiritual and cultural backgrounds for a weekend conversation in 1999. The Organization has also created a thirteen-article Code of Ethics to promote human rights, the right to education, equality, support those who are oppressed or abused, and promote equality of genders in both spiritual and secular domains. Angha organized a series of workshops and round table discussions on the prevention of domestic violence in 2004 and 2005 in California, as well as a round table research program series on cross cultural study of Middle Eastern families recently migrated to the US, which studied and discussed how they were coping with the new culture, language, and environment, and sought how to learn the pressures of the new environment affect spousal relationships, parent/child relationships, parent/teen relationships, and sibling relationships.[30]

Angha has organized a team of well-accomplished women to oversee the Sufi Women Organization’s women’s leadership series, begun in 1993. She has also initiated a youth organization with a multi-religious, multicultural unified voice to advocate for children’s rights, Voice for Justice, which has earned ambassadorship status from UNICEF, created programs such as: Summer 2016 free breakfast for school children of low income families[31] and has partnered with several humanitarian organizations to support the well-being of all including social justice programs; and HIV/AIDs prevention; Aids Walk; Cancer Awareness; Education: Adopt a classroom, and more.[32]

Partnerships: Humanitarian and Peace Making Efforts[edit]

Angha says that globalization leads to partnership, and valuable partnership expands the mission of organizations, and following her own ideology, she has initiated partnerships with other like-minded organizations to establish greater possibilities to contribute towards humanitarian efforts. Through these partnerships, IAS and SWO and its Chapters, both local and international, were able to expand their charitable efforts to include care for children caught in refugee and migrant crises; providing basic medicine and clean water in refugee areas; educational scholarship; ending HIV through training local nurses; orphan care; health education; mobile health clinics in Africa; and in California, SWO was able to contribute towards medical case management, free testing, and free syringes in its work to end HIV by 2030.[33]

Her continual advocacy for non-violent solutions for women and children in conflict areas[33][34] has led her to participate in peace campaigns, including National Interreligious Leadership Initiative For Peace In The Middle East,[35] "The Millennium World Peace Summit of Religious and Spiritual Leaders," and present talks[36][37] regarding women’s rights and humanitarian intervention, such as: “Human rights, responsibilities and spirituality” at the 53rd Annual United Nations DPI/NGO Conference at the UN Headquarters; “Women in Islam: Sufi Women & Human Rights,” Cape Town 1999; “Human Dignity and the New Frontier of Science,” Italy; she has also written many articles on those topics.[38]

Interfaith (partial list)[edit]

Her works together and in collaboration with inter-religious organizations and faith traditions began early 1980s. She has served in many-faith based organizations (1983-2016), including as a Board member as well as a President of the Board of Directors of the Interfaith Center at the Presidio, San Francisco; the Board of Directors of the Marin Interfaith Council; a Founding member of the United Religions Initiative (URI) Council for Women; the Board of Directors of Marin Museum of American Indian; a Member of the Assembly of the Parliament of the World Religions, Cape Town and Barcelona; a Member of the National Interreligious Leadership Delegation;[39] a Member of the Assembly for UNESCO: Culture of Peace, Mexico; on the Advisory Board of the Mystic Heart Institute; on the Advisory Board of the Institute for World Religions; Scholar Advisor for Interfaith Sacred Space, presented at the CPWR conference in Spain, 2004;[40] and she presented Bay Area faith communities to the Goldin Institute, in Manresa, Spain, and more.

Higher Education[edit]

First conceived by Nahid Angha, and highly supported by Harlan Stelmach, who was the Chair and Professor of Humanities at Dominican University of California in 2000, the Building Bridges series began with an interfaith forum to explore shared spiritual values[41] that could help the community respond to and heal from the crises of September 11, 2001. In 2002, Angha invited leaders of existing religions and traditions in northern California including Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, Sikhism, Islam, Native American, Zoroastrian, Barahma Kumaris, and the Bahai to serve as the decision-making members of the Program Committee[42] for the Building Bridges of Understanding, or to lead presentations for the sake of peace and inter-religious dialogue. She also invited the members of academia and civil society, to join together in this pursuit, including street chaplaincy, community healing centers, abused women’s services, youth leadership, and others. Among the highlights of her work was inviting Dr. Shirin Ebadi to the Dominican Campus in 2006 to present a lecture on: Human Rights, Islam and the West.[43]

"Communities ensure the well being of their members through shared information, concerns, resolutions, awareness, active participation, appreciation, and creation of common ground, and beneficial goals and hope for the future of communities, societies and nations," she said in her closing remarks at the first Building Bridges of Understanding conference. For that very reason she developed an educational series for understanding major religions of the world, and their roles in creating peace, encouraging dialogue, creating higher education and more. The series included: Understanding Native American Spirituality;[44] Understanding Judaism;[45] Understanding Islam;[46] Understanding Hinduism;[47] Understanding Buddhism;[48] and Understanding Zoroastrian.[49] Angha has also extended the Building Bridges series to include the roles that compassion, tolerance, enlightenment, ethics and morality, care for the Earth, experiencing peace through healing arts, etc. have played in our lives, and the lives of cultures and nations. Through her efforts the program created scholarship award for a student of the Humanities, including religion, whose scholarship or community service reflects the spirit of the Building Bridges of Understanding series.[50]

Nahid Angha’s advocacy for women’s leadership led her to initiate The Women’s Leadership Series within the Building Bridges of Understanding series. The Women’s Leadership Series brought together women in leadership positions to share their experiences and endeavors with the younger generation. The series addressed topics such as women’s leadership and global awareness; and navigating the language of power, as well as self-awareness and leadership.[51]

Awards and Recognitions (partial list)[edit]

Recipient, Marin Visionary Award, Marin Interfaith Council Certificate of Recognition: North American Pioneers of United Religions Initiative Recognition, Encunetro Mundial Interreligioso, UNESCO, Monterrey, Mexico First Muslim Woman Inductee, Marin Women’s Hall of Fame Certificate of Recognition, California State Senate Certificate of Recognition, California State Assembly Certificate of Recognition, US House of Representatives Resolution and Recognition, Marin County Board of Supervisors

Publications (partial list)[edit]

Dr. Angha has contributed to over one hundred articles ranging from human rights advocacy to translations of the old Sufi texts, poetry, biographies, Islamic philosophy and principles. She is the author and translator of over twenty books including: A Force Such as the World Has Never Known: Women Creating Change (co-author, co edited); Abdullah Ansari of Hirat (11th century Sufi): One Hundred Stations (first English translation with commentary); “Abdullah Ansari of Hirat,” in Encyclopedia of Islam (publishing date 2017); Ecstasy: The World of Sufi Poetry and Prayers; The Nature of Miracle; A Meditation (translation); Principles of Sufism; Psalms of Gods (translation); The Journey.

Lectures (partial list)[edit]

Nahid Angha has been giving lectures and presentations since 1980, including: Women Gathering for Change, Egypt; International Conference: Annual Sufism Symposium, US, Egypt, Spain, Scotland; The Vision for the 21st Century, anniversary of the UN, UC Berkeley; International Conference on Global Ethics, Fremont, California; Global Peace and Solidarity, NGO/DPI annual conference, United Nations; Women in Islam, CPWR Cape Town, S. Africa; Humanitarian Intervention: A Way towards Global Peace, NGO/DPI annual conference UN; Millennium World Peace Summit of Religious and Spiritual Leaders, UN; The Role of Religion and Spiritual Leadership in the 21st Century, State of the World Forum, San Francisco; His Majesty Mohammad IV’s Conference on Sufism: Shakir World Encounters, Morocco; Assembly member and presenter, CPWR, Barcelona, Spain; Women’s Islamic Initiative in Spirituality and Equity, New York; Sufi Perspective on World Peace and Responsibility, Cairo, Egypt; International Interreligious Encounter, Forum Universal de la Culturas, Monterey, Mexico; Neuroscience and Spiritual Practice, Claremont School of Theology; Bridge over Troubled Water: Human Dignity and 21st Century, Cortona, Italy; Science and Non-duality, Neti Neti Media, Marin County; Position and Rights of Women in Islam, Starr King School for Ministry, Berkeley; Sufi Path and 21st Century, Edinburgh, Scotland; Songs of the Soul Festival, Marin County, California.


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