The following post was written by Brittany Bruner, a former Humanities Center intern.
I spent a semester in Jordan during a fraught moment in history. The Syrian refugee crisis is rampant all over the world. It is especially troubling in the Middle East, and in Jordan, a country that houses over one million Syrian refugees, not to mention large quantities of other refugees. Extreme poverty, despair, and hopelessness is a devastating reality for many people, and it can also lead to extremism.
While Jordan has remained relatively peaceful, it is surrounded by a volatile region. Naturally, the leaders of Jordan are concerned about combatting poverty and extremism. One way they do this is through interfaith harmony that encompasses a feeling of goodwill toward all religions and focuses on helping others. It is guided by the three Hashemite initiatives of His Majesty King Abdullah II: The Amman Message, A Common Word Between Us and You, and the World Interfaith Harmony Week.
The past few months I have had the privilege to learn more about interfaith coexistence by working with the Very Reverend Father Nabil Haddad, a Greek Melkite Catholic priest in Jordan, who founded the Jordanian Interfaith Coexistence Research Center. We worked on many initiatives to spread interfaith peace and to make a lasting impact on the way people interact with each other. In a predominantly Muslim community, Fr. Haddad has taught his congregation to love all people and serve them regardless of religion, and that was manifest in his many programs. At his recently founded Pope Francis Center for Culture and Dialogue, he has already set up a space for refugees and poor Jordanians to receive aid and to gain skills that will help them become self-sufficient. I met several refugee women who were always happy to let me observe them learning to sew and make jewelry and to practice their English greetings. Right in the heart of this Center were Muslims, Catholics, and a member of the LDS Church working together in harmony and peace.
Meanwhile, as I read news about America, I became disturbed by the hate crimes being reported against Muslims. This has always bothered me, but it bothered me even more after being in Jordan and receiving generous hospitality from many Muslims who became my friends. Crimes against Muslims have surged in the United States, with hate letters being mailed to mosques in one of the most recent attacks.
I believe a lot of the problems with peaceful coexistence stem from a lack of understanding. In an interview with The New York Times, Eboo Patel discussed the role of interfaith harmony in America. He has a thoughtful approach to combatting problematic ideology and trying to understand other perspectives. On the topic of the Muslim registry that Donald Trump has talked about implementing, he says, “If you support a Muslim registry because your knowledge of Muslims comes from the first minute of the evening news and your Facebook news feed, and there is a significant possibility that different conversations and information about Muslims would shift that idea, I would absolutely engage constructively with you. And I think this describes many Americans.”
As I read this interview, I recalled a poignant memory of my experience in the Holocaust section of the Imperial War Museum in London. I remember watching an interview with a Holocaust survivor who talked about how little his neighbors associated with each other prior to the Jews being taken to concentration camps. He said it was much easier to ignore problems around you when you are not familiar with the people around you. He said he doesn’t want to live in a world where people do not talk to their neighbors, believing that people who know their neighbors will help their neighbors. In a way, leaving knowledge of a cultural group to biased news or posts is a lack of getting to know a neighbor.
One way to combat this sense of isolation is to spread a positive influence and message and work to get to know neighbors, which can pertain to any group who you are not familiar with. But this has to be done with an open mind and a positive foundation. Another project that Father Haddad works on is the karama initiative. Karama is an Arabic word that translates to “dignity,” but it has a warm connotation of love, community, and respect. Father Haddad believes that by instilling a sense of karama in people and communities, more people will work together in peaceful coexistence. Karama could be the foundation for interacting with neighbors.
Rather than focusing on differences, finding commonalities among groups and instilling a sense of karama can combat extremist ideology from all people, because extremist behavior is not limited to radical Islam. The best way for this to happen is for people to reach outside their parishes, meetinghouses, synagogues, homes, and mosques to get to know and support their neighbors.