By Peter Riddell, Coordinator, Learning to be a Peacemaker
Peter Riddell, Coordinator, Learning to be a Peacemaker
‘I am super happy to have been part of the Learning to be a Peacemaker course – we learned the true colours of Islam!’ wrote 18-year-old high-school graduate Nma Dahir, from Erbil, capital of the Kurdish region of northern Iraq. ‘After attending it, I am totally immersed in this field, and want to learn more so that I can implement it in my life, and teach others about it!’
The course she was referring to was part of the Caux Forum Online 2021 programme. Designed and delivered by British Imam and broadcaster, Ajmal Masroor, it mines references in the holy scriptures of Islam to a wide variety of aspects of peacemaking, in a fast-moving, interactive way.
For Nadeem Jahangir, a software engineer in Lahore, Pakistan, the course was the best he had taken part in. ‘The trainer was a great guide, teaching that, according to the Islamic perspective, the invitation to peace is very clear. The content made me realize how easy it is for us to live our lives in peace.’
When asked what she had learned from the course, Nigar Sultana, a recent graduate in English Literature, originally from Bangladesh, answered succinctly: ‘First, our beliefs don’t make us a better person, but our behaviour does. Second, peace cannot be kept by any force, it can only be achieved through mutual understanding. And third, before any argument about religion, we should have a proper knowledge about the religion.’
Tareq Layka, a dentist and peace activist in Syria, picked out several elements in the course. Firstly, the three-way relationship that is at the heart of Islamic teaching: with God, with ourselves, and with others.
Secondly, the ‘great, tolerant attitude that the course promotes and that we desperately need to tolerate our differences and accept others’. This was especially close to his heart, as someone who had lived through a conflict ‘that many people attribute to religious intolerance’.
Thirdly, ‘the importance of building peace within ourselves to be able to spread it to others’. And fourthly, ‘how to be moderate, in religion and in life’. ‘Ultimately’, he said, ‘the course provided me with a completely new, comprehensive understanding of life, justice, peace, and much more!’
A Somali participant, who wished to remain anonymous, also made a discovery: that peacemaking and conflict resolution are foundational pillars of Islamic teachings and practice. He had thought that they were only promoted by Western countries.
For Nishat Aunjum, a student in Peace and Conflict Studies at Dhaka University, Bangladesh, the course spotlighted deep-rooted causes of misconceptions about Islam and also introduced her ‘to the pathway to help bring my community from the darkness of fallacy, and build a more knowledgeable society’.
Murad Elmaryami, a Libyan medical student living in Malaysia, courageously shared that he had learnt new things about himself through the ‘Inner Peace’ module: that there were conflicts within himself that needed to be addressed before he could address anyone else’s concern or problem. He said: ‘The course definitely widened my horizon on these issues and helped bring to light that changemaking needs to happen within us before anyone else.’ His conclusion was that ‘to reach that phase of Inner Peace, I need to educate myself more about anger problems, forgiveness and emotional intelligence’.
Bringing a non-Muslim perspective, Taylor Garrett, a US citizen and recent Masters’ graduate in International Relations and Diplomacy from Leiden University, Netherlands, appreciated Imam Ajmal’s gift of ‘inspiring participants to rethink the core values of Islam and how they’re relevant for all our lives, Muslim or non-Muslim’.
All the participants enjoyed the diversity of the group and the ‘real, authentic engagement with peacebuilders around the world seeking to expand inner and outer peace in their own local communities’, as she put it.
‘We really are all in this together’, she concluded.