In the comfort of a simple Swedish meeting room, 25 Christian and Muslim women have been meeting to talk about how religion, which is often blamed for conflict and violence, can also move people toward peace and cooperation.
When the Rev Marika Palmdahl welcomed the participants in the meeting “Moving towards a peace through religion” which was held 4-7 September and co-organized by the World Council of Churches (WCC) and Teheran's Institute for Interreligious Dialogue (IID), her white collar band raised some questions.
"Does this mean she is a woman priest?" some wondered. Really, Palmdahl is a pastor of the Church of Sweden and in charge of inter-religious dialogue in the Gothenburg diocese, which hosted the meeting.
The 25 women from Iran, USA, Pakistan, Senegal, Palestine, Sweden and other European countries discussed issues related to the role of women in interreligious dialogue, and had the opportunity to exchange experiences with Swedish families, and local Christian-Muslim women groups.
The process of asking questions and finding answers together was the foundation of the gathering. From religion and modernity to secularism, from integration of immigrant communities to civil courage and conflict transformation, and from minority majority dynamics to a feminist approach towards peacemaking, the women wrestled with many issues. They shared their concerns about education, media and human development, and reflected on the challenges they face as women in peacemaking.
“The dialogue in this meeting makes us all understand the issues we face as women. This not only affects the work we do back home, but influences the way we initiate dialogue in our own countries and communities,” says Bibifatemeh Mousavi Nezhad, director of IID, who emphasizes the need of highlighting women’s voices in Christian-Muslim dialogue.
The journey of working together through dialogue began, when the IID hosted the first meeting of this project in Tehran on 24-28 November 2007. The backdrop of Iran for this debate was unique as it involved women participants from Africa, Asia, Europe, North America along with the Iranian women. These women - policy makers, journalists, educationists, doctors, NGO workers, religious scholars and filmmakers - were able to add numerous dimensions to the dialogue essential to create an impact on peacemaking.
“It is wonderful to see how the first results of this dialogue process are taking shape,” said Rima Barsoum, WCC programme executive for inter-religious dialogue and cooperation. Among the concrete results is an educational resource on “Women and Interreligious dialogue” which includes four case studies from Iran, USA and Sweden The collection describing the resources and methodologies used by Christian and Muslim women for building relationship of trust and cooperation will be published in early 2009.
More on WCC work on strengthening inter-religious trust and respect: http://www.oikoumene.org/?id=3143