Growing Peace - Muslims and Christians working together
When the pre-emptive strike, “Shock and Awe” was imminent on Iraq in late 2002, the Columban office for Peace Ecology & Justice (PEJ) decided to take specific pre-emptive action for peace. Our concern had been growing about the social climate of fear and uncertainty because of the violent international situation. We were already involved in the direct ramifications of the high profile of Islam on the multi-cultural, multi-ethnic and multi-religious reality of Australia because of the work of the Columban Centre for Christian-Muslims Relations (CCCMR). In partnership with CMR, the PEJ Centre decided to approach Local Councils, proposing a public forum dedicated to community education on the issues of peace and nonviolence in a multi-religious society.
There is no peace without justice, and peace brought about by violence does not endure. If we want lasting peace we must begin with ourselves.
The forum addressed two key issues and questions:
- Are Christians and Muslims so fundamentally opposed to each other that they are a major cause of division and conflict within society?
- Do Christians and Muslims share common convictions about peace and nonviolence that can inspire them to work towards mutual understanding and so model and promote peace and harmony in society?
To counter the popular perception that religion is the cause of violence, we wanted to demonstrate that the authentic practice of religion is about peace and reconciliation. We also wanted to encourage the learning of peace-building skills in dealing with the human reality of conflict.
The community-based Columban Peace Forums are a practical demonstration of dialogue and understanding between believers from different religions and is consistent with the public commitments made by the leaders of the different world religions in Assisi on the 24 January, 2002. It provided an opportunity for the public to share and to ask questions about how Islam and Christianity impact on relations at a local level, and to reflect on how together Christians and Muslims can build local communities of peace and mutual understanding. Many Local Councils welcomed this Columban initiative, alongside their Community Development Plan. We have been delighted with the support from Council and feedback received.
17 public Columban Peace Forums have been conducted, the last being held in 2008. The forum in Griffith, NSW, was the first held outside of Sydney.
The forum talks addressed divisions in our society. The speakers discussed peace and active nonviolence from the perspective of Muslim and Christian scripture and belief including the positive role of the authentic practice of religion in growing a Culture of Peace. The panel acknowledged examples of where Muslims and Christians have failed to live up to the message of both their faith traditions. Cultural differences and the cultural influences of both the past and the present on Islam and Christianity were also highlighted. Insights about practical peace initiatives were offered, including where Muslims and Christians work together and engage with each other.
A Q&A session followed the forum panels and afterwards people gathered for refreshments, offering a place for dialogue. During the Q&A session, the questions usually fell into two areas: Misconceptions or How individual people of good will, who very often feel powerless, can bring about change. People who were in attendance generally wanted to learn or help grow a culture of peace, within their community. A program booklet with simple ideas for action was offered for people to take home and hopefully implement.
The planning process was different for each Council area, according to their structures and community needs. Most Councils involved community groups and faith representatives in the planning process. Some Councils had interfaith groups already established.
The following Columban 'Christian-Muslim' Peace Forums have been held since 2003:
- July 17th 2003, North Sydney Council
- October 14th 2003, Rockdale
- October 15th 2003, Holroyd City Council
- October 23rd 2003, Leichhardt Municipal Council
- May 17th 2004, Baulkham Hills Shire Council
- June 26th 2004, Ashfield Municipal Council
- November 28th 2004, Fairfield City Council
- November 30th 2004, Hurstville City Council
- June 17th 2005, Hornsby Shire Council
- September 9th 2005, Griffith City Council
- November 17th 2005, Kogarah Municipal Council
- Sept 5th 2006, Auburn City Council
- Nov 1st 2006, Randwick City Council
- Nov 8th 2006, Sutherland Shire Council
- June 20th 2007, Blacktown City Council
- April 10th 2008, City of Sydney Council
- June 18th 2008, City of Canterbury Council
Hopes for the future
How much could we achieve if we really worked at authentically living out our beliefs by growing a Culture of Peace?
Pope Benedict championed these words during his leadership:
"At the beginning of my pontificate I address to all of you, and to believers of the religious traditions represented here, as well as to all those who seek Truth with a sincere heart, an intense invitation to become together architects of peace, in a reciprocal commitment of understanding, respect and love."
If there were Peace studies offered in local communities and an established "Department of Peace" at a national level, we would all more quickly develop skills in conflict resolution and peace-making.
We have the potential to enact change towards peace and steer the resources that are used for war into dealing with poverty, injustice and environmental degradation. By thinking globally, and by acting both locally and globally, we can achieve what centuries of peace through violent means has failed to do.
Even though the last Columban Peace Forum in this format was held in 2008, our mission work in Growing Peace continues around the world in the countries where Columban Missionaries work.