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Danish youth meet famous imam in Jordan
Dialogue is the only way to change things, said one of Jordan's most famous imams, when 19 young Danes from the MS Next Stop project met him for a two hour discussion about Islam.By Niels-Peter Granzow Busch, MS Jordan
27. August 2009
It's afternoon in the Jordanian capital Amman. The Muslim Friday prayer has ended just a few hours ago and now the park, surrounding the impressive, but empty Hussein Bin Talal Mosque in the outskirts of the city, is deserted. Only a few guardsmen wander around the compound counting the tiles in a desperate attempt to kill time. In the middle of the mosque, one of Jordan's biggest and newest, stands 19 young, Danish women and men looking in awe at interior of the enormous mosque, while whispering to each other.
Suddenly the man everybody is waiting for arrives - Dr. Hamdi Murad, one of Jordan's most famous imams and also a professor at the Jordanian Interfaith Co-existence Research Center. Dressed in a black suit, white shirt and tie, the Jordanian imam smiles almost with his whole body as he shakes hand with every single one of the 19 Danes. Even the Danish women get a firm handshake - something quite extraordinary for an imam to do in any Islamic country, where women and men traditionally do not shake hands. But Dr. Hamdi Murad obviously is not a traditionalist.
The 19 Danes are all part of the “Next stop Middle East” project, organized by MS ActionAid Denmark to promote cross cultural understanding between youth in Denmark and in the Middle East – one of the cornerstones of MS ActionAid Denmark's program in the Middle East. All the young Danes have joined the program to learn more about the Middle East, and all are eager to hear what Dr. Hamdi Murad has to tell them about Islam and Islam's relation to other religions.
The religion is not the problem
“God wants us to love each other. So why do we have all these wars, terror and killings?”, Dr. Hamdi Murad asks the young Danes sitting in a half circle on the carpeted floor of the mosque.
“What is it we have to do to overcome our differences?”.
According to the Jordanian imam people tend to defend their hostility towards people from other religions by saying that “Muslims, Christians or Jews did this and this”.
“But all religions have bad people. If one person out of a family of ten is behaving badly would you then say that the whole family is bad? No, because it's only one single bad person”, Dr. Murad says.
He points out that some politicians and religious groups use religion for their own purpose – to attack other people or to wage war.
“But this is because of their personal mentality, not because of their religion”, the imam explains pointing out that if we choose a violent life, we choose a path lower than life.
“This is no life at all”, the Dr. Murad points out.
Even though no one in Jordan or the rest of the Middle East have forgotten the Danish caricature crisis four years ago, the imam doesn't mention it with one word. Instead he stresses that Danes have always had a special place in the hearts of the Muslims.
“You will always find our doors, windows and houses open to everyone – especially to people from Denmark. Most Danes are peacemakers”.
Dr Hamdi Murad hesitates, seem to think for a moment and then continues:
“Maybe not all of them are like this, but all countries have maybe ten per cent bad people. But this still means that 90 per cent are good”.
When is it all right to fight?
But if we should all love each other and not choose the violent life, is it then ever OK to fight a war?, one of the Danes asks the imam.
“Sometimes you need a weapon, not to attack, but to defend yourself against attack from other”, Dr. Murad explains and continues:
“I like peace, I love peace - for you and for me. But if you attack me – I'm sorry, but I have my children and my wife to defend, and I will fight back. Islam is against any terror war and sectarian violence, but if an enemy comes to occupy your house, steal your money and kill your family, then you have to defend yourself”.
According to Dr. Murad it is strictly forbidden for Muslims even to attack people they know are evil and want to kill you. A Muslim may only use violence in defence.
“You may not attack the evil people, if they don't attack you. Just let them live with their evil ways “, the imam says.
Dialogue is the only way
“So what is it we have to do in order to overcome our differences?”, Dr. Murad asks once again.
According to the imam, the answer is dialogue, dialogue and more dialogue.
“Dialogue is the only way to change things. When we talk with each other, we find out that we are very close. We smile together, laugh together, we talk and we give advice”.
But the change doesn't come just by sitting in the same room, Dr Murad points out.
“Even if we sat here for a hundred years, we would never get to understand each other”.
He has attended numerous interfaith co-existence conferences and watched how Muslims sit in one group, Christians in another group and Jews in a third group without talking to each other.
“But then suddenly they begin to mix and talk with each other and suddenly everything change”, Dr. Murad says with a bright smile, while he seeks the eyes of every single of his listeners.
“I have come to love some Christians even more than Muslims. And we have to lead our people to understand what we have understood at these conferences – that dialogue changes everything”.
The Next stop Middle East project
This year MS ActionAid Denmark organized three different Next Stop Middle East tours with a total of approximately 60 young, Danish participants.
The Next Stop tours all lasted three weeks. Each group visited two Middle Eastern countries.
The purpose of the Next Stop Middle East project is to promote cross cultural understanding and dialogue between youth from Denmark and from the Middle East. Next Stop groups have visited the Middle East every year since 2006.