New Peacemakers in Action Announced!

al-Marwani_byKarimBenKhelifa-OeilPublic-forTIME

Sheikh Abdulrahman Al-Marwani| Credit: Karim Ben Khelifa, Oeil Public for TIME

Around the world, extraordinary yet unknown women and men work tirelessly to build peace in conflict and post-conflict zones. Driven by faith, they dare to do the work that others are afraid to take on. At Tanenbaum, we are honored to recognize two of these inspiring peace activists, Yemen’s Sheikh Abdulrahman Al-Marwani, a Sufi Muslim, and the Philippine’s Maria Ida “Deng” Giguiento, a Catholic, as our newest Peacemakers in Action.

Yemen’s Sheikh Al-Marwani negotiates peace between tribal leaders and works to counter calls for extremism. In the Philippines, Deng Giguiento is a teacher and has worked in the Mindanao conflict, creating alliances among conflicting Christian, Muslim and indigenous groups. Both Peacemakers have been threatened as a result of their work yet they persevere, deeply motivated by their faith and a vision of a peaceful future.

Maria Ida “Deng” Giguiento (Philippines)

Maria Ida “Deng” Giguiento (Philippines)

Sheikh Al-Marwani and Ms. Giguiento join 28 Peacemakers from 22 conflict zones. Click here to read their exciting bios – along with the inspiring bios of this year’s finalists.

Tanenbaum Helps Bring Religious Leaders Together to Build Peace in Sri Lanka

Three weeks before the People’s Forum 2015, the Centre for Peacebuilding and Reconciliation (CPBR)—an organization co-founded and directed by Tanenbaum Peacemaker in Action recipient Dishani Jayaweera and her partner Jayantha Seneviratne—held a four-day workshop, supported by Tanenbaum, where 50 religious leaders representing the four main faiths in Sri Lanka—Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim and Christian—came together. There, the religious leaders agreed on a set of recommendations for grassroots communities, opinion makers and national policymakers, as a “path for reconciliation and peace” in Sri Lanka, to be presented at the People’s Forum. From the list of recommendations they developed a National Road Map for Reconciliation, which lays out how best to advocate and implement those recommendations.

Exemplifying the power of the Peacemakers in Action Network, facilitated by Tanenbaum, Dishani invited her fellow Peacemakers in Action from Nigeria, Pastor James Wuye and Imam Muhammad Ashafa, to help implement a process with Sri Lankan religious leaders and develop the National Road Map for Reconciliation. As men of different faiths—James a Christian and Ashafa a Muslim—they once fought for opposing militias in the Kaduna State of Nigeria. However, after experiencing hate and violence destroy their communities, they joined forces 20 years ago to found the Interfaith Mediation Centre.

At Tanenbaum’s intervention in Sri Lanka, Nigerian Peacemakers Pastor Wuye and Imam Ashafa served as “living models” for the Sri Lankans; many attendees in the workshop were already followers of the Peacemakers’ transformative work in Nigeria! Their presence in Sri Lanka was not only inspiring but manifestly instrumental due to their wealth of knowledge and experience in conflict transformation. Pastor Wuye and Imam Ashafa’s contributions were well received during the development of the Road Map.

A crucial aspect to the process leading up to the People’s Forum, and one stressed by Dishani, Jayantha and the CPBR team, was the bringing together of religious leaders to collaborate with other socially active groups. Expressing a perspective similar to Tanenbaum’s philosophy, the CPBR team explained:

“[Religious leaders] have a ready source of knowledge and potential for peacemaking… and experience in caring for and advising local communities. They are highly intelligent, well connected, duly respected and very resourceful. They could draw out their existent source of knowledge, experience and resources and use it more deliberately for peacemaking.”[i]

The People’s Forum three weeks after the workshop was a remarkable success: bringing out the power of participatory processes towards ethnic and religious coexistence. Sri Lankans of every age, gender, faith and ethnicity presented their unique set of recommendations to 1,500 guests, including government bodies, religious leaders, civil society activists, the international community and community leaders from different regions. The recommendations were from heartfelt “grassroots perspectives,” and the event revealed how Sri Lankans believe the country should proceed towards reconciliation and peace.

Tanenbaum is proud to support the peacebuilding work of Dishani, Jayantha and the CPBR team, who over the years have established grassroots groups by engaging in a consultative process with women, men, children, youth, elders, and inter- and intra-faith leaders across every geographic region of Sri Lanka to facilitate dialogue, empower individuals for self-transformation and improve communities. With commitment, each group devised recommendations to further reconciliation and peace in their communities, with the end result of an impressive 2,688 recommendations. These recommendations ranged in their focus from those that could be implemented at community and regional levels as well as changes needed in national level policies; with the latter focusing on six key thematic areas, namely, opportunities for healing for those affected by war, implement the trilingual policy, restructure the formal education system, establish an inter-faith council to promote inter-faith culture, introduce media policy that respects diversity, and introduce constitutional amendments that ensure equality and equity.

After nearly three decades of civil war in Sri Lanka, the People’s Forum 2015 marked a historical event in the country by infusing hope among the participants for a future of reconciled communities and peaceful ways of citizen participation in governance. Since gaining independence from colonial rule in 1948, Sri Lanka has suffered from ethnic and religious polarization due to weak processes in nation building, resulting in the predominant Sinhala/Buddhist community competing with, and at times fighting against, other communities vying for equality in citizenship and fair share in statehood. Even though the war was ended in 2009 and victory declared by government forces, the country remains fractured and continues to struggle to overcome religious, economic and ethnic tensions.[ii][iii] 

The People’s Forum marked the culmination of 12 years of grassroots efforts by CPBR and seven years of inter-faith engagement, with the inter-faith journey since its inception accompanied by the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) and the German Federal Foreign Office’s (ifa) zivik funding program. Following the success of the People’s Forum, Dishani, Jayantha and the CPBR team, along with the country’s religious leaders, have initiated the process of building a broad coalition to implement the Road Map—a map created by the people of Sri Lanka for reconciliation now and for future peace.

The Tanenbaum-supported intervention in Sri Lanka leading up to the People’s Forum, and the Forum itself, show that when peace activists motivated by faith come together, peace is possible.

[i]  CPBR (2002).Socially Engaged Religions for Coexistence in Sri Lanka.

[ii]  David Feith (2010). “Tamil and Sinhala relations in Sri Lanka: a historical and contemporary perspective,” in Global Change, Peace & Security, formerly Pacifica Review: Peace, Security & Global Change, 22:3, 345-353, DOI: 10.1080/14781158.2010.510270

[iii]  CPBR (2015). People’s Forum 2015 – To Heal Our Past, to Build Our Future: The journey of community voices for national reconciliation.

Peacemakers in Action Network: A Model for the United Nations Office on Genocide Prevention

Photo Credit: KAICIID

Photo Credit: KAICIID

Last month, the United Nations Office on Genocide Prevention co-convened the “Forum on the Role of Religious Leaders in Preventing Incitement that could Lead to Atrocity Crimes.” The major outcome from the forum was a “Plan of Action for the Prevention of Incitement to Violence that could lead to Atrocity Crimes.” The Plan of Action is a draft document that will be revised and finalized during five regional meetings set to take place during the next year; and a “Declaration will be adopted at a plenary meeting of religious leaders” in 2016.

Eight major areas of consideration were highlighted in the plan – many of which are already being done by Tanenbaum and our Peacemakers: 1) “Monitoring” incitement to violence that could lead to atrocity crimes; 2) Developing, speaking out, and circulating “alternative” messages to counter incitement and hate speech (Tanenbaum Peacemakers do this!); 3) Engaging in dialogue with the speakers and the potential audience; 4) Developing and revising education, curricula and capacity building (Tanenbaum’s education program does this!); 5) Engaging in or strengthening inter-religious and intra-religious dialogue and activities; 6) Engaging in dialogue on grievances; 7) Strengthening clarity of thinking and of message (Tanenbaum is a thought leader on the issues that fuel extremism); and 8) Engaging with political leaders (Tanenbaum Peacemakers often do this).

The Plan of Action also referenced several additional focal points , including the “mapping and networking of religious leaders who actively work to prevent or counter incitement that can lead to atrocity crimes around the world.” At Tanenbaum, we believe the UN and its partners have a model to reference and further explore in Tanenbaum’s Peacemakers in Action Network.  Why not start where successes are happening – by learning about the religious Peacemakers already in action and having a powerful impact as they work together around the globe?

For well over fifteen years, Tanenbaum has identified religiously motivated Peacemakers working in areas of armed conflict, whose lives and liberty have been at risk in pursuit of peace. Thirty courageous Peacemakers with diverse experiences of conflict from 23 countries have been recognized for their peace work with the Peacemakers in Action Award. Convened every two years to share knowledge, successful practices and the common bond of their faith-driven work, the Peacemakers formalized their Network in 2011.

As a Network facilitated by Tanenbaum, the Peacemakers communicate regularly and even travel to each other’s homelands to work together to help build peace. Later this month, two Nigerian Peacemakers, Pastor James Wuye and Imam Muhammad Ashafa, will join their fellow Peacemaker, Dishani Jayaweera, in Sri Lanka to train religious leaders from different faith traditions (Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam and Christianity). Already well-known in Sri Lanka for their work in Kaduna state, Pastor James and Imam Ashafa will serve as inspirations, models and experienced Peacemakers to Sri Lankans hoping to bring lasting peace to a country still recovering from a decades-old conflict.

As the United Nations Office on Genocide Prevention smartly prepares to utilize a resource – religious leaders/actors – sorely underutilized in creating the conditions for a more peaceful world, Adama Dieng, UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, should strongly consider the Peacemakers in Action Network as a model for its efforts to map and network religious actors actively working to prevent or counter incitement that can lead to atrocity crimes around the world.

Tanenbaum Peacemaker Father Sava Travels to the U.S.

Father Sava Janjic, a Tanenbaum Peacemaker in Action who has been tirelessly pursuing peace and reconciliation in Kosovo for decades, concluded his recent trip to the U.S. last week in Boston, where he presented at the Colloquium on Orthodox Christianity and Humanitarianism: Ideas and Action in the Contemporary World. The Colloquium was sponsored by the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America’s Office of Inter-Orthodoxy, Interfaith and Ecumenical Relations. Father Sava and Joyce Dubensky, Tanenbaum CEO, both had the privilege of sitting on the Colloquium’s “Experiences from the Frontline of Crisis Response and Delivery (Around the World)” panel on Friday, May 8, 2015.

Prior to his trip to Boston, Father Sava traveled throughout California with His Grace Bishop Maxim of the Western Diocese before spending a few days in Washington DC and New York. While in New York, Father Sava spoke to an intimate gathering at the Serbian Orthodox Cathedral of Saint Sava on Tuesday, May 5, about life in Kosovo and the plight of Kosovo Serbians.

Tanenbaum CEO Joyce Dubensky with Peacemaker Father Sava Janjic

Tanenbaum CEO Joyce Dubensky with Peacemaker Father Sava Janjic

During his talk at St. Sava, Father Sava touched on a number of topics. He lamented the “second class” treatment of Kosovo’s Serbs; expressed concern over ethnic and religious extremism; and described how his monastery, Decani Monastery, was vandalized late last year with graffiti by ISIS sympathizers. While the Serbian Orthodox Church does not get involved in politics, Father Sava told the audience that the church promotes the equal treatment of all citizens, engaging in interfaith dialogue to help foster communal bonds among Kosovo’s differing sects.

Despite difficult challenges and numerous setbacks for Kosovo, Father Sava believes it’s critical to maintain hope and to continue to strive towards peace and a better world. He refuses to give up on his people.

 

What the spring equinox means to Rufai Sufis

For people all over the world, the spring equinox is symbolic of renewal, rejuvenation and revitalization. For a group of Sufis in Kosovo, it is the mark of something much more. It is at this time that members of the Rufai branch of Sufism – Islamic mysticism – hold an annual ritual ceremony wherein they celebrate the birth of Ali ibn Abi Talib, the first cousin of the Prophet Muhammad and a revered figure in Islam. The ceremony also commemorates the celebration of the Persian New Year, Nowruz. The uniqueness of this ceremony is exemplified by music, chanting and dancing, fused with the clashing of cymbals and incantations of prayers in the languages of Arabic, Turkish and Albanian.

Photo Credit: Faisal Anwar

Photo Credit: Faisal Anwar

As men chant and sway in conjunction with one another, Sheikh Adrihusein Shehu, who presides over the practice today in Kosovo, removes an iron needle known as a zarf from the mihrab – the enclosed prayer space – behind him, blesses it with his lips, and inserts it slowly into the cheek of those taking partaking in the ritual.

The practice is said to be painless. Shehu’s eldest son, Sejjid Xhemal, expresses that “it is a good feeling, I feel spiritually stronger.” He also emphasized that those partaking are neither intoxicated nor in a trance, but that they are conscious of their practice.

During a tradition Nowruz ritual, a member of the Sufi sect pierces himself with a zarf - an iron skewer. [Credit: Ferdi Limani/Al Jazeera]

During a tradition Nowruz ritual, a member of the Sufi sect pierces himself with a zarf – an iron skewer. [Credit: Ferdi Limani/Al Jazeera]

The practice is rooted in an ancient tradition founded by a spiritual leader Pir Sejjid Amhed Er Rufai, whose practice is upheld until this day. “Our founder Pir Sejjid Ahmed Er Rufai made a miracle in his time to show others that God exists, and now we do this for tradition,” Xhemal said in an interview with Al Jazeera.

Friar Ivo, a celebrated Tanenbaum Peacemaker in Action and Catholic Franciscan interfaith worker in Bosnia, praised Sufism by stating that Sufi spirituality and practice is “very dedicated to peace and cooperation,” and that practitioners “are open to other religious experiences.” Friar Ivo expressed that despite Sufism having different branches, as a whole it should be should be celebrated.

In Kosovo, a relatively young country still recovering from political turmoil, Sheikh Shehu preaches a profound message of peace, tolerance and understanding, calling on his followers to look past incidental differences and to look towards transcendental commonalities.

“We all have faith, but in form we are different … one goes to church, one to synagogue, one to the mosque. But we are all going because of belief in God. We must turn toward love, who gives you the right to hate?” said Shehu in the interview with Al Jazeera.

Prior to the start of the Nowruz ritual. [Credit: Ferdi Limani/Al Jazeera]

Prior to the start of the Nowruz ritual. [Credit: Ferdi Limani/Al Jazeera]

In a world where we too often find the prevalence of darkness and hate, Shehu and his followers offer a radical and compelling message:
One of illumination and love.

Tanenbaum Peacemakers Imam Muhammad Ashafa and Pastor James Wuye Prepare Nigerians for Upcoming Elections

On February 7, 2015, exactly one week before Nigerians were set to head to the polls, Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission postponed the Presidential and legislative elections for seven weeks (until March 28th). Concerned that Boko Haram’s violent insurgency in the North would jeopardize the safety of voters around the country, the Commission’s Chairman, Attahiru Jega, heeded the advice of national security officials – delaying the election and announcing a “major” multinational military operation against the terrorist organization. This decision has been widely criticized both in Nigeria and abroad; some worry the postponement will delegitimize the elections and others fear an increased likelihood of election-related violence.

Despite the danger posed by Boko Haram and the challenges posed by this politically charged environment, Tanenbaum’s Peacemakers – Imam Muhammad Ashafa and Pastor James Wuye, Co-Executive Directors of the Interfaith Mediation Center – remain undeterred in their work. Much like their efforts prior to the 2011 elections, these Nigerian Peacemakers are tirelessly preparing Nigerian communities around the country for the election and for conducting it in a peaceful manner.

Interviewed before the elections were postponed, Pastor James discussed the unique challenges posed by Boko Haram, as well as by national ethnic tensions.

Rather than targeting Christians and pitting Muslims against Christians, Boko Haram targets “everyone,” not a specific religious group. Also, many Nigerians are unwillingly being “conscripted, and some are abducted from their families” to become members of the group. As a result, Pastor James believes the insurgents have actually mitigated religious tensions in the country.

Pastor James says that if the opportunity arises he would sit down and talk with the insurgents about their demands. He noted that, prior to the recent offensive, the government’s response to Boko Haram included “soft diplomacy,” which involved an effort “to reintegrate the young men and women who are involved in this insurgency.”

As the elections approach, Pastor James is also concerned about ethnic tensions. Nigeria’s population of more than 149 million people is made up of over 250 ethnic groups. He and Imam Ashafa are urging their fellow Nigerians to respect the election results and refrain from violence as a means of voicing any displeasure. They are focused on the role of religious leaders in the country and believe it will be critical – and, indeed, many of them have been “calling on the populace not to make provocative statements and to play by the rules of the game.”

Pastor James is proud of his homeland and remains hopeful for its future. Yet he understands the challenges that lie ahead and the great need for Nigeria’s “religious leaders to come together as they have before.”

A Second King Hearing on Muslims, Conflicts Facing Female Muslim Atheltes, and More: News Roundup

In the news this week: a second King hearing, female Muslim athletes face wardrobe conflicts, Norway discovers unexpected school racism, and other stories.

Representative Peter King (R-NY) has scheduled a second hearing (Washington Post) on the “radicalization of the Muslim-American community" for June 15th. This hearing will focus on the radicalization of convicted felons by fellow inmates (CNN) while incarcerated. It is expected to draw much of the same opposition as the first hearing, specifically by those believing the hearings are a McCarthy style witch-hunt and assault on Muslims.
 
This week brought two cases of female Muslim athletes struggling to compete while respecting their religious traditions. The Iranian women’s soccer team (Washington Post) was disqualified mere minutes before a crucial Olympic qualifying match because they wore Islamic headscarves. The team designed special headscarves in an attempt to satisfy a new FIFA rule, but officials deemed the scarves illegal. The team plans on protesting the ruling. In the states, a female Muslim weightlifter (CNN) has motivated the United States Olympic Committee to review their attire policies. Athletes are mandated to keep their elbows and knees uncovered so that judges can see that a competitor’s elbows and knees are locked during a lift. The committee has committed to discussing whether the same determination can be made if an athlete sports a tight uniform.
 
The government of Norway commissioned a report to investigate religious racism in schools and was shocked by the results. Views and News from Norway reports that, “most worrisome for school and city officials was the high level of Jewish students, 33 percent, who reported harassment at least two to three times a month.”
 
A California man accused of attacking a Sikh taxi driver (Sacramento Bee) in November has been sentenced to 13 years in state prison. The conflict originally arose over a disputed fare, but when the driver decided to drop the issue the defendant continued by shouting racial slurs and punching the driver in the face repeatedly. A second defendant who had a lesser role in the attack was previously sentenced to felony probation.
 
The Huffington Post reports that, “the Department of Defense has recently established the first Hindu Military Chaplain program in American history. Army Captain Pratima Dharm, who currently works as a Chaplain Clinician at Walter Reed Medical Center Hospital, took on her new role as the Army's first Hindu Chaplain as of May 16.” This is particularly important to the changing demographics of the United States and its armed forces. There has been a significant increase in South Asian immigrants in the past decade, resulting in a greater number of Hindus in the military.
 
This week has also brought us substantial updates in the proposed California circumcision bans. The individual driving Santa Monica circumcision ban (USA Today) withdrew after the issue turned highly religious. She was quoted as distancing herself from the group responsible the San Francisco ban effort (LA Times), MGMbill.org. Speaking of MGMbill.org, its leader has taken heat for co-authoring a comic book that includes some arguably anti-Semitic language and imagery.