Women in Christian-Muslim dialogue want to break down stereotypes

 — Sept. 22, 200822 sept. 2008

by Naveen Qayyum (*)

Can women play a strong role in bringing reconciliation and tolerance to the communities in conflict? Can divisions and divides be resolved from a faith-based perspective, when religion often is considered a cause of violence?

These were some of many critical questions addressed in a dialogue process “Moving towards peace through religion” by 25 women of Christian and Muslim faith in a meeting held 4-7 September in Gothenburg, Sweden. The event was a joint initiative of World Council of Churches and Tehran’s Institute of Interreligious Dialogue and hosted by the Gothenburg diocese of the Church of Sweden.

Shared experiences of conflict

“For experiencing the vicious occupation of Palestine, I can tell that my country is a land of people, and not stones. If there is a hope for peace, women are in a significant position to influence that process along with men,” said Lily Habash, a Christian from Palestine who works on governance issues with the Palestinian authority in Ramallah, West Bank, striving for ethical policies in her country which has been marred with violence for years.

Her viewpoint was echoed by Catherine Oberg-Sadjedi, an American with both Christian and Muslim roots, who became involved in dialogue and movements for peace after the terrorist attacks on New York in September 2001.

“My Swedish and Iranian heritage put me in a unique situation naturally wanting to be a bridge between cultures,” she said. “I felt I had to contribute to the need for understanding and urgent dialogue. There was a growing wave of backlash and the Muslim community mobilized quickly with other religious groups, the media, law enforcement, universities and cultural institutions to counteract the detrimental stereotypes.”

Oberg-Sadjedi is a filmmaker and television producer in New York. One of her films, “An Afghan American Woman,” addresses issues related to Muslim identity.

Peacemaking through religion

“Faith is an inspiration in Palestine for the struggles of conflict resolution,” said Habash when sharing her experience of being a Christian minority in a conflict area. “The peaceful co-existence of different faiths in the diverse city of Jerusalem illuminates the significance of tolerance and unity for a cause amidst religious plurality,” she said describing the faith diversity in Palestine as a high point in the struggles for peace.

“We, the Christian minority in Palestine can be seen as a most tolerant community. In history we have lived together, suffered together and have starved and worked together for peace with people of faith different from ours. The relations between Christians and Muslims in Palestine can be an example for the world of how we fought for the national cause in solidarity with each other.”

Similar thoughts were shared by Oberg-Sadjedi: “I believe it is possible to reach peace through religion. History shows us time and again that conflict between different people is mostly created as a result of political and economical manipulation, not religious differences. The values of a religion can inspire the peace process in the most crucial ways. In the US interfaith dialogue opened the doors of understanding and tolerance in a climate of post-9/11 fear.”

Understanding and accepting the “other”

“Dialogue in this event has made us learn from each other, educate ourselves and listen to the diverse voices. This can be called a first step in peacemaking, where dialogue creates a deeper understanding of how we understand the ‘other’.” said Habash.

“Dialogue is a way to approach and understand the ‘other’, it is essential as [the] ‘other’ is also part of the ‘truth’,” she added. “Breaking the barriers through interfaith dialogue makes us realize that we can accept the ‘others’, and we are not the only ones with the ‘truth’.”

Women’s perspectives strongly influenced how the meeting addressed issues which hinder peacemaking in communities and societies. “Being a woman influences the way we communicate with each other. Women do speak differently when we are alone together, and we tend to approach the issues from a cultural and social aspect as well. We are able to share about the problems that concern us and initiate dialogue in a unique way,” said Oberg-Sadjedi.

“Religion is an educational process and a way to organize ourselves and communities. Women have a great potential in making a difference to this process,” Habash added.

When asked what she as a woman peacemaker would like to communicate to the world, Oberg-Sadjedi pleaded to break down stereotypes related to the religion in the media: “As a filmmaker with a bicultural background who has lived in three continents I have a unique way of seeing the whole picture. When you are a global citizen you have a huge stake in the peace process. It is impossible to see things as either black or white. I have a responsibility to communicate and mediate between the cultures I feel I belong to.”

(*) Naveen Qayyum is a documentary filmmaker and a member of the church of Pakistan. She is currently working on a film project on Muslim immigrant communities in Europe. Qayyum is a member of the WCC Christian-Muslim women network.

More information on the Christian and Muslim women’s meeting
WCC work on inter-religious dialogue and cooperation

Posted: Sept. 22, 2008 • Permanent link: ecumenism.net/?p=497
Categories: WCC NewsIn this article: Islam
Transmis : 22 sept. 2008 • Lien permanente : ecumenism.net/?p=497
Catégorie : WCC NewsDans cet article : Islam

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