Al Amana Centre has been described as a Christian-based interfaith dialogue centre. That is our essence. However, as we look deeper, it would be misleading to talk only about dialogue in a narrow sense. Even if we consider dialogue as a focused and intentional conversation, in which people from different backgrounds may come together to listen and speak together, it might not lead to any practical consequences of such created increased understanding. Therefore, there needs to be more.
The more we think about it, the more it is clear that it is essential for our mission and vision that we concentrate not only in understanding each other better and getting rid of misunderstandings, but also striving for interfaith diapraxis, something concrete when people of faith are acting for their joint challenges to improve their neighborhoods near and far. Such diapraxis needs to follow any substantial dialogue. Dialogue is essential though – it can be described as a tool which is leading to joint action for peace and reconciliation.
Over the past years Al Amana Centre has proved to be a place for people of faith to come, discuss and discern. Before and during the pandemic, we have purposefully placed more focus on finding ways on how to move from learning from each other to planning what people of faith can do together. As dialogues organized and facilitated by us have shown, people of faith share many views which lead to joint action. Therefore, it is our task to provide a safe space for people of faith to use the trust they build in the sessions facilitated by us.
As we plan our events onsite, we bring people not only to talk with each other but also to live with each other: share breakfast, wash dishes, travel inside the country. Everything we do is planned to lead to more trust between people of faith as well as between faith communities. This trust is a building block of joint action and joint planning in the local contexts where our participants come from.
For a couple of years, we have been accompanying Christians and Muslims from Nigeria. A local imam reached out to Al Amana Centre and asked whether we could help them in their fight against terrorist groups of Boko Haram in their own local context. Al Amana Centre was a perfect place for local leaders of Christian and Muslim communities from the western African country. Al Amana Centre is situated in a Muslim country, but by nature we are originally a Christian organization. This provided a neutral and safe place for both Christians and Muslims – said the Nigerian faith leaders.
Over a one-week-workshop there was first a time for the group to get to know each other. Through discussions, activities and methodologies used by Al Amana Centre, participants learnt more from each other, their joys and sorrows; their hopes and fears. And in the middle of the workshop, we turned our program into a more pragmatic approach. Amid more informative sessions, we discussed how people of faith can join their forces in their communities to tackle problems they are facing.
As the pandemic eases, we are ready to host more groups at the centre. Our low-key setting provides a perfect venue to forget day-to-day worries and look from the helicopter view of the situation back in participants’ home contexts. Simultaneously, it provides a place where people can share openly how they see the situation in the local context they come from. We challenge participants to concentrate on the real challenges and to see bigger picture as they do not have to worry about practical issues in their daily lives. Participants can concentrate on the most valuable expected outcomes: increased trust towards each other, hearing the stories and to be heard, even healing memories they have. This all helps and directs to developing concrete responses to practical challenges in their local contexts.
It is our conviction that learning from each other also leads to joint goalsetting. Whether it is climate change, local conflicts and striving for peaceful coexistence or understanding other communities’ struggles with daily routines. Al Amana Centre has given a space for different communities and people of faith living in those communities to share their stories in a safe environment.
We have also noticed that even though pandemic has made it difficult for us to host communities at the centre situated in the Sultanate of Oman, we have managed to bring those communities together through online conversations. Studies have shown that even though face to face meetings have a special value, it is possible to learn from each other through Zoom and other online facilitation applications. In those situations, it becomes even more important to share stories. They are the most efficient means of learning from each other.
Stories stay. They stay in our minds and in our hearts. And they are fuel for new stories. New stories where people of faith think together, work together and act together. This is how we build trust, peace and reconciliation at Al Amana Centre.
Rev Aaro Rytkonen
- This article was previously published as a Pause for Thought -article at our Newsletter.
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