East Peace Initiative: Building Trust With Religious
Leaders in The Holy Land
Rev. Michael Jenkins - January 2005
The center of our effort in the MIDDLE EAST PEACE INITIATIVE is to work
with religious leaders and people of faith. Whether in Gaza,
Ramallah or Jerusalem,
we always seek out the key religious leaders and ask them to address our
delegation. We look for ways to help connect them with other religious leaders
throughout the world. After 19 months of work in the Holy
Land, we are seeing that the door is beginning to open.
The apprehension in the Muslim world is so great at
this time that it is not easy to develop trust. There is so much
misunderstanding. This fear is augmented by what appears to be an anti-Muslim
spirit and attitude developing in many parts of the world, especially the West,
since 9/11. That’s why, of all the tasks that we must accomplish to make peace,
the most serious is to bring understanding and dialogue among religious leaders
of all faiths. That was the situation surrounding our visit to Gaza this time.
We have maintained a consistency and an absolute
attitude of respect toward all the Muslim leaders in our numerous dialogues and
conferences in Jerusalem, Ramallah, and Gaza. Thus leaders
understand that Father Moon’s vision is that God created Islam as a central
religion for a great purpose in history. One of the most beautiful aspects of
Islam is the fact that it honors and respects the prophets who are also central
to the Torah and the Bible. The respect for and belief in Moses, Abraham,
Isaac, and Jacob and especially Jesus is absolute. Most Muslim clerics in Gaza and throughout the Middle East
are highly educated and have a keen sense of the meaning of their faith. As we
come forward as men and women of God who have an absolute commitment to the
sacred covenant that’s required for true holy life, they can sense right away
that the clergy of IFWP and ACLC are genuine.
Relations are ultra-sensitive for anyone working in
desperate areas such as Gaza.
It is absolutely essential that every step we take is genuinely sincere and
done with prayer. Always our heart has to be to love, understand, forgive, and
take on the burdens of our brothers and sisters. With that spirit, we could
walk in Rafa, even when terrified residents poured out into the streets in
anger. We felt no fear because our purpose was clear. All who do religious work
understand these conditions. The pastors and volunteers of our family movement
frequently journey throughout very dangerous areas in America’s inner
cities without fear because they’re genuine and truly pursue a divine purpose.
The grand mufti (supreme judge) of Islam for the Holy
Land was visiting Gaza at the same time as we
were because he has been participating in international conferences in America and
throughout the world. A key figure at the Alexandria Accords, he is playing a
central role at this time. When we heard that he was in Gaza, immediately Imam Bundakji called to let
him know we were there. Imam Bundakji has played an important role in building
on our common ground. Using chapter and verse of the Koran, he can explain in
Arabic the meaning of this movement and why Allah has sent Father Moon. He also
gives a strong and substantive scriptural interpretation of the Koran that
emphasizes its teaching on interreligious cooperation and unity. With this
foundation of trust, we seek God’s guidance as to how the religious leaders can
open the path to peace in the Holy Land.
The mufti was so pleased, as he had met us many times
before in Ramallah and Jerusalem.
To our surprise and delight, he invited us to have an audience with Gaza’s entire Islamic
council. In one moment we were sitting with the twelve Islamic clerics who set
the direction for all of the thousands of sheikhs and imams throughout Gaza; they have absolute authority over the interpretation
of the Koran in their districts and areas – from the Jabalya refugee camp, to
Rafah, to Gaza City. The feeling was one of enormous
hope, trust, and expectation. Many of them attended our conference on December
20, 2003, when we took President Wahid (former president of Indonesia – the largest Muslim country in the
world) into Gaza along with 120 representatives
of our international body visiting Jerusalem.
In our earlier conferences, the tension was so great,
similar to the tension I experienced when we first began our work in the
African-American communities across the United States. Twenty-two years ago,
there was concern, apprehension, and skepticism as well as antagonism that our
entry in the African American community was simply a repeat of what so often
had been done – a nice group with good intentions wants to come in, do a quick
program to help people, get out, and then publicize how good they are. That was
the very thing that was presented to us when we first began to visit Gaza – are you just here
for one trip, or are you committed to stay?
Now after one year of solid work and the establishment
of the IIFWP in the Gaza
strip, our sincerity is beginning to be understood. We didn’t just do
conferences. Father Moon donated computers and, with the cooperation of our
counterparts in Gaza, established the Moon Culture and Youth Center. The 253
young people who have graduated from the Web-based computer training program
that we offer will be linked to other young people throughout the world via the
Internet. The growing Moon Culture and Youth Center
is a basis for understanding and trust.
Then came the soccer
tournament with sixteen teams that we organized with WANGO and our IIFWP
leaders Stephen Gabb and Kamal. Previously there had been an underlying
apprehension that maybe the IIFWP were bringing all these religious leaders to Gaza to “convert” people
to Christianity. The fact that this is not our purpose was unequivocally
established through this game, which removed the doubts of many, many leaders.
Another factor that created trust between us and our
colleagues in Gaza
was Rev. Moon’s life of suffering, especially his imprisonment in several
countries. It’s interesting how God works through the course that He has given
us. This is truly the case with Father Moon’s life. Because he had suffered in
prison on numerous occasions for many years, many of the religious and civic
leaders in Gaza
understand that Rev. Moon is not just another visitor who wants to do something
nice and then leave. The common bond of suffering based on his life in prison
was what opened the door to decision makers in Gaza. One example is Abu Ali, who first
welcomed us in October 2003 because he had read and understood Father Moon’s
prison accounts. The fact that Father Moon had been imprisoned in several
countries was the very thing that made Abu Ali feel
some connection, for he himself had suffered in prison for many years. This
also opened the door to religious, academic and political leaders in Ramallah.
That’s why our suffering course is actually the most
precious part of our life of faith. It really is the fertilizer that allows us
to become truly purified and holy. In Father Moon’s talks he frequently refers
to his two years and eight months at hard labor in a North Korean prison, where
most inmates died from torture and starvation. He overcame that suffering and
often refers to it as the place where he had his deepest experiences with God.
I can’t help but think about the clarity of Rev.
Moon’s direction that our primary path to peace will be found in working with
religious leaders. Now we are following that path, which gives us a profound
stability that goes beyond the civic arena, for religious leaders are not
elected officials but are people called by God. Although many times they
receive an ordination by a religious body, their true calling comes from their
internal attitude toward God, especially the covenant they make with Him.
That’s why we can find stability as we bond ourselves in trust with religious
Our work is founded on the bedrock of God’s word and
ultimately on God Himself, who is unchangeable. Religious leaders are the first
fruits of God’s word, love, and unchangeable nature. Knowing that Mohammad
(peace be upon him), Jesus, and Moses are preparing
the way, we can sift our way through the good and not-so-good religious leaders
to find those with whom we can build the Peace Kingdom.
If we work with religious leaders, we can continue with stability, even though
the environment itself is quite unstable. This is the work of God.
religious council meeting, Dr. Yang spoke beautifully to the leaders. Also I
was able to share our vision. The participation of Mr. Taj Hammad was very
significant. As a Muslim Unificationist, he conveys the living reality that
Father Moon’s teaching brings believers together as one family. His beautiful
speeches and commentary in Arabic put the religious leaders at ease; they felt
as if they were with their close family.
Then the sheikhs told us that as religious people it
is natural that we come together under the one God, with the Koran supporting
our work with Christians and people of all faiths who are true to their
teaching. “We want you to know that we feel comfortable with you and we open
our hearts to work with you,” they told us. This was a big step forward. “We
are praying that Allah will continue to guide us with each step. We sincerely
ask for your prayers and support for this work.”
Father Moon’s teaching and lifestyle of suffering and
sacrifice, with absolute, unchangeable love for Islam, will bring healing and
love. It will link Muslims to the other children of Abraham -- Christians and
Jews. We need each other. The people of God must come together as one to truly
bring love and unity to families, communities, and societies. As we unite, the
condition is set to cause the forces of evil to lose their power.
Later, when we went back to Jerusalem, Imam Bundakji contacted the
sheikhs at Al Aqsa Mosque. They, too, opened their doors and hearts to us,
sharing with us very personally how much encouragement they felt from all the
world’s religious leaders and members of Parliament who came to the holy site
during the World Pilgrimages. They honestly expressed that they were almost
hopeless, in terms of the world’s seemingly deaf ear to their plight. Suddenly,
however, the IIFWP showed up, led by Father Moon, and brought ten thousand
visitors -- hundreds and hundreds coming every month. Month
after month, month after month. This is the fulfillment of the will of God.
Truly God’s people can bind together and help one another.
They extended their warmth and opened their hearts.
They also recommitted that all Ambassadors for Peace have a home at Al Aqsa
Mosque and the Dome of the Rock. Allah welcomes all believers in His people
there; the followers of this movement have exhibited true belief and practice
in their eyes.
Thanks in great part to Imam Bundakji,
we discussed the deeper meaning of the Koran, concluding that, when understood
properly, it does not condone destruction or bloodshed. Truly the religious
leaders of the Holy Land have been profoundly important in history and moist
especially at this time in the crosscurrents of Jerusalem during the last days. They
understand fully that religious leaders must be involved if reconciliation is
to occur. Without
that, true reconciliation is not possible.
Also during the trip we had a meeting of our
interreligious council of Jews, Muslims, and Christians --the faith leaders
whom God has called to truly be a light unto the path to peace. It is profound
to see Muslims, Christians, and Jews from the Holy Land sitting together,
harmonizing, and speaking according to the teachings of the Peace Kingdom.
They are not just in dialogue; they are bonding in friendship as a family
Baruch Shalev told us, “I cannot believe what we are
achieving with each step. The most beautiful aspect of it is that it’s based on
God, but not limited to only religious expression. It also has an expression
through women in leadership, youth and service, touching the hearts of the
people without words but with actions, and even teaching people purity and
abstinence.” (Soon the WAIT team will perform in Jerusalem schools, teaching about the dangers
of immorality and the absolute safety that’s provided by purity and
Dr. Joshua Ben Ami, a scholar who truly understands
the historical significance of the three Abrahamic faiths coming together, is
studying the Torah to identify those elements that confirm that Father Moon may
be the one who is fulfilling its prophecies. He is drawing upon its reference
to Cyrus, who was not a Jew but earned the title of messiah because he
liberated the Jews to return to their homeland. In that light, Dr. Ben Ami working
through the Torah to affirm that once again a man who is not a Jew has been
sent by God as the messiah, this time to liberate not only Jews but also
Christians and Muslims, bringing the family of God together and ultimately
liberating God Himself.
These dialogues are gaining more depth as we go
forward. Ambassadors for Peace in the Holy Land
are dispensational figures. The three Jewish leaders are especially aware of
the role they are playing to restore what happened 2,000 years ago. They have
told me that the fact that there are three of them, supported by other rabbis
and scholars, is no coincidence. They believe that they must transcend history
and religious boundaries to become one family with their cousins, Ishmael’s
family. Otherwise the process will get stuck and grind to a halt. This is the
work of God. The Interreligious Council and God’s providence are gaining great strength in the Holy Land.