In November of 2006, ICRD conducted its first faith-based reconciliation seminar in Syria in cooperation with the Damascus-based Center for Islamic Studies. ICRD Senior Vice President Brian Cox led the seminar, which brought 13 Christians from the United States and the Middle East together with 17 Muslims from Syria. Both delegations were comprised of religious clergy and laity and included, among others, Syrian parliamentarians, college professors, business leaders, and publishers. The objectives were to: (1) share and spread the vision of faith-based reconciliation as an alternative to religious extremism, (2) foster improved relations between the Islamic world and the United States, and (3) lay the groundwork for expanding the effort throughout the Middle East. The trust built at this seminar was encouraging and supported the premise that structured, faith-based dialogue could ease tensions in even the roughest of neighborhoods.
This represented the first step in a reconciliation process that will bring prominent American evangelical leaders together with equally prominent Muslim religious leaders from the Middle East (since each group suspects the other of being the source of much of the violence in the region). After a high degree of comity is established between these two groups, the participation will be expanded to include Jewish religious leaders as well. Eventually, the goal is to develop a religious framework for peace upon which political leaders can build. This religious ingredient has been missing from all earlier official Middle East negotiations and probably accounts, at least in part, for their failure.
In follow-up to the previous seminar, a joint U.S./Syrian team conducted a faith-based reconciliation dialogue in Larnaca, Cyprus, October 20 – 25, 2007 under the auspices of ICRD and the Islamic Studies Centre based in Damascus. In addition to the U.S./Syrian team, there were 18 other participants including 6 Muslims from the Middle East, 6 Christians from the United States, 3 Christians from the Middle East and 3 Muslims from the United States.
The dialogue that ensued was challenging and even trying at times. But in the end, it proved effective both in conveying reconciliation/peacebuilding skills and providing a climate that facilitated increased understanding and the development of meaningful relationships. As is always the case in these seminars, hearts were charged as well as minds.
In June of 2008, ICRD conducted the joint problem-solving phase of its faith-based reconciliation process with 24 Palestinian Muslims and Christians in Jericho, which resulted in a manifesto pledging their common commitment to peace.
Seeking Justice: Working for Reconciliation in the Middle East