Musalaha has been increasingly active in bridge-building between Christians and Muslims in Palestinian communities, applying the same principles used in reconciliation work between Israeli and Palestinian believers. Through these initiatives, we have introduced Musalaha’s curriculum to Muslim communities and have been learning how we can use our knowledge and experience to ease some of the tensions between Christians and Muslims. This pressure is mainly caused by historical prejudice, stereotypes, and politics, and has increased dramatically in recent years.
When one of our Palestinian staff members was asked to put a committee of young leaders together to discuss activities and reconciliation work between the communities, she quickly found fellow Christians ready to join the cause. Reaching out to Muslim leaders, however, turned out much more difficult. This wasn’t because they were not interested; she just didn’t know any on a personal level, even though she lives in a mixed neighborhood.
This skepticism towards the other community has many reasons, most of which go back to religious stereotypes, fear of the unknown and even racism. As humans, our opinion of the other tends to be based on what we think we know about their culture or religion before we have our own experience with individuals of that group. We also tend to judge other people based on the extreme manifestations of their culture and religion, rather than considering nuance and individual faith and experience.
Moreover, we fail to acknowledge that while radical doctrine can encourage violence, it is always an individual choice whether someone will act on it or make the decent human decision to resist it. At the same time, we tend to gloss over the dangerous extremes and dark historical moments of our religion and expect others to judge us only based on the positive aspects. Like it says in Matthew 7:5 – it’s always easy to point out somebody else’s fault and ignore our shortcomings.
So when it comes to uncomfortable questions or even criticism towards our religion or culture, we become defensive and apologetic, further deepening the divide between us instead of entering into a respectful dialogue.
You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. Matthew 7:5
By making cross-community encounters possible, Musalaha strives to provide a safe space for Christians and Muslims to get to know each other and talk about the issues that divide us. We find that these divisions are often based on misunderstandings and false perceptions. For example, Christians are fearful of their Muslim neighbors because they are in the minority, while Muslims feel rejected by their Christian neighbors who – in their perception – come across as superior and snobbish.
To address some of those issues, Musalaha recently invited a group of young Christian and Muslim men and women on a desert trip similar to the ones we have been doing with Israeli and Palestinian believers for years. With the guidance of their leaders, the group was able to have open discussions about different topics that have been causing tension, clarify misunderstandings and tackle stereotypes. For the Christian participants, who are more exposed to other religions because they usually live in dominant Muslim or Jewish communities, this was an excellent opportunity to explain the challenges they are facing as a minority and share their faith with the group.
Following the desert encounter, the participants met several times to receive training in how to bridge the gap between communities and share their experiences with their friends and families. This is very encouraging as Christians and Muslims don’t have many opportunities to communicate with each other. By reaching out to their own people with a testimony of their personal experience, our young leaders become key figures in spreading the positive message of community building and peacemaking.