Internationally known comedian, artist and activist Azhar Usman will keynote the “Ways of Peace II: Nonviolence in the Islamic Traditions” conference on Saturday, April 9, in place of U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, who was forced to cancel as a result of Congressional duties.

Friends for a Non-Violent World and University of St. Thomas are presenting the conference in the auditorium of the university’s O’Shaughnessy Educational Center. The conference runs from 9:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.; Usman’s keynote address runs from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m.

Azhar Usman

Azhar Usman

Usman has a lot to say about today’s political climate and reaches people with humor and compassion.  He is the co-founder of the widely performed Allah Made Me Funny-Official Muslim Comedy Tour.

He produced a documentary-concert film based on the tour, which was released in select U.S. movie theaters in late 2008. It became one of the top-20 highest grossing standup comedy concert films of all time.  Formally trained as an attorney, Usman has been touring as a full-time comedian since 2004 and has performed in more than 20 countries, on five continents and in five languages.

Co-sponsored by more than a dozen Twin Cities organizations, “Ways of Peace II: Non-Violence in the Islamic Traditions” brings together Muslim scholars and activists who will address misperceptions and increase understanding about Islam and Muslims.

The keynote address, “The Political Climate Today,” will examine the role nonviolence is playing in the current uprisings in Middle East and Arab nations, and how it connects with geopolitical policies of the last 60 years.

The morning panel addresses the theology, philosophy and history of nonviolence in Islam. After the keynote, the afternoon panel of activists address “Nonviolence in Action: Muslim Peacemaking on the Ground.”

The Minnesota premier of “The Frontier Gandhi: Badshah Khan, A Torch for Peace” wraps up the conference at 4:30 p.m. This biography of the Muslim who inspired 100,000 men, women and youth to join the nonviolent overthrow of British rule in pre-partition India is filled with archival footage and interviews with veterans of that struggle, most of them over 100 years old.

The conference – the second in a series that is exploring nonviolence in various faith and secular traditions – is open to the public. The fee is $15 ($10 for students) and lunch is available for an additional $10 in advance. Details about the conference and how to register can be found on this website or by calling (651) 917-0383.

“Many non-Muslims want to learn more about Islam, without the slant given by some politicians and commentators,” said Erika Thorne, managing director of Friends for a Non-Violent World, conference co-presenter.

“The conference will provide a rich opportunity to hear directly from Muslim scholars and activists about nonviolence in the Islamic traditions. And many Twin Cities Muslims may also be curious to explore nonviolence in Islamic sacred texts, history and current practice. ‘Ways of Peace II: Nonviolence in the Islamic Traditions’ is a chance to come together across cultures to absorb some of this rich body of thought and practice.”

Other sponsors of “Ways of Peace II: Nonviolence in the Islamic Traditions” include The St. Paul Foundation, The Fredrikson and Byron Foundation, the Al-Rawiya Foundation, Tim Wulling and Marilyn Benson, and The Gandhi Mahal: Fine Indian Cuisine.