[This is a summary of the 16th Annual Tachmindji Event for Interfaith Dialogue and Peacebuilding held on Sunday, October 30, 2016 at American University. It is not a transcript, but my paraphrase of Sr. Mohammed Abu-Nimr’s presentation.]
“Alternative Responses to Violent Extremism: Islamic Approaches to Peacebuilding”
Dr. Mohammed Abu-Nimer shared experiences of the past few years. A Palestinian who grew up in Israel, he brought many Israelis and Palestinians together in the 80s when it was fashionable, but he burned out, and in the First Intifada left the land of honey for the land of education. He finds the narratives of counter violence and counter extremism to be a poor approach.
There is a defensive and an offensive discourse of war and peace in Islam. The main objective has been to interrupt the radicalization and recruitment. They will introduce projects intended to stop recruitment but without improving the life if the community breeding suspicion and resentment. How shall we do prevention? It took twelve years to arrive at the conclusion that law enforcement alone is insufficient. The EU adopted a different language in 2005.
Dr. Abu-Nimer said it takes him years to convince local leaders that he is not there to gather intelligence for the US government. How can one do Islamic approaches to peace building without employing Qur’an or Hadith? We are afraid of religious identity. Occasionally you will find a Muslim leader highlighted by an American politician and that does not help the community because the objective is not to develop the Muslim community but to securitize the religion. If you are serious about engaging a religious leader you do do before and after the agreement. We have seen manipulation of religious identity for violence at far back as Cain and Able, or perhaps Adam and Eve. Those who have a war to launch ask the clergy to bless their war. It happens today and here; it is not an Islamic issue. We still don’t know how effective the CVE (“Countering Violent Extremism”) is. It has become an essential item on a Washington resume even for a clerical job in a hotel yet we have no evidence of its effectiveness.
We know violent Muslim extremist groups exist, but they have a constituency of 150,000 out of 1.5 billion Muslims. There are other Muslim establishments, reformers and minorities and sects. We refuse to work with the Muslim Brotherhood although in some areas they have 20-30% support.
There are three theological theories of wars: offensive war, just war, and nonviolence. The basic principles of Islamic peacemaking are:
- Pursuit of Justice
- Doing Good
- Universality and Human Dignity
- Sacredness of Human Life
- Quest for Peace
- Deeds, Actions, and Individual Responsibility
Arab societies often engage in reconciliation without forgiveness. The challenge is to show that forgiveness is an important element of Islam. Christians do not have exclusive ownership of mercy. Your sin is not greater than God’s mercy. The Islamic Sources of Forgiveness are:
- afw – Pardon or amnesty
- ghafara – covering up, erasing sin, absolution
- samah ease, generosity, allowing others to act
- tasamuh – tolerance, forgiving attitude
In the Qur’an afw appears 35 times, safhu eight times, and ghafara 234 times. The Prophet Muhammad (pnuh) forgave his enemies in Ta’if despite their ving set their children out t stine him; he freed eighty people in Hudybiyya who ha been taken captive while attacking him; and issued a general amnesty to his enemies in Mecca upon taking the city.
We did 600 surveys of teachers in Iraq Egypt Jordan Syria Lebanon and Palestine asking, “When do you forgive?” The Jordanians were least willing ti forgive, especially as regards family honor, principally due to tribal traditions.
We asked for role models for reconciliation. Many were mentioned (among them Nelson Mandala, St Frances, and Muhammad) on the historical level and examples from their family and local community, but they could not find a single example from the national and sub-national levels. We adopted 70 stories of forgiveness into our manual but must overcome the challenge of getting them incorporated into the curriculum.
In the Qur’anic schools we visited, they were pleased to teach about peace and conflict resolution, and asked only for desks and a roof in return. They already knew how to teach forgiveness, but none had received any training in pedagogy. Donor insistence that we must include gay issues in the curriculum miss the fact that this is not a priority for these people. There was no teaching of violence or killing. Major findings:
- Religion was identified as important or very important for 92% of the Arbs surveyed
- The role of faith in justifying forgiveness and reconciliation was central to 85% of the teachers interviewed
- 89% of teachers acknowledge that they need skills and knowledge on how to teach forgiveness and reconciliation;
- Responses on forgiveness in different situations differs according to faith with Christians
You have to engage the religious leaders, non-obstructively and not to instrumentalize them (demanding a fatwa to serve your own purposes). The religious leaders are only one of nine or ten sectors of society. Most often not they but the political leaders are the source of the problem. We put a great burden on the religious peacemakers but offer them no security or protection. The secular policy makers lack a basic literacy of religion yet seek to tell the mufti what to do.
Religious leaders are generally older men. When you go to community leaders the majority of workers are women. When we asked for examples of forgiveness motivated by faith we found more women.
The tools to teach forgiveness are: Critical thinking, emotional intelligence, skills in the process of dialog.
Minaret of Freedom Institute