The Other In My Tradition
URI Middle East 2nd Conference
4th Middle East Abrahamic Conference
8 - 11 September 2003
Some 45 participants came to the 2nd regional conference of the Middle East region of the United Religions Initiative (URI). They were Jews, Muslims, Christians and Druze; coming from 7 Middle Eastern countries -- Egypt, Israel, Jordan, the Palestinian Authority, Qatar, Tunisia and Turkey -- with several guests from Germany, Holland, Japan and Spain. Visa problems prevented several people from Lebanon and the Palestinian Authority to join us.
We started by introducing the URI, its story and its structure as well as its current member groups in the region: The Interfaith Encounter Association, MCC; The Egyptian Interfaith Association, CC; The Jordanian Interfaith Action, CC and the Nablus Youth Federation, CC (that unfortunately could not have been represented due to those visa problems). We also introduced the Jordanian organization Massar that helped in organizing the conference.
Then we split into groups of three people who do not know each other, who introduced themselves to one another. Later every three triads formed together a group of nine in which each participant introduced one of his or her fellows to the triad. These groups remained as the discussion groups for the conference.
In the first part of the conference we had 4 sessions, each focusing on a different religious viewpoint of the theme - starting with a short presentation of the basics of that Jewish/Muslim/Druze/Christian approach and following with a longer conversation in the discussion groups about those basics and the way they are understood and practiced. Summaries of the presentations are at the end of this report.
After we felt that the interaction between the participants is positive and strong, we moved the second part in which we planned the expansion in quantity and quality of interfaith dialogue and peace-making in the region. We began that part by explaining how to form a Cooperation Circle (CC) of URI and then moved to discuss in the groups initial ideas for projects. The groups came up with the following ideas that were clustered in the following way:
· Interfaith camp for Middle East youth I a nearby country like Cyprus;
· A youth magazine about religion, culture and peace;
· Initiatives of the different CCs to present the concept of interfaith dialogue and cooperation in schools;
· Forming a regional CC for women in the Middle East and North Africa;
· Organizing a women's conference next year in Istanbul or Amman;
MEDIA & CULTURE
· Creating a website for the Middle East and North Africa region;
· Forming a regional CC for journalists and writers;
· Organizing conferences for interfaith cultural exchange of performing arts, including the recording of a multimedia CD and public performances in festivals;
· Creating a website and a multimedia CD that presents the different religions through information, pictures, music, movies etc and in different languages;
· Organizing conference of senior religious, social and political leaders for cooperation in the promotion of human peace;
· Forming a regional CC for religious leaders.
During the next session, participants divided into four groups according to their interest in the different clusters and worked to add detailed planning to the projects. We also had social and cultural activities at the conference. In the first evening we gave room for free conversations and exchange at the lobby of the Cordoba Hotel that hosted the conference. In the second evening we had a cultural evening with dancing groups performing traditional Jordanian, Palestinian and Syrian dances - that made most of us join in dancing.
Finally, in the third afternoon we went to visit Mount Nebo and the famous map in Madaba, where we were welcomed - and greeted in Arabic, Hebrew and English - by the local Bishop Doroteos.
Duriig the evaluation session many participants expressed their excitement and admiration to the process and the many new friendships they gained through it. On their evaluation forms nearly all participants said they learned new things about other religions and many said they also learnt new things about their own religion.
One participant wrote: "I was surprised to find things common in my religious and the other religions and to understand what the origins of the differences. It was an intellectual experience."; another wrote: "I learnt that there are a lot of different and wonderful people in every religion and that we should not judge people without knowing more about them and their culture and their tradition"; a third one: "I liked the people, getting to know so much about their religion and their daily life. I liked seeing the group growing together."
When we later fare welled it took us some 45 minutes of shaking hands, hugging, kissing and crying until we managed to depart, already missing our new friends and looking forward to the next time we meet again with them.
Prepared by Mohamed Mosaad, Yehuda Stolov (Regional Coordinators) and Anas Abadi (Conference organizer).
Examples of past dialogues