I went to
Face-to-face meetings are the moment when the research and media-informed opinions we hold are measured against the experience of the encounter with the other. There is something profound about meeting face-to-face: noticing that someone limps or has a hard time staying awake in a long lecture, seeing the way someone’s eyes light up when they hear a new idea or watching the quizzical looks on a Muslim’s face when a Mennonite explains the worship of a triune God (a God in 3 forms).
People are like “living books”, but unlike a published paperback, our plots are constantly changing. And, as living books, our stories interact with each other when we meet, they take account of the new characters who in turn affect the plot line and the ensuing chapters.
However, these kinds of meetings are becoming increasingly more difficult to arrange these days because travel visas are regularly denied on both sides. Tense political relations in past months and tighter borders in the wake of 9/11 have resulted in stringent travel restrictions.
Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), a religiously-based non-profit development
organization, first became involved in
addition to the student exchange program, which began in 1998, the MCC developed
“learning tours” that brought groups to
An example of the power of first hand meetings is captured in the remark of an Iranian Muslim, attending a Canadian school: “Meeting face-to-face works as a source of miraculous mutual understanding. I can say that people who are afraid of you, as a Muslim, or as an Iranian, after 10 to 30 minutes of conversation begin to recognise you as a human being.”
write this, I am aware that I had been planning on attending a conference, “One
God of Abraham, Different Traditions”, at
One week before the guests were due to arrive, 4 out of 15 visas were refused for “security reasons” though the US State Department did not send this message in writing. Since Ayatollah Araqi was among those refused entry, the visit was unfortunately called off.
not only a US-specific problem. In May 2007, 15
North American Mennonites were denied entry into
notion that dialogue between people of different faiths poses a security risk to
their home countries continues to be the underlying theme of this ongoing
problem of blocked encounters. N. Gerald Shenk, a professor at
encounters, according to contact theories, will break down stereotypes and build
understanding and trust that is greatly needed between the West and
While people can critique the MCC for engaging with IKERI as Muslim dialogue partners, the fact remains that a constructive relationship has developed between the two communities, and if allowed to grow it could influence the stories of those individuals who are touched by it.
Kennel Harrison is a PhD candidate at the
... Payvand News - 9/25/07 ... --