CALENDAR OF EVENTS
Conference Explores the Significance of the Amman Interfaith Message
Written by David Fraser Harris, UPF-Middle East
Saturday, December 22, 2012
Amman, Jordan - It was no coincidence that UPF chose to hold a conference in Amman on "The Significance of the Amman Interfaith Message." At a time when radical changes are sweeping the Arab world and efforts for peace are more needed than ever, UPF wanted to hold a conference that focused on the positive role of religion in bringing people together in peace. As the nation that produced both a major Islamic call for interfaith cooperation and the proposal that launched the United Nations World Interfaith Harmony Week, Jordan seemed the obvious choice for the December 20-22 gathering.
[Released by H.M. King Abdullah II in Amman, Jordan on November 9, 2004, the Amman Message sought to declare what Islam is and what it is not and also what actions represent Islam and what actions do not. To read the text in English, click here.]
Working closely with Jordan’s leadership, UPF invited religious leaders, Protestant, Catholic, Sunni and Shia, from across the region. Jordan’s Grand Mufti and government minister for Religious Affairs highlighted the significance of the Amman Message, while later sessions featured speakers from Palestine, Iraq, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, and Tunisia. Key to the success of such a conference - at a time of regional instability – was the patronage of former Jordanian Prime Minister, Faisal Al Fayez. In addition, UPF is grateful for the support of Al Etihad Al Watani, one of Jordan’s emerging political groups, in securing the necessary permissions and arrangements for a smoothly run conference, and for the untiring efforts of Dr. Hamdi Murad, whose welcoming remarks set the tone for our conference .
Articles on the conference in Jordan’s three major newspapers (click here for a translation) emphasized the stabilizing effect of the Amman Message, which was originally released in November 2004. In the words of Jordan’s Minister for Islamic Affairs, “The Amman Message shows the true image of Islam, which is God's desire for human happiness and well-being." He mentioned that this message was launched from Amman to reflect the reality of the pillars of this religion and to stress that the Islamic civilization has made effective contributions to the development of civilization throughout the ages. Noting the global upsurge of intra-national conflict, Dr Thomas Walsh, President of UPF, saw one strength of the Amman Message as its readiness to address intra-religious tensions, adding that a further strength of the message was its refusal to be satisfied with the defusing of tensions or even with tolerance; in favor of a push to find full acceptance and goodwill. Father Joseph Saghbini, auxiliary patriarchal vicar for the Melkite Catholic Church in Jerusalem, highlighted the centrality of the Palestinian problem to peace efforts in the region and then went on to speak of a series of dialogue conferences in Jerusalem, one of which gathered 500 Christians and Muslims.
Speakers at later sessions included: Dr Mohammad Habash, who appealed for help for his native Syria, recognizing that Jordan was a good place to develop a common understanding, and that dialogue involving all – including Christian, Druze, and Alawite – was important; Sheikh Mohamad Ali Al Hajj from Lebanon, who spoke from close experience of the divisions brought by civil war and of an effective Beirut initiative named “holy people without borders”; and Ayab Abbas from Iraq, who spoke of the shattered rainbow of his country and the need to develop practical initiatives and inspiring foundations, referring in particular to the Art of Living Foundation's Trauma Relief program in Iraq over the past nine years. Other speakers addressed the referendum taking place in Egypt, questioning the content of the proposed constitution and the “democratic” process of the referendum; the “democratic” changes in Tunisia, warning of threats to religious pluralism; the role of women; and the democratic process itself.
During other sessions, Jordanian woman speakers were at the forefront: Mrs. Haifa Al Bashir, a pioneer among Jordanian women and in the field of charitable work, highlighted the importance of the family as the “first cell” in the peace process, and therefore of the vital role of women: “she has to plant tolerance and values in the souls of children.” Mrs. Zuhour Rabadi, a Jordanian Christian, spoke of her various projects with the Women’s Federation for World Peace in the country, asking everyone to remember the suffering mothers – Palestinian, Jewish, Iraqi and Syrian.
One especially full session included four key Islamic leaders and one Christian. The muftis of the armed troops, civil defense, public security, and the national gendarmerie were joined on the panel by a Jordanian Baptist minister and an extremely able interfaith moderator. The session was not without its lighter moments, notably when the mufti beside the moderator passed him a note indicating that his time was up!
In his closing remarks, after thanking both the conference patron and the local partners, UPF’s regional chair for the Middle East and North Africa, Dr. Young Tack Yang, told of his longing to find a solution that would bring peace to his native, divided Korea; of initial skepticism at the naïve-sounding advice of UPF’s founder (“North-South unification will be accomplished by true love”); and of his full circle discovery that, in the end, it will always be love that trumps method.
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