LAST WEEK, I was in Amman, Jordan to receive an award on behalf of the Philippine Center for Islam and Democracy (PCID) for the interfaith dialogues we conducted during the 2013 World Interfaith Harmony Week (WIHW). We won the silver! Accompanying me were our partners, former Sen. Santanina Rasul for the Magbassa Kita Foundation Inc (MKFI) and Ustadza Omuhani Mabandes for the Noorus Salam.
Prince Ghazi currently chairs the Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought, which organized the contest for the best interfaith event during the 2013 WIHW. Established in 1980 by His Majesty the late King Hussein Bin Talal, the institute serves “Jordan, Arabs, Muslims and humanity at large” by formulating solutions for “the issues, problems and challenges of the time.”The World Interfaith Harmony Week is an annual celebration proposed by H. M. King Abdullah II of Jordan at the United Nations General Assembly and adopted by the United Nations in 2010. The WIHW takes place during the first week of February. The proposal was based on the pioneering work of the Common Word Initiative, which calls for Muslim and Christian leaders to engage in a dialogue based on two common fundamental religious Commandments — Love of God and Love of Neighbor — without having to compromise their basic religious tenets. Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad, one of the leading intellectuals and religious scholars of the Islamic World, is the moving force behind A Common Word (ACW).
The institute decided to organize the prize this year to recognize the best three events held during the World Interfaith Harmony Week. About 363 events were held this year in 53 countries, but only 60 were shortlisted for the award, according to the organizers. Prince Ghazi gave the awards on behalf of King Abdullah II.
The awarding ceremony took place on April 25 at the site of the baptism of Jesus Christ by the River Jordan in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Acknowledging the appropriateness of the site for the awarding, His Beatitude, Patriarch Theophilus III, said, “Our physical presence here by the baptismal site, where the sacred history was revealed and handed down to us through Holy Scriptures and where Jesus Christ was baptized, bears witness to our common humanity and its destiny to ‘theosis’; that is our unity with God. Furthermore, The baptism site together with Bethlehem and Jerusalem constitutes its own part of a nation of interfaith harmony; where the Abrahamic faiths were destined to live in peace and understanding.”
The Board of Judges, chaired by H. R .H. Princess Areej Ghazi, included H. B. Patriarch Theophilus III (patriarch of the Holy City, Palestine and Jordan), H. E. Bishop Munib Yunan (bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land, and president of the World Federation of Evangelical Lutheran Churches), Father Nabil Haddad (founder and executive director of the Jordanian Interfaith Coexistence Research Center), Dr. Minwer Al-Mheid (director of the Royal Aal Al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought), Nabil Al-Sahib (first deputy of the Royal Aal Al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought) and Aftab Ahmed (director of the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Center).
Speaking at the awarding ceremony, HB Patriarch Theophilus stressed the importance of WIHW and said, “Though we are destined to live in harmony, interfaith peace is indeed a challenge worldwide. It is precisely for this reason that all efforts to bring our faiths closer together must be acknowledged.” It was truly a rare honor to meet the Patriarch, who is the Eastern Church counterpart of the Pope.
Director Minwer Mheid noted that “religious leaders and civil societies have bigger roles to play than governments in promoting peace, as people tend to suspect the government’s intentions.”
He also stressed that while Jordan is not challenged by religious divisions, “We can see extremism developing in all religions.… We have to be a part of this dialogue. There is an urgent need for all of us to help people in other nations by encouraging interfaith harmony.”
Paying tribute to the role that Jordan has played in the promotion of peace and harmony in the Middle East, Bishop Younan said, “Jordan has become the hub of Christian-Muslim dialogue both regionally and globally. This dialogue is not merely an academic exercise, but an exercise being lived out from day to day where God’s faithful people live under one constitution, experiencing religious freedom with equal citizenship that calls for equal rights and responsibility to every Jordanian.”
Princess Areej noting the uniqueness of the WIHW as a UN sponsored event, pointed out “the ingenious formula of its title and content never before used in the world, let alone the UN: Love of God and Love of the Neighbor OR Love of the Good and Love of the Neighbor.” This formula — love of God or love of the good — was the proposal of Prince Ghazi (her husband). She said, “This allows believers to remember God, and leaves a space for non-monotheists who believe in the good. And since the Good (Al-Barr) is one of God’s Names in the Qur’an and in the Bible, Jesus Christ says only God is the good, so Muslims and Christians can be satisfied that they have not compromised their religions in any way, by celebrating the World Interfaith Harmony Week under this formula.”
During her speech, Princess Areej said while they would have liked to give everyone prizes, the judges favored two categories of groups: “those working courageously in conflicted zones despite scant resources (and this I believe explains our first, second place winners and our two runners-up), and those who held the most excellent and useful events with their resources, (and this I believe explains our third place winner).
The first prize and a gold medal was awarded to the Interfaith Mediation Center, Kaduna for their event “Imam and Pastor from Vengeance to Forgiveness” in Nigeria. Nigeria has been wracked by armed conflicts between Christian and Muslim communities. The center organized a peaceful rally in Kaduna, with hundreds of Christian and Muslim participants.
The third prize and a bronze medal went to the Malaysian Department of National Unity and Integration, a government body, for organizing their “World Interfaith Harmony Week Malaysia 2013,” a national peace and harmony initiative, which reached 10,000 individuals.
The second prize and a silver medal went to PCID for our simultaneous dialogues entitled, “A Common Word Towards A Common Peace.”
In line with our continuing effort to engage religious groups and other sectors in peace building and harmony among Filipinos of all faiths, the PCID, in partnership with the MKFI and the Noorus Salam,conducted interfaith dialogues last Feb. 4 in four cities, simultaneously.
This year, we decided to have the interfaith events organized by the women of PCID, MKFI and Noorus Salam,believing that women need to be more engaged in peacemaking and interfaith harmony. The dialogues were designed to be intimate gatherings of 20 to 25 faith leaders, to share thoughts on how harmony among peoples of all faiths is essential for genuine and lasting peace to take root in our communities. The dialogues elicited from the participants their ideas and understanding on our theme of “A Common Word for A Common Peace.” We held the dialogues in our PCID office at the NCPAG Annex Building Conference Room, University of the Philippines, Quezon City; the Women Support Center, RT Lim Boulevard, Zamboanga City; the National Commission on Muslim Filipino (NCMF) Office in Cebu City; and the Mahad Al-Nur Al-Islamiya, Ceanuri Village, Camague, Iligan City.
This year marks the 5th year of PCID’s efforts to bring the message of A Common Word to the grassroots. For the past five years, PCID had been engaging the Muslim religious teachers in intra-faith workshops about the importance of harmony among Muslims and Christians and the need for interfaith dialogue. Many of the participants, while supportive of the ideals of the historic document, stressed the need to popularize “A Common Word” in the context of the social, political and cultural issues that animate Muslim communities in the Philippines.
PCID feels that much more effort is needed to let interfaith harmony take root. In our experience, beautiful statements are released at the international and national levels but these have not become rooted in our divided communities where discrimination remains high. We need to intensify interfaith discussions, which highlight the themes of Love of God and Love of Neighbor, as the foundation for serious dialogue and peaceful engagement between Islam, Christianity and other religious sectors. Since ACW also highlights Love of the Good, we can reach out to peoples who may not belong to faith groups but who believe in doing Good. We need to bring the message home to our families, our neighborhoods, and our divided communities.
What better way to do so than thru the peace-loving women? Evidently, the Board of Judges believed as we did. This award is a tribute to all sisters, we who support half of the sky!!!