All posts by amra

What we mean when we say “Dialogue”

When people hear the word “dialogue,” often the first thing that come to mind is a group of old religious leaders having a polite conversation and making an official statement about the things on which they agree. But even though high-level dialogue between religious leaders is important, people are right to point out the limited impact such “dialogue” can have on the lives of ordinary people.

When we say “dialogue,” we mean so much more.

We believe there are at least four different types of dialogue that brings groups of different religions together: dialogue of the hands, head, stomach, and heart.***

Dialogue of the hands – Serving together for the common good of our local communities. By picking up trash together in a public park, sharing meals together with impoverished families, or helping elderly families with home repairs, we change our interfaith relationships from a competition of ideas to an opportunity for collaboration. Dialogue of the hands allows us to stand shoulder-to-shoulder to work together, recognize common goals, and build friendships as we collaborate for the common good.

Dialogue of the stomach – Sharing good food together. Showing hospitality, enjoying conversations over meals, and simply having a good time is another way to build rapport and friendship. As we welcome one another into each other’s homes and places of worship to eat together, people from other faith backgrounds are no longer “them” but become part of “us.”

Dialogue of the head – Learning together about our similarities as well as understanding our irreconcilable differences. When we start with or only engage in theological or theoretical conversations, we can easily build walls rather than bridges because of important theological differences. However, when we work to build friendships in other ways such as collaborating on projects and sharing meals together, then it is helpful to also reduce misunderstandings and learn about our differences by engaging in conversation about what we believe in. We believe that even our theological and ideological differences can be celebrated, not because we will agree with one another, but because listening to different understandings of God and truth will force us to empathize and grow in character to love our neighbor.

Dialogue of the heart – Loving one another and being transformed by relationships with one another. The goal of dialogue isn’t that we only learn things intellectually about one another or that we simply do service projects together. The goal is that we might know, learn from, and ultimately love one another. As we engage in this heart-to-heart dialogue, appreciating and learning from one another’s uniqueness, we believe that people in each religious community will become agents of transformation in their own congregations and the wider community as a whole.

 

*** Josh Daneshforooz frames dialogue in these four ways in his book, Loving Our Religious Neighbor: Fruit of the Spirit in a Multi-Religious Culture. We’d highly recommend reading it for yourself!

The Sarajevan Interfaith Experience

On Friday, June 15, the Mali Koraci team had the privilege of introducing 29 American students on a study abroad program to Sarajevo, its history, and its religious diversity. The study abroad program is hosted by our friends Petra and James Taylor at the European Center for the Study of War and Peace (ECSWP). The students came from Boston College in Boston, Massachusetts and Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, California, and after spending their first day with us, they will spend another month in Croatia and Bosnia & Herzegovina for their studies.

ECSWP interfaith exp 2

As an introduction, Amra Pandžo shared her experience of the siege of Sarajevo, as well as her transformation after the war when she began to engage in peace work. Then the students went on a short visit to three of Sarajevo’s traditional holy sites, including the Emperor’s mosque, the Church of St. Anthony, and the Old Orthodox Church, which the students visited the following day.

Careva dzamija

Most of the students entered a mosque for the first time when they visited the Emperor’s Mosque. It was also their first experience learning about how Muslims pray. Some of the students observed the prayers, while others participated in the prayers together with the Muslims in attendance.

In the Church of St. Anthony, Fra Marinko Pejić shared about the Sarajevan tradition, in which people from every religion would pray at the Old Orthodox Church, the Church of St. Anthony, and the Tomb of the Seven Brothers, giving the same amount of money as a voluntary contribution at each holy site, in the hopes of having their prayers answered. He went on to describe how each house of prayer is open to people of every faith, when they need a quiet place to come and pray. He concluded that we all worship the one God, even though we understand God and worship him differently.

Sarajevo’s interfaith experience is fascinating for many visitors, because the history of mutual respect, collaboration, and love between people of different religious communities is unique and offers a hopeful perspective about how people are interconnected, regardless of their religion or nationality.

The Voices of Youth

As part of Mali Koraci’s project “Encouraging Children to Accept Differences,” training young people to deal with interpersonal conflicts, we had the privilege to teach them how to put these skills for conflict transformation into practice. On Sunday, June 3rd, Father Radivoj Krulj, the Orthodox priest from Mostar and his wife Natasha, received us in the Vladičanski Dvor in Mostar where we met with the youth from Mostar. Thank you very much to Radivoj and Natasha for their hospitality and creating a safe area where we could learn from outstanding young people from all the ethnic groups in BiH.

This mixed group of Bosniaks, Croats and Serbs had previously been educated on how to deal with people with whom we are in conflict by looking in the others’ eyes and calling them by name, speaking honestly about what bothers us, and asking for what we want or need in relationship or situation. They practiced these skills in simulated conflicts with each other. In this conversation we deliberately introduced several emotionally “hot” topics: ethno-nationalism and the impact of war on children and youth.

Here are some of their thoughts followed by our reflections:

“There are too many conversations about the war.”

“A mixed environment is a guarantee that you will not speak about the war and such things. If you have friends from different ethnic groups, you will avoid those subjects and speak about positive things. But if you are from the same [ethnic] group, people will immediately start to talk about your ethnic and religious group, about what others did to you in the war.”

“Remembering the war prevents growth and development. It should stay in the dark place of the heart and not be mentioned in everyday life.”

“I’m not guilty for Srebrenica. I wasn’t even born. That’s not my fault and stop acting like it is just because of my ethnicity. Fuck off!”

“We hate it when they say, ‘Don’t forget.’ Because when they say, ‘Don’t forget,’ they actually mean, ‘Don’t forgive.’”

Project take-aways:

So is it worth having conversations on conflict, war and forgiveness when youth are tired of them? Why not do something else?

We believe collaborative activities are an incredible opportunity for youth to forge a new future together, without forcing youth to endure additional conversations about the past. However, there seems to be a place for healthy conversations about the past in mixed groups, because, as the youth pointed out, conversations about ethno-nationalism and the war are not happening with people from different backgrounds.

Young people are open to talking about interpersonal, family, and even group conflict. So when we are able to talk about ethno-nationalism and the war in ways that don’t try to label the previous generation’s conflict as if it is their own, then they are ready to engage with issues of nationalism and war. In fact, the children and youth we work with readily make an equivalency between nationalism and war; for them, it’s all in the same bag.

These conversations give these youth a chance to share their frustrations and create a safe space in which they can say how they feel manipulated or are made to feel guilty.  Mixed conversations give them a chance to share their experiences with those from different backgrounds and from other ethnic groups, and the youth discover that they have a lot in common. For each of them, they feel similarly that there is too much pressure to stay in their own ethnic and religious community. As they are given the opportunity to hear each other, they are strengthened in their ability to resist nationalistic narratives. They are able to build friendships with people from other ethnic groups. Young people claim that adults often want to make them feel that “you will not pass well in life if you are not in your own ethnic group and if you do not attend religious education with only your own religious group.” By learning skills to deal with conflict and by building relationships with each other, these youth are empowered to return to their schools, families, and circles as peace activists. They are strengthened to “pass well” without being forced to live in a way they don’t want to live.

Skills to Deal with Conflict

In Mali Koraci’s training for children about how to deal with interpersonal conflict, “Encouraging Children to Accept Differences,” we share several simple skills that help all of us learn to deal with conflict in healthier ways. Skills in nonviolent communication and behavior help us relate in healthier ways to family members, friends, classmates, and colleagues. These skills also provide an effective way for us to deal with larger conflicts between groups.

1) Look into the eyes of the person with whom you are in conflict.

The first step is to make eye contact. When we are in conflict with one another, we often avoid eye contact. When we manage to look at one another, we see emotions, pain, and anger, and as a result, we humanize the person across from us. We see that he or she is also just a human being who requires care.

2) Say the name of the person with whom you are in conflict.

The second step is closely related to the first. In conflict, we often say, “She’s like this!” or “He’s like that!” When we look into another’s eyes and say his or her name, we begin to draw closer together, and our reasons to stay in conflict grow smaller.

3) Indicate / clarify what is bothering you.

Sharing what is upsetting each of us in a conflict is essential so that each party can know why the conflict is happening and how we can move towards transformation. It is important to use speech without diagnosing, labeling, or judging. It is best to speak descriptively, holding to the facts.

4) Say how you would hope to resolve the conflict (what are your needs).

Without focusing too long on the past, it’s important to find a way forward together. By asking for what we need, we can help one another be more sensitive to each other’s needs in the future. Often steps #3 and #4 look quite simple: “You did that before, but in the future, can you please do this instead? Such and such a behavior would help me.” When we ask one another for concrete changes in behavior so that all of our needs are met, it becomes possible to live with less tension, frustration and conflict.

These four steps aren’t always easy, especially when we have been trained to either avoid conflict altogether or just give the “right answers” rather than share the truth of our experience about how we are bothered or hurt by something someone has said or done. However, we believe that as we learn to practice these four simple steps in our everyday relationships, interpersonal conflict and even large conflicts between groups can be significantly reduced.

Our Handbook for Islamic Religious Educators is being used in Europe

By Naida Kurdi
Aljazeera Balkans

10703510_761713077218169_4474320111234500884_nAmra Pandžo has been a peace activist for almost twenty years. She finds motivation for her peace work in faith. Over the past 20 years she has worked with a large number of people in the region to overcome the consequences of war by engaging in activities dealing with reconciliation, conflict transformation, and peace education.

Immediately after the war, she was the originator of the first network of non-governmental organizations that worked across ethnic divisions in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and she was also among the first to cross those divisions herself.

In the TPO Foundation survey, Amra was one of eleven women in Bosnia and Herzegovina who were recognized in their local communities as women who contributed to peace. She edited the Manual for the Teachers of Islamic Religion on the Peaceful Dimensions of Islam and co-author of the book The Peace Road, which was published in 2016. She is a member of the organizational team of Believers for Peace and on the board of directors for the widely acclaimed inter-religious choir Pontanima. She works at the American Corner of the Sarajevo Library and runs Small Steps, an association for dialogue in the family and society.

Continue reading here.

Encouraging Children to Accept Differences

From April 2016 to March 2019 and in partnership with the Mennonite Central Committee, Mali Koraci will be implementing the project “Encouraging Children to Accept Differences.” Using peace-building methods to decrease divisions between children from different ethnic groups, Mali Koraci trainers will teach tools for dialogue and mutual understanding, referencing faith as a motivation and a source of energy. Then, the children will experience direct contact with those of different ethnic groups, “the Other,” by building friendships, practicing the skills they’ve learned and celebrating their accomplishments together.

The Little School of Interfaith Bridge Building

In twelve different cities with significant interethnic animosity around BiH, religious teachers who have previously participated in Mali Koraci training programs will invite a total of 120 children to participate in a one-day session called “The Little School of Interfaith Bridge Building.” In these sessions, twelve groups of participants, each with ten children from the same ethno-religious group, will learn about the basics of non-violent communication. They will learn about steps they can take when they are in conflict with anyone, from a family member to friend or class mate.

Practical Interfaith Bridge Building

After the “Little Schools of Interfaith Bridge Building,” each group of ten children will be paired with another group of children from a different ethnic community to continue their training in six “Practical Interfaith Bridge Building” sessions. These one-day workshops will provide opportunities for these children to practice what they’ve learned by role-playing in an imaginary conflict, laughing together and building friendships with people from different communities, and discussing nationalistic messages and reasons for war and peace.

Children’s Peace Festival

In December 2018, all 120 children participants will meet together in Sarajevo to do art workshops and celebrate with plenty of music and dancing.

After three years of building friendships across ethnic and religious barriers, these religious teachers and children will be empowered to return to their schools and cities around BiH as ambassadors of change. We as Mali Koraci staff look forward to planning future joint activities together in which we cooperate with a growing movement of religious teachers and students throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina who are working to heal our society.

BE ACTIVE AND ACT!

BE ACTIVE AND ACT!

Budi aktivna i djelujBelievers for Peace, a group of Catholics, Muslims, Orthodox, and Protestants from Southeast Europe which promotes peacebuilding and a culture of nonviolence based on their faith, issues a call for action as we enter 2015.

Over the last year we have observed with concern the rising number of examples of intolerance towards followers of Islam which is presented as resistance to terrorism most clearly expressed through the spread of the so-called Islamic State.  Continue reading BE ACTIVE AND ACT!