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In July 2010, the Jordanian Interfaith Coexistence Research Center (JICRC) kick-started another initiative intent on fostering peaceful coexistence, as Father Nabil Haddad welcomed a contingent of 7 esteemed guests from the City of Chicago for the inaugural event of the Interfaith Global Peace Initiative. The event was a resounding success, and merely the first step in an ongoing relationship between the sister cities of Amman and Chicago. Included in the contingent were Rabbi Daniel Sherbill, known for founding a synagogue in a Chicago mosque, His Grace Bishop Demetrios of Mokissos, and the Rev. Stanley Davis, Co-Executive Director of the Council of Religious Leaders of Metropolitan Chicago.
IGPI had its birth in April of this year, when Father Haddad accompanied King Abdullah II to Chicago. Impressed with the words of His Majesty, Haddad and a group of influential Chicago religious leaders decided to institute a partnership between the twin cities to open the lines of dialogue and begin to establish relationships in the name of peace between East and West. In Chicago, the initiative garnered the support of Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, and the Mayor of Chicago Richard M. Daley. In Amman, the group also received blessings from leadership.
During the course of their stay in Jordan, the group met with the Middle East Council of Churches, the Deputy Speaker of the Upper House, The Jordan Foreign Minister, The Minister of Islamic Affairs, and the American Chamber of Commerce in Jordan. The Mayor of Amman hosted a dinner for the delegation.
The group also visited the Jordan River Foundation, which provides education and support for abused children, and during a weekend trip to Jerusalem, they had the pleasure of an audience with His Beatitude Patriarch Theophilus III. Jordanian documents “The Amman Message,” which explains what a Muslim should and should not be, and “A Common Word,” which highlights love of God and neighbor as point of entry into dialogue, offered the framework for the week’s conversation.
For the Chicago group, the opportunity to see coexistence as reality in a Middle Eastern country was eye-opening and instructional. “The Common Word and the Amman Message would mean nothing if we didn’t have a good record,” said Father Haddad. “Jordan is a model. If we can do it here, why not do it everywhere?”
This message hit home with Azam Nizamuddin, IGPI attendee and co-director of the Council of Islamic Organizations of Chicago. “Jordan can work as a model and as a framework for interfaith dialogue between Muslims and Christians,” he said. “Perhaps we can use this model through the ‘Common Word’ and apply it to communities in the United States, and in the future, host Jordanians to show them how we do things in the Chicago interfaith community.”
In this spirit of open exchange of resources and ideas, the leaders of IGPI believe that they must act now to enact change, through connecting political, business, and religious leaders, and through instituting programs on the ground connecting youth, teaching educators, and informing the media, in order to better bridge the gap between East and West.
“We want to create a network for people from the business world between these two cities, and we believe interfaith values can serve as the best catalyst to encourage people to connect with each other,” said Haddad. “As religious leaders, we can provide the etiquette.”
The American delegation was made up of representatives from the Council of Religious Leaders of Chicago, The Greek Orthodox Church, the Council of Islamic Organizations of Chicago, the Chicago Board of Rabbis, and the Turkish American Cultural Alliance, among others. A follow-up event in Chicago is being scheduled for late 2010.
JICRC provides advice to government and non-government organizations and individual decision makers regarding questions of inter-religious understanding. Scholars as well as visiting students and volunteers conduct research on various religious issues pertaining to peace building and JICRC regularly welcomes delegations from around the world.
The organization is highly respected in the country and across the region and has won the respect of royalty, academic circles, the judicial system, clergy, peace-building and intercultural understanding activists. In fact, Father Haddad was deputized by His Majesty King Abdullah II to provide the keynote address at a World Affairs Council of America conference entitled “Bridging the Desert,” in February of 2007.
The center has also worked frequently with the U.S. Department of State, including in 2007, when Father Haddad initiated “Islam: Scholarship and Practice in the United States” in partnership with AMIDEAST. This was the first time a priest brought a delegation of imams from the Middle East to the United States. JICRC has been commended by a host of public officials, including Senator John Kerry and former First Lady Laura Bush, for its efforts.
Building on its achievements and momentum made in its 2008 Document for Peaceful Coexistence, JICRC continues to work towards transforming these principles by implementing a five year plan of action, to be supported by both Christian and Muslim leaders in the region.