(Vatican Radio) Promoting interfaith and ecumenical relations are the two main goals of the Tantur Ecumenical Institute in Jerusalem, which is currently marking the 50th anniversary of its foundation.
Set up in the wake of Pope Paul VI’s historic visit to the Holy Land and supported by the U.S. University of Notre Dame, it offer a wide variety of conferences, study programmes and research opportunities for scholars, students, religious pilgrimage groups or simply local people interested in interreligious dialogue.
Philippa Hitchen is visiting Tantur this week and found out how interfaith efforts are attempting to address the Palestinian-Israeli conflict:
I learnt a new Arabic word today: Wasatiyyah. It means ‘the middle way’ or moderate, but also balanced, just and fair. The opposite, in other words, of extremist, unbalanced, discriminatory, unfair.
‘Wasatia’ is also the name of a movement launched exactly a decade ago by a Palestinian professor and peace activist, Mohammed Dajani. If you’ve heard his name before, it’s most likely in connection with the uproar he caused a couple of years ago when he led a group of students from Jerusalem’s Al Quds university to visit the Auschwitz Nazi death camp. It was part of a joint project - with groups from two Jewish universities visiting a Palestinian refugee camp - to help young people see firsthand the suffering that has shaped the identity of those on the other side of the conflict.
Dajani’s efforts grew out of his own experience of seeing how well Israeli doctors treated his mother and father when they needed urgent medical attention – the last thing he’d expected as he grew up demonizing Israelis and calling for the destruction of their country.
Today he’s well known for his interfaith work and his efforts to teach young Muslims that this concept of ‘Wasatia’ or moderation is at the heart of Islamic belief and practice, just as Aristotle taught that the golden mean was the ideal of Greek philosophy and ethics.
Dajani and noted Jewish scholar, Rabbi Ron Kronish, founder of the Interreligious Coordinating Council in Israel, were two of the keynote speakers at a conference I attended in Jerusalem on Tuesday on how to promote moderation and reconciliation in the midst of the conflict here.
Most interestingly I noted a number of young Jewish and Muslim participants networking and exchanging ideas on how to promote respectful discussion of these difficult issues on facebook and other social media sites.
But can such scholarly debates really make any difference at the grass roots here, where people of faith seem unable to make any positive impact on the interminable political stalemate?
I put the question to Professor Dajani at the end of the conference. He smiled and said, “Look, you have learnt a new word, ‘wasatia’ today.” Every time a Palestinian or Israeli learns that word and turns from extremism to moderation, our dreams become hopes and peace can move one step closer.