Doug Johnston, Director/Founder of the International Center for Religion and Diplomacy, was our Keynote Speaker. His book Religion: the Missing Dimensions of Statecraft is now required reading at the U. S Foreign Service Institute and is used as a text at colleges, universities, and seminaries around the world. The speaker was sponsored by the Religious Studies Program at Utah Valley University.
Mr. Johnston spoke about faith-based diplomacy, which makes religion a part of the solution. He spoke of reconciliation, as opposed to conflict. He said it is not absence of conflict, but a restoration process which includes all parties, even the enemy. It includes deep-level forgiveness and social justice.
The International Center for Religion and Diplomacy’s approach with local leaders is an excellent example of diplomacy. Johnston quotes from the Qur’anic verses which indicate that we intended by Allah/God to get along with one another. He calls himself a ‘follower of Jesus’ and reminds the Muslim leaders that they also revere Jesus as a teacher. He asks, if Jesus were here now, what would he have us do? He relates that this approach dissolves tension and allows them to move forward in discussion.
The Center applies faith-based diplomacy in seven parts of the world, including the Sudan, Kashmir, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the Middle East. There is no cookie-cutter approach.
In the Sudan they focus on “what women know from birth and men sometimes get – that all things are relational”. They seek the answer to what a Muslim-led country can do to assure the rights of non-Muslims by recalling periods of history when this has happened.
In Kashmir they avoid a top-down approach. The governments of India and Pakistan are not interested in a resolution, because the conflict distracts from their internal issues. Johnston’s team invites second-level leaders – Hindu, Buddhist and Muslim leaders – to work towards faith-based reconciliation.
In Afghanistan/Pakistan, the program of ‘madrasa enhancement’ expands the curriculum to include human rights and religious tolerance without touching the religious core. They seek to transform the pedagogy to include critical thinking. They have worked with 2547 madrassas out of about 20,000.
The American government has not fully realized that American Muslims represent a great asset for constructive engagement. He cites the International Institute for Islamic Thought as a constructive non-profit involved in Islamic Issues.
One of the attendees, Mr. Mohammad Fani from Camp Brotherhood in Mt. Vernon, WA, said that it is the first speech he had ever heard on issues concerning Islam that was entirely accurate.