I HAD a hard time sleeping last night. Aside from missing my family back home, I could not sleep in thinking of our graduation today as a KAICIID Fellow.
Indulge me for a few moments and close your eyes and try to remember where you were, one year before today. Don’t worry if you feel mixed emotions as you remember our experiences together here in the KAICIID Dialogue Center in Vienna, Austria. It is in this same building where we had our trainings in inter-religious dialogue and where our friendships started to be part of who we are today.
Try also to remember our night city tour in Vienna. It was raining at that time, but we managed to enjoy walking, taking some photos of the beautiful spots, and our selfies and groupies. Unfortunately, some of us got colds and cough due to the weather. I, myself, also got sick for a few nights. But I will never forget the love and care of my fellows and most specially the medicines of Mama Kaiciid (Mama Justina) that made me better and able to attend all our classes.
Last May this year, we all met again in Colombo, Sri Lanka. We had more wonderful experiences together visiting the Red Mosque, the Hindu Temple, the Catholic church, and the Buddhist temple. Those experiences helped us more to appreciate IRD and to come up with programs and projects on inter-religious and inter-cultural dialogue in our respective countries.
Remember also our on-line sessions on specific courses. I don’t need to elaborate further on that topic. I am sure, most of us raised the issue of slow internet connections, and yet were highly active on social media.
What I would like to share with you are my experiences in learning the importance of IRD in peace building. I come from a context where Muslims and Christians want to kill each other for several centuries.
Even prior to 9/11, we had our own challenges regarding biases and prejudices in religion, Islamophobia, and with some communities making religion as a political ideology. Because of these issues, hundreds and thousands of my people were killed, displaced, and religious and cultural minorities are continuously being marginalized. Politics of identity and identity politics are part of the underlying reasons of the conflict.
Thus, our people see religion as a cause of violent conflict. But through IRD between faith communities, it showed that religion is not a primary source of tension. IRD can be an effective approach to peace building because it promotes understanding and reconciliation.
In my line of work as a peace advocate and IRD practitioner, I have learned that religion can be both a source of conflict and not a source of conflict.
When talking about situations where religion is a source of conflict, we see how it necessary for religious communities and religious leaders to play a role in addressing the conflict. In these situations, we need to understand and make people understand, that it is much more than religion. Religion is being used as a tool to unite people to hate or even fight another group of people simply because they are different.
When we talk about religion NOT as a source of conflict, Mindanao at the present context is a good example of this. We see how the Bishop Ulama Council and the different peace networks like the Friends of Peace work hand in hand in peace building. Religious organizations and religious leaders work in promoting peace, harmony and co-existence through IRD.
Our strategy in peace building starts with conversations or “pakighinabi” in Cebuano’s term or “bitiala” in Maguindanaon. But I learned in my lessons in Kaiciid that IRD is more than a conversation. For us, a conversation can be a good starting point. The conversation can happen in any formal or non-formal environment. It is a process where people simply get to know one another over a cup of coffee. Then, from these conversations, a process of IRD may lead to deep-held emotions, looking at very depths of people‘s being and their orientation toward life and toward their religion.
I am sure you all shared the same experiences with me when you started your own projects and initiatives. The conversations became a seed that we planted in other peoples’ minds and hearts.
In closing, as the saying goes, “there will always be a beginning and an end”.
Our graduation marks the end of our formal training with KAICIID. But I would like to remind you — when we leave Vienna tomorrow, our certificates will not be the most important thing we’ll be taking with us. The most important thing we will leave with today is our shared learning on IRD, and what we will do with it. We need to think beyond KAICIID.
Think about the projects and initiatives that our fellows shared with us. Think about the Buddhists monks in Myanmar who struggle to reach out with his fellow monks in building peace. Think about the refugees in the camps that need help in starting their new life. Think about the future generation of this world that needs our help.
And now imagine: what would your world be like, one month, one year, even five years from today, if you are consciously trying to change something for the better? Then, we need to think beyond KAICIID. They say, we need to think out of the box, but I would like to say, we need to think that there is no “box” to speak of actually.
To my fellow graduates of the KIFP 2016: congratulations for committing yourself in the program. Now go and teach people how to dialogue.