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Abrahamic Faith-Based Reconciliation Project of Southern California Fath-Based Leadership Retreat Report

Introduction

The Pacis Project in Faith-Based Diplomacy of the Straus Institute of Pepperdine University Law School of Malibu, California and the International Center For Religion and Diplomacy of Washington DC, in cooperation with the Southern California Board of Rabbis and the Islamic Shura Council of Southern California, conducted an Abrahamic faith-based reconciliation seminar for a group of sixteen (16) Jewish and Muslim leaders from Southern California, June 8 – 9, 2009 at Pepperdine University in Malibu. This opportunity grew out of an earlier initiative that was attempted in 2006 and the more recent launching of The Pacis Project in Faith-Based Diplomacy as a joint initiative of Straus and ICRD.

The Pacis Project of ICRD/Straus has undertaken a faith-based initiative to harness the transcendent power of religion to contribute to healing the broken family of Abraham in Southern California. In essence, we are bringing an innovative model of faith-based reconciliation as a religious framework for peacemaking that has borne tangible fruit in other intractable identity-based conflicts such as in Kashmir. This approach is defined by eight core values and by a deliberative process that focuses on creating a reconciling spirit between antagonists as a prelude to constructive joint problem solving.

As a methodology it is not a form of interfaith dialogue or a traditional conflict resolution model. It is a totally unique experience that causes participants to search the depths of their own being and to experience at the deepest level the heart of “the other” in a faith-based context. It is the reality of an ancient process reemerging in the twenty first century to address the deepest and most profound differences between communities. It is Abrahamic reconciliation!

Organizing the Seminar

In organizing the faith-based reconciliation seminar Canon Brian Cox, Tim Pownall and Michael Zacharia worked with Rabbi Mark Diamond and Jonathan Freund of the Board of Rabbis and with Dr. Muzammil Siddiqi and Jihad Turk of the Islamic Shura Council. It was decided to begin with a small group of senior and middle level leaders from the two Abrahamic communities. It was also decided to focus specifically on the relationship between the Jewish and Muslim communities at this particular time.

Conducting the Seminar

The two day event was conducted at the Pepperdine University Executive Center. There were seven presentations on different core values of faith-based reconciliation followed by small group discussions and/or exercises. The seven presentations were:

  • Introduction: The Journey of Reconciliation
  • Reconciliation As A Moral Vision
  • Building Bridges: The Principle of Pluralism
  • Demolishing Walls of Hostility: The Principle of Inclusion
  • Healing Relationships Between Individuals and Communities: The Principle of Forgiveness
  • Facing the Truth About History: The Principle of Healing Collective Wounds
  • Submission to God: The Principle of Sovereignty

The presentations were given by Brian Cox, Tim Pownall, Michael Zacharia, Tahir Aziz and Jonathan Freund.

There were nine exercises/activities:

  • Life Journey Exercise
  • Core Values Exercise
  • Collective Identity Exercise
  • Dialogue Exercise
  • Hostility Analysis Exercise
  • Broken Relationships Exercise
  • Group Offenses Exercises
  • Historical Wounds Exercise
  • Reconciliation Circle

Both the verbal and written feedback from the participants highlighted the following key points:

  • This was a totally unique experience for the participants. It was not scholarly theological engagement or interfaith dialogue. It was Abrahamic reconciliation!
  • Many spoke about the depth of engagement on a personal level and with regard to issues between the two communities.
  • There was frustration experienced by many of the participants that more time was needed to explore issues and to build relationship with participants from other small groups than their own.
  • There was enthusiasm expressed about continuing and expanding the initiative
  • The exercise on offenses given and received from each other was especially helpful and insightful for many participants as they were better able to understand the wounds of the other community.

Follow Up to the Seminar

A meeting was held on June 29 at the Board of Rabbis that included Canon Brian Cox, Tim Pownall, Michael Zacharia, Rabbi Mark Diamond, Jonathan Freund and Dr. Muzammil Siddiqi. We began by reflecting on the results of the faith-based reconciliation process of June 8 – 9 and then discussed the next steps. The leaders of the two communities expressed the following desires and concerns:

  • The desire to see the focus of this project be on the local situation in Southern California.
  • The concern about Islamophobia in Southern California and the U.S. by focusing on negative stereotypes of Muslims and the role of some members of the Jewish community in stirring up hostility toward Muslims.
  • The concern about the growth of anti-Semitism in Southern California and the U.S. and the role of some members of the Muslim community in stirring up hostility toward Jews and against the state of Israel.
  • The desire to keep this project focused on the relationship between the Jewish and Muslim communities at this time.
  • The desire to be able to weather intense challenges to Jewish/Muslim relations caused by international events such as the Gaza conflict.

As a result of these desires and concerns the decision was made to move forward in six key ways:

  1. Conduct a Joint Problem Solving Session with participants from the Abrahamic Faith-Based Reconciliation Seminar (Pacis Project #1). Date, times and place in October have been agreed on.
  2. Invite each of the participants from Pacis Project #1 to nominate participants for a future Abrahamic Faith-Based Reconciliation Seminar to be scheduled.
  3. Organize a joint Repentance and Reconciliation meeting after Ramadan and Yom Kippur.
  4. Schedule a social gathering for participants and spouses in our homes.
  5. Form a Sacred Text Study Group for Imams and Rabbis.
  6. Conduct an Abrahamic Faith-Based Reconciliation Seminar specifically for imams and rabbis.