“The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story” (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie).
On December 27th, a group of professors, students, alumni, and staff from New Brunswick Theological Seminary arrived at Al Amana Centre for nine days of meeting new people, hearing new perspectives, and broadening their understandings of Omani culture, Islam, and interfaith dialogue.
Programs at Al Amana Centre often focus on learning from individuals and experiences. We offer opportunities for our participants to chat with Omanis in a variety of settings so that they can begin to understand the complex, beautiful, and multifaceted story of Oman and Islam. While visitors to Oman will not become experts on Islam and local culture in one week, they will gather a diverse collection of stories and personal experiences to deepen their understanding.
We had a full schedule with New Brunswick Theological Seminary, including some Al Amana favorites like cooking Omani food at Omani Tourism College, visiting the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque in Muscat, and hiking at Jebel Shams. The group met with many Omani friends of Al Amana Centre to ask questions and learn from their stories. Some conversations were casual, shared over shwarmas and car rides. Others were more formal.
For the first time in recent years, we visited the College of Shari’a Sciences and learned about Islam from expert scholars. The College of Shari’a Sciences prepares men and women to be “thinkers and researchers in Islamic thought and knowledge in general, and especially the secular, and to highlight the aspects and their contributions to Islamic civilization” (CSS website). We toured the campus, including the robust library with multilingual resources about Islam and other religions, then we had the opportunity to ask questions about Islamic theology and practice. We also listened to beautiful recitations of the Holy Qur’an.
As the end of the week drew near, the group discussion turned to the question: Where do we go from here? The participants brainstormed numerous ways to continue the work of interfaith peacebuilding back at New Brunswick Theological Seminary, and I am excited to see the outcomes. But mostly, I look forward to them sharing their new stories. Stories about Omani hospitality, Islamic theology, and their new Muslim friends. I hope these Christian leaders and leaders-to-be will continue sharing and seeking stories of faith across religious traditions. I hope they will continue building peace and trust.
Author: Emma Wright, Volunteer at Al Amana Centre