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  • Max Hyman

Role of Religion in Peace

Mohammad Dajani is a leading Palestinian expert on peace and reconciliation and an internationally recognized peace activist. Dajani gained international recognition for his extensive record in helping to raise awareness concerning the Holocaust. I joined a conference call today in which he discussed how the peace process has lost its way, as well as the role of religion in peace making. He believes that to be part of reconciliation and peace, you have to be an optimist; that thinking peace is elusive has no place in ending conflict. A question asked by both sides, "Where is my peace partner?" needs to be asked and answered on both ends. We must transition for conflict culture to solution culture to reconciliation culture and finally to peace culture, and we do this by talking to the people in their language - religion (moderate, not extreme). Linking between religion and politics can help the world of peace better spread to the involved group. While the media focuses on the 1-200k ISIS affiliated population, we often forget there are 1.8 Billion more reasonable Muslims.

In the Quran, the Islamic Holy Bible, in the exact middle of the book, Islam is pictured as a moderate religion not to destroy but to complement other religions. Wrong interpretations of this passage has been often twisted. You cannot teach your children, Dajani says, the wrongs of Jews and Christians and then say you want to make peace with those groups. Extremists, especially Hamas, that see violence as the only way, are sometimes indirectly empowered by Israeli politics for different reasons, so their message spread. Israel and Palestinian religious leaders both believe God had provided and sanctioned this land for them. However, as Dajani says, God is not a real estate agent. This is about people, not land. Both sides have big dreams that the other group will leave their land, but this is unrealistic, and people have to open their eyes. With 7 million people each, the size of both groups is equal, and each should be viewed as equal. We must see the other group as a human with just as much importance as ourselves. Jerusalem, right of return, refugees - the pillars that propel the issue forward through decades, are easy to solve through logic, but minds are not open to such solutions.

The first step is education - we have to look at the curriculum on both sides to look at possible changes that can be made. Palestinian curriculum teaches that the Jew is the enemy of God, and on judgement day, Muslims will win the war. One verse of the Quran hopes the people of God will follow the right path, not the one of those that are lost (interpreted by Hamas as Jews and Christians). Kids should not be taught about the divisions between them, that I am a Muslim and you are a Jew. We must not teach the past as if it is the future, but rather to leave the glories of the past behind us and create new glories for the future. Stories are taught, as well, - a Muslim women comes to the Jewish jeweler, her dress is tied to the chair by a Jew, and she is exposed. Muslims rush in and kill the Jew for doing this. Such stories have no positive impact on children and need to be expelled. Once people get to know others on a human level, the context will change. Humanizing, therefore, gives the other side a face or a personality. We need to bring religious values from the Quran, Torah, and Bible, the first being very book that is used to preach hate, we need to preach love. We can use ideas of mercy and forgiveness to promote peace through religion, ideas that often are represented in all Holy Books. Dajani believes religion can become a bridge and not a wall, and we should we teaching how each group can work together and help each other instead of tearing each other down.

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