This week is Tanenbaum's 2013 Peacemakers in Action retreat.
Last night our Peacemakers began arriving to Stony Point Center, a multifaith space just a short, scenic drive north of Tanenbaum's New York office. The setting is brilliant. There's a Japanese meditation garden just outside our door, green spaces scattered throughout the grounds, and beautifully wooded areas beyond the green spaces.
I must confess; when I found out I would work the retreat this week, I was unusually excited. My masters is in conflict resolution and I love learning about different cultures. The men and women who traveled here from around the world have collective perspectives and experiences that I know I will never find elsewhere.
Last night, one of the Peacemakers who works in Pakistan told a story that made me stop and say, “I had no idea.” Did you know that many conservative Muslims in Pakistan choose to send their children to Christian schools? I didn't and I wanted to know more.
I asked if he could give me an example of Muslims sending their children to Christian schools. His first response was, “It's just general knowledge. It happens all the time.”
I said, “It's new to me – and I'd guess to many in the West.” Then, after thinking for a moment, he relayed this story to me.
He began, “I know an imam who is Wahabi, an ultraconservative branch of Islam.”
“Is he conservative for a Wahabi, or is he progressive for his tradition?” I asked.
“Oh, he is very conservative, even for a Wahabi,” was the response. “I know him well. I even lived in his home for a number of months over the past 8 years. He has one daughter. In the 8 years I have known him and the months I lived in his home, I never once met his daughter or wife. Quite conservative.”
“I'd say,” I offered.
The Peacemaker continued, “He has two sons. Both of them go to a Christian school because of the good education. As a matter of fact, his daughter goes to a Christian school too.”
And to show that this sense of respect springs from more than an interest in quality education, the Peacemaker shared that, all over the country, seminary and madrassa students volunteer and assist at each other's houses of worship. There is an ingrained respect between Muslims and Christians in a country that is (unfairly) known for only conflict. That's not to say that there isn't extremism or conflict in Pakistan, but a groundwork for constructive interreligious relations does exist. It just needs to be recognized, supported, and spread.
And so I witnessed first hand that by bringing these Peacemakers together this week – from Pakistan, Nigeria, Honduras, Indonesia, Syria, Bosnia, Sudan, Ethiopia, South Africa, Colombia, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Israel – Tanenbaum is building the bridges that make us all safe from conflict.
I promise you that this week will be inspirational. And I promise to share as much of that inspiration as I can. Check back here, on Tanenbaum's blog, for updates. Or follow us on Twitter. I'll pull some of the best quotes of the week and post them there.
Until next time…