Interfaith Peacebuilding


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Interfaith Programs

Interfaith Consultation in Giessen on Reconciliation in Israel and Palestine

Giessen, Germany - The Giessen chapter of UPF-Germany invited Jews and Muslims to a Sept. 25, 2010 roundtable discussion on the theme of "Reconciliation in Israel and Palestine." Featured at the meeting was the 41st Middle East Peace Initiative (MEPI) pilgrimage, which Mr. Christian Seeburger had taken part in earlier in August. He moderated the program and chaired the discussion afterward.

Most people are aware that Jews, Christians, and Muslims are all children of Abraham. This thought was the central focus of the three impressive presentations given by Mr. Amnon Orbach, Chairman of the Jewish Community in Marburg, Germany; Sheikh Hashim Jansen, doctor of Islamic theology and imam in The Hague, Netherlands; and Mr. Mark Bramwell, Chairman of UPF in Hessen. An enthusiastic discussion followed.

The program opened with the youth choir of the Family Federation. The young people sung very beautiful songs of peace. Then Mr. Seeburger told of his recent pilgrimage to Jerusalem and the history of the Middle East Peace Initiative, which was initiated by Rev. Dr. Sun Myung Moon in 2003 and has continued till this day. The MEPI experiences have been deeply moving for the participants as they learn to appreciate and respect each other’s religious traditions. For example, a Christian pastor baptized a Dutch imam in the Jordan River.

Amnon Orbach

These meetings not only underscore dialogue but also encourage the participants to experience aspects of different religious traditions without running the risk of negating their own faith tradition. UPF seeks to find common ground and empower Ambassadors for Peace to pursue efforts for peace with the understanding that “It is not about blaming, but taking responsibility and learning to forgive each other.” There is also a UPF initiative to establish an interfaith council at the UN to advise the General Assembly on policy decisions.

Mr. Amnon Orbach was born in Palestine, before the State of Israel was proclaimed. He chose two Hebrew songs and invited the visitors to sing along. His presentation focused on the political situation in the Middle East. He began his presentation with some important questions: How can we create real peace and development? What determines this? What are the obstacles at the moment? Mr. Orbach emphasized several reasons for a two-state solution, based on demographics and questions of security, including Jordan and Egypt.

The most important issue is borders, then security. Israel is the only UN member state that has no fixed boundaries. There has been a problem of coexistence of the Jewish and Palestinian people. The majority of the population on both sides would be willing to waive some areas for the sake of peace. The relation between Jews and Palestinians is improving daily. Since one and a half years ago, there have been few terror incidents.

The Palestinians used to be terrorists, but now they are peace activists. Yassir Arafat made very little investment in the infrastructure and organization in the West Bank, but today, eight years later, things seem to be going much better, with better political leadership.

Mr. Orbach expressed his belief that the Palestinian people were on the right track. The Arab states have helped the Palestinians in difficult situations, and few Palestinian refugees in Arab states are without rights, passports, or work. He admired Palestinians as the most clever Arabs in the Middle East. We Jews, he said, are connected with the Palestinians, like Siamese twins, linked to each other through common water, energy, ports and even through the sky above us. For us Jews it would be much better if we could live in peace.

Hashim Jansen

Dr. Hashim Jansen welcomed the participants in the event in Hebrew and Arabic but gave presentation in English. He participated in the last MEPI event in Jerusalem and said that he had some very encouraging and beautiful experiences, but also saw things that were not so nice. What impressed him at the very outset was witnessing Jews, Christians, and Muslims working together as colleagues and friends in the Jewish, kosher hotel where they stayed.

He stated that politics and human affairs are two different things. If someone says that his mother is the best mother in the world, then everyone can understand. Each person has the right to say this, but not the right to say that someone else's mother is not the best mother in the world. He recommended applying this principle to talk about religion. One of the most important things in Islam is to understand another person through talking, sharing food, traveling, and having mutual respect for each other.

In discussions about Islam, many questions arise, including some criticisms, such as about the position of women in society. "I believe that the first feminist in Islam was the Prophet Muhammad himself, because at that time, women had no rights," Dr. Jansen stated. Before the time of the Prophet Mohammed, new-born girls were often buried alive. Muhammad changed these things. Women were not allowed to be "bought" but were to be married, and the dowry was introduced. Work and study for women was then permitted. A newborn girl represented a value.

The current problems of women in Islamic countries are not justifiable based on the example of the Prophet, he added. The imams should clarify this with each other. The Qur'an says very clearly that paradise is under the feet of mothers, that they are the key to paradise. Mr. Jansen then raised the question whether Muslims understand their own religion and concluded by saying probably not! He cited a reference from the Qur'an: “If you kill one person, it is as if you kill all humanity.” Extremists understand this passage completely wrong, he said; they only see things the way they want to understand them.

The most recent MEPI pilgrimage took place during Ramadan, and in the evening there was a common meal. During one evening program, while a speaker was making a presentation it became clear that he would not finish his remarks before the 7:20, the time for breaking the fast. Seated around the tables were Jews, Christians, and Muslims. All were nervous because for Muslims it is a duty to break fast at exactly the appointed time. Suddenly a Jewish rabbi stood up and asked the waiter for a jug of water and handed this to his Muslim brothers with the words "Please start; it's time to break fast."

He gave this as an example of the way we should live together. That is living the principles of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam as taught by the prophets of the great religions. What can we do? Mr. Jansen listened carefully to the speeches and prayers, and the words "hope" and "desire" were often mentioned. This made him a little sad. Since a long time, God has promised us all that peace would come.

Perhaps we should rather ask God when peace will come? If we already have God's confidence, then we simply would need to do it together - and make peace. Mr. Jansen had confidence in God's promise, that God's kingdom of peace would come, but not so as he would like to have, but as God has envisioned it for us, His children. We ask God for so much, but we glorify and praise God too little. If I have faith, now is my time to truly practice it. God wants us to work for peace-loving for one another. Theological discussion alone will never lead to peace.

Towards the end of his address, Mr Jansen pulled a 60-year-old ring from his pocket and told a touching story of his family in Netherlands. He explained that his mother was of Jewish descent, and that she followed Jesus. Then he went on to explain that his grandmother worked as a nurse and once helped a wounded Nazi officer lying the road. No one else wanted to help him because he was a enemy. She treated the German officer, and shortly before he died, he squeezed her hand tight and left her this ring. In spite of politics and war, these two people could relate to each other heart to heart, like brother and sister!

After the presentation of Mr. Jansen, there were many questions from the audience, especially on the topic of Sharia. Jansen referred to the fact that he had studied Sharia law for five years, but that was not enough time to understand it thoroughly. In general, he could say that the way in which the laws of Sharia are practiced in Islamic countries today is not the way the prophet Mohammed would have approved.

For example, cutting off the hand for theft requires four witnesses but Muhammad himself never practiced this. According to Sharia law, a man who has committed adultery should also be be stoned. It is reported that such a sinner came to confess and repent to the Prophet, but Mohammed turned his ear. Then the man whispered his offense in the other ear of the Prophet. He turned his ear away again.

Only on the fourth attempt of the sinful man did the Prophet Mohammed say, "Go home and clarify this with your wife and God." Mohammed did not impose the Shariah law in that situation. These laws are also based on the culture of that time and the Mosaic laws. In Arab countries, the Shariah is not applied correctly. Mr. Jansen believes in the Shariah, but only as it was  practiced by the Prophet Muhammad: Shariah with mercy. Islam says that war should be made, but only in defence when justified by a reveled threat.

 Mark Bramwell

The concluding remarks were made by Mr. Mark Bramwell, who noted with satisfaction that this event was one of the best and well balanced. Mr, Bramwell explained briefly the views of UPF. He emphasized that conflict resolution begins with a spiritual approach. If this is achieved, then political solutions will be free of violence and successful. Without interreligious understanding, there is no end to conflict, because religion and faith are the strongest forces in the world.

Concerning the question what is God's aim for the great Abrahamic faiths—whether they go their own way forever or whether they are predestined to unite—he referred to the thoughts of the UPF founder, Rev. Dr. Moon: Love for one another is the only real healing power to overcome all conflicts. God wants to see people united as one body. There have been concepts of truth in all religions. All believers should work together for the good of their fellow man and take their core practical issues more seriously than theology. The original world of God and His true philosophy goes far beyond religions and nations. The unification of religions is even more urgent than the unity of nations.

Emphasizing complicated theories and concepts is not the priority, but rather the teaching of selflessness, to live for the sake of others and understanding God's heart and desire. This should be the motto of the 21st century. Finally, it is high time that the walls separating religions crumble and we understand that God, as our Parent, eagerly desires to see the great religions united as brothers and sisters united in love establishing "one world under God."

Translated from German by Barry Mahler

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