Druze Host Interreligious Conference in Israel
Written by Dr. Thomas G. Walsh, Secretary General, UPF
Wednesday, October 31, 2007
At the Druze headquarters overlooking the Sea of Galilee, a Jewish theologian bowed down and kissed the grave of Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses. Dr. Shuki Ben Ami explained that he honored the person from whom the Druze trace their heritage “because he also represents Jews, Muslims, and Christians.”
Dr. Ben Ami was among the ten Jewish, ten Christian and ten Muslim leaders from Israel who joined eighty-eight Druze scholars, teachers, sheikhs, and professionals attending UPF’s International Leadership Conference October 29-31, 2007, in Tiberias, a city on the west shore of the Sea of Galilee. The gathering was hosted by the Druze leader Sheikh Moafak Tarif, who believes in a common ground that unites religious people. “Religious leaders must be messengers of peace,” he told the assembly, “and not affirm those who abuse or misrepresent religion.”
The conference presented an overview of the principles and programs of UPF, with special emphasis on the vision of creating “one family under God.” Speaking in Hebrew, understood by all Druze, secretary general of UPF-Israel Hod Ben Zvi gave the opening presentation on “A Vision of One Family under God.” Taj Hamad, speaking in Arabic, gave a presentation on the spirit world and the importance of a religious life. Other presenters were Dr. S.J. Lee, Dr. Antonio Betancourt, Mel Haft, and Rev. Michael W. Jenkins.
Between sessions there were opportunities for discussion. Many of the delegates were eager to ask questions and share their views. The spirit was high, friendly, and open. Father Dimitri Mussa, head of the Orthodox Christian community in the predominately Druze village of Abu-Snan, said, “Since my childhood, I have asked God to be close to me. When I look at you, I find God in each of you. Spending time in the company of imams, sheikhs, priests, I find that I am sitting with myself because we are one. I can see that we can live together as people of different religions, because God is one. We have to unite in God’s garden when we leave this earth.”
During a visit to the Druze headquarters, Druze scholars explained that according to Druze tradition, Moses asked Jethro, who was a good organizer and manager, to go with them to Canaan and “be our eyes to see the way forward.” Druze have no printed scriptures. Priests spend years studying hand-written notes and must observe strict standards.
Sheikh Samih Naif Natur, editor of the Druze magazine El Amama, referred to Druze roots in Cairo, when the unification method called Dar al-Hikma (the House of Wisdom) started about a thousand years ago. “The light of knowledge and unification burned there. This conference is only another step.”
“When the relationship is personal, it goes beyond the barriers,” said a former district judge, Yousef Ismaeel. “We all believe in one God. Although we are different, our core principles are the same.”
Ambassadors for Peace certificates were awarded as part of the closing ceremony of the conference.
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